A brand famed for its Boxer twin engines now has to figure out how to make batteries and a motor look right. Edgar Heinrich thinks he’s cracked it
MUNICH, GERMANY — “The typical reaction from motorbike guys is, ‘Ah electric is boring, I don’t want this,’ you know?” says Edgar Heinrich (below), the plain-speaking head of design for BMW Motorrad.
That gave him two big challenges in coming up with an electric motorcycle, which he’s done in concept vehicle form with the Vision DC Roadster: how do you make a battery-powered bike look emotional, and how do you make it look like a BMW?
BMW unveiled the DC Roadster at NextGen, a conference for analysts and the press where it announced that it will be speeding up its rollout of electrified cars. Chairman and chief executive Harald Krueger, who is stepping down in 2020, rounded off the eight-hour event by introducing the battery-powered concept bike. It rolled onto the stage, ridden by a model, so we know it’s a working prototype.
Mr Heinrich tells CarBuyer that it’s aimed at people who ride naked bikes — he lists the Ducati Monster, Aprilia Tuono and BMW’s own S 1000 R as examples — and who are image-conscious. “These are probably guys who want to have performance, but also showing off is a very important thing (for them),” he says. “Riding is interesting, but also getting off and arriving somewhere is also very important. I mean, I want to park in front of the cafe and want to be seen.”
Mr Heinrich could have done an electric take on an adventure bike (especially since BMW is all but synonymous with the breed) or a sportsbike, but chose to do a naked bike because, in his words, it’s the “hardest thing to do”, and because, well, it’s naked, and puts everything out in plain view.
Traditional motorcycles are designed around an engine, but with electric bikes the dominant element is the battery pack. “We don’t have this mechanical sculpture, the semantics of an engine,” says Mr Heinrich, his hands moving in the air accentuate his point. He says the last thing he wanted to do was take a normal bike, rip out the engine and insert the battery and motor.
Instead, he gave the DC Roadster what he calls “little jewels” to connote classic bike elements, like stubby levers, a forward-leaning stance, neat castings and little trellis frames. The Duolever front suspension could only have come from a BMW, but it’s the brand’s flat-twin “Boxer” engine that he wanted to allude to most.
“The big thing in the centre is the battery. Then you also have these cooling fins, which give the connotation of these old BMW cylinders,” he says. “I really love these.”
With the battery dominating the DC Roadster, the bike’s seat hovers over it for a reason. “We wanted to have a feeling of lightweight, because these electric bikes, usually they look a bit heavy,” Mr Heinrich tells us. “We wanted to have the saddle kind of floating. It gives a really lightweight, nimble feeling on the bike.”
BMW Motorrad already has one electric machine on sale (though not in Singapore). The C Evolution scooter has a 48 horsepower motor and a 12,7kWh battery pack, giving it a range of 159km.
At NextGen, BMW execs said little about selling zero-emissions motorcycles, but Klaus Froehlich, the board member who is the company’s de facto chief technology officer, is also responsible for the motorcycle division. Within the company he’s also known as a keen — and very fast — rider.
Mr Heinrich says a scooter was a logical place to start with electrification because that kind of machine suits the city, where distances are shorter and charging infrastructure more concentrated.
BMW didn’t give any technical details about its newest electric prototype, but Mr Heinrich says that with battery tech improving rapidly, longer-range e-biking is becoming possible. That means it now makes sense for BMW Motorrad to consider building something like the DC Roadster for suburban riders. “I’m convinced we’re gonna see this thing,” he says.
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