Ziggymoto perfectly illustrates the shape-shifting motorcycle idea
Two wheels, a motor, a seat, some handlebars and some footrests: put 'em in one arrangement, and you've got a sportsbike. In another, a cruiser. Or an adventure machine. Or a commuter. Why not a single, shape-shifting architecture that does it all?
It's amazing just how much a motorcycle's geometry affects the riding experience. Change the wheelbase, the angle of the forks, or the center of gravity, and suddenly your bike steers in a totally different way. Move the handlebars up and back, and the character of the bike becomes a whole lot more chilled out. Send them down and outward, and it feels much more aggressive.
Riders in the early days used to use a single bike for everything from highway touring to off-road scrambles and hill climbs – something that stands out every time I watch Bruce Brown's wonderful On Any Sunday documentary. Today, of course, we're spoiled. Forget the Universal Japanese Motorcycle, we have access to machines that are laser-focused on applications from track days to trials riding, fast touring to slow touring, and everything in between.
Perhaps the next great universal motorcycle, then, might be a shape-shifter. And perhaps the advent of the electric motorcycle could bring it into being.
We've seen these transformer-style concepts before – and indeed, Damon Motorcycles has taken an admirable crack at getting things started with its electric Hypersport bike, with handlebars and footpegs that move at the touch of a button between "sport" and "commuter" positions – the former for speed and style, the latter for comfort.
But that's just the ergonomics. Shape-shifting the geometry? That makes things much more interesting. And probably dangerous. But interesting nonetheless, even as a pure fantasy. Witness the Shapeshift 3, from "Creative Director by day, bike builder by night, virtual builder in between" Ziggymoto on Instagram. Witness it with the sound off if you're at work, though, because it has sweary music.
A remarkable amount of thought has gone into this thing, even if it's gone into weird places at the expense of others. It rolls on a pair of hubless hub motors – a fine choice for a fantasy bike you don't actually have to build or own – and features a wealth of shape-shifting options.
At the back end, both the swingarm and the footpegs seem to be mounted on eccentric adjusters, so you can move the pegs round in a circle, while also lengthening, shortening, raising or lowering the swingarm. Or changing its angle, letting you raise or lower the ground clearance while completely altering the rake angle at the front end.
Speaking of the front, the forks appear to be more or less rigid, which is weird – perhaps there's a girder-style suspension idea in behind there somewhere, or perhaps not, because it's pure design fantasy.
But the front "beak" fender and the headlight unit can slide individually up and down the forks – and the handlebars can too, while also changing their droop or rise angle, going from an emulation of low-slung cafe racer clip-ons, to swept back cruiser bars, to pert, upright dirtbike-style bars.
One nice touch is the sawn-off seat, which tilts upward to hold the rider's butt on in configurations that angle the tank and seat backward, and also features an extenda-fender underneath it, which pops out when you're in dirtbike mode.
Another – though even further from the realm of reality, is the tires, which appear to have two layers, so that they're slicks in cafe racer mode, but knobs of rubber push through and out as you transition to off-road mode. That's not gonna wear very nicely.
Between all these moving parts, it does a reasonably good impression – visually, at least – of a cruiser, an adventure bike, a dirtbike, and a sporty, focused, low-slung cafe racer.
The artist has made several of these designs, the above being the latest – but others use regular wheels, conventional forks and combustion motors. He's also hinted at times that he plans to actually build something, which would certainly be challenging.
Now, as to whether any of these modes would actually ride properly? I'm gonna go ahead and assume no, since motorcycle chassis design is one of those black arts known only to grizzled veterans of the trade, in which half-degree angles and millimeters make all the difference.
But one day, somebody's going to build a bike that knows this stuff better than we do, and can adjust its geometry on the fly for maximal advantage like an active suspension system on steroids. And I do enjoy dreaming about that day, and thinking just how weird it would feel to have your bike smoothly morph from a sportsbike that feels like you're holding the axle in your hands into an armpit-airing cruiser on the move. I'd like to think my brain is plastic enough that I could shift riding styles as it did.