Motorcycles

Kawasaki shows its fascinating hybrid motorcycle prototype on the dyno

Kawasaki shows its fascinating...
Kawasaki has released video of a prototype hybrid motorcycle accelerating through electric, hybrid and combustion modes on a dyno
Kawasaki has released video of a prototype hybrid motorcycle accelerating through electric, hybrid and combustion modes on a dyno
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Kawasaki has released video of a prototype hybrid motorcycle accelerating through electric, hybrid and combustion modes on a dyno
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Kawasaki has released video of a prototype hybrid motorcycle accelerating through electric, hybrid and combustion modes on a dyno
Combustion on the highway, all-electric in the city, and a mix of both when things get interesting in the twisties
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Combustion on the highway, all-electric in the city, and a mix of both when things get interesting in the twisties

Hybrids are probably the best way for most car drivers to get electrified right now. Radically lower fuel costs, clean full-electric driving for the majority of daily use, total freedom to take long highway trips, fast fill-ups at abundant gas stations ... They offer a best-of-both-worlds proposition.

But cars are big enough to carry the added weight and complexity of an extra powertrain. Motorcycles are not, and adding weight has such a huge effect on their handling and performance that most of us dismissed the idea of a hybrid step in between the gas and electric worlds as soon as we thought about it.

Kawasaki, it seems, did not. In a video released last week, the Japanese manufacturer has shown its vision for hybrid motorcycles, along with a working prototype on a dyno, and laid out how it expects things to work.

It's logical enough; the electric powertrain will do all the work in the stop-start environment of the city, where electrics excel and can recapture a lot of their expended energy. On the highway, where the unrelenting task of pushing through wind resistance puts a nasty drain on a battery, the combustion motor takes over and does its thing. And in the twisties, where there's lots of hard acceleration and braking as you slow down for corners and power out, as well as a range of speeds, the two motors will work together in synergy.

Combustion on the highway, all-electric in the city, and a mix of both when things get interesting in the twisties
Combustion on the highway, all-electric in the city, and a mix of both when things get interesting in the twisties

From looking at the prototype, it seems Kawasaki will be running a single-speed system that will manage the contributions of the two motors automatically. From a standstill up to a certain undefined speed, it's all electric. The combustion motor starts up at a certain point and puts itself into the mix with what looks like a bit of a jolt – but then again, this is a dyno run, so it might well have been done at full throttle.

If it is indeed a single-speed system, the combustion engine is likely geared as if it's stuck in sixth. At slower speeds where the engine might struggle to give you much acceleration, the electric motor is there to help. Acceleration shouldn't be a problem; we've generally been very impressed with the shunt you can get out of electric motors. We suspect the engine can also run as a range-extending generator for slow speed work when the battery's depleted.

This sounds like a relatively small engine to us; maybe a parallel twin from something like the Ninja 300. The electric motor is tucked into the chassis behind the engine, and it seems to be a decent size. It's hard to tell where the battery pack's been sequestered – those can get big and heavy, so it'll be interesting to learn what the plan is there and how it affects the bike's overall performance.

The other key issue, of course, is cooling. This bike will need to draw heat away from the engine, the electric motor and the battery pack, a task that could get complicated depending on the packaging.

It's hard to tell whether we should treat this as a research project or a production bike in development, but the prototype looks pretty tidy, and if Kawasaki can find a battery size that strikes the right balance of range, power, weight and bulk, then package it in a way that evacuates heat effectively, and make it look cool, and keep the total bike weight to a reasonable figure, and build it cheaply enough to make the price attractive, then maybe we can get a feel for what a hybrid motorcycle might bring to the table.

That's a pretty big ask, so we wont be holding our breath, but we do like the idea of a bike that can commute clean through the week, but still stretch its legs on a weekend tour. And there could be other benefits as well; I'm thinking of a hybrid adventure machine that can preserve the peace and quiet of the off-road trails, and that never has to suck air during a river crossing. Then again, weight and complexity become even more of an issue when you step into the dirtbike world.

Still, a fascinating idea to ponder and it's great to see Kawasaki putting some proper R&D resources behind ideas like this. Check out a video below.

Kawasaki Rideology meets Hybrid Power

Source: Kawasaki

9 comments
9 comments
WB
Tesla has pretty much proven that the best way is electric only, not hybrid. Hauling along two systems is inefficient and complex. Hybrids are generally seen as a cop out. What blows my mind is when Tesla in a few years went from small to most valuable car maker in the world... that companies like Toyota, Kawasaki and many more somehow still haven't received the message. Hybrids tend to be done because the manufacturers don't have the guts to invest in the batteries needed, and the little supply there is they put up some hybrid mess. They will be nothing but a speedbump for the ones that will jump in. If Tesla will make a motorcycle - we would see the same than what happened to the smaller luxury car industry..where Tesla took over HALF of new sales in the USA... of the entire market.. meaning Lexus, Acura, Mercedes, BMW etc... now they are moving into Trucks (Cybertrucks), into EUrope and Asia.. it's a freight train that will be hard to stop. Everytime I see someone launching a gas guzzler or a hybrid I want to go and short that stock. I made a killing with Tesla stock meanwhile... 20x so far...
David V
Intriguing. I would imagine the main reason that no hybrid bikes are out there are :
A Space to fit an ICE and an electric motor.
B Automatic gearing to switch from one to the other.
Given that the bike would probably have to be an automatic and you just don't see this on bikes at the moment - scoots yes - bikes no except that Honda thing, I'm not sure how this would work out on the marketplace if it's aimed at pure motorcyclists.
I've ridden the Harley Livewire and it's so good. But price apart, it's just a one-up town machine. Would I drive to Italy from Paris for a holiday on it ? Maybe not. Would I drive to Normandy for the day. No. So a hybrid which doesn't have the short range problem and does quick fill ups, could work.
I don't think you can just compare electric cars with electric bikes either. I've been riding bike for 40 years and although the practical element is important, the heart tends to decide for most people. It's not just a way from getting from A to B.
Still - to be continued. The next 10 years will see big changes for us all.
nick101
I think all-electric, but only with swappable batteries, or a 'B-type hybrid' with a tiny 50cc motor that does nothing but charge the battery is the way to go. Motorcycles are becoming such a niche item in the west that the total emissions they make are less than lawn mowers. Leave the 'motors' in motorcycles for those who want them.
michael_dowling
I agree with WB. Legacy auto makers are finally getting the message,but are in a poor position to compete,as they are saddled with thousands of independent dealerships which are not exactly EV friendly,as EVs require little in the way of after sales service,which is a dealership's bread and butter.Hybrids are bridge technology at best,which is not needed with the state of battery development at present. The more gigafactories Tesla opens,the closer we get to an all electric world.
Username
If they do produce it I hope it's in the model shown at the beginning of the video!
Johannes
Not sure whether Kawasaki is serious about this, or just doing it because they can. Hybrid drive makes sense for a touring bike that might need to negotiate city centres and therefore comply with some local clean air regulations. For any bike outside that niche, I'd say stick with an ICE or go full electric.
PAV
I would hope that it will be a plug-in hybrid.
ReservoirPup
@WB – can one suppose that Tesla stock has been a subject of a fad? Do you know how much bitcoin costs now and so what? Take your Tesla off road and see where it ends up. It might indicate where its shares would go in a few years too.
Alexander Lowe
"...the unrelenting task of pushing through wind resistance" reflects the unrelenting task of persuading manufacturers to build something other than basically unaerodynamic bikes, with the rider as an additional air-brake and parachute. To get the best out of an electric vehicle, it needs to be designed around the powertrain, from the ground up.
As for bikes not being just for transport from A to B, there is plenty on the market to cater for that kind of sentimentality. As an alternative, I'd like to see something practical, clean, fun and not too hard on the environment - I'd rather have a fleet of electric superscooters on the roads than the army of single-occupant 4 X 4 / SUV Tonka-toys clogging the roads.