Modern cars are riddled with sensors looking in every direction, most taxed with one simple duty: keep you safe.
Motorcycles are a lot more simple. Riders are literally hung out in the wind, left with little more than their reflexes, skills, and situational awareness to keep them safe. Even essential safety tech like anti-lock brakes and traction control are relatively new additions to the two-wheel scene.
But that’s changing, and it looks like Finland’s Verge Motorcycles (no relation) could lead the pack with the most advanced rider safety system on two wheels when the Verge TS Ultra launches later this year.
Big power, weird motor
The TS looks like nothing else on the road because it is like nothing else on the road. It’s electric, for starters, making it still a rare thing in the world of motorcycles, but its performance is even more radical. It has a whopping 201 horsepower and 885 pound-feet of torque, almost twice as much as a Corvette E-Ray.
That torque comes from an unusual source. When coming up with the initial design for a motorcycle in 2018, Verge Motorcycles CTO Marko Lehtimäki said that the team was unhappy with the few electric motorcycles on the market.
He said that most electric motorcycle designs simply replace the basic layout of a gas-powered motorcycle, swapping an engine for a motor and a gas tank for a battery. “We thought that cannot be optimal,” he said.
Placing the battery high in the frame was one particular concern. “These batteries are very heavy,” he said. “The center of gravity gets high and these are top-heavy and not very enjoyable experiences compared to traditional motorcycling.”
It has a whopping 201 horsepower and 885 pound-feet of torque, almost twice as much as a Corvette E-Ray.
Verge Motorcycle’s engineers knew they needed to put the battery down in the bottom of the frame, keeping the center of gravity as low as possible. But, by dropping the battery to the base, they filled up the space usually occupied by a motor.
“We came to a conclusion that we would need to move the motor outside of the main chassis, out of the body of the motorcycle,” he said. So they decided to try something different: putting the motor inside the rear wheel.
In-wheel electric motors are not exactly rare. In fact, they’re common in the e-bike scene, found on options like the VanMoof S4 or the BirdBike. The TS Ultra’s motor, though, is something different.
It’s a hubless ring design, which means you can put your hand right through the center of the wheel. This creates a radical look and while it does have some drawbacks, namely adding a lot of weight hanging off the rear suspension, Lehtimäki said the practical benefits of that battery placement more than outweigh it.
“We did a prototype, and let’s say that was not a very easy path,” Lehtimäki said. “Even when we got the prototype working, people thought that we were crazy, and many were saying that that would never work in real life. But we just were very convinced this is the future, and if we can make this work, it will change everything.”
The result is an inadvertent head-turner. “We didn’t start from ‘Let’s create something that looks like a Tron bike,’ we started from how can we make a better motorcycle with a completely redesigned EV architecture,” he said. “The answer was this ring motor.”
While the look of the bike is unique, the way the bike will look back at the world is equally novel. At this year’s CES in Las Vegas, Verge Motorcycles will unveil a new sensor package to be included with the TS Ultra, the top trim of the company’s debut motorcycle. The company calls it Starmatter Vision.
Six cameras will peer in all directions, enabling full 360 sensing around the bike. Those will be augmented by two high-resolution radar units, one looking ahead and another looking back.
Lehtimäki declined to say who’s providing the radar units for inclusion on the bike, only saying that they are “the best quality you can get on the market.” They’ll be used to identify obstacles on the road ahead or fast-approaching vehicles from behind, while the cameras will also scan for anything in the way to the left or right.
Six cameras will peer in all directions
All those warnings will be communicated to the rider through a variety of channels. The most significant will be the pair of displays. The gauge cluster above the handlebars will show most of the data, but another display, sitting on top of the tank, will provide even more detail on what’s going on around the bike.
All this will be presented using Unreal Engine, meaning high-end 3D graphics on an embedded motorcycle display for the first time. It’s all part of a software package Verge Motorcycles calls Starmatter, all fully updatable via the bike’s integrated wireless connectivity.
However, since looking down at the pretty ray tracing isn’t exactly the best idea when you’re riding along the highway at upwards of 70 mph. So, the Verge Motorcycles TS will also connect with in-helmet audio systems.
”It’s the combination of these that we are quite excited about. In general, we think that audio, especially spatial audio, is really a really important part of the experience,” Lehtimäki said.
Spatial audio would point to some sort of a next-generation helmet audio system beyond what’s readily available on the market today, but Lehtimäki declined to share more details on what exactly that might look like – or sound like for that matter.
While we don’t know exactly how the audio feedback of the TS Ultra will work, we do know that all of this will be extremely costly. The TS Ultra has a starting price of $44,900. For that, you get the bike with the sensors and up to 233 miles of range.
If that doesn’t fit with your budget, Verge Motorcycles does have the $29,900 TS Pro, with 137 horsepower and 217 miles of range, or the base, $26,900 TS, with 107 horsepower and 155 miles of range.
Not only do you give up power and range, but you’ll also say goodbye to the advanced sensing package. For now, Lehtimäki says that those sensors are too pricey to include on the lower-end bikes.
All of this will be extremely costly
But, since all the Verge Motorcycles TS models are OTA updatable, and they all feature the same internal sensors (including GPS, accelerometer, and gyroscope), the stability and traction control systems driving every model will evolve along the same path, getting ever better at dealing with things like inclement conditions and heavy-handed new riders.
Verge Motorcycles says they’ll start shipping to American consumers sometime in the summer of this year, exclusively through direct sales to start. That’s about a six-month slip behind what the company was promising this time last year, but Verge Motorcycles actually has delivered a few production TS units to lucky customers in Europe. So, despite the sci-fi look, this thing looks set to become a reality.