Mission improbable

For the thrill-seeking sportbike rider accustomed to savage acceleration and the shrieking howl of a tuned exhaust system, riding a silent and sedate electric bike is far from enthralling. That’s where the Mission One superbike produced by San Francisco-based Mission Motors comes in. Mission’s, ahem, mission is to change the way people feel and think about electric bikes.

The Mission One sportbike, which I first saw last year at Bonneville as it streaked across the salt flats at 150 mph on its way to an electric motorcycle land-speed record, is scheduled to hit the marketplace in May of 2011. I’ve been told that the performance I witnessed at Bonneville has been injected into the production bike, which will be introduced as a premier, limited-edition package for the hefty price of $68,995.

Will this new e-superbike break the mold and do for electric motorcycles what the Tesla sports car did for the Prius et al? I headed to Misson Motors HQ to find out.

My day-long test ride on the pre-production Mission One began with a trip north over the Golden Gate bridge. A short jaunt on the 101 freeway provided the opportunity to confirm the bike’s triple-digit speed potential, after which we peeled off the highway and made our way to the Pacific Coast Highway.

After hooking up the bike for a 90-minute recharge while I did the same with a plate of seafood, we headed back to the city the long way ’round, enjoying the area’s fantastic back roads and fittingly riding as far south as Silicon Valley before reversing course and returning to San Francisco. We were myself and Mission Motor’s software engineer Seth LaForge aboard his Ducati 916-many of the MM missionaries are active riders.

Sophisticated MotoGP-derived suspension helps hide the Mission One’s heft at speed. The Öhlins fork and shock were well-tuned and yielded a comfortable and controlled ride.

Sophisticated MotoGP-derived suspension helps hide the Mission One’s heft at speed. The Öh

So, what did that day of riding in the California sunshine prove? Only that the Mission One is a contradiction in terms completely unlike anything I’ve ridden before. It’s a zero-emissions sportbike that’s fun to ride and will outperform an R1, RSV4 or 1198 off the mark, albeit without the agility and nimble handling of its lighter gas-powered brethren. It’s got everything you want from a sportbike, including a good sound.

Mission Motors One Premier Edition

Unlike other e-bikes, where the sound of silence detracts from the riding experience, the Mission One utters a muted but decidedly angry rasp when you get on it, a combination of native motor noise, primary gear whine and chain buzz.

You need to tiptoe to climb aboard the tall single seat, where you’ll be forced into a decidedly sporty riding position. To boot up the bike, flip the switch hidden behind the lower right fairing flank and press the red E-STOP button mounted to the top triple clamp, then flick on the ignition switch to the right of the four mounted at the back of the dash. The others are there to activate the pumps and fans for the motor and ECU cooling systems.

Launch procedure complete, you’re ready to roll. Twisting the ride-by-wire throttle (what else would there be on an electric bike?) too hard will set the rear Michelin spinning, so practice restraint as this thing warrants respect. The Mission One’s meaty maximum torque of 115 lb.-ft. is available as soon as you get the engine turning, making this the easiest bike yet to wheelie, even without a clutch to help you coax the front end up.

And with little engine noise, you can stunt your way along city streets where any loud-piped streetbike would quickly attract the local constabularies. Not the Mission One: Ladies pushing strollers stood watching in amusement as I popped silent wheelies along Dogpatch driveways on this most civilized of hooligan bikes. Yet riding the Mission One slowly in traffic is almost too easy.

There’s no clutch lever, so you don’t have to cramp up your left hand, just work the throttle gently on and off. But at such speeds there’s no foretaste of what’s on offer once you have space to motor.

Mission Motors One Premier Edition
Mission Motors One Premier Edition
Mission Motors One Premier Edition
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