Motorcycles The E/MULHOLLAND: What Does Electric Performance Look Like?Alex Earle shares his first electric motorcycle build.
- Words Alex Earle
- Images Christopher Thoms, & John Beck
It’s been over a century of gasoline domination, but now the whole world is switching to electric propulsion, whether you like it or not. After spending decades laboring beneath vintage Jeeps, designing internal-combustion automobiles, and reimagining and customizing all manner of motorcycles, you might think that I want to resist this new way of life — but no. Electrification is not the death knell for the traditional gearhead, but rather the dawn of a new epoch that I am keen to be a part of.
Electric vehicles will inspire a new generation of hot rodders who might not know how to bore out cylinders but will be very capable of enhancing performance with lines of code. This realization first came to me years ago while teaching my Powersports Design class at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. My student, Ian Backstrom, showed up to class with a home-built computer. Most of the students were using off-the-shelf, big-brand laptops, but Backstrom specifically designed and built his PC for 3D modeling and rendering in real-time, with the goal of packing big computing power into a portable unit. He designed the entire build around the graphics card, water-cooled its CPU, and made sure the computer was capable of running multiple programs simultaneously and generating designs at a dizzying rate. I’d seen the new face of hot rodding.
The E/MULHOLLAND is the manifestation of what I expect is coming to us all in the very near future. After living with the LiveWire ONE for a few months, particular strengths and weaknesses revealed themselves. Direct comparisons to internal combustion predecessors are pointless and unnecessary; our usage patterns will ultimately adjust to an all-electric life, and in my opinion, it’s for the better. For me, a pattern of after-work rides on some satisfying, local canyon roads became a welcome transition from working at home to time off at home. It was an exhilarating way to blow off some steam minus the exhausting — no pun intended — elements of heat, loud pipes, and vibration. I could stop at a favorite watering hole and get home with 12 to 15 percent charge left, and after an overnight charge on a regular, old 110-volt outlet, I was ready for another round. This use pattern provided the overall design theme for my build, and also the name: The Electric Mulholland.
By no means is the E/MULHOLLAND intended to be definitive of this new genre; rather, it is a harbinger of the kind of technical creativity witnessed in the post-World War II era, when traditional hot rodding was established. We know the formula for internal combustion tuning, with improved intake, exhaust, and fuel mapping. But what will transpire when these canons are removed? For one, I will not lament the elimination of liquid fuel, because producing fuel-safe volumes has been a constant and expensive struggle. It also requires a lot of “b-surface” development and integration of technical components like fuel pumps and filtered pickups. Without gasoline in the equation, these same areas can be optimized for ergonomics and design theme.
It is happening now, and if we embrace it, we can help rouse a new generation of pioneers, innovators, and hot rodders who won’t mourn the death of gasoline, but instead embrace the elegant simplicity that electrification offers.
The electric liberation of the E/MULHOLLAND allowed me to focus entirely on gesture. The seat was raised and the bars were lowered for a more aggressive stance, appropriate for twisting canyon roads. This was achieved with a new tubular steel rear subframe and bespoke seat covered in leather by the pros at Saddlemen. Although the factory headlamp was quite effective and of very high quality, I wanted something with a less traditional look. Also, I wanted to incorporate a lighting array on a separate circuit designed specifically to illuminate the tight canyon walls for falling rocks or animals crossing the roadway, so Baja Designs lights were mounted on custom waterjet-cut carbon plate. BST produced a set of full-carbon wheels that are as light as they are beautiful, removing about 12 pounds of rotational weight from the wheels. Then, aerodynamic air-curtain elements were added to the leading corners of the battery to help smooth and control airflow along the length of the horizontal cooling fins.
Overall, my goal was to consolidate the design using color and texture. I carried the horizontal fins of the battery into the new upper side panels, eliminating the stock upholstered knee pads, which also served to hide the upper portion of the frame. This, in combination with the soft fade of the upper painted surfaces, effectively reduces the visual height of the bike. The blue-gray paint scheme is called Synthetic Haze, a color developed for World War II reconnaissance planes to make them “disappear” in the sky. The subtle fade to graphic paint was realized by Boris Landoff at CalCycleDesign in Costa Mesa.
The upper side panels are also interesting for the manner in which they were produced. Friends at Mimic 3D scanned the stock bike, and then the bike with parts I had mocked up in foam core. Then I made drawings of the final design and provided them to Prototyp3, a company established by Ian Backstrom and several of my ex-students from my aforementioned ArtCenter Class. They built the data, and in a matter of weeks, 3-D printed the part, which bolts right up to threaded bosses on the frame like factory parts.
For performance enhancement, I took inspiration from the custom, high-performance computer world and implemented augmented liquid cooling for the inverter, speed controller, and other critical electronic components of the bike to improve longevity and performance and maintain thermal balance. This concept takes form as a fender-mounted heat exchanger with 3D-printed internal cooling circuits plumbed to a secondary water jacket side panel, which is also 3D-printed and serves to channel air to the top of the battery pack.
The E/MULHOLLAND is my first EV motorcycle build, but it certainly won’t be my last. This is no longer some sci-fi dream, looming in the distance of a faraway future. It is happening now, and if we embrace it, we can help rouse a new generation of pioneers, innovators, and hot rodders who won’t mourn the death of gasoline, but instead embrace the elegant simplicity that electrification offers and create high-performance machines that we cannot yet fathom. Let yourself be part of this movement, and soon you’ll understand: this isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning.