A vehicle packed with some of the newest technologies in the world is set to challenge one of the oldest motor races in the world in June when the Canadian-built Amarok electric sport bike attempts the 97-year-old Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
This is the machine, the men behind it, and the mountain they aim to summit on their mission to create a different kind of motorcycle.
At first glance, it looks almost like any other sport bike, with its wind-slicing angles and crotch-rocket cockpit. It has standard 17-inch wheels, familiar four-piston brakes and a conventional rear swing-arm, suspension and chain drive.
But peek behind the bodywork and a motorcycle like no other appears. Where traditional motorcycles have frames cradling a combustion engine, gas tank and gearbox, the Amarok has an airplane-inspired riveted aluminum monocoque fuselage packed with the latest in lithium battery technology.
It’s the result of making a virtue out of a vice. The fuselage is much stronger and lighter than a conventional welded frame, but not well suited to the shape of combustion engines. It is, however, ideal for cradling the weight of batteries, one of the major performance limiters of electric vehicles.
“We’ve completely thrown the traditional architecture out the window and just built a bike from scratch around electric batteries,” says Michael Uhlarik, one of the duo behind the Amarok.
The bike weighs just 147 kilograms. While the most common 600-cc production superbikes are all within five kilograms of each other, the Amarok is 38 kilograms lighter than the lightest among them, and only 10 kilograms heavier than the MotoGP Moto2 bikes, the most advanced 600-cc race bikes in the world.
The Amarok has twin air-cooled electric motors putting out 80 horsepower. While that’s well shy of the 130 hp propelling production 600-cc bikes, the Amarok folks stress that it has almost twice the torque at 120 lb-ft, has to move much less weight, and point out that the electric motors delivers full power through the full rpm range, and not just in the narrow 500-rpm band that make frequent gear changes a necessity on a combustion bike. As a result, the Amarok has no gear box. Set up for maximum speed, it will do about 250 km/h.
Michael Uhlarik conceived of the Amarok after spending years in Europe designing motorcycles for Yamaha and Piaggio, among others. Originally from Sudbury, Ont., he moved back to Canada to work for Bombardier in Quebec, but when he was laid off after the 2008 economic collapse, he found himself with a lot of time and an empty 148-year-old barn on his property in Lennoxville, Que., in which to build the motorcycle of his dreams.
“Motorcycles are old. It’s a 130-year-old invention, and there’s really not a lot left to do,” Uhlarik said. “With electrification you have the possibility to start from scratch and possibly wildly alter the architecture of a motorcycle, which is a very compelling thing to a designer.”
To bring his design to life, he teamed up with friend and neighbour Kevin O’Neil, a machinist, mechanic and long-time automotive hobbyist who brings inventive craftsmanship to Uhlarik’s design experience.
For its first real-world challenge, the Amarok is coming off the design table and testing bench to take on the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Run each year since 1916, the Race to the Clouds is the second-oldest motor race in North America.
The race is a timed 20-kilometre run up Pikes Peak mountain in the Colorado Rockies, climbing 1,440 metres in elevation, or about three times the height of the CN Tower.
There are several long straightaways, but the key is to keep as much speed as possible through the 156 turns while avoiding drop-offs as deep as 600 metres.
“It showcases what I think are our strengths,” Uhlarik says. “Handling is everything when you’ve got 156 turns.”
And those strengths will be challenged. Tracy’s Amarok entry sparked Pikes Peak electric motorcycle record holder Chip Yates to make a late effort to defend his title aboard one of the Amarok’s competitors, the Lightning electric sport bike.
The current Amarok is a bike that showcases the realities of today’s electric battery and motor technology, which provides the power to take on combustion bikes on the racetrack, but doesn’t have the range and recharging times to match conventional bikes on the open road.
But as the technology advances, the goal is to build Amarok street bikes for the post-digital age, when the kids of aging baby boomers are ready to abandon their parents’ allegiances to gasoline, loud pipes as quickly as they dropped MySpace for Facebook, and get excited about a bike that can be precision tuned with an smartphone app rather than a wrench.
“There’s a whole new generation who grew up with grew up with the Internet and cellphone technology and they don’t care about things like brand heritage,” Uhlarik says. “The end goal is to create a motorcycle brand that speaks to that generation.”
Until then, Amarok aims to have a competition-quality model for sale to racers and well-heeled track-day enthusiasts by 2014, with a price somewhere between $22,000 to $25,000.
Watch the Amarok and other competitors in the Pikes Peak hill climb live streaming June 30 on redbull.tv