BRD RedShift SM and MX Electric Motorcycles - First Look

Electric On/Off-Road Racers.

BRD RedShift SM and MX Electric Motorcycles

BRD RedShift SM and MX Electric Motorcycles

Electric motors and motocross are a great fit. San Francisco-based startup BRD is deep into development on its RedShift electric motorcycles and hopes to join the plug-in MXer party next year. With the latest lithium-ion batteries and electric-motor technology, power isn’t an issue for electric vehicles; cost and range are the real hurdles. In an application like motocross, where a gasoline tanks typically hold only 1.5 gallons or less of fuel and have a limited range, an alternative like electric power starts to look like a competitive option.

The project started three years ago, when veteran Northern California racer, machine-shop owner and BRD Chief Technology Office Derek Dorresteyn had a chance to ride another company’s prototype electric off-road motorcycle. He was immediately enchanted with the smooth and torquey power delivery, even if there wasn’t much else he liked about the bike. Convinced that a properly executed electric off-roader had potential, he started a project to build one. Dorresteyn quickly discovered that few off-the-shelf parts were available to build such a machine, so he enlisted mechanical-design consultant Jeff Sands to help with design. Almost everything would have to be done from scratch to work in the proposed application.

BRD’s first products are the RedShift MX (Motocross) and SM (Supermoto) bikes. At their heart are custom, three-phase, PMAC, high-voltage electric motors, weighing about 10 pounds. Such a motor has rare earth-magnets on its rotor, with stationary coils to spin them. A high-speed motor like this can make plenty of power, with its main limitations being thermal. Having the coils on the outside, rather than an inductive rotor, allows ready cooling. In this case, the motor fits into a special casting that serves both to route liquid-cooling to the coils and also serves as the rear structure of the chassis.

Prototypes of the motor have been bench-tested by BRD over the last year, along with the 5.2-kWh (kilowatt-hour) battery pack that will eventually power it. The company is quite confident that peak output will be at least 40 horsepower, with a continuous power rating of 25 hp. In motocross tune, the peak rating may go higher yet, permitted by the relatively short full-throttle bursts required in the sport. The goal is to be competitive with 250cc four-strokes in the Lights MX class.

Chassis geometry and stiffness have been modeled from Honda’s CRF450R, while suspension will likely come from a premium European supplier. “There are decades of development in modern motocross and supermoto chassis” said Dorresteyn. “We chose to harness the best of that while taking advantage of the torque and throttle response an electric motor delivers.”

Interestingly enough, the first two versions to be sold, the Redshift SM and Redshift MX, will be fully street-legal, with a race kit offered to convert them for pure off-road use. Why? Tax breaks and other government incentives for purchasing electric vehicles apply only to street-legal machines. On the street, ridden in a suburban or urban environment, the 5.2-kWh pack should give a range of about 50 miles. "We expect people to ride the snot out of these in a way that hasn't been possible on previous electrics," says BRD CEO Marc Fenigstein. "That's going to affect the range and we want to be careful about getting the specification right."

BRD is announcing the vehicles now hoping to generate interest, which in turn will hopefully help in its efforts to raise capital. A prototype fleet is scheduled to begin testing in October, and small-scale production is expected in 2012. Pricing will be initially higher than all but the most exotic dirt bikes—which may be at least partially offset by lower maintenance costs in the long term.