The electric motorcycle continues to see rapid development from companies like Zero, Harley-Davidson, Energica and a slew of startups, but one marque that I’ve been tracking for a while is Curtiss Motorcycles, based in Louisiana.
Named by founder and CEO Matt Chambers for pioneering motorcycle, engine and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss, has taken the wraps off of its stunning electric bike, which has now entered production. Starting at $83,000, the Curtis “The 1” is a hand-built bespoke piece of arguable rolling artwork, and Chambers insists buyers factory customize it to their liking so no two will likely be the same.
I normally don’t go in for this type of bike (gas or electric), but Curtiss also published a 45-minute documentary, The Opposite of Death, about the bike that certainly highlights its beauty, but moreso it’s strong function-follows-form design ethos that frankly surprised me. It’s not that The 1 is unusual in terms of technology, but the way the bike is designed mechanically truly sets it apart from pretty much any other motorcycle, and those choices have also resulted in the One’s unique aesthetic.
The Curtiss Motors company has roots in Chamber’s previous company, Confederate Motors, now operated as Combat Motors by others with no input form Chambers. But early Confederate designs were extremely innovative when it came to frame, fork and overall structural design, and remain sought-after collectables today. Chambers said he was inspired to move to designing electric motorcycle when he started up Curtiss Motors, but the radical ideas remain, and many of those ideas landed in The 1.
I made comparison to the legendary Brough Superior in the headline mostly for aesthetic reason, as the Brough was built to be the speed king of the pre-war times, which it was, with a prominently placed speedometer that topped out at 150mph. Could the Brough touch 150 at a time when most motorcycles would struggle to hit 90mph, let alone 100? It could certainly blow past the century mark with ease. Clean examples go for a quarter million dollars these days. But Chambers says the work of speed merchant Glenn Curtiss is the real inspiration for The 1 and other models. Curtiss built a V8 powered motorcycle and took it to the limit – 136 miles an hour – way back in 1907, making him the “fastest man alive” for years. He then moved on to making airplanes and aviation powerplants. One of the early Curtiss Motors electric motorcycle renders pays tribute to the V8 bike, which is now in the Smithsonian. The motorcycle speed record stood for an incredible 27 years. Curtiss was a sort of Elon Musk-type character, founding numerous businesses and conducting feat of derring-do on his motorcycles and airplanes. He was wealthy and even appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
CEO Chambers, along with Lead Designer JT Nesbitt, Design Engineer Vinay Valleru and Designer and Strategist Jordan Cornille, have come up with an elegant and highly rideable machine in the Curtiss 1. One key to the bike’s performance potential: adjustability.
Looking at the pieces that make up the Curtiss 1, it’s easy to think they’re “just for show.” Some bits, like the central vaned section ahead of the seat, are clearly designed with style in mind, but look closer, and details emerge that show the designers have incorporated stress abatement and myriad levels of adjustment into the bike to custom fit the rider and to tune the performance – especially handling – on the road.
Both the front and back suspension systems can be adjusted for the usual things like rebound damping and preloading, but by using a number of finely milled concentric adjusters, things like rake, trail and wheelbase can also be changed. You’ll need time and tools to do it, but Curtiss made the adjusters easy to access and change, giving owners the ability to transform the bike from a low-slung boulevard cruiser to something with a bit more sporting capability.
At its core, the 475-pound Curtiss 1 makes 110 horsepower from its counter-rotating Axial Flux YASA P400 electric motor that also makes 145 pound feet of torque. Those numbers put it in competition with offerings from Zero and others, and ensure The 1 will be capable of going fast while looking good, but it also won’t be overkill in terms of acceleration for new riders. Power comes from a 8.8kWh battery, which Curtiss says give The 1 a city range of 120 miles in urban riding and 70 miles at highway speeds. Clearly not a long-distance tourer, but that should have been clear from the overall design. Charging to 80% takes two hours at a Level II J1772 connection, with 100% coming 40 minutes later.
Initial renders of the bike with it’s low-slung, somewhat phallic battery pack certainly raised a few eyebrows, but again, keeping weight low in the bike plus maximizing battery storage in a dense a package as possible required a cylinder rather than a box, according to designer Nesbitt, who led the overall design effort. Early renders had the battery sitting across the frame similar to a BMW boxer motor. The prominent proboscis on the production bike is tamed a bit by the structures surrounding it, including the adjustable front and rear subframes, which are rendered in carbon fiber.
Drive is via carbon-fiber Gates belt that resides under a carbon fiber cover, probably the only design element I find a bit odd. Otherwise, the almost fractal level of ever-smaller details on the bike plays with your eyes. There’s a single clock on the center of the handlebars, braced by two almost steam-punk wires leading into the headlight/speedometer area. The rear swingarm pivot runs through the center of the electric motor, meaning any swingarm movement keeps belt tension constant with no need for idler wheels or other complications. The horizontal monoshock rear suspension has a choice of two pivot points that affect ride height and suspension action are on the bike’s left side, and buyers get two leather seats – a solo and two-up saddle – with purchase. Both rider and passenger can choose from a wide range of foot placement on the pre-drilled side plates that hold the pegs.
Buttons and switches on the handlebars are aircraft-quality, and carbon fenders reminiscent of vintage BMW R-series machines have carefully crafted lips for rain rides. Braking is done with solid sandwich-style Beringer Aerotech 4D rotors, which provide modern stopping power but give the illusion of vintage drum brakes on The 1. Bar-end mirrors compliment a suite of LED signals and lights, artisan in their smallness and design, and keep The 1 DOT legal. The standard wheels are 19-inch spoked rims front and back. Carbon fiber five-spoke wheels are a $2,500 option, and while the initial run will be finished in black, unpainted “white” bikes as seen in the documentary are in the queue. Owners can also specify custom colors.
At almost six figures for a base Curtiss 1, buyers will be receiving a hand-made transportation device that skillfully blends art, science and riding fun, and CEO Chambers says they are building the bikes to be more like heirlooms befitting the price and rarity. Nesbitt says the first 50 bikes will be assembled in New Orleans at Curtiss’s primary site. Interested riders can get more information here.