Surfcycle: A highway-speed, lane-splitting stand-up scooter on steroids
The Surfcycle is a street-legal, stand-up electric scooter capable of highway speeds and unstoppable lane-splitting – with luggage. The ride is halfway between surfing and motorcycling, and its remarkable creators say it's the fastest way across LA.
This project is the brainchild of serial inventor Dezso Molnar, creator of the GT flying motorcycle and the upcoming Streetwing flying car. Molnar teamed up to design and execute the Surfcycle with another West Coast innovator, Craig Calfee of Calfee Design, best known for his exquisite custom bicycles and other carbon fiber creations. The pair are working together on the Streetwing as well, among many other projects.
"I was spending so much time developing flying cars," Molnar tells us, "But getting pushback from people saying nobody would want them until they can fly themselves. There's a training hiccup there, you have to learn how to fly. At the same time, I'm observing 11-year-old girls jumping on electric kick scooters and looking super confident on the street."
So where do you go from there? Motorcycles are bigger, heavier and more intimidating to get your head around, so Molnar started designing an in-between step. Something with the stand-up ride position, narrow profile and low-speed agility of an electric scooter, combined with enough power to hit the freeways, and motorcycle-grade safety considerations.
The resulting machine is an absolute eye-popper: a stand-up step-through you can step right off. The Surfcycle uses a relatively standard front-end off a Piaggio scooter, with 12-inch (41-cm) rims, 19-inch diameter tires and a suspension fork. Between the wheels there's a gaping hole over a 12-inch-wide (30-cm) board you can stand on, with a small retractable bicycle seat if you feel like sitting down. The rear wheel is another 16-inch scooter wheel, suspended on dual shocks beneath a meaty luggage rack, and there's some 5 inches (13 cm) of ground clearance under the deck.
"It's exactly the same physiology, the same confidence, the same center of balance, the same set of muscles as your typical electric rental scooter," says Molnar. "It looked obvious to me, but nobody else was cutting the wedding cake and saying 'let's give these things the capacity to go on any road.' And also I wanted them to be safe. The wheels on those little electric scooters are so small they're scary. We've put a proper motorcycle front end on ours, with a weight distribution such that if you run into a bump or a pothole, the front wheel can go right over it."
The drive system is pure simplicity – an 8-kW hub motor in the rear wheel, running off a battery and controller mounted low in the frame on this prototype. By production, the battery will be in the standing board, bringing the center of mass even lower – but even without this extra step, the prototype is already pretty much the easiest motorcycle imaginable to pick up if it falls over.
It's currently running off a battery brick from a Zero FX electric motorcycle, and the team has found that pack reliably delivers around 80 miles (129 km) of range, reaching top speeds up to about 80 mph (129 km/h).
"By default I ride with one foot pretty far forward," says Craig Calfee. "The brakes are pretty strong, so you've gotta anticipate a stop. But in an emergency, the cool thing is that it's so easy just to step off."
The luggage system on the back, says Calfee, might look like a courier special, but it was actually inspired by airport baggage trolleys.
"Part of the idea was to be able to lane-split to the airport with all your luggage," he tells us. "Because Dezso, as you know, goes to the airport a lot, and he hates sitting in traffic. So we wanted to design it to carry suitcases. So we designed it like one of those Smarte Cartes, in stainless steel, and for a kind of whimsical touch we kept the little round bumpers on the corners, and put our turn signals on them. The production version may not be made like that. But the company that makes the Smarte Cartes here in the United States would be a good candidate to fabricate these things for us!"
The next key element: making sure the Surfcycle was narrow enough to be a next-level lane-splitter for urban traffic busting.
"I'm always concerned when I'm in between cars with my Honda CBR that my hand's going to hit somebody's mirror," says Molnar. "On this thing, you're standing up, the bars are angled downwards, so your shoulders can be the widest part of the vehicle. It's about giving you the opportunity to keep going when everyone else is stopped.
"They're 24-inch wide handlebars," adds Calfee. (To get a sense of how narrow that is, take a look at how ridiculously skinny these 22-inch "lane splitters" look on a Harley.) "But at high speeds, it really doesn't matter, it's more about shifting your weight than forcing the front wheel to turn. It's the motorcycling concept of steering with your feet, but taken to the extreme. If riding a mountain bike is like riding a motorcycle, this is like surfing. If you've surfed, or skateboarded, or ridden those electric scooters, you already have the skill set. If you haven't, and you've ridden motorcycles, you'll pick it up pretty quickly. But the main factor is it's just so much fun. Motorcycles are fun, and surfing is fun, and this is like both. It's more of a good thing."
EV battery genius and all-round adorably loose unit Luke Workman agrees, having had the chance to ride the Surfcycle around.
"Having had 60-mph-plus (96.5 km/h+) dual-motor two-wheel-drive scooters, [wife] Erica and I love to shred them on the beach together. You can run them on the sand, kicking up roost and they're pretty epic. So we've had great experiences with high-performance scooters. And the Surfcycle is basically the same feeling, except instead of trying to knock your teeth out over every bump, and your feet literally bouncing up off the scooter deck on everything you hit at speed, this just swallows all the imperfections in the road like a motorcycle tends to do.
"In some ways," he continues, "it kind of feels like you're doing something you're not supposed to be doing, like standing on the seat of your motorcycle – only with good control. Not that there's anything wrong with standing on your seat anyways, I do that too sometimes. But it's a neat, flowing along kind of feeling. It's weirdly enjoyable. It feels surprisingly normal to the motorcycling experience after a bit, because it's as quick as a normal bike from zero to 50 (80 km/h) in street traffic. But just like a high powered scooter, you've gotta be ready to hold on when you hit the throttle standing up on something that snorty."
There's a small bicycle-style saddle behind the rider, but Calfee and Molnar both say they prefer standing up below about 40 mph (65 km/h), both for the board-riding feel of it, and the extra visibility you have over traffic when you're up high. At highway speeds, sitting down is more practical and efficient, and indeed Molnar says he's occasionally been kneeling on the footboard to make himself as aerodynamic as possible on the highway.
"It was designed for a city like LA," says Calfee, "where you've got dense traffic on the street, but also freeways to get from area to area – of course, with dense traffic on those as well. And in a place like that, it's absolutely the fastest thing on the road between point A and point B. I spent some time as a bike messenger in New York, and this would be the ultimate messenger vehicle for urgent deliveries."
Molnar will ride and present the Surfcycle at The Quail this weekend, hoping to gauge interest in the concept. From there, they're looking at how to market, homologate and manufacture it at volume. Calfee has the facilities to make the first 50 or so production units, but beyond that, they're looking for partnerships and investment.
"We haven't completely decided how to start," says Molnar. "We might do a Kickstarter. But this isn't just an experiment, our ambition is to put these vehicles out. We'll do what's necessary in terms of homologation requirements, our mission is just to tick off every check mark and do this. The price point we're aiming for is US$9,996, We want to come in much less expensive than the average electric motorcycle. We want to design and build to make sure people can take advantage of whatever federal subsidies are available for electric vehicles. We want to contribute to the motorcycle world, and create vehicles that are alternatives to cars."
You can see the Surfcycle in action in the video below.
Update: we thought you might enjoy these images from the weekend, they certainly gave us a grin!
Source: Molnar Calfee Motorcycles
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