Kawasaki’s Radical Concept J Bike

KawebKawasaki’s Concept J electric motorcycle continued its world tour at the EICMA show in Milan, Italy, where it attracted big crowds, just as it did one year ago when it was first shown at the Tokyo Motor Show. The motorcycle is as much an exercise in industrial art as it is a prototype, but it’s a safe bet that at least some of its features will someday reach production. The power source of the three-wheel street machine is Kawasaki Heavy Industry’s Gigacell battery with Kawasaki’s own battery management system. Despite the bike’s radical outward appearance, the battery is the real star of the show.
At first glance you might not be impressed hearing that the battery relied on nickel-metal hydrate chemistry, but it’s nothing like the NiHM cells you’ll find at your local Radio Shack. Kawasaki developed the technology for its rail business, where high-volume discharge and short recharge times would be extremely useful–and profitable. The application in a motorcycle is clearly a spin-off, but at least it’s a very interesting one.

What got motorcycle enthusiasts at the EICMA motorcycle show in Milano, Italy really abuzz was Concept J’s ability to transform itself into different configurations. An animated video shows it starting in sport mode, with the rider tucked in tightly; arms extended and knees sharply bent. Then it transforms into urban mode where the hand grips and seat move upward and the foot pegs move forward, allowing the rider to sit in an upright, armchair-like position. The two front wheels also spread apart as the motorcycle converts into its more relaxed identity. In either configuration, the front wheels articulate to allow the bike to lean, just like many of the two-wheel motorcycles currently on the market. Piaggio has been doing this with the MP-3 scooter for years. More hard-core enthusiasts say it’s simply the world’s most complicated kickstand, although there’s plenty of evidence that doubling the contact patch does have real safety benefits.

For now, Kawasaki has very little to say about Concept J. There’s a long history of concept bikes that never see production. But Kawasaki owns the technology and is making a heavy investment in electric transportation. Something is in the works. And if nothing else, it’s fun to look at.