Race bike story #1: Building a custom motorbike in 2 months

“Everyone’s completely focused but it’s complete chaos. Everyone’s shouting and walking through each other and like, ‘Now we have to do this,’ and ‘Now we have to do that.’ And it’s kind of like an unorganised mess at some point, because everyone just really, really wants to get the bike running again quickly,” Sushi said. 

But, according to Daniel, whether it’s your first time or your 50th, “You feel a shit ton of adrenaline.”

Les 10 heure Mob is a grueling 10 hour endurance race on a motocross track in Laon Northern France. Francois Dagry, one of Etergo’s mechanical engineers, was the instigator behind this spontaneous venture.

“I raced in this competition for the past 10 years. I thought it was time to challenge the classic petrol bikes with electric!” 

Not only was this a personal challenge for him, his brothers had also entered the race with their own petrol motorbike, adding a tinge of bragging rights to the prospect of winning. 

With only 2 months until the race, Francois needed to find a team with just the right drive to pull it off. 

Can electric actually compete?

As a company, our driving force is behind the idea that electric mobility will be the future. We see our first product, AppScooter, as an example of what a combination of innovation, design and a great team can do to impact personal mobility.  

Photos of AppScooter. An electric scooter that combines elegant design with smart features.

While electric cars are already competing against their petrol counterparts with the backing of innovative companies like Tesla, two wheelers have now followed reaching the brink of a massive transformation. With the global market for two wheelers projected to reach $125 billion by 2024, we believe this will be a game changer. 

But, aside from environmental factors, can electric vehicles actually compete when it comes down to endurance, speed and performance?

Our chance to prove this came when Francois recruited five engineers from the Etergo team who were passionate enough to give up their evenings and weekends to build their own electric motorbike.

The crew

Daniel had been doing motocross as a hobby for 16 years. Along with some friends, he had started his own workshop, Nozem, where he designs and builds sick custom motorcycles with classic styling and unparalleled performance. He’s built over 50 odd motorcycles in his young life already. Aside from AppScooter, this was the first electric motorbike he’d ever built. When asked why he joined the competition, the answer was a no brainer: “Because I love motocross.”

Jochen, better known as ‘Sushi’, couldn’t pass up the chance to compete. A passion for speed and motorbikes is what triggered him to join. “It was new to me, everything came together. We could use the skills that we’ve developed at Etergo to kind of do our hobby, which for me is racing bikes.” But as a self professed petrolhead, could he be converted to electric motorbikes? 

For Joris, this challenge brought him back to his University years. For five years he had been part of a student team that was building competitive motorcycles. But this time he’d also be riding the bike in a motocross race for the first time. When asked why he signed up, he said, “It seemed feasible. We had the right people. And… what guy wouldn’t enjoy building and racing their own bike?”

Solar powered car

Adri, not a stranger to unusual challenges, had once built a solar powered car with a student team and drove it across Australia. Not only would building an electric motocross bike be a new challenge, he’d also never ridden one before. “It was insane. Building your own bike, driving to France and entering in a race.”

Then there was Jack. As his team mates described him: “Jack is just the most crazy. He built his own CNC machine and his own electric bike and other things, all as side projects.” Like Adri, he’d never ridden a motocross bike but decided a 10 hour endurance race might be a good place to try it out.

How to build a custom electric motorbike in 2 months

Luckily, it wasn’t totally different from what we’re facing here with the AppScooter. This 10 hour motocross endurance race was made for bikes with a 50cc engine, which is the equivalent of our AppScooter motor. In fact, “The original plan was not to build a dirt bike, but to take the scooter itself to the race,” Joris said, “but the scooter wasn’t ready yet.” 

Still, what better way to test out the different parts than to put them through hell and back on the motocross track? 

“This would be the longest time we’ve run that motor ever.” At the race they would be running it for ten hours straight at high temperature. “It was the first abuse testing that we’ve done, same for the motor controller. So it was definitely exciting!”

Not only did they have a looming deadline to work under, they also faced the challenge of working under a tight budget. 

“This time around we didn’t want to spend any money. So we did the entire thing combined with travel for like 1500 euros, including building the bike itself,” Joris explained. 

Cash strapped but motivated

This meant they had to get creative, “We used battery cells we already had, motors we already had in house. The performance of the bike was pretty much determined by whatever we had on hand and whatever we were able to make.” 

They started to build the bike from an existing motocross rolling frame, but they would have to adapt all of the electronics (motor, motor controller and batteries) to fit the bike. “We built the electronics by putting together scrap parts that we had from previous prototype builds. So we did a lot of recycling!” Francois said. 

For Jack it was a cool opportunity to test out new skills, “We built a higher power battery pack from scratch with some of the cells we had leftover from the old battery development. We have a box of 700 lithium cells so I designed two batteries that went in the same area. I spot welded the cells together and built the battery, which is not really what my job is normally.”

Custom made baby

They also made a lot of custom parts using a CNC machine, lathe and 3D printer. 

Before joining Etergo, Jack had built his own CNC machine. “We had it in our apartment next to our bed for a while but my girlfriend didn’t really like that very much.” It finally found a home in Etergo’s workshop.

Thanks to this unexpected donation, Sushi was able to design and build a custom sprocket for the motorbike. By making it larger than their original sprocket, it would give them even more torque, while generating less heat. 

“It took some iterations before we got it right. Luckily we didn’t invest any money in building the actual sprocket before we had a proper design. Instead we 3D printed prototypes. I think it took like three, four, maybe five iterations before we got it to work.”

The final product

It took them about 2 months in total to build the bike, but only 2 weeks of intense work.

“Coming up to the race we had a lot of late nights getting it all put together. Well… we knew about it quite a while in advance, but then, you know, it’s like when you get a piece of coursework or something you do hardly anything in the first few weeks and then you work late until the deadline,” Jack said.

“We only tested the bike one time,” Adri admitted. “What we were afraid of most was the temperature and the overheating of the motor. So we did some modifications to prevent that which, in the end, was really needed.”

They planned to be on the road to France by six the night before the race. But when seven o clock rolled around they were still building the battery and working on the brakes.

This is Part 1 of a 3 Part series. Check in for Part 2 next Saturday and find out what happened on the day of the big race. Could the guys’ electric bike keep up? Did Francois finally beat his brothers? Stay tuned to find out.