Volterra, Italy—In early November at the annual EICMA show in Milan, Energica will reveal the latest iteration of its electric sportbike, the Ego. With that all-important event just weeks away, company employees were understandably anxious as they watched one journalist after another throw a leg over the sole running prototype and ride out of Volterra’s Piazza dei Priori into the nearby hills. One crash, even a simple tip-over, could ruin everything.
Former Volterra resident Father Eugenio Barsanti is credited with co-inventing the four-stroke engine in 1853, and Energica had come to this ancient walled city in Italy’s Tuscany region to make a splash of its own. Energica’s parent company, the Modena-based CRP Group, whose rapid prototyping, precision machining and overnight turnaround attract high-profile aerospace and motorsports clients, is funding the multi-million-euro two-wheel program.
The decision to become a motorcycle manufacturer stemmed from the economic downturn of 2008. “We saw the crisis that was coming,” said CRP Chief Financial Officer Andrea Vezzani. “Our customers design the parts, and we produce those parts. We had orders for the next three months, but what do we do at four months? We had to make payroll. We had to pay suppliers. Even though we knew new orders would arrive every day, we felt that we were not the ‘owner of our home.’
“Since our vision is that CRP will become a bigger group than it is now, we wanted to establish another company, another project, but with its own products. We live in The Motor Valley. Close to us is Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Ducati—all these famous brands. Everyone wants to make something they like; we chose the superbike. Why electric? Because it is a challenge. We cannot fight against Ducati, so we needed to invent something else.”
The Ego debuted two years ago at EICMA as a non-running mockup, a sharp-edged derivative of CRP’s 2010/11 TTXGP entries, which grew out of earlier 125/250cc GP and Moto2 efforts. An oil-cooled, permanent-magnet AC motor producing a claimed 134 horsepower and 195 newton-meters (144 foot-pounds, three times that of a Brammo Empulse) of torque powers the current machine.
How is Energica balancing those performance claims against battery life? “We found the balance with a really sophisticated control system,” said electrical engineer Giovanni Gherardi. “We are handling the battery in a new way. The old system said, ‘Stop. No more power for the bike.’ Now, we have dynamic management of the power. At every moment, the bike knows how much power can be taken from the battery and given to the wheel.”
Gherardi built the dual-processor controller from scratch. “This was really a challenge,” he said. “Of course, the battery is the bottleneck, but I think this bike is not a compromise because you always have the same response at low rpm. You just feel a little less ‘push’ at high speed. With this system, you can reach the end of the battery life in a progressive way.”
Energica claims a range of 150 kilometers (93 miles) at an average speed of 70 kph (43 mph) and an electronically limited top speed of 240 kph (149 mph). Reportedly, the 11.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion batteries can be recharged within three hours via a European household socket or in less than 30 minutes to 80 percent capacity with direct current. A battery partner will be announced at EICMA.
Energica hasn’t broken new ground with the Ego’s chassis: steel trellis frame, braced aluminum swingarm, fully adjustable 43mm Marzocchi fork, Sachs steering damper and, fitted to the prototype we rode, an Öhlins TTX36 shock. Brembo supplies the radial-mount, four-piston front brake calipers, radial-pump master cylinder and two-piston rear caliper. Braking makes the 310mm and 220mm steel discs. Pirelli Diablo Rosso IIs in 120/70-17 and 180/55-17 sizes are mounted on forged aluminum Marchesini wheels. Final drive is via chain.
“Of course, tubular trellis is Italian,” said Chief Technical Officer Giampiero Testoni, “but it was not only for that. It was mostly for development of the bike. Steel is easier, cheaper and faster. Once you do aluminum, you have spent a lot of money. If something goes wrong, you just throw everything away. The production bike will have a cast aluminum swingarm and motor housing.”
Two kinds of regenerative braking will be implemented. “The first one simulates the braking of a petrol engine and is already implemented on the prototype,” said Gherardi. “When you release the throttle, you get braking from the engine. Depending on the map you choose, you can even disable it. The second will be on the EICMA model and is controlled with the brake. It, too, will have two or three settings. Both electrical brakes will have anti-locking functionality.”
Energica collaborated with COBO on the Ego’s large, multifunction TFT (Thin Film Transistor) instrument panel. “With LCD,” said Carlo Linetti, VP of COBO’s Automotive Division, “you apply tension to two poles; all the cells move at the same time. In TFT, you drive every cell through a transistor. This allows you to do things you cannot do with other systems.
“For example, you can make the rpm number bigger as soon as the system is activated. You can also create animation. If two riders want a different look, this is possible just through different software.” Linetti says the production version of the Ego’s dash will be option-rich, with Bluetooth, external memory and GPS, among other features. COBO also makes the TFT dash for the Ducati 899 and 1199 Panigales.
Like the matte-black dash housing, the battery tray and unpainted bodywork fitted to the prototype were “grown” in a laser-sintering 3-D printer using CRP’s proprietary carbon-fiber-reinforced composite powder. Head- and taillights are LED. Wiring is well hidden.
Energica laid out an 18-mile test loop that snaked through the rolling Chianti hills over a mix of pot-holed and glass-smooth pavement. To keep speeds down on the heavily trafficked two-lane roads, which were posted at 50 kph (31 mph), journalists were sandwiched between factory test rider (and former Grand Prix racer) Alessandro Brannetti and Testoni.
This brief ride showcased the Ego’s greatest attribute: smooth, progressive throttle response. Torque built quickly, non-threateningly, with no hiccups or the slightest hint of wheel spin. As you would expect from an electric motor, vibration was non-existent. The simulated compression braking was eerily realistic, kicking in as I closed the “throttle” the last few degrees.
In spite of its prototype status, the bike felt solid, and handling belied the claimed weight of 258 kilograms (569 pounds). Steering was light and neutral, the brakes were strong and suspension movement was well controlled. Feet-up U-turns made during the photo shoot were a snap.
Overall size of the Ego is similar to that of a late-model middleweight racer-replica; Testoni said the “tank” is slightly wider than a Honda CBR600RR’s. With the clip-on-style handlebars mounted low and ahead of the top triple-clamp, the riding position is aggressive. Adjustable rearsets with solidly mounted footpegs fitted to the prototype were perfectly placed for my long legs, though the seat didn’t provide much room for fore/aft movement.
A video camera mounted on the top triple-clamp blocked most of the high-tech dash, but the portion of the digital rev counter that I could see was easy to read and unaffected by the afternoon sun. In lieu of this visual cue, the high-pitched whir of the electric motor served as a useful rpm indicator. At the end of my ride, I’d exhausted 27 percent of the available charge.
Pre-production testbikes are supposed to be available next summer, with homologated production models coming to market in 2015 at a handful of yet-undisclosed U.S. dealers. MSRP for the Ego is expected to be $25,000. A naked version of the same machine, called Eva, is in the works.
“Our bikes will be exclusive,” said Vezzani. “Quantities will be made from emerging markets, not from Italy. But we can put Italiano—what it means to be in Italy—into the two-wheel market: a beautiful bike, a perfect bike from a precision point of view, everything the world recognizes to Italians.”
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