MEAN, BUT GREEN:
An environmentally friendly motorcycle springing from the sands of excess-happy Las Vegas? It’s true
Photo by Steve Marcus / Illustration by Jeff Adamson
More photosBrutus Electric Motorcycle website photo page
Chris Bell’s Brutus2 motorcycle is wide, black and low-slung, the kind of bike you could imagine being ridden by someone in leather and chains.
It’s heavy metal thunder on wheels, except for one thing.
There’s no thunder.
The bike is electric. Bell, the owner of Bell Custom Cycles of Henderson, built it with the goal of creating a green bike that even the baddest-to-the-bone biker would love. The other electric motorcycles he’d seen were lightweight, spindly and had more in common with mopeds than street bikes.
“No offense to the people who build them, but when you’re on one of their bikes, you’re basically riding a glorified scooter,” he said. “I wanted to build an electric motorcycle that felt and rode like a motorcycle.”
Bell, who was among thousands of Las Vegas construction workers who lost their jobs during the recession, began working on the Brutus2 in 2009. Although he is a longtime motorcyclist and has built traditional bikes, he’s not an electrical engineer. Building the bike took extensive research and trial-and-error development in his rented shop off of American Pacific Drive near Gibson Road.
But what he’s developed is a bike that, he says, operates like a mainstream motorcycle and can run for 100 miles at highway speed on a single charge. It’s been featured on the Discovery Channel’s website and on a number of sites focusing on technology and renewable energy.
Bell is hoping the buzz grows into something big for Las Vegas.
“I don’t want to sell the design to someone else to manufacture; I want the company,” he said. “We’ve all seen what happened to Las Vegas, and we all know we need to diversify the economy here. I want Las Vegas to become known for electric motorcycles. I want to bring some jobs to this city.”
Doing so won’t be easy. Although Bell says he’s made full preparations with parts suppliers and governmental organizations to begin manufacturing, he needs funding and is seeking investors. So far, he’s operated his company with help from family and by selling parts from salvaged bikes.
But he’s convinced he has a product that can appeal to mainstream motorcycle buyers.
What sets the Brutus2 apart, he says, is its transmission. Most electric motorcycles don’t have one, he says, but rather operate sort of like a dimmable light — twist the throttle open and the bike goes faster, close it and the bike goes slower.
The transmission on Bell’s bike allows riders to shift gears up and down, exactly like on a traditional motorcycle.
Although it’s styled like a street bike, the looks are deceptive. Under the skin of the gas tank, for instance, lies the battery pack. What looks like an exhaust pipe is a housing for circuitry connected to the throttle.
Then there’s the sound. There’s no rumble when the bike is idle — no noise at all, in fact — and no roar when the throttle is twisted. In motion, the bike produces a whir from its electric motor and rattling from chains that drive the transmission and rear wheel.
Bell says the 153-volt bike will go from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and weighs 535 pounds — the same weight as Suzuki’s biggest street bike. Top speed, he says, is 100 mph.
In a Jan. 26 post, Discovery.com called it “an impressive concept of what an electric motorcycle can, and probably should, look like.”
With the bike fully operational, Bell is working to turn statements like that into interest from investors. He says the buzz has generated calls to the business from people interested in the bike, and he’s hoping that one will eventually lead to investment capital.
“Things have really been happening fast lately, which is great,” he said. “My family has a long history in Las Vegas, and I don’t want to leave. I like it here, and I want to do something that will help.”