Art Center Pasadena

At Art Center Pasadena, California, a quiet green revolution is starting; one of their professors, Bumsuk Lim, has seized recent momentum in new environmental technologies and raced off. Out of his personal passion for motorcycle riding he has developed Art Center’s first official motorcycle design class, which, he admits, could turn into a fully-fledged design program. Why now? Lim has found that by combining an undervalued segment in the transportation industry and new future green technologies he can encourage his students to boldly go where no car designer has gone before, into enviro-motorcycles!

The first pilot class just ended this past April and judging from the results, two of which are featured here, this is the best way to openly explore alternative vehicles without stomping on the mainstream world of car design. By removing the traditional package of 4 wheels, seated passengers, storage space, and regimented target markets motorcycle design offers up endless possibilities for exploring alternative modes of movement. But it is not however without its own constraints. Lim’s brief to his students was to create a motorcycle that ‘does not exist in the market today’. They had to ask themselves what can a motorcycle do and what can it not do.

Motorcycles have been around for more than 100 years, more than cars, and evoke very primitive and essential emotions in their riders. “If you get down to basics”, says Lim, “a motorcycle is a sign of freedom! We ride because we like the open air feeling, the raw power, and the freedom of movement!” However, there are obvious limitations in terms of what the user can do with a motorcycle. You cannot carry more than 2 people, you cannot take excessive luggage, you might drop a bike, and its overall image is that it is dangerous. So, Lim told his students ‘what if!’, what if you can change these negative points and emphasize the good ones with green technology. What Lim wanted his students to do was to consider the fact that by reconfiguring and rethinking the motorcycle with green technology they could, as designers, propose vehicles never seen before.

“There is no point in designing existing vehicles and simply adding green technology to the same old problem when we have the opportunity, and the moment in time, to make a greater change! Why not use these new environmentally safe technologies to change the way we ride? People fear what they don’t know and hate change. If you offer them a new fun and exciting product with that technology they will more readily accept it than trying to push new technology onto existing stuff. As a long-time motorcycle myself its tough for me to accept these changes because I like my bike the way it is, I would rather have a totally different motorcycle that gives me a different thrill instead!”, says Lim.

The days of the plastic bags are gone, now it's the time bring your own. He cites the internal combustion engine as an example of this principle. Everybody thought that the steam engine would revolutionize our transportation system but out of necessity, an almost environmental necessity, the revolutionary yet imperfect combustion engine, that has lasted 100 years, became mainstream. Imagine the streets of New York polluted by horse droppings and its no wonder that people soon embraced the change. Lim compares that moment in time to now where out of greater need to heal our climate we have to lose the combustion engine. We cannot be afraid of losing our lifestyles; instead we should be afraid of losing our lives. The new generation of designers are looking into the way people live their lives in order to create alternative solutions to the ‘way we live’ not to our ‘ life style’.

Take for example Loniak and Gonzalez, two of Lim’s students this term, who designed two very different solutions to the ‘way people live their lives’.

Jake Loniak is a Transportation Design student in his 6th term. His project called ‘Deus Ex Machina’ (God Out of a Machine) is an electric, single passenger, vertically parking, and wearable motorcycle. The immediate impression is that of a sci-fi futuristic robot, but ‘what if?’ What if you could become one with the motorcycle with its human muscular-skeletal system? With seven artificial vertebrae behind the helmet that support the rider’s head you could control the ‘Deus Ex Machina’ via 36 pneumatic muscles and 2 linear actuators with your body. Leaning forward the rider extends into the more traditional riding position but there is nothing traditional about this machine. Perhaps stemming from his background as a US Marine, Loniak’s design was inspired by Biomechatronics and nature.

Biomechatronics comprises aspects of biology, mechanics, and electronics that are equally present throughout his design. The formal shape of the Deus is naturally biological because the features, the helmet, the arms, and the vertebrae recall human physiognomy, while the mechanics and electronics are worn as an exoskeleton. Exposing these elements beautifully highlights the contrast between machine and human, making quite a lyric comment on our relationship with the objects we make. This is another aspect of motorcycle design that separates itself quite sharply from car design, while the latter seeks to hide all its components the former shows them off (sometimes the bigger being better!).

The Deus, powered by Doped NanoPhosphate batteries and ultra-capacitors, has an in-wheel motor that could supply ample torque to deliver a driving acceleration of 60 mph in 3 seconds. Recharge time is 15 minutes with a cycle time of 60 minutes, top speed, limited for now, at 75 mph.

Salvador Gonazalez, also in the Transportation Design’s 6th term, designed a self-standing entry-level electric sports bike. Powered by an electric motor, it is designed for environmentally conscious and socially responsible riders who still want excitement of sports bikes with safety and extra-conveniences. There is nothing more tragic than dropping your bike when you buy it new! In addition the main fear for a rider is injury due to being exposed to the road and other vehicles. To address these issues Gonzalez designed an external structure that, in initial sketches at least, protects the rider overhead with a cover and on the sides with butterfly side guards. Unlike other vehicles that have recently entered the market with the stabilizing three-wheel configuration the Tricera retains a sporty and aggressive stance. This is essential to its success because as bike riders know, you gotta look cool no matter what (yep, even if it means risking your life!).

Although Lim has worked extensively as a car designer in the US and Japan, it is his personal passion and experience consulting with Yamaha that inspired him to push through the motorcycle design course at Art Center. California’s green ways have made him give up his much loved Ducati for a cleaner greener bike. Now he can rest assured that the ‘green’ bike of his dreams will come from one of his students and he can’t wait!