Motorcycles Volte-Face: Walt Siegl Explores Building With Electric PowerWalt Siegl and Ronin 47 mastermind Mike Mayberry team up to create a stunning electric motorcycle.
- Words Chris Hunter
- Images Gregory George Moore
Walt Siegl’s machines are analog fantasies: limited-edition European thoroughbreds packed with unobtanium components and clothed with impossibly beautiful bodywork. But now Walt has turned his attention away from the bellowing Italian twins and triples that made him famous to explore the potential of electric power.
Walt believes that electric motorcycles are the gateway drug to get younger folks riding. “I think that electric bikes have a strong future,” he says. “Young people embrace the romance and fun of traveling on two wheels. Newcomers don’t have the reference to combustion engines, so they won’t miss them.”
Walt is working in partnership with industrial designer Mike Mayberry, another fan of magnetic fields and electric currents. Mayberry is the co-founder of Ronin Motorworks and the man behind the striking Ronin 47 bikes. All 47 of those Buell 1125-based machines have now been built, and the workshop and design studio have closed, so the time was right for Mike to hook up with Walt and explore new avenues in motorcycling.
Mike is a man of eclectic tastes and few preconceptions. He has a Husqvarna Vitpilen in his garage alongside a BMW R 1200 GS, a CAKE Kalk electric moto, and his most cherished possession of all, a Walt Siegl Leggero. In total, Mike has four electric motorcycles that he rides regularly, “and maybe another eight or ten electric bicycles.” He takes his two, four-year-old kids to school every morning via electric bicycle: “It’s a 12-mile trip and the best part of my day.”
“Young people embrace the romance and fun of traveling on two wheels. Newcomers don’t have the reference to combustion engines, so they won’t miss them.”
Mike and Walt share not only an enthusiasm for electric power but similar philosophies on what makes motorcycle design approachable and appealing. Mike says, “Design is not a styling exercise: it’s a journey in problem-solving. The problem of modern transportation is something that we are both very intrigued by — particularly how we will move ourselves around in the future, and what that looks like. Really good design is just as fresh and relevant 50 years after its creation as it was on day one. Walt and I both feel strongly about this, and that’s a big part of why we are working together.”
They decided to amp up the sex appeal of electric power, and to our eyes, they’ve succeeded. Their PACT is edgy in every sense of the word and doesn’t attempt to smother its drivetrain with traditional styling cues. “Without disparaging other brands, I’ll just say there aren’t currently any bikes that speak to us or make us want to own them,” Mike says. “This is a big deal to us … Walt and I both wanted that ‘connection’ with an electric motorcycle.” We wondered if PACT was an acronym, but it’s not; it’s deeper than that. “It stands for friendship, agreement with all elements of the project, and a commitment to new, green technology,” Walt says.
The core of the bike is the Alta Redshift drivetrain, which delivers 50 horsepower and a near-instant 147 pound-feet of torque. The liquid-cooled motor spins to 14,000 rpm, weighs a mere 15 pounds and sucks juice from a 5.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that can recharge in three hours from a standard 120-volt socket.
Walt and Mike designed a new frame to cradle the motor, using street bike geometries. They built a jig before constructing the frame and used 0.65-inch-wall chromoly tubing. It’s a traditional approach, but the critical brackets use cutting-edge techniques: they were first 3-D printed, put in place to ensure correct alignment, and then CNC-machined in steel.
When it came to the bodywork, Walt reached into his store of paper and cardboard to better understand dimensions and size. “Dimensions in computer modeling can be misleading,” he notes. PACT’s design was translated into a 3-D model, which was used for CNC structural urethane plugs. The plugs were then used to make tooling for the carbon fiber bodywork.
The subframe is also carbon fiber and includes a storage compartment for things like the battery charger cable. “The weight of the subframe is three pounds,” Walt reveals. “The bodywork weighs five pounds. The whole machine comes in at 251 pounds.” That’s Honda CRF450R territory, and pretty impressive for a machine with a battery pack.
To match the weight reduction, Walt fitted new springs in the forks. He also lowered and re-shimmed the rear shock, machined new aluminum linkage, and CNC’d bespoke, lightweight rims to work with high-performance tires. The triple trees are new too, but Walt ran out of time to finish a shorter swingarm before the bike had to be shipped off to the Petersen Automotive Museum for its “Electric Revolution” exhibit.
“There is no sound other than the wind. It’s the next best thing to flying,” he says. “I feel like I enjoy riding even more because it happens in silence.”
Despite the multiple angles on this machine, it hangs together incredibly well. You just know that Walt and Mike sweated every millimeter of the build, and there’s no hint of committee decision-making compromise. “There can be synergy if the combination is right,” Mike says. “We lucked out, I suppose. We happen to complement and challenge each other.”
The plan is to build seven more PACT bikes, but Walt and Mike are already looking beyond that. “We are discussing the next project,” Mike confides. “We knew we would learn a lot from this bike, and it has fueled ideas of where we want to go next.” It’s an exciting prospect, and to be honest, probably the kind of kick-start the electric motorcycle industry needs — especially if EVs really can attract a new generation of riders.
Walt believes everyone should at least try an electric motorcycle, to form an opinion. For him, electric power distills the riding experience. “There is no sound other than the wind. It’s the next best thing to flying,” he says. “I feel like I enjoy riding even more because it happens in silence.MORE FROM WALT SIEGL MOTORCYCLES