In one of the most eagerly-anticipated e-Bike launches, Curtiss Motorcycles lifted the wraps off its Zeus e-Bike at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, California, on May 5th. Company founder Matt Chambers had claimed, “We’re going to create a new environment for the second and third year onwards—going forward based upon what our projections are, and I think we’ll have a pretty good idea from when we strike the match on May 5.” True to that promise, the Zeus is slated to commence production in 2020, after further development, and taking the temperature of their customers’ reactions to the radical new machine unveiled at the Quail.
The immediate response to the Zeus was curiosity if not outright clamor (and the expected snark from web trolls). The design is unlike any motorcycle you’ve ever seen, yet retains clear DNA from Curtiss’ former identity as Confederate Motorcycles; the chunkiness and girder fork recall former Confederate designer Ed Jacobs’ work, as does the seat and steering head area, but the powerplant and ‘T-block’ battery are entirely new, and radically different. It’s clear Curtiss Motorcycles’ Director of Design Jordan Cornille has grappled with the Big Question: how long will e-Bikes remain design slaves to the IC silhouette? In this case, Cornille has truly broken free of traditional motorcycle design, and produced a unique vehicle, with real presence. Whether strength of character is enough to break through the resistance of V-twin lovers – the traditional Confederate customer – towards electric motorcycles remains to be seen, but Cornille and Chambers deserve big credit for taking a step into the unknown.I spoke with Curtiss Motorcycles’ Director of Design Jordan Cornille moments after the cloth was lifted on the Curtiss Zeus in the large white tent on the green at Quail Motorcycle Gathering.
Jordan, walk me through the design process timeline from last August when Matt Chambers announced that his company was going to change its name and design focus.
“By the time the announcement was made last year by Matt, this project was already deep into development. Curtiss as a brand has been in development for almost eight years now, and Zeus specifically started on the drawing board about two years ago.
For the last three years, I’ve been carefully developing a new design DNA for the brand, and Zeus is the first product from us to showcase that DNA publicly. Many other products have been in development alongside Zeus, so those products will be making their debuts soon.”
How much thought and discussion did you have before embarking on the Curtiss Zeus?
“Zeus specifically came onto the drawing board approximately two years ago. Before that, the discussion had existed for several years. Internally, Curtiss knew that it was time to create an honest electric motorcycle, so the company spent years exploring what that meant. Zeus showcases Curtiss’s first battery configuration, internally labeled ‘T-Block’.
Alongside Zeus, several other “Block” battery configurations came to exist. Curtiss design DNA is organic, pure, and simple minimalism. In order to be sure that Curtiss products maintain that DNA is critical, so the process takes time; sometimes, it’s necessary to even get out of the way and allow the products themselves to organically become what they want. It’s a process that cannot be rushed.”
It appears that e-Bike design doesn’t have the same boundaries as ICE. Do you agree or have other opinions?
“I agree 100 percent! The number one driving factor behind the design/style of a motorcycle is its package. ICE motorcycles all have, more or less, the same components, so they have all grown to accommodate similar looks and proportions. Electric motorcycles have completely different components, so there’s no need for them to look, or be packaged like, traditional ICE motorcycles. This is where we believe our industry is missing the mark.
Today’s electric motorcycles appear to have been designed around traditional ICE motorcycle packages, proportions, and styles. This has led nearly all of them to have faux gas tanks and other aesthetics that we believe to be dishonest to the technology that they carry. With Zeus, and its siblings to follow, Curtiss has redefined the package and layout of the motorcycle. We have arranged the new electric components in ways that we believe are advantageous over ICE components in terms of weight distribution and rider ergonomics.”
Confederate left quite a legacy, and spawned several companies when designers left to start their own brands. Are you able to spread your design wings freely, or does Matt have his own guidelines to follow?
“From the moment I was hired on at Curtiss, Matt has given me zero limitations. He’s created a culture within our brand that allows my creative department the freedom it needs to generate new, exciting ideas and execute on them. Although I have the capability to design and think so freely, that does not mean that I don’t tap Matt’s extraordinary wealth of knowledge in motorcycle design, specifically proportion.
With nearly 30 years of executive experience in our industry (more than most), Matt has a near infinite understanding of motorcycle design, which has been an invaluable asset in creating this new brand family.”
There were a few truly radical bikes on display at The Quail this year, including the Arch Method 143. How far will you diversify the Curtiss e-Bike line in the next two years, and when will the Zeus be available to consumers?
“The Zeus concept prototype that we showed at The Quail this year is slated for a 2020 model year production release, with production likely beginning in early Fall 2019. Our long-term product strategy includes having models positioned at a variety of price points, meaning there will be something available for nearly every pocketbook. These models will include a great selection of genres, forms, power, and range that will satisfy the needs of every rider out there. Every single one of these models are already in design and development.”