Damon Motorcycles | Why you should believe the hype

Why electric Damon Motorcycles can live up to hype_01


"It's going to absolutely crush them."

You don't need the benefit of context to recognise Jay Giraud is a man who speaks with absolute conviction, so much so he's already responded to my question before I've finished it.

The 'it' he is referring to is the Damon Hypersport, a soon-to-be-launched sportsbike boasting 200bhp and a top speed of 200mph in top specification. Oh, and it is powered by electricity.

The 'them' is the competition. The establishment. The esteemed full-faired, full power, full fat sportbike stalwarts of a small but revered segment where the monikers Fireblade, R, GSX-R, Panigale, RSV and Ninja hold court.

They are motorcycles with reputations carved over generations of incremental gains in performance, technology, style and success on the track, a heritage so rich they are not so much successors, as heirs to a flagship throne.

In short, it takes a foolhardy manufacturer to enter such a cutthroat arena.

But making it electric too? Well, that's just foolish, right?

"It's the numbers… the speed and the performance and the torque. Once you've felt it, you'll never be able to stop thinking about it.

"We're talking about 230Nm of torque. But not at a specific RPM; the entire 18,000-RPM range, from zero to 18,000, and at any given moment in-between.

"The instantaneousness of that throttle twist, it can barely be measured in milliseconds."


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The emotional attachment

It would be easy to dismiss Giraud's boldness as eye-rolling hyperbole symptomatic of the modern CEO in the Steve Jobs or Elon Musk mould, where having a prominent public persona, a very active Twitter account and a penchant for turtleneck jumpers seems just as important as keeping the company solvent.

Yet Giraud's soundbites don't come from his position as a CEO, they come from a fully-paid up member of the motorcycling community, a 27-year passion for two-wheels corroborated by a personal collection that reads like a fantasy garage with a Honda RC51, Aprilia RSV 4, KTM 1290 Super Duke - plus a couple of Honda Groms - tucked in there.

It also means he is 'hyper aware' - as Giraud refers to it - of the emotional, tactile attachment to motorcycling that regularly forms the basis for counter arguments against the appeal of electric motorcycles. Not that he is terribly concerned.

"Generally speaking, Millennials and Gen-Z's who don't have preconceived expectations of what a motorcycle should do.

"They have no interest in smell, vibration, noise. Absolutely none. They don't have this existing need in their head the way I do. I really love my SC project exhaust on my Aprilia. It's 106 decibels at idle. It's amazing. I love it. But I also love electric power

"What do people think about electric versus gas? People who ride gas motorcycles for a few years or more, have some level of attachment to sound and vibration and the things that are inherently combustion? New people who are coming into the industry have no level of attachment. Absolutely none."

Even so, a personal passion project though this may be for Giraud, what really sets Damon Motorcycles apart from myriad brands that have sprung up - and collapsed - in recent years with electric at the heart of their foundation, is the Hypersport was originally developed to showcase its innovative radar-safety tech named Co-Pilot (more on that later).

In fact, the decision to make it electric came later on and was made primarily to futureproof the company.

"We had to decide if it was going to be a gas [petrol] bike, but that's such a huge investment. Building a new engine is way bigger than building electric, by the way. Ask Keanu Reeves at Arch. Although it's far more understood, the capital intensity is much higher. So many parts.

"Of course we thought, 'Oh, my god. It has to be electric'. I built an electric car company. I know how hard it is. It sucks. It's super hard. But, there are so many other potential transformations that can occur if you were to build the bike from the ground up, things like shift and new levels of torque and performance and range and stuff that's pretty exciting.

"So, by the end of 2018, we looked at ourselves in the mirror and crossed that bridge, and haven't looked back."


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"Electric vehicles will change your life"

Indeed, regardless of whether Damon felt compelled to commit to electric power so as to swerve the headache of investing in a conventional ICE unit with a looming expiry date attached to it, Giraud is emphatic in his belief that electric will not only convince the many sceptics, its sheer potential will quickly consign ICEs to history as an old-fashioned and inferior powertrain.

"Drive an electric car. Get in a Tesla. It will change your life. It sounds so stupid but it will literally change your life, once and for all. You'll not be able to not want an electric vehicle after that.

"You can be doing 100km/h on the highway in the right lane and want to be up in a little spot in the left lane 200 feet away. You just tap that gas pedal and it feels like you teleport to the next spot. The instantaneousness of the torque is frighteningly exciting. It's like it's attached to your brain.

"Now, you add that to a motorcycle, where you merge your central mass with the motorcycle's central mass, they need to be as close together as possible as you go in and out of turns - you feel like an augmented human being. I'm getting shivers talking about it.

"There's no momentary throttle pause or downshift moment or up-revving before the horsepower is there. There's none of that. It's just immediate."

Still, advocating electric power is one thing, harnessing it into a high-performance package is another, a task made all the more challenging by the Hypersport being Damon's first foray into the motorcycle market.

Revealed in January 2020, the Hypersport has undergone a lengthy gestation period, thanks largely to it appearing just as COVID was beginning to criss-cross the world. Indeed, the timing couldn't have been worse for a nascent company as Damon, which faced a dearth of investment capital just as the project was gathering momentum.

Nevertheless, Damon not only weathered the storm, it has since prospered, attracting $85m in pre-orders - around 3,300 Hypersports - at the time of this interview.

Such a pre-launch buzz is unusual in the motorcycle industry, even before you consider it comes with the 'electric' factor that doesn't have mainstream manufacturers clamouring over one another to take the lead.


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High performance, no emissions

Much of this can be attributed to the Hypersport appearing to be such a tempting proposition on paper. Three versions using different size batteries are currently available with the entry level 100hp SE priced competitively at $19,000, around £16,250 when converted.

However, in flagship 20kWh battery Premier trim, the Hypersport claims a 200mph top speed, 200Nm of instant and constant torque, a sub-three second 0-60mph sprint and still 200 miles of range. All for $40,000, so around £34,000.

Sounds too good to be true? In fact, Giraud claims the Hypersport is 'battery limited', meaning it has the potential to be even more powerful.

"The computer comes up with these numbers, you run the motor against all this equipment and then you run it on the track there. Those are the numbers. And everything - the motor, electronics, the battery - is proprietary, it's our technology through and through.

"The motor is actually capable of 248 horsepower, but the battery can't discharge energy fast enough to give us that horsepower. So, we are battery limited.

"We have an exceptional battery, but we're still battery limited because the discharge capability of that cell limits the actual horsepower of the bike to about 200 horsepower.

"The refinement is inherent in software. So, the throttle accuracy is freakishly precise. That's just inherent in the nature of how software communicates to the inverter which calls the power from the battery. The shit moves at the speed of light.

"Electricity moves at 300,000 kilometers per second. That's down power lines, this just has to get to the mechanical part of a bike. Until it gets to that point, you've got fuel moving at the speed of light. It's freaky."

Such precise throttle response offers up other less expected but immensely enticing benefits too, including an unexpected one that might sway even the most steadfast of cynics; heightened senses.

Indeed, Giraud reckons that by removing the distraction of controlling the torque and changing gears frees up your attention span towards the 'visceral' feeling of riding a motorcycle - especially a sportsbike - for the pure pursuit of pleasure.

"The immediacy of the response of the Hypersport, because of that digital connectivity throughout the bike's software and connecting lines and all that, that's extremely visceral. There's just no delay. You don't have to pull in clutch, push brake, push shifter down, drop clutch, twist the throttle. Every time you do just a little bit of that, it feels like it's attached to your brain.

"When you no longer have to use your brain to manage all those things, you're doing less and you're focusing more on going forward or on anticipating your turn or on your brake control.

"When your mental workload is lower, you can focus on the things that are still remaining to do, like braking, throttling, leaning, anticipating turns, where you're looking.


"The less you have to do here, the better you're going to be. So, maybe that's the buy-line here. Electric motorcycling makes you a better rider, and that's way more exciting."


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So, it's quick, economical to run and it will make you a better rider… and yet for all of the Hypersport's electric boasts, it is arguably not the most impressive feature of this multi-talented machine.

As mentioned previously, electric power was the happy coincidence of what was already a motorcycle of convenience. Indeed, the Hypersport came to be as a 'host' of sorts to showcase Damon's original project, Co-Pilot.

Having passed on a plan to invest in Skully, a company pioneering in Iron Man-esque helmets equipped with cameras and a heads-up display on the visor, Giraud instead set about harnessing the idea in the context of a motorcycle itself.

Similar to radar-based technology that has only recently debuted on models like the Ducati Multistrada V4 and Kawasaki H2 SX SE, Damon developed Co-Pilot using two cameras and three radars that create a 360-degree warning zone to wartn of potential hazards through displays and haptic feedback. Unlike the others however, it gets smarter with every mile ridden with data collection, 5G connectivity and over the air software updates delivered to every Damon rider.

However, when Giraud discovered his original plan of supplying the hardware to manufacturers to integrate into their models became too unfeasible, instead of going back to the drawing board, he decided to adapt it to a model he created from the ground up.

"We evaluated over the course of about three years the interest level from major OEM's - you can name them all - for grafting it onto existing bikes, without being intrusive to the design or the performance or the efficacy of the current motorcycle as it's already designed.

"As we got to know, even the smallest hardware, lowest cost, least impactful to the motorcycle aesthetic, it was still too big and chunky to just be taping it onto an existing bike.

"Then there's data collection problems, who owns the data collection, who pays for the monthly megabytes to the carrier to collect that data in order for the system to be truly intelligent. And business model challenges that OEM's haven't figured out today about how to provide a connected motorcycle, and all of that.

"The value proposition for a smarter, safer bike by way of intelligent data was collapsing. So, Dom and I concluded by 2018 that there was no way around this. We had to build the bike from the ground up."


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Shifting expectations

Indeed, the devil is in the attention to detail with the Damon Hypersport, even down to the simple ergonomic 'Shift' innovation that moves the handlebars and footpegs between a sportsbike-like crouched riding position and a more upright, spine-friendlier stance.

With ambitions to adapt its technology for use on more affordable models - "We're going to do down to 125s and adventure bikes one day" - the Hypersport carries a lot of responsibility on its broad shoulders.

It has even spawned a limited-edition spin-off variant too in the HyperFighter Colossus, a streetfighter naked that - like the Hypersport - will turn heads and start a conversation long before anyone has realised how it is powered.

In short, by making the electric powertrain a bullet point and not the headline, Damon's Hypersport represents a company that has gone beyond the debate of the day by instead focusing on simply bringing a smart and innovative motorcycle to market that just happens to be electric too.

Even so, Giraud accepts the electric factor - specifically the broad scepticism towards it - will be the making or breaking of the Hypersport, and therefore Damon's success by extension, no matter how impressive the motorcycle is otherwise.

While there is perhaps no correct answer when it comes to petrol versus electric, until today's choice becomes tomorrow's mandatory, there will remain those with heels dug six feet under the ground to advocate an outgoing form of power.

But instead of bombarding any cynic with showroom floor-ready facts and figures, Giraud returns to that emotional connection for riding a motorcycle as his way of demonstrating just what an electric sportsbike can do.

"I wouldn't try to sell it to them. I've got lots of gas bikes. I love them dearly. I'm not going to sell them when I finally put production Damon bikes in my garage. I would probably just go ride with it.

"Cool, let's go ride."

In short, don't believe the 'hype', just ride it…