Exclusive Interview: Michael Czysz Discusses the Future of Motoczysz

Michael Rutter in the SES TT Zero race. Photo Courtesy of Gary Schick

After the SES TT Zero race at the Isle of Man, I sat down with Michael Czysz to talk about the future of MotoCzysz. Winning the world’s most challenging race (electric or otherwise) three years in a row must have its advantages…

SS: I hear rumors that even though you’re not in the business of manufacturing motorcycles, you’d build a customer bike for the right price. Is that true?

MC: No! People say a lot of things on forums based on hearsay, and they just aren’t true. We’re in the business of selling powertrains.

SS: So who are your customers? Tell me more about the Czysz business model.

MC: We use the bike as a test bed for our commercialized electric drive systems. We have two out right now, one of which is with the Department of Defense, which has been running fabulously. They’re using our powertrains in some vehicles.

SS: What type of vehicle is it? Are you allowed to say?

MC: No, but suffice to say it’s for transporting troops. I feel very honored to be involved with that, and they’ve been brutalizing the drivetrain. Their tests are incredible- even worse than the Isle of Man. Having that motorsports experience gives the DoD confidence that we will be able to perform at the level they require. Not that motorsports is defense, but it’s similar in that they’re both extremely demanding. Performance, efficiency, weight- all the things we care about in racing, the DoD is starting to care about. The races also give excitement to the EV industry, which needs to be sexier.

Mark Miller in the SES TT Zero race. Photo Courtesy of Gary Schick

SS: True, the EV Symposium didn’t have much to offer the general public, and most EV’s are quite geeky. Or as Mark Miller said at the awards ceremony, “…they’re especially great for tree-hugging gadget freaks.”

MC: As important as this is for the environment, I really see the utilitarian benefits of electric powertrains being what drives the market. The massive efficiency gains, the torque, the power, and the low maintenance all combine to make a superior machine.

Mark Miller got off the bike and while we were looking at the data, he couldn’t believe how much faster he was able to go in certain sections. Going up the mountain he spent 1.5 minutes at over 120 mph, and went 132.6mph through the Sulby speed trap. (which was the highest recorded speed of any contestant in the race.) Miller told Czysz “I actually forgot I was on an electric bike, it was that much fun, it felt that good!”

SS: I’ve even noticed just in testing the Zero S, is that it feels better and better each year. With the 2012 ZF9, I finally felt there was an electric bike I felt was safe for riding in LA, where traffic moves very fast.

However, it seems there’s a lot of cars going electric, but not enough motorcycles. There’s much higher volume sales in the car industry, but not so much in motorcycles, especially in the US. Sure, in China there’s a massive market for electric scooters, but do you see the motorcycle OEM’s getting more interested in going electric?

MC: Electrics will grow in the motorcycle industry and will become more important every year to the point where all new bikes could eventually be electric. ICE manufacturers have been layering on all these (engine management) electronics to attempt to improve the efficiency of the internal combustion engine, when here is a motor which is already capable of operating at near 100% efficiency. So you would think that at some point in the natural evolution, we would stop trying to band-aid all that and just switch to electric motors.

But at no time in the future will there be a strong enough consumer market for electric motorcycles to be interesting to the major OEM’s.

But the technology will interest them. We’re at the very early days, so it’s a race for intellectual property, it’s a race for market leadership, for those with a long-term vision. But I wouldn’t raise any money to build electric motorcycles, the market’s just not there.

SS: But do you think the OEM’s aren’t interested because it’s so different than their current business model? With the current business model, dealerships make most of their money in maintenance, so vehicles which require less service may not interest the manufacturers as much.

MC: I don’t want to guess what they’re doing, but I think the legacy business model is potentially an issue in the bigger OEM’s which may be slower to change. I don’t think it’s as much of a problem for the smaller ones like Aprilia, Kawasaki, KTM, etc. who need to do something different to compete, I  think they would be attracted to this. I don’t think they’re as entrenched in service as part of their business model.

SS: Exactly. If you look at Hollywood Electrics, they sell customization. Customers can buy a fully customized bike or one that’s straight from the factory.

MC: Just look at entertainment- people used to buy music, movies, magazines, etc. and now they’re giving it away. The market evolves and people figure out how to make money in the new market. But what I think the OEM’s are asking themselves is “Who’s going to buy an electric motorcycle?”

SS: It depends on gas prices, though, and the total cost of ownership. When I look at the monthly cost of ownership on a Brammo Empulse, it’s considerably lower than for the 20mpg R1 I ride around LA.

MC: But how expensive does gas need to be? And what about the resale price? Also, you can’t compare a 170HP R1 to a 54HP Empulse, compare like to like.

SS: I don’t calculate resale price, because I assume I’d take a loss on any vehicle, plus it’s impossible to predict accurately. Although the Empulse is considerably less powerful, I’d be using it for 90% the same rides I take on the R1. If it really can go 100 miles on a charge the way I ride around LA, and in the canyons, then it would be a direct replacement for the R1. Which should really be done on a smaller bike, as the R1 is complete overkill anyway.

MC: All I can say is that I don’t think there’s enough of a market for electric superbikes at this time. Until people put down non-refundable deposits, you’ll never know the true size of the market. However, I don’t want to be discouraging, I like almost every motorcycle, I have not met a motorcycle I don’t want to ride.

What we want to do is use the motorcycle to cultivate interest in our powertrain technology. Racing, especially at the TT, is a lot more exciting than just posting white papers. We get a lot of clients who hear about us through our racing success, so we certainly plan to continue racing both here and in some TTXGP races.

SS: Who will you have racing at Laguna Seca this year?

MC: That remains to be determined….

For more details and gorgeous photos of the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc, check out this article on Asphalt & Rubber.

Susanna Schick

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.