Kawasaki hinted its future range of motorcycles will include a hybrid model. It's busily developing one of the industry's first gasoline-electric two-wheelers, and it released a video to explain how the technology works.
Pay no attention to the sci-fi three-wheeler leaning into a turn at the beginning of the film; the hybrid bike won't look anything like it, for better or worse. We haven't seen its full design yet, but the firm explained it's being developed to switch among gasoline, electric and hybrid power. It relies on an armada of sensors to identify the type of road it's traveling on and adjust its powertrain accordingly. For example, the software charges the battery pack while the bike is traveling on the highway, shuts off the gasoline engine when it rides through a city core, and leverages both power sources on a twisty road. Hybrid cars have been doing this for years.
However, building a hybrid car is relatively simple, because there's usually plenty of space in which to package the different components, but making a hybrid motorcycle is far more complicated. We're still waiting to find out how Kawasaki plans to carve out space for a motor, a battery pack, and an engine (likely one from its parts bin) in a relatively small footprint, and how it will offset the weight added by the hybrid system's components.
Although the video is short on details, website Visor Down recently uncovered a series of patent filings that shed some light on how the technology works. Significantly, one shows a joystick positioned next to the throttle that lets the rider select one of four riding modes that will sound familiar to anyone who has ever driven a hybrid car. The first mode runs the engine and the motor simultaneously for maximum power. The second keeps the engine on while turning the motor into a generator that channels power to the battery pack. The third makes the engine a range extender, while the fourth turns the engine off completely and powers the bike solely on electricity.
It looks like riders can summon a brief jolt of electricity by pressing a boost button located below the joystick. And, interestingly, the electric motor's output travels through the same six-speed manual transmission as the engine's. Kawasaki has already shown this technology in action on an electric prototype that's on its way to production.
Kawasaki did not announce firm plans to bring the hybrid model to production, but we doubt it's going through the trouble of developing it merely to shelve it when it's done. We're betting the bike will appear in showrooms in the coming years, though it's too early to tell how much it will cost or whether it will be available in America.