Special Reports

One smart chopper

By Russ Olexa

July/August 2010- There’s a deep, throaty sound V-twin choppers produce, and Orange County Choppers, Newburgh, N.Y., is famous for building bikes that make it.

But one bike the company built last year doesn’t sound like any of its previous bikes. In fact, it is mostly silent.

To develop a unique motorcycle to show off its "green," sustainable technologies, Siemens Corp. USA, New York, and its Industry Sector business in Atlanta; Orlando, Fla.; and Buffalo Grove, Ill., commissioned OCC to produce the first electric motorcycle OCC has ever built. Because of it, the company had to face some unique challenges.

Although Siemens presented the idea to OCC in August 2009, Jim Quinn, OCC lead engineer, had the same idea for several years. But with work schedules and the growth of the company, he never had the opportunity until Siemens presented OCC with the challenge.

Tom Varney, head of marketing communications for Siemens Industry Inc., explains how Siemens’ Smart Chopper came to be: "An idea was presented to me by a colleague in the energy sector, and we were having a discussion about approaching OCC to see if they would be interested in doing a ‘green’ motorcycle--an electric chopper. Knowing that they’ve never done one before, would OCC be interested in working with Siemens? We’d use the bike to tell our sustainability energy story because we have a broad and deep portfolio of green technologies."

The bike uses recycled materials; a series-wound, 8-in.-diameter motor from Advanced DC Motors Inc., East Syracuse, N.Y.; and Siemens’ light-emitting-diode lighting, says Varney. It has 27 peak hp, an estimated maximum speed of 100 mph and an estimated range of 60 miles on a single charge. It also has an onboard charger, which enables users to plug it into any 110-volt outlet.

"When we went to OCC, they were fascinated by the story that we have to tell," says Varney. "They were also blown away by the breadth and depth of our energy technology portfolio."

"For us it’s not a matter of just making wind turbines, building automation systems, gas turbines or electric motors," says Steve Kuehn, Siemens media relations. "A great deal of our technology underpins efficiency in all sectors of business and industry."

Although the electric motor used for the motorcycle is not one the company produces, Siemens builds energy-efficient motors for all types of applications, says Varney. "An electric motor in a factory or in a building running [an] HVAC system uses a tremendous amount of electricity. By putting in energy-efficient motors and then combining these with variable speed drives, [it] will greatly reduce energy consumption," he says.

These types of electric motors help a plant or facility become greener, says Kuehn. "Siemens has energy-efficient buildings," he says. "We are into solar, wind power, biomass and energy-efficient lighting. We wanted our motorcycle to tell the story of our energy efficiency, environmental sustainability and our green technologies. For instance, the spokes of the front wheel are modeled after a wind turbine, and the back wheel’s spokes are modeled after an energy-efficient gas turbine blade. We have our Sylvania energy-efficient lights on it. And then even from a productivity standpoint, OCC uses a Siemens CNC machine control on its waterjet cutting machine."

The company also didn’t use chrome because the chroming process is dirty, Kuehn says. Instead it used polished aluminum and stainless steel for some of the components. "OCC [even] used low-VOC, water-based paint for the motorcycle to eliminate toxins from solvents. We also used some recycled materials," he says.

Going electric
"We were both on the same wavelength as to the construction of this particular motorcycle," says Quinn. "I have been thinking about an electric chopper for quite some time, probably for about two years before Siemens came in and said, ‘We would like to do one.’"

To develop the motorcycle’s design, Paul Teutul Sr., owner of OCC, toured Siemens’ facilities for ideas, and Siemens gave both Teutul and Quinn a free hand in its development.

Siemens also gave information to Quinn so he could get a feel for the company. "Siemens sent us a couple of books on their wind turbines, high-efficiency gas turbines used for energy generation and also information on other industries outside of power generation, such as medical equipment and machine tools that Siemens provides the controllers for," he says. "They gave us a broad-brush overview of what the company is all about. Then they said, ‘This is what we would like you to do: Try and incorporate all of this or some of it into the theme of the motorcycle.’"

Build challenges
OCC patterned the front wheel after one of Siemens’ three-bladed wind turbines so the spokes resemble blades. The company modeled the rear wheel from Siemens’ high-energy-efficiency gas turbine generation equipment. It machined the wheel to look like a jet-engine turbine blade and carried the concept to the sprocket for the chain drive.

The motorcycle has a chain drive on each side of the rear wheel because the electric motor offered it. "This led us to model the turbine blades into each sprocket and also into the brake rotors," says Quinn. "When you look into the rear wheel, it looks as if you’re looking into a jet engine turbine where you see rows and rows of these blades. It’s not a true turbine blade but modeled to look like one. Both the front and back turbine blades are made from 6061 T6 aluminum except for the brake rotors that are stainless steel."

To cut these turbine blades, Quinn used a five-axis waterjet and vertical milling machine. "We just designed these parts so we could cut them using this equipment," he says.

An important aspect of the bike is the flowing design that demanded unique sheet-metal forming around the motor and batteries. Not having been done before, this design was a challenge for Rick Petko, motorcycle fabricator.

"Ordinarily, the motor is left open because all of our motors are air cooled," says Quinn. "We don’t use sheet metal to enclose this area. We had to build a sheet-metal skin around the workings of the bike that we ordinarily don’t do. On this bike, we had a high-voltage system we needed to cover from the rider and make sure all the electrical connections were enclosed. Once we had the battery system figured out and had the batteries and the connections made, Petko was able to lay out a wire frame for the look of the bike’s enclosure that we wanted. He used 1/4-in., round steel bar to frame it out.

"Then he started with the English wheels, hammers, stretchers and shrinkers to create side panels that flowed along the front of the bike per our design. The side panels were a combination of 18-gauge mild steel and perforated metal that had ventilation holes in it, so the batteries and motor had some airflow."

Framing it
OCC used mild-steel, 2-in.-diameter tubes that are 1/8 in. thick for the bike frame and used various tube sizes for other parts of the frame. However, because of time constraints, Rolling Thunder Mfg., a Chateauguay, Quebec-based vendor, built the frame. OCC later had to modify it to fit the batteries and electric motor, says Quinn.

"We had the frame made to accept the battery tray that we built, and then we fabricated at our shop a subframe out of 3/8-in.-thick steel that held the batteries. We created a center divider that filled the frame lengthwise.

"When we first got the frame, we were not 100 percent sure what the orientation of the batteries was going to be. This bike was conceived, modeled and executed in under two months. Everything was done on the fly. We ordered a frame that looked like the frame we needed, but as it was being built, we were researching what we were going to put in this motorcycle for battery power. We might have gotten the frame and later found that the batteries would not fit properly. We [made] our best guess, and we did have some batteries to get the dimensions from, but it was definitely an ongoing build. And until we had the frame here, we didn’t know exactly how the batteries would be oriented."

Quinn found batteries that were 11 in. by 6 in. by 6 in. Originally, OCC had the 11-in. length going the width of the bike. Once the fabricators mounted the batteries, they found they could fit in more by standing the batteries on end, so the 11-in. length was the height dimension. This allowed them to run three batteries along each side of the bike and gave them 72 volts for power.

Quinn ended up using a Craftsman DieHard Platinum Series battery. "We originally wanted to use a lithium-ion battery," he says. "And Siemens requested that we use a specific battery company because it’s part of their family of companies. They recommended an EnerSys battery. But when I looked into them, I found they private label the DieHard batteries, and we already had a relationship with DieHard, so it ended up being a great thing all the way around."

Along with fitting in the electric motor and using low-VOC, water-based paints for the motorcycle, getting the motor and batteries to fit was the last challenge for the build, says Quinn. OCC also fabricated the electrical connections and used an Alltrax motor-control system that could give full power or ramp up the power slowly as the rider twists the throttle.

With its onboard charging system, recharging the batteries takes about five hours at 110 volts AC. If a user plugged in the motorcycle at 30 amps, 220 volts, it would take two hours to charge. The charging system will never allow the battery to drain completely.

When asked if the Siemens bike was fast, Teutul replied, "Yes, I can smoke the back wheel right off if I wanted to."

Currently, the bike is on tour in the United States. "It gives us a daily opportunity to tell the story behind our sustainable, green portfolio," Kuehn says. In December, Siemens will donate the chopper to Keep America Beautiful, a Stamford, Conn.-based nonprofit. The company in April selected which charity would receive the bike. FFJ

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  • Orange County Choppers
    Newburgh, N.Y.
    phone: 845/522-5222
    fax: 845/522-5227

  • Siemens Industry Inc.
    Buffalo Grove, Ill.
    phone: 847/941-6047


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