What follows is a truly unique, behind-the-scenes look at the very messy and agonizing process of turning ideas into reality. One that is still in progress as I type this. Much of this process work is hidden from the public for large scale OE manufacturers until it is carefully curated upon release of their new model along with a storyline that is perfect for print. Since we're not a large scale (or even small scale for that matter) OE and we can't wait to show you stuff, here's a look at how the sausage is made... enjoy!
If you've followed our story thus far, you know that for v1 of the bike, we formed a very helpful relationship with Kramer Motorcycles in Germany and their US Distributor, Joe Karovonen. The project greatly benefited from discussions with Joe and Markus about their collective experiences building and supporting track-focused motorcycles. Both the v1 and v2 versions of the bike sported Kramer bodywork - which was awesomely built and perfectly suited for building a track focused motorcycle. However, with the increased popularity of Kramers at the race track, it's become more difficult for the Lightfighter to be recognized as something other than "another Kramer" or "the electric Kramer". With the addition of the Kramer GP2 890R to their line-up earlier this year, that meant yet another model sporting very similar lines and styling. With my background in industrial design, I have a hard time leaving well enough alone, so when Nick Gravely reached out wanting to test drive his new virtual reality modeling tool, I simply couldn't resist taking a look at what might be if the Lightfighter got it's own set of clothes...
I have worked with Nick Graveley of ClayMoto Design on multiple projects in my day job at Zero Motorcycles and sponsored his Quiet Riot project to convert one of those bikes to a really beautiful Street Tracker bike, which we also raced in an all-electric flat track race up in Portland last year at the One Moto Show.
Paul Taylor of Taylormade Racing has also been highly influential in pushing me in the direction of custom bodywork, but more from a racing optimization perspective rather than purely for styling. It has turned out to be quite the challenge to blend inputs from so many contributors and balance the aesthetic and the practical to come up with the final design. Since Paul will likely be instrumental in getting the final parts made, I want to make sure I take his input and criticisms to heart.
Working directly with Nick on nights and weekends, we got a basic model roughed in, but then hit a wall in resolving some of the details - specifically how the side fairing and tank might interact. This is when Nick called in some outside help - namely Fabien Rougemont of Redster Design. I've seen Fabien's work on various motorcycle news and blog sites, but had never worked with him directly. While his designs can get fairly wild for my vision for the Lightfighter, I really enjoy working with someone with as much energy and enthusiasm as he exudes. In the end, most designers prefer to explore crazier ideas early before reality fully sets in and pushes you towards a more conservative direction. The sketches below are a great example of some of this early exploration before the fancier renderings and photoshop magic get applied...
With feedback on overall proportion and a few design elements we wanted to explore further, Fabien began tightening up the sketches and details. We really wanted the bodywork for the Lightfighter to have an airy-ness (is that even a word?) that visually expresses our overall program goal of trying to keep this bike as light as possible. I also wanted to reveal the electric powertrain rather than hide it. We want to show off what makes this bike so different and invite those that see the bike to come explore the details and ask questions. It's not an appliance... it's a motorcycle!
While there were many, many more sketches and discussions (Fabien is quite prolific, even when working on this on nights and weekends!), we settled on a final direction to move back into the 3D realm with Nick on. The rendering below is pretty close to a final direction.
With most areas of the design resolved on paper, the team of designers (Nick, Fabien, and myself) has moved back into the 3D digital realm to further refine the model that Nick had started. Without the benefit of virtual reality, you'll need to use your imagination along with the images below to imagine Nick wearing a VR headset and using controllers in his hands to push and pull and sculpt surfaces as if he were working on a clay model. I'm still amazed at the level of detail and exploration he can undertake using this method of modeling and it's been fun to watch his proficiency increase even in the couple of months we've been working on this! He's a pioneer in the industry, using old-school methods with new-school tools.
And this is where we leave our rag-tag team of rogue industry veterans... With Nick pushing and pulling surfaces, Fabien donning his own VR headset and hopping into the digital world to provide guidance, and me reviewing things (on a flat computer monitor) when they believe they've resolved an area or need a decision between two (or more) different directions. Where's it all going to lead... I honestly don't know. But if I've learned anything from the past year, it's that the future is unknowable and that often the best approach is just to enjoy the ride... Stay tuned.