Marc Fenigstein, the passionate CEO of San Francisco’s BRD Motorcycles, isn’t one of these wild-eyed futurists (like me) who predicts the demise of the gas engine in 10 years. He admits that for many applications, the internal-combustion motor is just better. “To move a bike at 150 mph for an hour you need gasoline.” But take aim at specific niches and that changes—for instance, the kind of motorcycling we love to do as Motorcycle Daily readers, bombing around the twisty, bumpy, tight quarters of San Francisco, or terrorizing a kart track with a dozen like-minded idiots. You don’t need to go 150 in those situations. Fifty is thrilling enough and 70 feels like Armageddon.
That’s where BRD’s creation, the $15,495 RedShift SM may be a game-changer. It’s a full-fledged racebike, designed to dominate in the 250 classes on Sunday—and then get ridden to work on Monday. It’s the result of an ongoing three-year quest to produce a home-grown production electric motorcycle, a priceless prototype representing many thousands of development hours and VC dollars—and we were invited to ride it around town.
This is no tarted-up electric bicycle with chintzy components. It’s a hardcore competition machine dreamed up when the four-stroke 250 motocross class came into being, according to Chief Technical Officer Derek Dorresteyn. That means top-notch everything: rigid aluminum motocross chassis (the development team used current 250-class motocross machines as their benchmark), race-spec suspension (with assistance from local suspension-tuning guru Super Plush), top-shelf Brembo brakes—it’s the real deal, and riders report reduced lap times compared to gas-powered bikes with similar power-to-weight ratios (40 horsepower pushing 250 pounds in race trim), thanks to the ease of use provided by the smooth powerband and lack of shifting.
The bike’s price may induce sticker shock in a Top-Ramen-eating racer, but pull back and look at the whole picture. A 250-class motocrosser or supermoto needs a lot of maintenance. Pistons, crankshafts, clutches, they all wear out quickly under the strains of competition and can eat up the $8000-ish price difference quicker than you’d think, especially if you’re making every event. Oh, yeah, and gas costs money too—and race thumpers eat a lot of it.
Our plan for the test ride was to do some freeway riding, cruise up to Twin Peaks, then work our way down to Pier 30 for photos. No problem, said Fenigstein—the bike’s 5.2 kilowatt-hour (kwh) battery could easily handle that. So why not give it more range? Weight, said Fenigstein; 5.2 kwh is enough for several sessions on the supermoto track, or 30-60 miles of spirited city riding. The BRD batteries are the most energy-dense on the market, but still weigh over 60 pounds—getting to Zero-ish ranges would also result in a bike well over 300 pounds, disappointing the design brief.
After reading the riot act on motojournalist antics—”this is a priceless prototype”—Fenigstein made sure we understood that not only is the bike a development mule (which is why we didn’t take any close-up action shots of the bike), with work-in-progress throttle response and other rough edges, it’s a racebike with lots of rough edges, not a newbie-friendly commuter. So I took off from the BRD’s Potrero-Hill headquarters with some trepidation.
I need not have worried. The throttle is sensitive and responsive, as are the brakes, but it’s not as terrifying as, say, a CR500, which I’ve ridden in supermoto guise. It was actually tractable and pleasant, with the exception of having explosive acceleration and brick-wall brakes that probably won’t suffer fools. The Super Plush suspension was…super plush, but controlled, and the handling up Twin Peaks was as effortless and fast as you’d expect—just like a well-sorted supermoto should be. Freeway cruising wasn’t as pleasant—it topped out around 75 mph (because of gearing) and though the motor didn’t feel strained, it was clear it was tapped out, as would a 250 supermoto at those speeds.
So—not a freeway commuter. To appreciate this bike, you have to enjoy the fast-paced, madcap riding style some urban motorcyclists practice: blasting through construction zones, crossing over sidewalks, squeezing in between impossibly tiny gaps in traffic, wheelieing and speeding everywhere, getting big air on the crests of steep hills. All these things, are, of course, ill-advised and illegal (even if you don’t get caught), but that doesn’t mean we don’t practice them from time to time. We are, after all, human and subject to moments of weakness.
The BRD Redshift would be an ideal partner in crime for the well-heeled urban motorcyclist—as well as a fun, competitive tool for the supermoto track. Will enough buyers agree when the first bikes start rolling off the production lines?