Catalan Contender

Industrial engineer Marc Barceló couldn’t find an electric motorcycle he liked. So he decided to build one.

Sure, his experience in the technical department at Tramontana (builder and developer of supercars) would come in handy. But even more helpful was the fortuitous nature of his place of birth:

Catalonia, home of Spain’s motorcycle industry1.

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Bultaco, Montesa – these are motorcycle brands any red-blooded American dirt-bike lovin’ boy from the 70’s would recognize (although this boy had no idea Catalonia existed, “Spain” being the sum total of my geographical knowledge). In fact, some 150 different motorcycle manufacturers have operated in Catalonia. As a result, the Catalan motorcycle supply chain infrastructure is extremely robust. Which makes designing and manufacturing a new world-class electric motorcycle easier here, than if Marc had been born in, say – Beaverton, Oregon.

Marc’s goal was to make an electric motorbike that would stand out from all the rest: a high performance, environmentally friendly urban daily commuter that was both smart and fashionable. Design would be critical in achieving that goal.

Fortunately, Catalonia also has a long history of art, culture and industrial design.

In 2010, with frame and technology in hand, Marc enlisted the aid of both the IED (Istituto Europeo di Design) and design firm ÀNIMA Barcelona to help create a stunning, sporty shape for his new motorcycle. In the process, he joined forces (and development funds) with co-founder Joan Sabata of ÀNIMA, and Volta’s first prototype (EV.1) was launched in Barcelona, April 2011.

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Five years later, through no small amount of effort (including a public loan and acquiring an investor from Canada), Volta Motorbikes are in production. These are Catalan bikes – assembled in Figueres with 85% of the components coming from the region. The batteries are Korean, but everything from brakes and suspension to frame and plastics are sourced from Catalan suppliers who have a great deal of experience with motorbikes. Tapping into this rich heritage is a key part of Volta’s plan.

The first 50 bikes are bound for the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Finland – to importers, dealers, and pre-sales to individuals. Another 50 are in development. With enough additional investment, Volta hopes to ramp production to 500-600 bikes this year, and 1,000 to 1,200 bikes in 2017. With increased production, supply costs will likely decrease (batteries are quite expensive), and performance will be able to increase.

Volta is also opening its first factory store in Barcelona. From here, Volta will manage its Spanish dealer network, and sell directly to the public. If this concept works, they will expand the store network.

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The initial models are targeted at a youthful urban market that will ride daily, using the bike as transportation. However, due to the its high torque and quick acceleration, the bike should appeal to a lot of riders, including performance-oriented sport riders. Volta calls it “electric fun.”

“It’s not a scooter. It’s an urban bike. A very easy-to-use motorbike with a trendy design and look,” states Joan.

Part of that ease of use comes from the bike’s all-electric nature. There is no clutch to engage, no gears to shift – just twist the throttle and quickly and quietly experience the exhilaration of instant torque. And of course, apply the brakes as necessary. But again no clutch to deal with, and – oh – no idling. An electric bike is “on” or “off” with no wasted energy when it’s not moving. But even when stopped, the “electricity” of Volta’s appeal keeps flowing. As Joan says, “every time I ride and stop at traffic light, other motorcyclists are asking about the bike – what’s that? The best advertising is drive it on the street.”

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Who wants an electric motorcycle? Volta anticipates four types of buyers:

1) Green (sustainability, emissions, etc.)
2) Geek (the bike and rider are APP connected)
3) Trending (fashion and design enthusiast)
4) Sport (curious about performance)

With a range of up to 70 kilometers (43 miles – depending upon weight, terrain and how it’s ridden) this is not the bike you’ll take on a weekend trip to Girona. It’s clearly for daily commuting and around town. But with lower range comes a lower price (battery = range = cost),2and as my friend who lives in Barcelona* would no doubt contend, “that’s why they invented trains.”

How much lower in price? Compared to Zero Motorcycle’s least expensive model – the 2016 FSX ZF3.3 – about 5000€ less. That’s a lot of train rides to Girona. To be fair, a direct comparison to a Zero isn’t apples to apples.3But this article is about Catalonia, and championing the entrepreneurial spirit of Volta’s founders – not trying to disrespect Zero. Plus, the current specifications are just the beginning. Increases in performance, technological updates and other improvements are planned, and prices will undoubtedly change.

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Volta intends on taking very special care of the first buyers – standing behind the bikes 100%, making sure problems are fixed when they arise, and keeping in direct contact with users.

“ We are small, we can do it at the moment. We want to create confidence with our users. We are building a brand,” says Joan.

Not just a brand, but a brand new type of Catalan motorcycle: an all-electric machine that just might propel the Spanish motorcycle industry in a whole new direction.menu

robo Interview and Photos of Joan Sabata by Robin Willis.
links Written by Darrell Williams.

ABOUT The Road Electric

1. Catalonia accounts for 82% of Spanish production of motorcycles and 80% of jobs related to the motorcycle industry.↩
2. Volta’s bikes also use less expensive DC motors and do not have regenerative braking – for the moment.↩
3. Zero Motorcycles offers an extremely robust all-electric motorcycle lineup, with its own technology and patents.↩

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