A few weeks ago, we brought you the story of Michael Czysz, a big shot designer and an architect to the stars, fervent motorcycle enthusiast, and a visionary in the motorcycle world. His is a story of a fairy tale, his is a story of a life rapidly falling to the clutches of death. We told you about the tale of the man, his passion, his unfortunate illness, and how motorcycles make him feel alive again. His story would have left an undeniable mark on you, as much it has left one on us.
Through a lifelong love for speed and motorcycle with life happening in the middle, where Michael had to look after his business and his 2 sons. The MotoCzysz story draws some parallels to John Britten and his famous attempts at taking on the world with his own motorcycle. Michael said in his interview with Motorcycle.com, (the article is honoured to be based on this interview), that it isn’t a coincidence. “I saw the Britten bike in real life, and that was my epiphany. I said there’s no way that this bike I’m looking at [Britten] is the last time somebody’s going to invent their own bike. There’s no way. Impossible. He’s not the last in history of motorcycling to make his own bike. So if that’s the given, which I accepted as the given, somebody else is going to do it. So I said, ‘F**k it , I’ll give it a shot.’”
Hence, MotoCzysz was born.
The goal was simple: to build the ultimate American superbike. Give it 200 horses, massive torque and the ability to transition faster. “I knew a couple of facts, and this is the God’s truth, now it’s proven to be the case: that bikes would rev higher in the future and that lean angles would increase. I said those two things are going to happen, what do we have to do?” The answer for Czysz was in the crankshaft design. More power for a given displacement required the crank to spin faster, but the gyroscopic effects would also affect handling.
“The two assumptions I made back then were about greater lean angles and more rpm,” Czysz says. “Those both work together and both of those pointed to the same thing, which was the crank, and one of them pointed to lateral suspension. So I said, okay, those will be my two disciplines I will try to master.”
Issues like these are challenges for even the brightest of engineers. Michael Czysz wasn’t an engineer. But like Czysz’s other pursuits, he proved to be a quick study. “I never had an architecture background either,” he says (he studied design). “You just encounter these problems and you deal with them, you learn along the way. I just had to figure it out as I went. I didn’t come from that field, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from giving it a try. I stayed at the track and just looked at everything, absorbed everything, loved it all.”
The four cylinder engine was the answer, of course, so it was decided to place it longitudinally. “I know it was a long shot, but that was the attraction.” The advantages to a longitudinal Four were great. For starters, it allowed a narrow bike, only 6.5 inches wide – the same width as the rear tire. More importantly, according to Czysz, the bike could transition from side to side much easier since the gyroscopic forces of the crankshaft weren’t fighting the bike nearly as much. However, there were also some downsides.
The original design had the cylinders in line, and looked great on paper, but by the time you brought in the intake and put out the exhaust at reasonable angles, the engine was as wide as if we turned it around. So there goes that idea.”
Back at the drawing board, Czysz came up with an idea to design a narrow “V.” “I figured, why am I doing that when I could just offset the cylinders a little bit, then I could close those bores up. Then the intakes drop in better, the exhausts drop in better and it closes up significantly.” A major benefit of the V15 (15-degree V) engine is the extremely compact dimensions you can achieve, but, according to Czysz, there are significant cooling advantages too.
While Czysz and his team seemed to overcome the challenges of a longitudinal engine, anyone who has ever ridden a Moto Guzzi, which also has a longitudinal engine, can attest to the torque effect when throttling the bike at a stop. While it adds character to a street bike, it hampers a racer’s ability to go fast. To counter this, Czysz split the crankshafts in two and formed contra-rotating cranks along the same axis, utilizing the first lesson we learned in high school Physics: for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. “We had a perfectly balanced engine and we didn’t have to counterbalance. That’s huge!”
The biggest unexpected advantage of this design was the sound. “It’s still the best sounding bike I’ve ever heard,” says Czysz. “It had a very American heavy kind of V-8 sound, but it just revved ridiculously fast, to 16,000 rpm.”
As history tells us, the C1 never turned a wheel in competitive anger. Blame the major sanctioning bodies. Originally, Czysz looked at World Superbike rules, which stated that small companies like his, producing a limited number of street bikes each year, only needed to homologate 150 bikes. “I thought I could sell 15 C1s,” he says. “That’s why the original prototype has a headlight.” But, of course, the rules changed.
Homologation numbers jumped to 1500 units for all manufacturers, “and I thought there was no way we were going to sell 1500 bikes the first year.” Czysz estimates he would have needed upwards of $20 million just to get the tooling needed to build that many bikes for homologation, so instead he looked across the way, to Moto GP and its field full of prototypes, which had recently switched to four-strokes. “I would have rather used that money, if we were fortunate enough to raise it, and go to Moto GP at that point. We could have gained more sponsors and then possibly reverse engineered a street bike later on, similar to what Ducati did with the Desmosedici.”
In fact, it was relatively easy to configure a slightly smaller 990cc engine to fit MotoGP requirements. But just as the C1 was coming to life, the death knell for the C1 project rang: MotoGP was switching to 800cc engines.
As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens, and that’s the situation Czysz found himself in. “I heard the first murmuring of electric bikes, and honestly, I had zero attraction to it. Then, when he thought about the future, he realized, “I can try to catch up in a 100 year-old industry and be the last guy to the dance, or I can jump over and be maybe the leader in this new area.”
So, he jumped in headfirst, and knowing there wasn’t much he could do about trimming battery weight, the main singular focus was breakneck acceleration. What Czysz wanted was torque numbers similar to second gear on a motorcycle, but from 0 to 180 mpg, in a single gear. “That’s what was lost on most,” he says. “Our bike may have developed 250 lbs.-ft. of torque, but that’s nothing with a one-to-one ratio. That’s like sixth-gear acceleration on a ICE bike. If you take a Panigale and do the multiplications through the transmission, and the gear reduction of the rear, you’re going to find that it has somewhere around 600-850 lb-ft of torque. So, day one, I wanted that.”
Czysz hit that mark, but to maintain that torque for any period of time the batteries needed to be mighty impressive. “With our partner Dow Kokam, MotoCzysz made some very impressive energy dense battery packs. What made them so amazing was that we didn’t have to sell them to consumers,” he says. “They were also stressed – not from a safety standpoint, but we could pack a lot of energy into a small space and were monitoring up to 40 different thermal allocations. We’d run them almost to the point of thermal meltdown because that’s how you got the most out of them. You just can’t do that on a street bike.” By the end of MotoCzysz’s run, in 2013, just four years after entering his first bike in the TT Zero races, the E1pc batteries were pumping out over 400 volts, 400 amps and over 16.5kWh of energy.
The early models used modified C1 frames, featuring “hot swap” battery technology. From there Czysz moved to a new carbon fiber chassis designed specifically for his electric grand prix machine. The proprietary liquid-cooled, permanent-magnet brushless motors were tucked underneath the batteries or, on later models, integrated into the subframe. At their max, Czysz claims 250 lbs.-ft. of torque and more than 200 hp.
Then, of course, there were the four Isle of Man TT Zero victories – the entire reason for the E1pc’s existence in the first place. Admittedly, the first year “was a complete joke,” Czysz says, since there wasn’t much competition and the bikes were slow. The second year showed signs of legitimacy, but the third year was when things started to get interesting.
“Third year, we brought our third new bike, and Michael Rutter did a 99.8 mph average, crossing the line at 120 mph. He scared the shit out of people who had never seen an electric bike go that fast! He came flying by so fast we thought the throttle was stuck wide open. It was unbelievable. The TT Zero race went from being a joke to something interesting in three years. This was really the birth of the electric ‘super bike.’”
It was the third and fourth years, 2012 and 2013, where a real rivalry started to develop. Enter Mugen, backed by the mighty hand of Honda. Despite showing up with 20 guys, two trick bikes and John McGuiness at the helm, Czysz won again. “It was beautiful,” Czysz says. “All of a sudden, this [TT Zero] is the most technically advanced bikes at the IoM. Both Mugen and MotoCzysz were scrapping our bikes every year and coming back with ground breaking technology. And we were just a team of five people. That’s just unbelieveable.”
Unfortunately, the fairytale story that is MotoCzysz doesn’t end with a bang, but is, instead, a firecracker with a cut fuse. The Mugen vs. MotoCzysz battle was forming into the stuff of legend, but Michael’s unfortunate cancer diagnosis prematurely and suddenly curtailed the rivalry.
Through it all, however, Czysz had no ambitions of building any electric motorcycles for the street. His eyes were on a much bigger prize: transforming the two-wheeled landscape as we know it. His vision? A hybrid. “Everything that I’ve learned will lead up to this,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of people that have designed a complete internal combustion engine and a complete electric motor. I’ve designed both. Now it’s about bringing those together. A hybrid is the next great thing to happen in motorcycling.”
At this point Michael switches gears, being extra calculated with what he reveals. He assures me this isn’t a hybrid in the traditional sense. A gas engine and electric motor aren’t fighting for space underneath a motorcycle frame. “It is truly part of internal combustion and part of electric, it’s a totally new architecture.” Any technical details beyond that, however, and Czysz is staying tight-lipped.
“I’ve got a deal. It’s done. Signed, inked, done.” Czysz is excited about the opportunity, stating that, despite his hatred of electrics for a street bike, “there are still aspects of electric that are undeniably awesome.” Combine the character and passion of a gas engine with the efficiency and torque from an electric motor, and Czysz predicts a vehicle that can transform motorcycling.
Czysz says, “Somebody is going to have to go out there, create the hybrid and show them it’s better. I so want to do that, I’m so ready. I’m going to be so disappointed if I don’t get that shot.” And in case you’re envisioning Prius-like excitement levels on two wheels, Czysz says his hybrid design doesn’t alienate his fellow speed demons. “Just look at Formula 1,” he says. “Those are the most technically advanced cars in the world, and it’s basically a hybrid series now.”
Despite Czysz becoming closely guarded with his words, he seems so convinced his hybrid technology is the wave of the future. You almost get caught up in the moment. Though part of the reason for his keeping secrets close to heart is the fact he hasn’t filed any patents. Citing his health and the money involved to even file a patent, “’I’m tired of raising money, and I’m tired of making sales pitches, that’s just not what I want to do anymore.” However, according to Czysz, hybrid specialists from Mercedes-Benz have already vetted his idea and confirmed it can work with today’s technology. “So, let’s get going.”
What makes Michael Crysz one incredible man is the fact that he still wasn’t satisfied with the legacy he would leave behind. Never satisfied, if he’s right about hybrid design in motorcycles, Michael Czysz won’t have to worry about his legacy anymore.