Ola chooses center-hub steering for its Diamondhead electric sportsbike
Indian EV giant Ola Electric is expanding its all-electric portfolio with new cruiser, adventure and nakedbike models – and a sleek supersport called the Diamondback that aspires to push center-hub steering back into the motorcycling conversation.
Ola's super-cheap, high-tech electric scooters are thoroughly dominating India's domestic electric motorcycle market, and the company is now kicking things up a gear with an overhauled Gen-2 scooter and four new futuristic full-size motorcycles.
Why should the rest of the world care? Well, on top of the fact that Ola's original S1 scooter is one of the most innovative and clever two-wheelers ever to hit the mass market at a super-affordable price, this company is hell-bent on world domination. To that end, it's building the world's largest motorcycle factory, capable of firing out a bike every two seconds, or up to 10 million units a year.
At yesterday's "Customer day 2023," CEO Bhavish Aggarwal announced a ground-up overhaul of the S1 Pro scooter, starting with a vastly simplified motor and cooling system, complete wth an integrated controller, capable of 11 kW (~15 hp) – a 30% increase over the original, enabling a top speed of 120 km/h (75 mph).
A streamlined frame design helps cut part count by 11%, and weight by 6%, and this helps boost efficiency, increasing the "certified range"nearly 8% to 195 km (121 miles). The price creeps up a little, to INR₹147,499 (US$1,770), and Ola claims that on a monthly repayment plan, with an average 30-km (18.6-mile) commute, it'll be some INR₹14,000 (US$168) cheaper to own than a typical gas-powered scoot.
With the mass market taken care of, Ola is also preparing to debut a number of premium models; full-sized electric motorcycles targeting four different segments.
Unfortunately, the company is providing very little in the way of detail at this point – there's nothing yet in the way of power or range figures, prices or expected availability. But the company has prototypes built, some of which are in running order and looking pretty close to production models at a glance.
First up, a long, low-slung, chain-drive cruiser, apparently running girder-style forks. "This is a cruiser," says Aggarwal, by way of explanation. "Love long rides? Who likes long rides on bikes? Bombay to Goa, Bangalore to Chennai ... So this is our cruiser!"
Next, an adventure-focused machine – again in a chain drive, with a sharply angled beak, taller stance, crash bars, bark busters and a small screen. Aggarwal is even more florid in his description here, which I present in its entirety: "Who all likes adventure here? Is that it? [Grabs the cover] Let's take it off! You like the Adventure? This is, uh, the Adventure! There were more bikes in that video, let's have the next one."
Then, a sharply-styled Roadster is ridden onto the stage, very much in the vein of the ADV machine, but with a lower, more accessible, comfort-focused stance and an interesting set of chunky handlebar risers.
And finally, the Diamondhead sports machine. Here, Aggarwal is a little more forthcoming. "We've been very passionately working on this," he says. "This one will truly define the future of motorcycling. It'll be a generationally defining product. Even 10 years from now, 20 years from now, the whole world will remember this product, because it'll bring in a new EV revolution in motorbiking."
With that, out comes Ola's remarkable take on the supersport category, complete with a razor-sharp front fairing that extends back over the triple clamps to join with the "tank" and seat unit, leaving the handlebar risers poking out through slots in the sides. A tiny color dash is recessed into the hump, and slash-thin headlights and taillights mark the front and rear of a very clean design.
The defining feature, however, is not the diamond-headed fairing, but what lies beneath: a front swingarm extending back behind the fairing, denoting this as a center-hub steered machine.
This is a bit of a head-scratcher, to say the least – certainly, there are advantages to be found in these funny front ends, like the ability to control how much the forks dive or rise under acceleration and braking, which changes the steering geometry in dynamic riding situations on bikes using standard telescopic forks.
It's not new – indeed, the idea of center-hub steering has been around more than 110 years. But shy of the odd Yamaha or Bimota, it's been vanishingly rare on production motorcycles; forks work pretty dang well these days, as it turns out, and while the hub-steering systems do a better job of controlling geometry, they typically offer a much narrower steering lock, impacting practicality.
And worse, the linkages between the handlebars and hub tend to reduce the feedback the rider gets from the road, resulting in a somewhat vague feeling at the front end. I'm yet to meet the rider that craves more vagueness at the front end.
Nobody's made the idea work in racing yet, and we'd be very surprised if Ola is considering pitching the Diamondhead toward top-level international competition – or any race series, really. But it's certainly an eye-catching and futuristic-looking design, and that's likely the chief goal here: an attention-grabbing glove-slap to the cheek of conventional motorcycle design that'll probably result in an expensive flagship that sells in limited numbers to curious collectors.
But we may be wrong, this could be the hub-steered electric supersport contender for the masses ... We look forward to learning more when these bikes are launched in earnest, whenever that may be. Enjoy the Customer Day event below.