Photographer: Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg
Photographer: Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg

A Tesla Powerwall on Two Wheels and Way More Fun

A few years ago a small engineering company in northern Austria decided to design and build an electric motorcycle from scratch and without any automotive experience. "We started with a blank sheet of paper," says Johann Hammerschmid, founder and chief executive officer of Johammer e-mobility GmbH. "In central Europe, engineers are used to finding solutions to complex problems. And that's what we've done here." The company is now launching a crowdfunding campaign to take on Tesla and other battery suppliers, using the machines as power storage when parked in the garage. Photographs by Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg

A cruiser on a country road near the Czech Republic border, not far from the Johammer factory in Bad Leonfelden, Austria. The machines have an urban range of 300 km (185 miles) and 200 km on tougher terrain. "Their really sweet spot is between 50 kmh and 100 kmh [31 mph and 61 mph]," says Chief Financial Officer Johannes Kaar. "It only takes about 10 km to get the feel for the bike."

An employee fixes a rear-view mirror to a Johammer electric motorcycle at the factory. The company shares premises with sister company Nordfels GmbH, which manufactures complex automated production-line equipment. In total the companies have around 40 employees, including an in-house chef who makes a vegetarian lunch daily.

An employee secures a 21-inch front wheel. The rear wheel has a 17-inch diameter. Unconventional center-hub steering alleviates the need for a traditional frame and forks. The chassis is an aluminum horizontal frame supporting front and rear mono-shock absorbers. This gives a low center of gravity to support the 80 kg (176 lb.) battery.

Carrying out preinstallation tests on a wiring harness connected to headlight, taillight, and handlebar mirror units. Forward-facing yellow LED turn signals and white parking lights are mounted inside the translucent plastic mirror housings. 

A mirror monitor displays electric charging information when parked. On the road, battery status, range, and drive train temperatures are displayed in the right mirror. The speedometer is housed in the left mirror. The hi-tech rear-view mirrors are designed and built in house along with the controlling software. The data displays alleviate the need for a traditional instrument cluster.

Individual lithium-ion cells are supplied by manufacturers in Japan and South Korea. More than 1,200 cells are used to power the 12 kWh air-cooled units, with gaps around each cell to allow for thermal expansion. An assembled battery contains enough energy to power an average home for two days. The J1s use a contactless key, which can be worn like a wristwatch.

Johammer CEO Johann Hammerschmid inspects a row of cast-alloy swing arms. Fins on the maintenance-free, oil-filled DC motor unit help cool the drive components. The J1 has regenerative—also known as recuperative—braking. By twisting the throttle into reverse, the motor generates electricity, charging the battery and reducing speed rapidly.

An employee secures a headlight to a cruiser. The solid black grille is a design feature and acts as a waterproof shield to protect the battery pack. The cruisers have a single forward gear and a slow-speed reverse to help when parking. Johammer motorcycles have forward footpegs like conventional cruisers and rear pegs for a sportier stance. Two models have been built with the higher capacity machine priced at €25,000 ($26,750), including taxes. Between spring and fall, the company hosts introductory day tours for up to six riders in upper Austria and southern Bohemia.

An employee affixes a logo to a fairing, which are made in Italy by a company that specializes in modular plastic furniture. Fairings are fabricated from 7mm thick polypropylene. The corrugated panels have been likened to that used on a vintage Junkers Ju 52 aircraft fuselage or Citroen H van. Although most of the machines made so far are single seaters, a sidecar is on the drawing board. The motorcycles are designed for a life expectancy of 200,000 kms, and most components are recyclable.

Batteries can be charged through high-amperage industrial power cables or domestic power outlets—a full charge is reached in 80 minutes or 3.5 hours, respectively. "There's going to be a real e-mobility revolution by 2020," says Hammerschmid. "We have one Johammer in Switzerland that's being used in a garage like a Tesla Powerwall for 95 percent of the week and then on Sundays taken for a ride."

Photographer: Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg