Recently, Mission Motors’ electric superbike, the Mission R, won a Core 77 Design Award. The design magazine presented awards to winners in 15 different disciplines, and the Mission R won the transportation category. The Core77 jury praised the Mission R for its cutting-edge industrial design, the quality of its execution and its role in making electric vehicles exciting and aspirational.

The Mission team was proud to work with industrial designer Tim Prentice of Motonium on the Mission R. This award represents a great opportunity for Tim, in his words, to describe the experience of styling the world’s most advanced electric superbike.

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In the Beginning
One afternoon in September 09 I got a call from my friend James Parker who said he was working with a start-up company in San Francisco called Mission Motors to develop their new electric superbike, the Mission R. I’d worked with James on several projects over the years and he thought that I might be interested in working with him and Mission. At the time I knew very little about electric vehicles but thought it might be a good chance to learn more, so after a phone call with Mission, I headed for their office in San Francisco.

At my first meeting with Mission, they offered me a ride on their previous bike, the Mission One. I was skeptical because most electric powered vehicles are very low performance, but an electric superbike sounded interesting. It was odd to take off with no sound, without using a clutch, and not having to shift, but as soon as I could open it up, the only thing going through my mind was how strong and unyielding the acceleration was. I’ve ridden many other more powerful superbikes, but I’d never experienced that type of character of torque. It was addictive and I wanted more.

New Challenges
In general, successful motorcycle design is about how to package the components in an extremely limited and dynamic package while maintaining highly functional ergonomics combined with efficient aerodynamics. Mission’s bike is very unique in this respect, with some parts smaller (motor), some new (battery pack) and some gone (gas tank, exhaust pipe). James did a good job of outlining how this was managed in his earlier post.

Unlike large volume production motorcycles, the Mission R is a prototype development bike with the requirement that the mechanical and EV systems be easily accessible to the engineers. During development the Mission R would be prepped, tested, disassembled, inspected, tested, reassembled and prepped for test riding/racing – over and over and over. If anyone has ever had to remove bodywork form a sport bike, you realize how tedious and time consuming it can be. It was also a goal to have the entire battery pack remove vertically from the chassis for hot swap capability.

Conceptualizing
One of the first things I try to think of on a new project is what reaction do I want to get out of people, and I felt it was important to make sure that reaction was not based on the bike being electric. In other words, I wanted to create a compelling design that could stand up to other world class ICE designs. It would have been aiming far too low to make it the most compelling and best looking electric motorcycle. This thing had to be exciting and sexy. It had to be desirable.

The Mission R is a race bike – a serious piece of high performance hardware and it needed to look like it. It also needed to look distinctive and new but there was no way it was going to look too futuristic or like a bad sci-fi movie prop. One of the great aspects of motorcycle design is seeing the exposed hardware – the engine, frame, suspension, controls, etc. and in that respect, the Mission R should be no different. It’s got great hardware and a unique chassis design that we could show off instead of cover up. In this way the Mission R could visually tell the story of how this electric motorcycle design is different from ICE motorcycles which I think is extremely important for EVs at this point in history.

The shapes I was tending towards were sculptural (meaning solid looking), lean, minimal, and flowing. I don’t think too much about any specific things to inspire me, just the types of forms to convey the right reaction for myself. The words I kept thinking about were efficiency, minimal, serious hardware, and functional form.

Seeing is Believing
Seeing the bike completed bike unveiled at the 2010 Long Beach International Motorcycle Show under perfect lighting was very surreal – and very satisfying. But that was only the beginning. The Mission R still had a complete development program to go through. You definitely don’t just bolt it all together and go fast immediately. I have to say I was very impressed with the very professional job of development that Mission did which resulted in a run-away win by Steve Rapp at the USGP/TTXGP race at Laguna Seca last July. Designing the Mission R and seeing it perform so well was one of the most unique and rewarding experiences of my career.

Cheers,
Timothy Prentice
President
Motonium Design, Inc.

More:
Core 77 Design Awards
Core 77 Design Awards: Mission Motors
Motonium