Twenty-two electric bikes show up to compete. While many of the entries are experimental one-offs from technical universities or obsessive hobbyists, three entrants are so-called factory teams: Brammo, Mission Motors, and MotoCzysz. [Disclosure: The author is a friend of the founder of fuseproject, the San Francisco design firm that was hired by Mission Motors to design its electric motorcycle.] All of them hail from the West Coast of the United States. Brammo is in Ashland, OR, Mission Motors in San Francisco, and MotoCzysz in Portland. And all are entering the consumer market with an electric bike. Brammo is set to sell its motorcycle off the floor at Best Buy: it’s a $12,000 runabout with a top speed of 55 miles per hour. For the TTXGP, Brammo has upgraded almost every component in its bike to create two 100-mile-per-hour crotch rockets, both entered in the race. The Brammo racers are fast, light, and nimble but under-spec’d compared with what Mission and MotoCzysz trailer in: full-size race bikes heavy with batteries, capable of reaching 150 miles per hour. The Mission bike will sell for $69,000; the MotoCzysz will probably sell for slightly less.
Mission and MotoCzysz are both targeting the high-end superbike market, and both promise to ship products in the next year or two, but that is where the similarities end. Mission’s charismatic young CEO, Forrest North, is a computer geek who likes to speculate on the future of software design: he fantasizes about a wheelie-popping autobalancing “Segway app” for a bike’s control computer. (Though he hastens to say that Mission itself is not working on such an app.) MotoCzysz founder Michael Czysz is a designer–and his bike is a looker. Exposed battery packs protrude from each side, a fresh take on the naked-sportbike style of the insanely popular Ducati Monster. The packs are modular and swappable, and the bike is “green,” Czysz explains, “because it’s upgradable.” Even Infield Capital’s David Moll, one of the investors behind Mission Motors, is impressed when he sees the battery-as-engine design. “I’ve got a dog in this fight, but if that doesn’t excite you,” he says of the MotoCzysz entry, “then there’s something wrong with you.”
Brammo, Mission, and MotoCzysz are directly competing for the capital that’s needed, in enormous quantity, to introduce a new vehicle to the American market. Brammo has the early lead in the money race: a $10 million investment from Best Buy’s venture fund and Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, as compared with Mission’s $2 million in seed capital. Bringing up the rear is MotoCzysz, a company essentially funded out of Michael Czysz’s back pocket. While both Mission and Brammo hope to win the TTXGP in order to generate publicity and thus orders, MotoCzysz needs to win, or at least place, in order to woo enough capital to enter the marketplace. It’s anyone’s race to win, of course, but in most motor sports, the factory teams with access to deep corporate pockets are the first to cross the finish line. Behind them come the privateers–scrappy dreamers and shade-tree mechanics who are short on resources but long on heart.
So it’s all the more surprising that in the week before the race, a dark horse emerges, freaking out all the factory teams. The fastest bike in the TTXGP prelims–two qualifying runs around the island–turns out to be from Team Agni, a total unknown, a mere privateer. Millions of American research-and-development dollars find themselves chasing the tail of a no-money ratbike engineered in India.