Mission Motors RS Electric Sportbike TestThese are heady days for protagonists in the electric-powered motorcycle industry. Technology is on their side, with improvements in battery design a regular occurrence while we all wait for huge breakthroughs.
The Powers That Be are also supportive, providing four-figure tax credits that even a well-heeled owner can enjoy. The last time the Federal Government got involved in motorcycle sales via taxation, Harley-Davidson became a modern-day Lazarus of Bethany.We have seen two distinct routes to success develop in the e-bike industry. There are relatively inexpensive motorcycles that will appeal to the early adopter, as well as someone who has specific commuting needs that can be met by the range and performance characteristics of a simple, city-friendly bike.In direct contrast to the plebeian approach, there is Mission Motorcycles out of San Francisco, a prosperous and educated city that sits on a hill overlooking Silicon Valley. Mission Motorcycles has created the RS — an expensive ($58,999 base price, with an optional $16,000 GP Package for competition brakes and suspension) and exclusive motorcycle (40 examples will be built) that also happens to produce exceptional performance, thanks to a 160-horsepower motor and a chassis that features the crème de la crème of components from Öhlins, Brembo, and BST.Race-bred, the Mission RS already has an impressive résumé. With Daytona 200 winner Steve Rapp at the controls, the RS won the 2011 TTXGP North American Championship Round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in dominant fashion. In a race that the RS completed in less than 13 minutes, the Mission won by five-thousandths shy of 40 seconds, and that margin of victory provided the inspiration for the number of replicas that would be built for public use on racetracks and roads.Mission Motors developed the race winning RS, and works in partnership with Mark Seegar, President of Mission Motorcycles, which is a separate entity. Mission Motors is the powerhouse of technology behind the powerplant in the RS. Mission Motorcycles’ InfiniteDrive is a powertrain with a single mov- ing part, compared to the hundreds in a tradition internal combustion engine (referred to routinely as ICE by the Mission Motorcycles team).With a highly efficient power delivery system, the RS produces a claimed mind-boggling 120 ft.-lb. of torque from 0 to 6400 rpm and 160 peak horsepower. The software limits the bike to 150 mph, though with those numbers the RS is clearly capable of much more. Even with that high output level, the patented 17 kWh UltraPack lithium-ion battery has a claimed range of 160 miles (50/50 city/highway).Unlike an ICE engine, the bike does not lose weight as it consumes fuel. At about 550 pounds, the Mission is solidly in Suzuki Hayabusa or Honda VFR1200F territory — both excellent handling motorcycles themselves — the weight for me is less of a factor than the distance I can travel.Numbers only tell part of a story, certainly, and we were anxious to see how the Mission RS performs on public roads. Choosing the famed Angeles Crest Highway in California, we arranged a meeting at moto exotica dealer Pro Italia at the foot of California Highway 2.When we arrived for the test ride, along with prospective buyers of the RS, the bike was hooked up to a charger, as it would be the entire day when not being ridden. Range issues have been addressed, but charging speed is still a work in progress.With Mission’s own Twin Charging system, the battery pack can be charged to 50-percent capacity in an hour and 99-percent in less than two hours. Impressive for a battery of this size, of course, but still quite a bit longer than it takes to refill a gas tank. Further, this number is only attainable at special charging stations. If you are forced to plug into a standard 110V outlet, it will take overnight to recharge.Petroleum may not run through the veins of the Mission Motorcycles management, but their central nervous system is pure electricity, and they arrived in a Tesla automobile just to underscore their antipathy for the ICE. Confidence runs high at Mission, and we were ready to see if they had the goods to back it up.Powering up the RS, your attention focuses on the instrument panel. As high-tech as the rest of the motorcycle, the touch-sensitive high-res full-color LED screen presents you with the MissionOS user interface. Relying on cellular data (more on that later), the system integrates GPS and Bluetooth, while equipped with an image-stabilized high-def camera with a telemetry overlay.Speed is displayed, along with energy consumption, temperature, date, time, cell signal strength, and remaining kilowatts. It far exceeds the instrumentation on any production motorcycle, and even supports integration with head-up displays. It is the only way you can tell the bike is “on” without opening the throttle.The ergonomics are spot-on. The Mission RS feels as committed as a conventional superbike, and the challenging turning radius is as bad as any typical sportbike. With my wariness of the weight, in the parking lot I was more than cautious; however, once underway I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the RS is exceedingly well balanced, and the heft didn’t negatively affect the bike’s handling on the roads I was riding.Suppressing an urge to test the claimed 0-60 mph in less than three seconds while in town, I found wheelies are easy and controllable at low speeds. I made my way to The Crest and twisted the electronic throttle hard.The AC motor provides all the grunt needed, however it is the RS’s absolutely flawless controller that is so impressive. From move-off to maximum throttle, the power is instantly accessible, and totally linear.The feeling from the throttle felt hard-wired to my own nervous system, and the seamless throttle connection allowed me to feed it in, in exactly the same small increments as I do with my Suzuki GSX-R1000. At slow speeds, the lack of clutch didn’t dampen my confidence in the slightest.Despite the similarities to a conventional gasoline powered motorcycle, the power is developed in a discernibly different way. The Mission’s electric motor produces absolutely linear power — 100-percent of its torque is always available — and exactly the same amount of additional power is produced for every degree of movement at the throttle.The RS feels as though the maximum power of the motor has been divided equally into the number of degrees of rotation of the twist grip, so one percent of rotation equals one percent of power, and so on—no more, no less. Conversely, my Gixxer (as with any ICE) develops power more progressively. You can hold the throttle at a constant opening, and yet the revs will still climb. As the motor hits the meat of its powerband the machine then really takes off.While Suzuki has refined the fueling to the point of perfect predictability, the difference between the ICE Suzuki and the Mission’s electric power remains striking. In addition, the Mission has no gearbox or clutch, so it’s truly just twist-and-go from 0 to 150 mph.The most dramatic difference between the Mission and any ICE is the regenerative throttle position. There is a natural detent “off” setting on the twistgrip where the motor has no engine-braking. However, if you roll it forward another quarter turn to the stop (against rising spring resistance), the electric motor becomes a generator and charges the battery pack.This has an increasing back-torque effect at the rear wheel; the more you roll the throttle forward, the more rear-wheel braking effect you have. This is also adjustable in the software, but on the factory default setting I found myself using the regen throttle to add braking as I approached fast corners. It’s like having a perfect-feeling rear brake. Because it is operated by your throttle-hand, it can be used with incredible precision—unlike a conventional foot-operated rear brake, which doesn’t come close in terms of feeling.As my confidence increased, a couple of times I found myself coming into corners too hot. The front Brembo GP4-RX CNC radial calipers, matched to Brembo T-Drive 320mm rotors and BST 7-spoke carbon fiber wheel, work as perfectly as they do elsewhere. Yet instead of having to squeeze harder and transfer even more weight on to the front, I was able to precisely dial in increasing amounts of regen rear-wheel braking to help slow the bike, while the chassis attitude stayed flat and stable. Brilliant! This is something I have never experienced before, but I quickly got used to it and would love to have a similar tool on my Suzuki.The chromoly and billet aluminum trellis frame was designed by James Parker (the man behind RADD hub-center steering used on the Yamaha GTS1000), and goes by the moniker Quad-Element. On this version of the RS, the front suspension is an Öhlins FGRT gas-charged racing fork with NIX30 cartridge internals. At the rear, an Öhlins TTX36 shock controls the single-sided aluminum swingarm.Thanks to mass centralization and the world-class suspension components, I had more confidence in the corners than I would expect from a 550-pound superbike; interestingly, I found the weight was helpful. By giving the motorcycle substance it feels absolutely planted, both over bumps and in the corners.I can imagine that on very tight twisty roads with lots of side- to-side transitions, the weight would quickly tell, but on the fast, sweeping corners of Angeles Crest Highway, the Mission felt agreeable and sweet handling. We know how it handles on the track — just look at Rapp’s Laguna performance.It is worth noting that the engine and drivetrain are not silent, unlike its automotive brethren. Electric motorcycles put out a noticeable whine; cars can enclose and damp the sound, but bikes cannot.Mission uses a series of chain driven sprockets to the final drive and, combined with the tire swish, I find it considerably less appealing than the intake and exhaust sound of an ICE. An engine doesn’t sound good — the right exhaust note does.With only one gear, the electric motor winds up rapidly. Just about the time I find myself stabbing for the non-existent gear lever, the motor goes into jet-engine mode and the sound moves up a couple of octaves. If this is the wave of the future, I will be compelled to accommodate it. However, when it leaves us, I’ll miss the visceral feelings that an ICE produces in me.Besides the aforementioned sound, and me needing to get used to it, the RS’s lack of gear change is all good. Having just the one-speed system is great for powering through corners because I was always in the right “gear”, and the regen mode helped with the lack of downshifting on hard braking. In the end, eliminating gear-changing from the task list when riding hard is a boon, not a negative. Having less to do when things get busy is an advantage I quickly found to my liking.At one point, much to my consternation, the instrument panel ceased its speed readout, replacing it with three very obvious question marks (yes, honestly officer). This happens because the Mission is linked to cellular networks (software upgrades are free and can be done automatically at night) and your speed is triangulated from the nearest cell towers.As I was riding in the mountains, coverage disappears, and so does the speed readout; and as I returned down the hill it resumed once again. Given that many of the best riding roads lack cell service, I would hope for a workaround on the production version of the RS.With my fairly limited test ride over — remember the need to recharge — back at Pro Italia, the bike demands attention from passers-by. The styling is exotic without being awkward. Award winning industrial designer Tim Prentice from Motonium Design (which boasts Aprilia, Indian, Honda, Triumph, and Yamaha as clients) is to be complimented for his work out of nearby Redondo Beach.The Mission looks like the real deal, and it rides like it as well. It is a fantastic motorcycle that feels like a superbike, and the range is improved enough that longish rides are now a reality.Some aspects of the Mission are very endearing (power, regenerative braking) and some, not so much (sound, recharging). However, taken as a whole, and although I was always very aware that I was on a different type of machine, the Mission RS is a bona fide, confidence inspiring motorcycle that is familiar enough to make any internal combustion enthusiast feel immediately at home.EVs are getting close to ICEs — real close. I won’t be buying one quite yet, though the early adopters will not be disappointed. My hesitancy to write Mission a check notwithstanding, the RS has me converted in theory. Bravo.Riding Style:
Helmet: HJC RPHA-10 Cage
Suit: Dainese Laguna Seca Pro
Gloves: Dainese 4-Stroke
Boots: Dainese Torque Out
Story from the September/October issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For a digital version, click here. For subscription services, click here.
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