Last updated Saturday, December 10, 2016 7:04 am GMT+8

Friday December 2, 2016
09:57 AM GMT+8

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SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 2 — There is no thrum of a Ducati or familiar rumble that made Harley Davidson famous. Only a whine from the electric motor that increases linearly as you rush for the horizon.

This is the Johammer J1 , a cruiser like no other. Designed and built in a small Austrian factory near the Czech border, the distinctive shape has been likened to a giant peanut, a prewar Junkers airplane or even a medieval jousting steed. The outrageous design seems more at home in the living room than the garage.

“This is a natural return to the concept of the horse, before there was noise and pollution from engines,” says Johann Hammerschmid, founder of Johammer e-mobility GmbH.

First released in late 2014, some 60 Johammers are storming across Europe. While it’s the first electric motorcycle to cover more than 300 kilometres on a single charge, what comes next might make it even more revolutionary.

The next generation, now under development, while parked might also double as battery storage behind home solar-power panels. A prototype—think of a Tesla Powerwall on wheels—is already in use in Switzerland.

A crowdfunding campaign has just started to help fund expansion.

The electric-powered motorcycle Johammer J1. ― Screengrab from Bloomberg videoThe electric-powered motorcycle Johammer J1. ― Screengrab from Bloomberg video“The change of pace will be quicker than we currently imagine,” says Hammerschmid.

Fifty-six-year-old Hammerschmid first thought of an electric vehicle in 2007, and it took shape over the years as essentially a weekend project. His other company, Nordfels GmbH, solves complex engineering problems.

With a team of fewer than 40 it makes factory lines for the food, drug and farm industries. Their latest machine, for example, toasts 5,000 sandwiches per hour.

Local design consultant Yellow.at gave the Johammer a conceptual vision with the name “Biiista” — a play on the German word for beast. It’s hard to decide what's more striking: the polypropylene body cladding or the unconventional center-hub steering, a system created a century ago but never widely embraced.

The bike’s top speed is limited to around 75 miles an hour to avoid energy-sapping wind resistance. Acceleration is fun, not fast, but you forgive its limits to sheer performance. It’s like ditching a motorboat for sailboat — both are pleasurable in their own ways.

There’s some clever engineering. The J1 has no dashboard, instead data are displayed on the rear-view mirrors. A reverse twist of the throttle turns the drive motor into a generator that acts as a brake and quickly scrubs speed.

It’s so efficient the disk brakes are relegated to helping with slow-speed stopping. And it’s got a reverse gear for parking. Safety-certified items—wheels, tires and brake disks—were sought commercially, and most of the rest was built in house.

Two versions of the J1 are available. The top spec J1.200 costs €25,000 (RM118,781), capable of travelling 125 miles on tough terrain, and 186 miles urban—more ground than a standard Harley-Davidson Sportster can cover. A full recharge takes 3.5 hours, but it can be blast-charged in 80 minutes.

“We’re at the stage cars were at 100 years ago. The infrastructure was limited but it grew quickly,” says Hammerschmid. “The same will happen with e-vehicles, and it won’t just be gas stations used for recharging.” Homes, workplaces, shopping malls, parking garages — all will become places to recharge.

The battery is assembled at the Johammer factory from more than 1,200 individual cells capable of holding 12 kilowatt hours, close to the Powerwall’s 14 kWh. There are plans for a sidecar model, which would allow a bigger battery and increased range.

Ultimately, the Johammer’s selling point is about pushing technology and design. Its uniqueness is what draws people willing to pay a premium for their passions, despite its price topping models offered by more mainstream rivals such as Victory and Zero.

With crowdfunding under way, Johammer says it’s riding the early wave of multi-function green transport. “This trend is irreversible, we are seeing it in all sectors and especially those connected with mobility,” says Hammerschmid.

“A motorcycle like this is weather-dependent so no vehicle is better suited for a secondary role as storage.” — Bloomberg

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