The Charging Bullet project has been a long time in gestation. It started a couple of years ago as an idea to build a super-economic diesel motorcycle and morphed through several incarnations before the idea of an electric motorcycle came together in the summer of 2017. Research into components revealed that prices have dropped far enough to make a battery vehicle project affordable and the technology has come far enough (as demonstrated by the likes of Tesla) to make the finished product a really useable machine.
However, not only has battery technology moved on leaps and bounds but so has the infrastructure. For the first time ever, the combined progress of the public charging network and affordable battery technology is making electric touring a reality. Even with the small range of this commuter bike a mammoth journey is achievable in the UK. The longest possible route is finally open to a battery vehicle – Land’s End to John O’Groats.
While I was looking for a mechanical project, old friend and excellent filmmaker Finn was looking for a documentary project. A chance comment in an email lead to a couple of meetings to arrange details and the Charging Bullet was born: an attempt to convert a classic bike to electric and ride it the length of Britain, all under the watchful lens of Finn’s camera.
I am Fred Spaven, a mechanical engineer with a passion for all things automotive, especially anything unusual. Following a career in superconductivity research, three years ago I decided to follow my real interests and set up Spaven Engineering; specialising in the restoration and modification of classic cars and motorcycles. The recent explosion of battery power is fascinating and I am starting my move into the world of electric vehicles with this Charging Bullet.
I am also no stranger to adventure having previously taken a Skoda to Mongolia, a BSA Bantam to south Italy, a train to Singapore and circumnavigated Yorkshire in a Reliant Robin. Now I am really looking forward to the new challenges of an electric adventure.
Finn Varney is a passionate, creative image-maker. He has shot short films, pop promos and commercials with visionary directors, making documentary films for commission and catharsis. He started filmmaking with production company Aberration in 2013, shooting a variety of documentary, web commercials and branded content. Working in smaller teams and as a solo operator, he specialises in working quickly and flexibly, capturing creative images in story-centric mindset and following most projects through edit and grade to delivery.
The Battery bike is constructed using the donor frame of an existing motorcycle, retro-fitted with a whole new electric drivetrain. After extensive searching for the right donor, the answer turned out to be right in front of my nose – an old Royal Enfield Bullet that, due to a hard life spent on the roads of India, was a near terminal case. I was looking for a frame that was simple, sturdy and relatively open and uncluttered to give space for battery boxes. Ideally new parts should be readily available and the frame and cycle parts should be in good condition. The part-restored Enfield fits the bill perfectly!
As for the electrical components, the starting point was the batteries. Traditionally the only affordably option has been Lead-Acid batteries which are heavy, bulky and prone to spilling. Fine for a milk float but not really motorcycle material. However, the last ten years have seen an explosion in battery technology with the likes of BMW and Tesla showing what is achievable with Lithium ion batteries. The bulk market, however, is the Nissan Leaf and there are now enough second hand batteries available that their cost is, incredibly, lower than Lead Acid batteries. It is this development that has made this project possible.
Drive comes from a Saietta brushed DC motor, providing 8.5kW at 48V, driven by a Kelly controller with the whole system kept in check by an Orion Battery Management System (BMS). This is all held in a steel subframe, designed and built by me at Spaven Engineering, that bolts into the Enfield frame in place of the original engine and gearbox. This produces a neat, well balanced bike that will weigh around the same as the original, with around the same power; so it will be just as sweet to ride – although without the classic ‘thumper’ soundtrack.
At this early stage of the project the route is largely unplanned. We’ll start in Cornwall, at Land’s End and cover the 1,200 miles or so to John O’Groats over three weeks in October. We’ll mainly recharge along the way at public charging points, as well as the campsites and hostels we stop at, but we will also call in for a top up at a number of interesting renewable energy producers, electric vehicle companies and sponsors along the way. Based on the maps available for public charging points we should have no problems through England but the challenge will be the highlands of Scotland, where facilities will be few and far between.
The content, style and even the length of the film will obviously depend on how the project progresses so there’s little that I can say just yet. However, Finn will be filming the build over the next few months and then will follow me and the bike along the way, acting as combined support vehicle and film crew to capture the trials and tribulations of the journey. The current plan is to edit the resulting material into a documentary for submission to the Sheffield International Documentary Festival.