The Hottest Electric Motorcycles Aren't from Traditional Brands
Aprilia, Ducati, even Harley Davidson hold the top spots if you’re looking for the best in motorcycle vogue. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a Ducati Diavel in my garage, and until I started this story, I figured it was in the top five bikes for sheer style. Turns out not so much.
At least for the next few years, the most stylish and exclusive bikes won’t sport those logos. These new motorcycles will come with names like Arc, Curtiss, and ZiggyMoto. They’re coming from the bleeding edge, a place concerned not just with style but with merging that style with the latest in engineering and design. There aren’t many of these two-wheeled opuses available, and for many, they’ll be prohibitively expensive. But if you get your butt on one, it’ll be an experience you won’t soon forget.
Redesigned Bikes for the EV Era
The fact that these bikes run on electricity is almost incidental. That’s not what they’re selling. They’re each building their vision of the motorcycle’s future; redesigning the whole motorbike concept and why you want to own one.
If you’ve shopped for an EV motorcycle in the past, then you’re aware that the Big Three issues in that market don’t center much on price but on the charging level, the range, and the bike’s top speed. The kind of battery the bike uses, its capacity, and how many of them the bike can carry, are also important factors, but they really just contribute to different aspects of the Big Three. What stands out about this new crop of ultra-exclusive bikes, though, is that they couldn’t care less about the Big Three, though they all still throw a polite nod to speed.
Standard EV bikes come from established brands that take the designs they’re currently selling, re-brand them, and then work to stuff a battery-based power plant in there. That’s a fine approach, and it’s certainly come up with some cool machines, like the BMW CE 04 or the Harley-owned Livewire S2 Del Mar.
But companies like Curtiss Motorcycles aren’t interested in building that bike. “We’re enthusiasts, and what we’re building is our vision, not the industry’s,” says Matt Chambers, co-founder, and CEO of Curtiss, which formally announced its flagship bike in May 2023 at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, California. That machine carries a potentially arrogant name: The 1. But Chambers and Curtiss are working hard to live up to the moniker.
“We always wanted to build the two-wheeled vehicle of our dreams, not just taking whatever production components we could find and building a different version of the same old thing,” says Chambers. “We didn’t build from the outside in, we re-designed from the inside out. The fact that we’re building The 1 around an electric drivetrain is less about the environmental benefits of EV than it is because we think gas-powered engines have just gone as far as they’re going to. Electric is the next logical step because it gives us greater freedom to innovate and refine.”
That thought approach let Curtiss chief designer, JT Nesbitt, build a machine around a central shaft that aligns all the bike’s components in a straight line. Curtiss calls this its axis-centered design and they’ve recently received a patent on the technology.
A Motorcycle that Evolves
Nesbitt started out as a fine arts student who wanted to express himself using motorcycles, a concept his professors didn’t understand. He met Chambers when they both worked at Confederate Motorcycles, specializing mainly in big, fully custom V-twin machines. The two got along, and Nesbitt sold Chambers on his vision of motorcycle symmetry. After five years of hard work, Curtiss brought the vision to life, but Chambers is taking symmetry a few steps further.
Chambers declares that aligning everything around a central shaft gives a noticeably better riding experience, but he’s aiming to make it not just your best ride but the only one you’ll ever want.
“What we want to build is an heirloom,” he says. “Something you can pass to the next generation because the bike can change with the times and with what you want even years after you buy one.” That process starts with a unique frame carved from a single block of hyper-solid billet aluminum. Every frame is hand built, and they’re unique because they have to be to support Curtiss’ axis-centered technology. Chambers explains that they’re ‘over building’ this way to make sure the bike’s core will last for decades.
After that, Chambers says all the bike’s key aspects are adjustable. That covers the handlebars and pegs, sure, but deep core stuff like the suspension’s rake and trail. Rake refers to the tilt angle of the bike’s forks (think of how different a sport bike’s fork angle is to that of a 70’s-style chopper, for example). Trail is a little harder to understand, but if you drop a straight edge from the steering head to the ground and then drop another from the axle’s centerline, then the trail is the distance between those two points. A bike’s rake and trail dictate everything from the riding position to what kind of riding the bike is best suited for.
Chambers says that because Curtiss can adjust both of those aspects on The 1, he’ll be able to give each customer exactly the right bike for them. And not just at the time of purchase but also as their needs and wants change down the road. “We don’t just have control over how you sit on the bike, we can adjust its quickness, stability, and even how fast it turns. So you can go for sport, comfort, or anywhere in between exactly as you please.”
The bike’s lifespan will span even more ground because all the key components are modular. “We work with Yasa because we think they’re the best in the battery and EV business. They worked with us to build a motor that supports our symmetrical design. We fully immerse the battery in coolant fluid so it can’t overheat, and we finned it inside and out, so it’s a big damn radiator, too.” But when EV technology improves, Curtiss can simply pop out the entire battery assembly and replace it with an updated version. Similarly, other bike parts can be replaced, too, as Curtiss’ invents new designs, which Chambers says is the company’s primary focus.
“We’re not interested in building a utilitarian product,” he says. “This is a red carpet bike, and we want to keep it that way. We don’t want to waste time focusing on things like battery technology. We’ve got Yasa for that and they’re the best in the business. We want to focus on refinement.” And that refinement will cost you. The 1 starts at $120,000, which isn’t unique in the new EV motorcycle market.
New Visions from the UK
Arc V and ZiggyMoto are two UK companies that are both chasing a similar vision, both also using EV technology. Arc, a builder located near Coventry, mainly comprises ex-Triumph engineers with goals similar to Curtiss’. They want to build the most advanced motorcycle in the world, and they unveiled it back in 2018. That bike is called the Arc Vector, and it, too, sports a starting price tag of around $120,000. Arc had some trouble getting the bike into production. It ran out of investor funds, which forced the company to file for bankruptcy in 2019. Arc says it’s got that under control though. It resumed operations only a year after it filed, and it brought the Vector into production in 2020.
While the Vector isn’t as modular as Curtiss’ The 1, it’s supposed to be a bit faster and has a longer range. But Arc has also re-designed the motorcycle’s frame around what it calls a monocoque design, which makes the battery case a structural component rather than an add-on. It sports other neat technology like a motorcycle jacket bonded with each bike to provide “haptic feedback” to the rider as well as a custom helmet with a heads-up display (HUD).
ZiggyMoto brings up the rear of this radical trio, not because its vision is anything less than that of Arc or Curtiss, but because, for now, it’s just that: a vision. You’ll have to jump through some hoops and crack your wallet wide open to sit on The 1 or the Vector, but you can’t sit on ZiggyMoto’s bike because it doesn’t exist yet outside of a CAD drawing.
But that CAD drawing shows one very cool-looking motorcycle that again has so much style oomph you’ll barely notice that it’s electric. How much it’ll cost and when it’ll be available or even what its formal name will be are all mysteries, but the company promises to make a splash when all those things solidify, so you won’t miss it.
All-in, EV bikes are definitely the way of the future. They’re better for the planet, and they’re also really fun to ride. And they’ll be moreso when their range and charging times improve, which all the moto-pundits say should happen in the next three to five years. But that’s not why I enjoyed talking with Matt Chambers so much.
It’s because his genuine enthusiasm about what Curtiss is doing was obvious, and that’s not something I’ve encountered much in the 25 years I’ve been talking to different kinds of product makers and innovators. If Arc and ZiggyMoto put even a tenth of that same enthusiasm into their offerings, then “red carpet” will be only part of their appeal. What these companies are building isn’t just where motorcycling is going, in many ways, it’s where it should have been all along, and that’s one powerful draw.