Triumph TE-1, the electric prototype that looks like a Speed Triple.

Eighteen months ago Triumph announced its plan for electrification. This is an update on what they’ve been doing. As it happens, they’ve been doing quite a lot.

The Collaboration.

Triumph has worked with three partners on project TE-1, which has been funded with a Government backed Innovate UK grant via the Office for Low Emission and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It sounds like a mouthful but it’s an important detail in the project. What you’re about to see is the result of a responsible British motorcycle manufacturer maximising Govt backing. We’ve all read what happens when this kind of opportunity is abused.

The Partners

Williams Advanced Engineering are providing their extensive knowledge and experience in the area of battery design and integration. Their experience is born out of racing in F1, which they have decades of. They have the capability to offer their engineering, testing, construction and consulting pack weight to the Defence, Aerospace, Automotive and Energy sectors. 

Integral Powertrain are providing their market leading background in electric motors. Founded by four members of Cosworth back in 1998, Integral recognised the opportunity to prepare for the future early and has been leading the way since 2008 when it comes to making electric motors. Have you seen that mad 2000bhp electric Lotus? What about the Pikes Peak record holding VW I.D R? They both use Integral motors.

WMG – Warwick University has a division of academics and industry experts who have the ability to run all kinds of R&D testing, viability studies, market insights and future thinking. They too have decades of experience working with the automotive industry, helping to turn good ideas into great products that we can buy. 

The Project

Is one based around developing a power train before they build a bike which can use that powertrain. That’s what I was told before I saw the pictures of the sweet looking electric Speed Triple (lets call it the Triumph Speed E until we know different). What you’re reading isn’t about a finished bike, it’s about understanding the constraints and challenges in terms of building something viable for a market of bikers that, in the majority, currently have little to no interest in swapping petrol for anything else. We need to be tempted by something that ticks all kinds of boxes.

What have they got on their hands?

Something special, I think. The specs that Triumph are quoting are incredibly impressive. The shiny bit that you can see is the motor, it’s integrated with the inverter which has the job of turning DC  from the batteries into AC for the motor. The total weight of the unit is less than 16 kilos. For reference, a typical four cylinder 1000cc internal combustion motorcycle engine weighs approximately 60 kilos. The motor produces 130Kw, which in real money equals approximately 177bhp. It has a rev limit of 18,000 rpm.

Torque is provided from 1rpm to approximately half of the rpm available and there’s a lot of it. 109Nm, or 80 ft-lbs, yes, from 1rpm. For comparison, a 2500cc Triumph Rocket 3 motor makes 221Nm, but that most definitely doesn’t weigh less than 16 kilos. It’s incredibly efficient thanks to the use of silicone carbide technology in the inverter, losses are around two percent. This motor can also talk fast, signals can be read at 100k times a second to provide total control of everything, traction control included. In terms of maintenance, this is essentially a sealed unit. No plugs to change, belts to wear out or oil to swap. 

The battery 

side of the project is equally fascinating. WAE settled on an optimum, rather than a maximum system. Which means that the distribution of the power available in the batteries is consistent across the entirety of the available range. ‘Faster for Longer’ was a phrase I heard more than once and it makes sense. I’ve driven and ridden EV that perform very differently in the second half of the available range in comparison to the first half. I’ve also experienced extreme drop off in range. By that I mean when you jump on a bike it says that the range is (for example) 85 miles. Five miles later the range displayed is 55 miles and ten minutes later I’m sweating looking for somewhere to plug in and take a charge. That’s not what we’re looking at here. WAE worked within the parameters set by Triumph and were pushed to produce something that is useable. Mass was an obvious factor but beyond that, where the mass sits was even more important. Triumph wanted the weight to sit in the right place so that it feels like the weight of an internal combustion engine and delivers the kind of dynamic performance we’re already used to. Range was the other obvious parameter set for WAE to work towards and performance  was the other key element. What WAE has delivered is as impressive as the work that Integral have done with the motor. Batteries are the heaviest part to consider in the EV equation, so to be told that the all up ready to ride weight of Project TE-1 will be 220 kilos was a surprise. I’ve ridden the Harley Davidson Livewire, which was surprisingly agile at 260 kilos, so 220 kilos was a great number to hear. Thermal management by way of a separate cooling system for the batteries means that efficiencies are high and performance is consistent. ‘Faster for Longer’, even. The numbers that matter are…

120 miles is the effective and usable range that will be available. In terms of recharge time, under twenty minutes plugged in will give 80 percent (98 miles) of that range. A full recharge to 100% will take longer. These are clearly manufacturer claims at the minute and we shouldn’t get too carried away until we’ve ridden it ourselves, but the prospect of getting 100 great miles of performance from a bike and then taking less than 20 minutes to recharge is something that I like the sound of a lot. I like coffee, I like going for a wee and I smoke cigarettes. If I do all three of those things after I’ve done 100 miles of riding, they typically take there or thereabouts twenty minutes. What’s also interesting in terms of the performance of the batteries is that they’re consistent across the discharge. When TE-1 has five miles of range, it will still generate 178bhp and deliver it in the same way as if the batteries had 115 miles of range available. The battery system you can see here has the capability to deliver 170Kw of power, but has been optimised at 130Kw in line with what the motor is capable of producing. In internal combustion terms, WAE has built the the fuel tank with the widest fuel filler neck (which allows faster refuelling) possible, it’s the biggest size possible given the space available and it has the best fuel feed pipe to the motor. One that doesn’t surge or slosh and offers consistent performance until the last drop of ‘fuel’ is used. Clever.

Testing

So far has been the job of WMG, a division of Warwick University that works with industry to bring projects like this to life. Their ability to create testing systems that replicate the typical loads placed on a bike means that when Triumph build the bike that this system will be used in, they will already have a proven system that has done thousands of miles of simulated testing. Essentially, WMG is able to bench test and provide data based on the combined efforts of a WAE battery, feeding a motor from Integral Powertrain and enclosed in a chassis package built by Triumph. The level of detail that WMG can recreate during testing is huge. Tyre pressures, rider weight and height, weather conditions and an almost endless list of other factors can be considered, created and measured from the comfort of a test bench before anything like an actual motorcycle is built that a Triumph test rider can then jump on. The chap above is Phil Whiffin, he’s the head of advanced propulsion systems at WMG and is a thoroughly nice man. I did my best not to look stupid in front of him and failed, miserably.

Triumph

Themselves have driven this project. Their understanding of the needs of the market are what’s created the parameters that have been set for the partners you’ve just been reading about. Where Triumph can score compared to existing two-wheeled EV manufacturers is simple, its Triumph. That means brand heritage, an understanding of what is expected from a bike like the TE-1, which it’s safe to assume can be considered a naked sports bike, or the ‘Speed E’ version of a Speed Triple. They have an existing global market with all of the bonuses that existing dealer networks are able to provide and they have plenty of potential customers already. After I rode the Harley Davidson Livewire, I wrote that the bike itself would probably sell more if it was painted blue and white and had Suzuki written on the side. What I meant there was that it’s hard enough to convince non Harley riders to cross over and try a regular Harley, let alone an electric one. Triumph wont have anywhere near as tough a job doing that. Sales of bikes like the Trident, to newer bikers means that the next generation of bikers will be eyeing up electric bikes on the same showroom floor as everything else that Triumph has to offer. Remember as well that this is a prototype, a step into what will no doubt become a range of EV product. I know that Integral already produces a version of the motor that they’ve built for this, that makes much more torque at the cost of top end power. A motor that would be ideal for a cruiser, for instance.

We should remind ourselves of a few of things. The first is that EV isn’t going away, the second is that the ideal solution isn’t going to come overnight and the third is that the majority of the people reading this aren’t necessarily the target market for this bike, based on the ageing demographic of the current market.

Lets also remind ourselves of the numbers before you go. The weight is 220kg ready to ride. The range is 120 miles, of which 80 percent can be recharged in under twenty minutes and the power available is 177 bhp at 18,000rpm. These are extremely healthy numbers. What’s unclear is how anyone, let alone Triumph, will recreate the emotional connection we have with the sound of a petrol engine, the feeling of changing gears and the link we forge with valves, pistons, petrol and propulsion. It’s entirely possible that these things might just be impossible to pin down in terms of recreation. Looking at the sketches for the bike, speaking to the brains behind the project from some of the best corners of various industries and feeling the enthusiasm for the project from Triumph was exciting stuff though. There’s no denying, in my mind at least, that the future looks pretty good from here. 

Next Steps

Are developing a mule to carry out real world testing, with test riders that can feel the cold and know how to develop a chassis in line with a motor. It’s expected that this mule will be ready to ride later this year. There’s currently no indication of price point and no expected on sale date. I’d estimate the price to be less than the £28,500 that a Livewire costs and you’ll be kicking the tyres on this bike at a show in 2022.  

Comments on Triumph TE-1, the electric prototype that looks like a Speed Triple.

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Jeff Stone 6 months, 1 day and 20.33 hours

Good to see Triumph doing things properly. As you say, EVs are here to stay so we’d better get used to the idea. Yes, any petrol head will miss that visceral man and machine thing, the sound, the vibes the gear changes etc, but the pure riding dynamics will still be there. As to range and charging, it’s still early days in battery development and charging infrastructure, but with a move to all new cars being totally electric by 2030, those developments will soon come. I guess the TE-1 is styled to catch the eye and fire excitement, but it’s interesting to see what looks like a belt drive, not chain. With chain driven bikes having been around for over 100 years now, it would have been anachronistic to have used an exposed rear chain. I hope that makes it to prototype and is not binned in the interests of fashion, even better if a shaft was used, now that would be revolutionary!

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