Back in May 2019, Triumph announced its plans to develop a prototype electric bike, known as Project TE-1 whose purpose was to investigate battery-powered powertrains and prepare for future production models. Together in alliance with several other British engineering powerhouses, the aim was to develop an electric motorcycle that’s commercially viable and meets the needs of customers.
Fast forward two years and that conglomerate of British brain power – namely Triumph Motorcycles, Williams Advanced Engineering, Integral Powertrain Ltd, and WMG at the University of Warwick, all funded by the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles and delivered through Innovate UK - have today unveiled the powertrain prototype as well as some very interesting power figures.
“This important project will provide one of the foundations for our future electric motorcycle strategy,” said Nick Bloor, Triumph CEO.
Read on to find out peak power figures, claims of a class-leading battery, the next phase of the project and when we’ll get to ride the very first electric Triumph motorcycle as BikeSocial was among the first few hand-picked to prod and poke the new powertrain and see the styling sketched first hand, as well as talk to representatives from two of the firms involved; Triumph and Williams Advanced Engineering (part of the Formula One division) as detailed in this video.
If Phase 1 was the announcement, then Phase 2 focuses on the electric powertrain and battery plus those first sketches of a motorbike which have a very appealing and signature 'Triumph' look to them. The finished article has a target weight of 220kg mark (the motor is 10kg) with a range of approximately 120 miles, and an equivalent power output of 177PS though at this stage it's just a prototype. We initially spoke to Steve Sargent – Triumph’s Chief Product Officer before Dyrr Ardash from WAE:
BikeSocial (BS): It’s been almost two years since you announced this project, can you recap for us and tell us what’s happened since?
Steve Sargent: We kicked off in May 2019, it’s two-year project funded through Innovate UK, who want to bring the UK up to speed in terms of capabilities with electric vehicles. The purpose of the project is to develop the tech for a powertrain platform that Triumph can use and develop in the future to go into electric vehicles.
What’s happened since? A development of the battery and motor and the control units that go with that, so as the battery management unit and the vehicle control unit. We’re at a stage now where we can put that into effectively a mule bike and start getting out there and riding the thing and develop it and get it to handle and feel and do all the things you’d expect a Triumph electric to do.
BS: How did the collaboration come about? Was there a WhatsApp group and someone said, “I know lads, I’ve got an idea…”
SS: In terms of why, everybody can see where the trends are going in vehicles and in technology and with some of the legislative pressures there are around vehicles moving to greener solutions, and obviously if you keep an eye on the car world you start to see what’s going on and what trends are coming towards you. So, we’ve been very conscious as a brand that at some point we needed to start to move into understanding electric vehicles, and we started to have discussions with people like Innovate UK around what funding is available for companies in the UK to start looking in this field. Quite honestly, it’s difficult at this point in time to justify investing the amount of money you need to develop something like that for a product that I would say at the moment it’s difficult to make a financial model that makes sense. I think the UK government have been quite smart to kick start this off and give everybody a head start, there has to be some kind of collaboration between governments and private companies.
BS: What style of machine do you think would make the ideal first e-Triumph – are we looking at a Scrambler, Trident, Bonneville or Rocket3… or something quite new?
SS: We didn’t start off with any preconceptions of what the bike was going to be, where that really has come about is talking to customers and understanding how people use their bikes and what they expect out of their bikes, not what they expect out of an electric bike, but what do they expect out of their motorcycles, how do they use it, how long do they ride it for, what kind of riding do they like doing and then what we really tried to do is to is study a use case where we thought actually the technology of electric vehicles suits this kind of riding and this kind of bike and that took us really in the direction of what you see here which is a naked sportsbike. In terms of the styling the intention was to make it recognisably Triumph. We see a lot of prototype electric bikes out there that are different for the sake of being different - people play around with what a seat looks like or handlebars look like, you’ve even seen bikes out there that look like a corrugated horse. At the end of the day the reasons what the ergonomics are how they are because after years and years of development that is what works. And, people expect a vehicle that is attractive to look at and something that they want to be seen on. So, we’ve just evolved what we do in terms of ICE motorcycles and said, let’s reimagine what we do today in terms of an electric vehicle.
A huge part of this project is to make this bike handle and feel like a motorcycle that you or I would want to get on and ride.
BS: With Triumph’s badge on the side, does that mean you’ve been a leader in this project in terms of setting objectives like power, weight, range, charging time or have you relied on partners bringing their expertise?
SS: We’ve relied on Williams and IPT in terms of bringing their expertise to get to where we want to get to but in terms of the overall objective of what the bike needs to be with performance, weight, power and charging times has been driven by Triumph as the main coordinator. We have to get used to work in Kw these days; 130Kw, and just to convert that into something that means anything then that’s 177PS peak power. If you’re looking for a comparison then the new Speed Triple 1200 RS that we’ve just launched is 180PS so that gives you an idea of where we are in terms of performance. And it’s instant. That’s the one thing about electric bikes, the instant acceleration is awesome!
BS: Presumably you’ll have rider aids to help!
SS: We have wheelie control, traction control, ABS and the additional thing you can play about with is regenerative braking so you’ve got all the technology on the bike that you’d expect to help you maximise.
BS: How far away from sketch to tangible thing?
SS: This will be built as a motorcycle. In October this year, we will have a complete motorcycle that we will start doing our road and track testing. It’s fully our expectation that we’ll be able to get the likes of you guys [journalists] on the bike in Spring next year.
This is very much a prototype, it’s all about developing the technology and capability. A lot of people will maybe look at this and say ‘wouldn’t that be great if we could have that on the road’. We’re not here today to indicate that this is what the final vehicle will be, it’s obviously a demonstration of what we could produce as a vehicle but it’s by no means an indication that this is what’s going to happen.
Above: Triumph’s Steve Sargent
BS: In terms of internal resource have you created a new department/division for this step into the future or have your existing R&D team had to learn new skills?
SS: We have a dedicated group of people who’ve been working on the project. Generally, over the last few years we’ve expanded our electrical team and electrical capability anyway. A big part of this project is developing that capability, getting the understanding and the learning particularly about things like the control systems and what we do on a petrol engine on an ECU effectively, how do we translate that knowledge into what is basically a vehicle control unit on an electric bike to give that kind of power delivery and that feel and integrate all of the other systems into it. So, a big part of that is developing that capability. We don’t at Triumph have a specific electric division, speed triple division, Bonneville division. We employ some of the best engineers in the country and what we like to do is give them a challenge so we like to be able to move guys around from one project to another to keep them engaged. We’ve built up our capability in the design department in Hinckley over the years and this is an additional string to the bow.
BS: Is there a price point in mind? In terms of production electric bikes available right now there’s the Super Soco and Niu at £2-3k or the Energica and Zero at £15-20k, is it your intention to sit in the middle?
SS: We will basically go wherever there is a market demand for a product and where we think we can satisfy that at a price that people are willing to pay, and the reason why you see those big gaps between those products at the moment, obviously if you’re building the equivalent of a small capacity motorcycle, the equivalent of a 125cc bike where you’re only going to be commuting 25-30 miles then quite clearly you can build that to a certain price and to build a larger capacity motorcycle then technology-wise it’s significantly different and is significantly more expensive which is why those larger capacity ones tend to be pushed more towards the top-end of the range because generally they are very expensive to make and you have to be able to hit a certain price point.
BS: Recently, Piaggio, KTM, Yamaha and Honda signed a letter of agreement to create swappable batteries – what’s your view on this?
SS: I think it’s an interesting development. It’s something that’s been seen as successful elsewhere in the world. For example, if you go to the Far East there are scooter companies who’ve already got swappable batteries and there are certain cities in the Far East, somewhere like Taipei for example, where if you go around you’ll see these battery swapping stations where you pull up on your scooter, pull a battery out, stick it in, pull a fresh one out, stick it in. It’s a great solution for one of the issues around range and charging and all those kind of things. It’s not necessarily the kind of solution for this kind of bike.
BS: What happens next?
SS: The powertrain is being built into a mule bike down in our design department, they’re making really good progress with that and I had a look at that yesterday and it looks absolutely fantastic, it looks like this (points to sketches). So, that’s super exciting, once you actually start seeing something physically, you’re like ‘oh, I’m going to be able to ride this fairly soon’, that gets the hairs stuck up on the back of your neck. So, in the late Summer/early Autumn of this year we’ll have a bike that can go out and start doing all that work on. A lot of software development to be done on that in terms of the vehicle control side of things, a lot of stuff to do in terms of the regen braking and all that kind of stuff, that’ll probably take the best part of the end of this year before we’re in that kind of state. Then hopefully we’ll be in a situation when we can get people from outside of the company to have a go on it.
BS: Are there many shared components between what we see on this sketch and anything else in your range?
SS: In terms of shared components, this is a Speed Triple swing arm and back end on the bike but that’s pretty much it. Some of the suspension components are shared with some of our other products but the rest of it is all new.
Dyrr Ardash - Senior Commercial Manager at Williams Advanced Engineering
BS: Can you tell us about the role that you play at WAE?
DA: I’m head of the automotive business development team at WASE, so pretty much anything that is transportation on the road, hence the reason why engaged on a two-wheeled product. I got involved at the very early stages of the program, since the early submission to the UK government, since its inception. I think we started discussions at the back end of 2018. It’s been quite a progressive journey since then.
BS: Is your role dedicated to this project?
DA: I sit at the oversight of the project now, the engineering team and program management team deliver the program but I am in regular reviews on the delivery making sure we are meeting all the specifications that were laid out through the program.
BS: How did the project start for you, who approached who and was it an exciting opportunity personally?
DA: Absolutely, it was a collective ring ’round of the four partners. One of the great things of the collaborative nature of the partners, it really truly is a great British collaboration. There was definitely a dream team put together – if you were to put together an electrified motorbike in the UK, I think you’d select the partners that you’ve got in the collaboration. I thick it’s really exciting.
BS: It really is a celebration of British engineering, isn’t it?
DA: Without question. I think (these are) companies that have delivered quite a lot in the past but also very well positioned for the future. I think the product is one of those sort of a technology pieces that will allow us to progress into the future.
BS: It may be fairly evident from the sticker on the carbon cover but can you talk us through the dedicated role WAE has with this project?
DA: Certainly, so we’ve been responsible for the design and development of the battery which is part of that carbon structure, and actually you can see that integrated very prominently into the frame of the bike. What we’ve tried to do is really push the boundaries of the technology that we could apply to a motorbike and consider all of the knowhow that we’ve gleamed from a number of years of electrified motorsport and automotive development into integrating a really, really class-leading product.
BS: So this is a completely bespoke battery?
DA: This is a bespoke battery for this project. We are using our next-generation module technology, which is in development, for applying to this product. But it is very much unique and that is one of the key things that is required for this particular project because of the levels of integration required to make it work within a bike to make sure the mass is correct, the centre of gravity is correct and the power and performance is meeting the requirements that we laid out initially with Triumph at the beginning the program.
Above: Dyrr Ardash, WAE
BS: Does that mean that it’s very different to what exists already? Did you have a benchmark with other products available in the market already?
DA: We did quite a bit of benchmarking on the initial phases of the program against existing technology and also ICE equivalent bikes to make sure we were meeting the expectations that the customers will want. Obviously, Triumph have led that part of it, they understand the motorbike much more than we do but we’ve obviously then brought our system level technology and experience into the discussion.
BS: So would you say that it’s lighter, has more range, is it better to charge, does it hold its charge, performance-wise, how would you mark it?
DA: If we were to look at the existing technology across all of those areas then I would say it would be class-leading. It’s difficult to be absolutely comparable on every bit of specification but if we’re looking at range then from the testing we’ve done to date would suggest it will be better than anything in the marketplace. It’s also got a lot of power, the key point for us here is it’s not only about the power, it’s harnessing the power and making sure that for an electric product that the power maintains throughout the state of charge as much as possible and for as long as possible.
BS: They’re the sticky points, aren’t they? If you talk to any hardcore ICE motorcyclist right now then it’s all about weight, power, length of charging time and availability of power – have you done any customer research with existing riders?
DA: Absolutely, at the beginning of the program it was very collaborative in trying to understand what those specific requirements were. It was very collaborative with all the different partners – Triumph bringing their experience of what makes a really good motorbike and we brought that system level capability to influence some of the direction and push the boundaries of the technology. Later phases of the program will address some of the specific customers requirements and needs.
BS: Is there any crossover between this battery and that used in your F1 division?
DA: So, I think the key thing with Williams Advanced Engineering is the history of the organisation comes from our motorsport and F1 heritage. We have probably applied a lot more of our own Williams Advanced Engineering technology in this specific product based off of our experience in supporting the first few seasons of Formula E, and really it is taking a lot of learning from motorsport but also our experience from road car applications and other transportation as well, and we’re in an really advantageous position that we have the breadth of product and we take experience from each one of those and try and feed them into future programs, and I think this is a product that really encapsulates that.
BS: What happens next? Is your work done?
DA: Certainly not, we’ve still got some work to do on the program, it runs for a few months yet. We’re certainly excited to build the prototype bike up and certainly test that and get the feedback from Triumph and the rest of the partners and fundamentally fine tune that so we are really delivery what we set out to do at the beginning of the program.
BS: I’m interested in finding out a bit more about the performance figures, how do you test it?
DA: It’s quite interesting, and there are similarities with internal combustion engines but clearly there would need to be specific dynos for electric motors and batteries. We actually utilise our own test facilities internally within WAE which is on the same site as the Formula One team. We’ve gone through already quite a lot of intensive testing to make sure that we are meeting the expectations from an energy perspective and also from a power perspective.
BS: Recently, Piaggio, KTM, Yamaha and Honda signed a letter of agreement to create swappable batteries – what’s your view on this, I was going to ask if it’s something you’d consider but then again, I appreciate you’ve spent plenty of time, resource and budget creating your own specification of battery… perhaps you might consider this in the future?
DA: It was a really interesting press release by those four companies. I think the product they are targeting with those swappable batteries is a slightly different type of product to what we’re seeing in front of us with TE-1. I think those are going to be more urban orientated smaller products, but it’s certainly an area of growth and certainly we would look at any technology opportunities for us in the future.
It’s not a cheap exercise to develop any kind of brand new motorcycle let alone an alternatively powered one, especially for a company steeped in history such as Triumph – after all they’ve been making powered two wheelers using an internal combustion engine since 1902. Stepping into the unknown can be daunting but this move is both brave and necessary so why wouldn’t the British marque use knowledge and expertise from industry leaders who have experience in this electrified vehicle production field. Not only is it laudably bold to move away from familiarity but to do it so transparently in the public eye is commendable too – with these four pillars of British industry saying, ‘here we are trying something that’s never been seen before and you can judge us every step of the way.’ It’d be like Pot Noodle going all haute cuisine and demonstrating their ingredients along the way.
Will it work? Will it be accepted? Will it be better than anything else on the market when, and if, it comes to production? Only time will tell but that time is still at least 18-24 months away because if the first time non-Triumph folk get to taste the fruits of this alliance is Spring 2022, then they’re not going to be made in big numbers until the of next year, at least.
The effectiveness of this foursome looks to be heading in the right direction, and that direction is the future. So far, only Harley-Davidson from the mainstream have been plucky enough to show us what they can do though the likes of Zero and Energica have produced high quality machines and engineering to warrant their place among the mainstream, and while the UK’s electric-vehicle support infrastructure has been blamed with its limited convenience, that liability will only last so long. Over time, motorcycling has been playing catch up with the car world and now that Tesla, BMW, Nissan, Jaguar et al. have praise-worthy machines gliding around the UK’s road network, motorcycles with equivalent quality, performance and range to their ICE combatants are no longer on the horizon, they’re closing in fast. And for the naysayers, that neighing will stop.