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31 May 2018

Framing before painting

As you may know by now, some time ago I got the idea for an electric adventure motorcycle while nearly  running out of fuel in the desert. (link to how it all started). Once an idea gets me really excited, I frankly just want to flat-out start creating it. Although my passion and drive are invaluable and essential, I also realise that it is good practise to first take a step back and analyse the idea. Is my idea still relevant once it is finished? Does it suit the world it has to function in? How can it fulfil my needs and desires?

Essentially I’m first creating a framework before starting on the actual creative engineering. It’s like framing before painting.

From context —> interaction —> product

My analysis started by researching the future. How are we going to live, recreate, travel and work in the future? What technologies are prevalent? I shaped the research results into a future context (you can read the summary in a previous blog). Basically a description of a future world, the way I see it happening. Although it is my own description of the future, it doesn’t mean I will blindly follow and implement the predicted developments. Therefore I defined a context statement; my stance within this future world.

Context statement: “We want to escape the digitised and automated environment and reinforce “analog” adventure.”

The second step involved defining the desired interaction of the future product with the world and with myself, the user. How is the interaction helping to achieve the context statement? What kind of feeling should it fulfill? How does it remain or become relevant in the world it is used in.

I defined 6 interaction qualities that I think are required for future products to interact with the world and the user:

  • Analog
  • Adventurous
  • Responsive
  • Clever
  • Sophistication
  • Circular

The next step is defining the framework for the new product. What sort of product should it be, what is the desired functionality and how is it going to be made.

Product category

My initial idea started with an electric adventure motorcycle. The outcome of the future context study and interaction qualities is rather generic however. It could be applied to designing all kinds of adventure products. So are we still going for a motorcycle?

With its added 3rd dimension, traveling by air arguably offers the most freedom and makes handling difficult terrain easy. You just fly over it! However, from above you are more a distant observer than being immersed into nature. In terms of handling difficult obstacles, two wheelers offer the most flexibility and versatility. For me, traveling by motorcycle is one of the most liberating ways of exploring the world. No windscreen, no structure between you and nature. If you really want to explore nature and want to leave the paved road, an adventure motorcycles brings you the flexibility like no other.

So, maybe unsurprisingly, a motorcycle it is!

From use-case to required functionality

My adventures through the USA and Europe gave me a good sense of the adventure motorcycle use-case.  Typically, the riding starts after breakfast in the early morning. With plenty of intermediate stops for sightseeing, food and fuel, riding stops just before sunset. All in all a whole lot of time is spend on the bike, and therefore it needs to be comfortable.

Road conditions more or less dictate the daily distance travelled. The better the road, the longer the distance. On average ±400km is travelled on a day. Fast charging is not available everywhere and I also don’t expect it to be in the near and medium term. Getting the desired range with batteries means that the motorcycle has to be as efficient as possible to stretch between charging points. 

To summarise, this is the general required functionality:

  • Carry one person comfortably from A to B
  • Road conditions: ranges from smooth highway to single track off-road paths
  • Comfort: From sunrise to sunset
  • Efficient: It should have a range of ±400km
  • Luggage: Sleeping bag, tent, clothes, water, food etc.
  • Tools: Survival gear, tools, first aid kit etc.
  • Location: From city centre to remote areas
  • It should be fun and agile to ride
  • Maintenance free
  • Sustainability: Leave nothing but tire prints

Initial packaging

All the functionality as indicated before, translates into a simple packaging study. I begin with the seating position of the rider. Comfort, control, visibility, styling and Centre of Gravity (CoG) all define the seating position and location of the rider between the wheels. I investigated various seating positions. Laying forward, backward etc. However, the old fashioned upright position offers perfect control, visibility and comfort. Remember, we have to challenge rough terrain, where standing on the foot pegs is needed for optimal control.

An electric bike of course needs some kind of energy storage. Either a lot of batteries or some kind of fuel cell and fuel. The energy storage is by far the heaviest element of the bike, I want it as low down and as close to the middle of bike as possible. This offers the best handling on- and off-road.

From experience I know how luggage panniers can negatively impact the riding dynamics. Centre of Gravity is shifted rearwards, aerodynamics are negatively impacted and getting on and off your bike gets less easy. Also, putting luggage at the back requires a heavy reinforced frame, increasing overall weight.

If you study existing adventure bikes, there is a huge volume in the tank area. It houses the fuel tank, a large airbox for the engine and a sturdy frame for mounting the front forks. An ideal area for a luggage compartment. It keeps the centre of gravity forward, improves the overall aerodynamics and doesn’t need a heavy rear frame section. One caveat however, if I position the luggage in front of the rider, I will have to come up with an alternative suspension and steering design.

Boutique factories

In most cases, the production method will influence the way you design your product. In my case that is no different. Ever since my studies I have been fascinated by additive manufacturing and the principle of cradle-to-cradle. To me they are complementary to the idea of boutique manufacturing.

Boutique manufacturing = a method used for the custom production of certain products in limited quantities by hand or with a restricted level of automation – Wikipedia

Additive manufacturing, in my eyes, is a perfect manufacturing technique to make customised parts in low quantities. Locally, with local resources and without tooling. Upgrading parts to newer specification is possible by using the old part as a resource. Designing complex parts, integrating functionality out of one material where you normally would assembly it out of various parts and materials. Not only does this reduce assembly time and the number of assembly steps, but it makes cradle-to-cradle recycling also easier.

Boutique Manufacturing has the following consequences to the design:

  • Create a product that can be easily taken apart.
  • Use materials that can be reused as much as possible
  • Limit the number of materials used
  • Integrate functions and components in one part
  • Adapt to the local market conditions
  • Work with local resources
  • Make it cradle-to-cradle recyclable


Before jumping straight into the creative process, a framework is required. It sets the boundaries of the project, defines the kind of product and gives general requirements.

In this article I finalised the framework for the adventure motorcycle. The framework is defined by:

  • A future context, describing the world it is used in
  • The desired interaction with the user and the world around it
  • Product category
  • A typical use case
  • The product volume with the initial packaging
  • The desired manufacturing principle

From here on the creative process begins.

Gilbert Peters

I’m the founder and owner of Fransiscó. I have a passion for lightweight and high performance engineering. In this blogs you will find occasionally a write-up of things that keep me busy. I you want to know more about my background, please have a look here… 

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