BMW's Vision DC Roadster: Awesome show, not much go
BMW has built a funky new concept to tackle perhaps one of the biggest challenges in electric motorcycle design: how to make a battery box look as cool as an engine. The Vision DC Roadster, rolled out at #NextGen, is a future-cool naked with a nod to BMW's Boxer heritage.
We can bang on all we like about the insane performance potential of electric motorcycles, but the truth is, nobody's going to change the world with bikes that don't look at least as cool as old-school combustion bikes. That's not an easy bar to reach; motorcycle design (outside the world of fully-faired sports and race bikes) has always been dictated by the shape of the engine at the heart of the bike.
All sorts of angles and cues can be taken from a nice donk; in earlier days, the cooling fins on air-cooled engines gave a nice starting point to work from. A nicely angled V-engine has launched a thousand choppers. Crankcases, clutch covers, pushrods, exhaust pipes - we've had more than a century to work out how to make these things look amazing.
Electric motors, on the other hand ... well, they're much smaller and simpler. The bulk of an electric motorcycle is the battery box, into which designers need to stuff the maximum possible number of lithium cells in order to get the best range they can from the machine. Cells come in two basic shapes right now: cylindrical 18650-style units like Tesla uses, and flat pouch shapes like Zero uses. And the easiest and most efficient way to store large numbers of both these shapes is in a big, fugly, heavy ol' rectangular box.
That's a pretty hideous shape to try to hide in the sensuous design of a motorcycle, particularly when it's the biggest part of the whole bike, and it replaces something that designers have spent 120 years making an achingly beautiful centerpiece.
So this is the challenge BMW is recognizing and taking on with the Vision DC Roadster. That, and finding some way to make the designs resonate with the brand's history. And it's chosen to do so by recalling the most famous BMW engine of them all: the boxer.
To get there, the team has wrapped the battery box in a sandwich-layered frame of longitudinal aluminum cooling fins, and poked two special extra cooling fans out on the sides to mimic the famous boxer cylinder heads that have poked out the sides of so many Beemers in the past. On the Vision DC Roadster, these heads tilt outwards when you switch the bike on – for no other purpose than to let you know the bike's ready to rock.
A compact electric motor wraps directly around the exposed rear drive shaft beneath the battery area, which goes out to the back wheel on a lovely looking single-sided swingarm. The "tank" and subframe form one long piece that lays over the top, with a beautiful open center that lets you look down on the cooling fins while placing the adjustment dials for the nicely hidden rear shock right where you could adjust them if you had prehensile privates.
The front suspension is a luridly sexy carbon take on the Duolever forks we've seen on so many BMWs, with a single adjustable shock unit tucked away behind a vicious-looking U-shaped slash of a headlight that follows the "tank" line downward in an aggressive stance. There are fluorescent stripes on the sides of the specially-designed Metzeler 014 tires, and a nicely detailed, bevelled hub on the left side of the rear wheel, presumably echoing the design within that translates the torque 90 degrees from the shaft to the wheel.
It looks awesome. It really does. This is one of the better looking electric motorcycles we've ever seen – it's shamelessly futuristic and daring, with a design language that speaks to a fast, aggressive road riding experience. The dash, the handlebars, that scandalously open tank joined to the body with carbon structural rods ... Bravo! It even gets its own fancy riding suit, complete with an "asymmetrical rucksack" fixed to the jacket with magnets, of all things.
But there are no power or torque figures. There are likewise no figures on the battery size, or the vehicle's range. And some of the build pictures BMW has provided might give us an insight into why:
Take a look into that gaping, hollow space at the battery pack within: a small, rectangular box. It's tiny. We'd be surprised if the team managed to get even a 10 kWh capacity in there. In designing an electric motorcycle that doesn't have a whopping big battery box in the middle of it, from what we can see BMW has simply ignored the fact that e-motos need every bit of lithium they can get if they wish to be practical using today's battery tech.
So it seems the Vision DC Roadster isn't really an attempt to package a huge battery box in an attractive bike, it's an attempt to make a hot electric motorcycle without bothering to stick a usefully large battery in there at all. Granted, this is a concept, but the design looks great because BMW seems to be pretending the biggest problem in e-moto design simply doesn't exist.
And true, maybe someday it won't, when the prophecies come true and somebody works out how to safely stuff 10 times more energy into a lithium battery than we can currently achieve, massively boosting energy density while staying stable in a real-world range of temperatures, offering high charge and discharge rates and generally revolutionizing the electric car, motorcycle and aircraft industries, while giving us mobile phone batteries that last for weeks like the Nokias of old used to.
But when that day comes around, everyone else will be able to make cool looking bikes with tiny battery packs too.
Check out the promo video below.
Source: BMW Motorrad