We like to follow the student teams here on InsideEVs, and we just got word that the Université de Sherbrooke, up in the (even more than usual) snowy wilds of Quebec, have unveiled their pretty impressive monocoque electric motorcycle project, aimed at racing in the eMotoracing Varsity Challenge. With specs righteously near our own dream bike build, it's a project you can bet we're going to follow closely.
The monocoque design, however, is something entirely different. Monocoque design is a simple idea where you use the body as integral in the frame and support. Long ago, (was it the end of the '70s?) automotive designers realized you could replace what used to be beam or tube frames with the body of the car itself, if it was designed to handle the stresses. Thus, the "unibody" was born, and the weight - as well as the cost - of almost every car on the road was reduced significantly. In the motorcycle universe, the approach led to the motor as a stressed member of the chassis - that is, instead of designing the motor to sit in the frame, the motor becomes part of the frame itself, adding support and rigidity.
The 20-some member EMUS student team is working on a fairly unique concept in electric motorcycle design, based on this train of thought. Where every other bike uses a frame with a separate battery enclosure, they're developing a battery enclosure that's integral with the frame using a monocoque design.
EMUS frame, rear view, with test motor in place
Now, for some this is going to sound vaguely familiar. This isn't the first time this has been tried. Remember back a year or so ago, a team named "Amarok"? Of course you do.
Amarok Racing is the effort of one Michael Uhlarik, who, in 2013 fielded a bike for that year's Pikes Peak race using a similar monocoque design. Though the bike was a DNF for the run, it made an impression on several people watching the race, as well as several people building bikes. Right. Wait. Wasn't he from Quebec?
Why yes. Yes he was.
In a chat with one of the mechanical team, Félix-Antoine LeBel, we learned that not only does Uhlarik hail from the same town as the school, but that several of the team members had met him when he was first working on Amarok, in his garage, in 2011. In 2012 they met again:
In 2012 Amarok was on a Canadian motorcycle shows tour. That is where we met again We spent a lot of time at the motorcycle show, him and I just looking at bikes and talking about how one bike would have a good design there, or how that other bike was junk...
Amarok 2010 prototype
It was a priceless moment
We became good friends. That's about the time when we began thinking about doing a monocoque as well. He helped us get started by providing drawings of the Amarok and letting us play around with it. His interest was to let us do some FEAs and give him feedback. It was an open agreement between him and us, no strings attached. But his contribution and inspiration have helped us, and he also gave us some feedback on our design as well.
You may recognize the team from some of their earlier exploits as well. Back in 2010 they started on converting a Yamaha R6 donor chassis for competition in the 2011 TTXGP - a race which, unfortunately, was cancelled. Though they had the bike, motor, drive systems and everything else but the batteries together, they had nowhere to go with it, and scrapped the project. Much of the motivation behind the monocoque design was due to the problems and challenges of this conversion, and the subsequent tube-steel trellis frame they attempted after that. In LeBel's words, doing a conversion is a "bad idea". The monocoque is simple, clean and elegant purpose-built design.
Since those early efforts the school has upped the ante for EV development. "...two professors have been hired to support EV programs, there's an EV project association at the uni (ATEUS), and there are new projects on EVs every semester... It isn't 2010 anymore" You get the distinct feeling these guys aren't fooling around.
At this point, the project seems on target for completion in time for the races. They've just launched a Kickstarter project, here, to raise some funds to augment the fairly limited corporate sponsorship they've been able to garner. The specs, if they meet them, would be respectable for any electric bike with the nerve to call itself a "superbike". Here's a look at what they've posted on their site:
Project EMU specs
Here, also, is a promo video they put together to raise some sponsorship:
Some of the more interesting discussion and peer feedback can be found on their DIY Electric Car forum thread. They have a website here, and the team's Facebook page is here, where you can see that, not only has the team learned a bit of motorcycle design by experience, but they've picked up the knack of "superlative salesmanship" in introducing and promoting their project. And yes, the motor is rated at 215hp (but that's only a few-second peak rating) and they are in fact, the first North American student team to build a complete EV motorcycle from the frame up. How this bike fares against, oh, say the Ohio State Buckeye IOM bike, time will only tell. But that is a "conversion".
Also, don't miss their Kickstarter project, where they're trying to raise funding for the last part of the project - the batteries. Of course. It's always the batteries, isn't it?
Felix-A LeBel, Mechanical Team, Projet EMUS via Kickstarter