Is This Can-Am’s New Electric Motorcycle?

Categories: Motorcycle

New documents have revealed the company may be developing several electric models—like the roadster here—using a shared platform. (Can-Am/)

Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire sub-brand might be on the verge of revealing second-generation models to cement a position at the head of the electric motorcycle field, but another North American powersports giant—Bombardier Recreational Products—is also plotting to get in on the action. New patents from the Canadian company show it’s developing a modular electric motorcycle platform intended to be used across a variety of models.

BRP bought the remains of Alta Motors, creator of the promising Redshift model, after the California firm collapsed in 2018, so it has access to some strong electric motorcycle technology. The company has also previously shown electric concepts including a battery-powered version of the Can-Am Ryker as well as a pair of two-wheelers—the Can-Am CT1 scooter and CT2 motorcycle—and even a tilting trike. However, the new patents show a completely different set of electrics, with clear illustrations of an electric trailbike and a street-oriented roadster, as well as outlines for a cruiser, a retro model, and a supersport machine based on the same battery and frame.

The modular platform would involve a central frame holding the battery pack that could be angled to fit various configurations.

The key to BRP’s future electric bikes is that shared platform, which is an idea Harley’s future LiveWire plans also revolve around. LiveWire’s planned Arrow platform is a central monocoque housing the battery, able to accept a variety of steering heads, swingarms, and motors to give variations in performance and chassis geometry. The Bombardier plan is slightly different, with a tubular frame holding the battery pack and control electronics, and instead of replaceable steering head sections the idea is that the angle of the whole frame/battery section can be rotated to suit the geometry requirements of each model. For a sportbike, the front is dropped and the rear raised, making for a steeper rake. The cruiser version reverses the frame’s tilt, dropping the rear and raising the front for a more relaxed angle.

As with this dirt bike example, a different single-sided swingarm could be bolted to the central frame for each bike type. (Can-Am/)

At the back, the Bombardier idea is to mount the electric motor in the front of the swingarm rather than as part of the central, shared frame. That means a variety of different swingarm units can be made, including a range of different motors and geometries, and bolted to the standardized frame/battery section. The swingarms have an intriguing design. They’re single-sided with the electric motor mounted near the pivot point, driving a large reduction gear. That gear holds the front sprocket, with a chain final drive over a built-in tensioner to the rear sprocket. The whole lot is closed in with a bolt-on cover, enclosing the chain to both reduce its noise (normally drowned out on combustion-engine bikes, chain rattle becomes unpleasantly annoying on a near-silent electric two-wheeler) and to let it sit in an oil bath. Along with the built-in tensioner, that should vastly reduce the need for maintenance.

Shown here from the rear, the swingarm holds an electric motor at its front where it connects to the frame unit. A chain sits under the bolted-on cover (which reduces noise). (Can-Am/)

While there’s an obvious benefit in terms of costs in using a shared central frame section across a range of bikes, it’s also a solution that promises manufacturing advantages. The idea is that the same production line can be used for all versions of the bike, from the cruiser to the supersport, with workers simply selecting the right subassemblies for forks and the swingarm/motor unit, as well as the suitable bodywork, footpegs, and bars, for each machine. It means that bikes can be virtually built to order, or at the very least the factory will be able to quickly respond to spikes in demand for specific models without being left with large stocks of unsold, less popular machines.

Although these ideas could easily be represented with simple drawings in Bombardier’s patent, the company has instead used images that clearly show the roadster and trail versions of the bike in considerable detail. The implication here is that this isn’t simply an exercise in establishing intellectual property rights over the idea, but part of a process in the development of real machines that are well on the way to being production ready.

These concept models from 2019 show Can-Am’s been toying with two- and three-wheel electrics for a while now.