In a world grown cynical from wading through the detritus of smashed electric-vehicle dreams it would be easy to write BRD off. Despite rave-tastic reviews of its prototype and a seemingly empty market niche in need of filling, it's difficult to forget the failure of other promising efforts in recent times. But, being a naive idealist with an optimistic outlook, I've always been heartened by the occasional email update or blog posting purporting to prove that hope was alive, the lights were still on and a final product would eventually be forthcoming. When the opportunity recently arose to look around the operation and chat with CEO Marc Fenigstein, I was only too happy to bite at the slice of time offered.
In a world grown cynical from wading through the detritus of smashed electric-vehicle dreams it would be easy to write BRD off.
As I crept along in more-stop-than-go traffic on the approach to the San Francisco's Mission district, I was reminded of the advantages of riding on two wheels, as bikes of all sorts and sizes – including a pair of cops mounted on dual sports – filtered freely though the afternoon jam up. Lane-splitting is legal in California and allows motorcyclists to slash travel times. The narrow, sharp-handling BRD RedShift, I think to myself, would be the perfect blade for slicing through this mess.
When I finally find the would-be motorcycle maker's mothership, I am struck by the modesty of the building. There is no street-front signage or even an entrance there. Instead, a pair of industrial steel doors painted with the BRD logo are located unceremoniously on the side of the building amongst a clutter of parked cars. They are propped open by a wire waste paper basket, and it occurs to me that investors can at least be assured that dollars aren't being frivolously frittered on an unnecessarily fancy facility. As I pull a door open and peek inside, the low-rent feel persists.
As I pull a door open and peek inside, the low-rent feel persists.
Stepping into the dim foyer, dingy carpet underfoot, I realize this small, shabby room is also the main office space. Several employees sit in front of a long table against the exterior wall, intently manipulating three-dimensional machine parts on over-sized screens. Behind them is a door and a narrow staircase leading upwards to a lunch/meeting room with an adjoining private office. A moment later, the door opens and I am met by Grant Ray, the company's communications director.
His appearance is reassuring. Though he has a history as a creative director with a number of motorcycle manufacturers over the years, I know him through his work at Hell for Leather – a publication he co-founded and for which he wrote entertaining, insightful articles. His passion for bikes coupled with a no-nonsense attitude tell me he wouldn't be here at BRD if he didn't believe in the product and the people behind it.
He tells me Fenigstein is on a call and will join us shortly, so I suggest this might be a good time to take a peek in the back, where the physical part of building a top-notch supermoto is supposedly being conducted. Long a machine shop, it's equipped with all the metal shaping tools you can imagine, as well as a 3D printer, and is still used for outside contracts that help keep the lights on. He tells me, "sure, but no cameras or cell phones," deflating my enthusiasm. It's kind of hard to cover an effort like this without any sort of photographic evidence. Thinking I might as well wait and make an appeal to the company boss, we trudge up the stairs and seat ourselves at the table.
The room is nondescript, a trio of small, framed images on one of its walls its only adornment. I would love to say what the pictures showed, but those were ruled confidential (I think you can see a trend emerging here). Let's just say that its current motorcycle isn't the only vehicle the outfit has ever sketched out. From what I'm told, though, the designs on private display aren't being actively pursued. The firm's full focus is on the RedShift.
The firm's full focus is on the RedShift.
The big cheese finally emerges from his office, and though he voices a complaint about long-winded lawyers and telephones, the bright smile on his face says he's actually enjoying himself. We shake hands and get down to brass tacks quickly, and I get an update as to what's been happening the past couple years.
To hear him tell it, they weren't completely happy with the original prototype and decided it make an improved version before beginning commercial manufacturing. My brain immediately translates this as "they had trouble getting the necessary investment financing," but Fenigstein's narrative is convincingly told. If they are truly striving to build the best race-worthy bike in its class, it's unlikely they could hit the needed home run on the first try. The real reason for the delay isn't as important as what is happening now, though. And things are happening.
The new production prototype is about finished up and preparations are being made for the next steps. I touch on all the big pieces involved in bringing it to market. Apparently they have the financing in place to get going, a location for manufacturing was being actively pursued, a sales network is well under way, and an official launch is in the works. It all sounds promising, so talk turns to the actual bike. What's up with the new RedShift? We go to the machine shop-come-skunkworks out back for a look.
I get the Okay to bring the camera this time, but I'm severely restricted about what I can shoot. The whole side of the room where there's an awesome-looking electric motocross? Off limits. Even the stuff on the shelves around the bike are verboten. Pentax left to it lonesome, I get close to the new bike and examine it from wheel to wheel, top to bottom.
At first, it seems not so different from the original bike, which sits just feet away on its stand, looking well broken-in at this point in its career. Surprisingly, the two still share a lot of similar numbers. The motor has about the same 40-something horsepower, the battery holds a similar five-ish kilowatt-hours of energy, and the price tag remains in the $15,000 neighborhood.
At first, it seems not so different from the original bike.
Still, there have been improvements and innovations. The new bike is 20 pounds lighter, it's quicker and, I'm told, has better handling and throttle control. The cooling system – oops, can't talk about that, sorry – is likely to be a much-discussed feature. Overall, the bike looks better than its predecessor too.
Since it presents as a runner at this point, I ask if its been put through its paces and how well it's held up to expectations. The response, silent self-satisfied smiles, tell me the company is confident it has fulfilled its design brief and created a compelling electric machine that easily outperforms its gas-powered competitors.
The proof of the pudding, of course, will be found in the eating up of race tracks by its most patient customers sometime next year (hopefully before the mid-way mark) and a positive reception from moto-journalists. If tasty enough, BRD's target audience of seasoned riders, happy to round out their herd with a cutting-edge bike that's electric in every sense of the word, will seek them out and maybe even kick the outfit from an unknown startup to startling success.
So, after this visit, do I think it's going to happen? Certainly they appear to have the product and passion to make a big splash in the motorcycle world, which could then ripple out to bigger things. But in the 21st century, until something is tangible, it's vaporware. Move from concept to commercial production too slowly and you're just a Wikipedia entry. In the case of BRD Motorcycles, the jury is out until the first deliveries happen. Still, I expect the verdict to sound something like "faster-faster."