Arc: Electric Motorcycles Reimagining the Future of Adventure

Mark Truman, CEO and Founder of Arc, went from designing James Bond cars to designing one of the most compelling electric motorcycles on the road.

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Podcast Transcript

Guest Introduction

Streamlined, efficient, euphoric. Arc is a UK-based team that’s reimagining the future of adventure - creating high-end, luxury electric motorbikes, supported by PTC partner Root Solutions, part of the PDS Vision Group.

Arc’s first product, the Vector, is an elite motorbike that pushes the boundaries of our imagination. As a brand-new project, it has no legacy to follow, so the team has had real creative freedom - going back to square one to design something truly unique.

Just as every customer is different, every Vector will be unique as well. To find out how these bespoke machines are being crafted, our producer Hannah Dean visited Arc’s HQ in Coventry to meet the company’s founder, Mark Truman.

Bond Cars and Secret Projects

I'm Mark Truman, the founder and CEO of Arc. I've been running the business since 2017, when we spun it out of Jaguar Land Rover. The project was started within the Jaguar Land Rover walls as a secret project. We would be involved in two types of workstream: 1. something that the company would ask us to do, specifically. For instance, designing the James Bond cars for Spectre. We were the first people ever really to land drones on moving vehicles in a meaningful way for a search and rescue vehicle for the Red Cross. 2. We would do true skunkworks type work, which is we are working on it and nobody really knows that we are working on it. For instance, we had a show that we had to do every year. Over the 12 months, we designed and built an electric motorcycle that no one knew anything about. When we got to the show, we road it out into the show to all of the board of directors, that’s basically how the business started.

Truly Bespoke for the Customer

This is where the bikes will be built, obviously each bike is hand built and bespoke for the customer. You'll see the commissioning suite in a moment, all the colors and materials. You'll notice the differences between this one which has got a traditional carbon fibre weave top and also on the side there on the monocoque. Pretty much everything you're looking at is carbon fibre. You can see the bikes up on the stand now, they are putting the integrated motor onto it now – so the build begins. I love this bit. This is what you do it all for! This is like the most exciting bit, apart from riding them of course. But to actually see them going into production is fantastic.

A Motorcycle That Sounds Like a Spaceship

I'm just about to start up the vector. What you'll hear is us taking it from his start-up process. Like a spaceship, right? We’ve just had the guy from Wired Magazine ride it – he got off it and said ‘sounds like a spaceship looks like it should be in Tron.’ Because it was going to be a Jaguar product, there was a certain amount of Jaguar design language that we had to put into it, which isn't the way that personally I probably would have gone. Much more sort of flowing lines, that kind of elegant sort of spaceship feel. Whereas I much prefer, from a design perspective, that sort of angular, Stealth Bomber, Lamborghini kind of design language - lots of sharp edges, sharp lines. The spin out from Jaguar Land Rover allowed us to move back into that direction.

How Do You Build a Motorcycle Without a Chassis?

The main USP of the bike is that there is no frame, there is no chassis, that is what really stands this motorcycle apart from anything else. You'd have seen the other motorcycle that we had in the workshop, that's an electric bike. It weighs considerably more than ours, even though ours has got more battery in it. The reason being is because someone, somewhere, when they built that bike, said right, we're going to build an electric bike. We’ll start off with a frame and then we're going to put a battery in it. We said, do you need the frame? because the frame was only really to join up some hard points and to hold an engine and now, we don't have an engine. They've started with a frame, they've put a battery in it, because all of that doesn't look that pretty they've got to put lots of covers on it and they ended up with something which is actually really big, quite cumbersome and also really heavy. We said, what about if we just make beautiful batteries and that is the frame? If you think about the custom motorcycle scene - it's not about covering things up, it's about being able to see the engineering. And we said, right, but what about if we can do that with batteries? And one day kids are going ‘have you seen that battery over there?’ Wouldn't that be lovely!

No Compromises for the Rider Experience

One attribute that we wanted this bike to have was agility. It's an EV, it's only slightly heavier than a petrol counterpart. We did as much as we could to keep the weight down, which is why everything on the bike is carbon fibre. As a motorcyclist, it's not the moment when you're going 160/170 miles an hour that you really enjoy, that's nice for a second. It's the bit where you're going around some really twisty bends, the sun is out and there aren't many cars around - you can really sort of flick the bike from side to side and feel confident in it. It's that moment that this bike was designed around, which is why we don't have telescopic forks on the front of the bike, and we've got hub center steering which means that the bike is incredibly nimble, incredibly agile and can easily be flipped from side to side without much input from the rider. We've absolutely nailed it. We've now had riders, X Moto GP riders, which is the Formula One of motorcycles, numerous motorcycle journalists riding the bike - they’ve all said the same thing, which is in that moment where you're changing direction, it changes direction, like nothing else that they've ever ridden.

Our job is to build the most coveted motorcycle brand in the world. I remember being a kid and having pictures of certain motorcycles and certain cars as posters on my wall. I still want every one of those – now, it’s not going to be a poster but a screensaver or something, right. We wanted to create something that a kid has got on his screensaver, because that provides the longevity of the brand, those guys and girls grow up aspirationally wanting your product.

Inspired by Classic Design

In terms of inspiration specifically for the bike, we had two: 1. we wanted it to have a Cafe Racer feel. 2. We were looking for certain items to take inspiration from and we really focused in on electric violins, because they're such beautiful things generally and we just loved the mix of art and technology. Everything that is needed to perform the art is still there, but everything that is surplus to requirements, now in a new electronic world, has been taken away. That was very much the inspiration for the bike and why there are holes in parts of the bike where normally they wouldn't be on a petrol version. Our super sport bike, which is the next bike that we're going to start to work on, has even got more of an inspiration from those products. This is the commissioning suite. This is where we take customers to spec their motorcycles, you know what color and materials they could have, etc. And yeah, let's go and have a look. And you'll soon get a flavor for what it’s like.

This is a bit of a taste of the unexpected, I think. This is the area where we're going to try and make their dreams come to life. We need them to input into that and get them to open up.

Who Are the Early Adopters Buying Electric Motorcycles?

It's really funny that you get a real mix: some people come, and they know exactly what they want, right through to people that come and haven't got a clue. We get calls from different people; I've had a couple from young crypto millionaires that are 16/17 years old who have enough money to be able to buy one of these things. They’ll say to me on the phone ‘do you think it's okay, having one of these as my first bike?’ I'll say absolutely not, buy something cheap that you can afford to fall off of a few times, because it will happen, then come back and see us. People just really want to buy into it and that's one of the reasons we started this brand. Motorcycle numbers are dropping in the Western world and people are getting more interested in technology and connectivity - all of those aspects. We wanted to create a product, say for the PlayStation generation, something where there's a huge amount of connectivity to kind of try and draw some of those people back into the motorcycling space.

Advancing Road Safety and Enhancing Rider Experience, Through Technology

One of the things that we're doing is we're not just developing a motorcycle; we're actually developing a head up display helmet and haptic jacket. A haptic jacket that will give a rider a tap on the shoulder, for instance, when their Sat Nav wants them to turn left. Trying to stop them having to keep looking down at their screen, which for a motorcyclist is more of a dangerous and time-consuming thing just because of the angles involved than someone that's driving a car and it's almost kind of in the eyeline. We've just started something that we call the AE program, we've just launched this. This is 10 customers, 10 limited edition bikes, that will have details on them that won't be replicated ever again, anywhere else. Those customers are going to help us with the creation and the development of the head up display helmet and the haptic jacket. It's a two-and-a-half-year program. They'll receive their bike; they'll then be involved in track days so they can test the system in a closed circuit environment. When we then believe the system is ready, they will receive a beta version of it for them to again, try on the road and provide additional feedback into the system - how does it perform in a real-world environment. When the system is completely signed off for production, those customers will receive the system free of charge, they'll have their name on it as well, to say I've helped design this and I'm going to help save lives. It will become an optional extra on our other products.

How Do You Give a Rider Feedback: Through Haptics

Initially, when we first thought about the system, and to be honest with you, we didn't start off about saving lives. It started out about feedback from the motorcycle. One sort of negative, if you like, or something that is lost with electric motorcycles and cars, is that you've lost a lot of those physical cues that tell you things such as: How fast am I breaking? How quickly am I decelerating here? When we first benchmarked a load of electric bikes, when we very first started this project, we'd be riding along with a couple of motorcycles which we borrowed, we'd get to a corner, and we'd find we were going dangerously too quick when we got there. Or we were going so slow - it was almost like Driving Miss Daisy around the corner. We couldn't understand why we couldn't judge it correctly. We started to realize it's because on a petrol bike you've got gears, you've got engine breaking, you've got vibrations, you've got noises. On one of these bikes, you've got one gear, very little noise, no vibration, pretty much zero engine braking. You come in there silently. It's very difficult at first to understand how much speed you've scrubbed off, and to get it just right. We thought about how do we start to give a rider some feedback, and we started to play with haptics. In sports mode, imagine a jacket that is full of phones on vibrate, you've got them in pockets everywhere, and the harder I brake or the harder accelerate, or the tighter I'm turning, the more those phones are on vibrate. So much so that if I'm braking really hard, and the bike knows that you are close to locking the front wheel, which is probably the worst thing you can do on a motorcycle, your jacket will be going crazy and you'll be going okay I'm on the limit here. That's how the system started. It was a really interesting process, looking at different haptics, and I remember explaining it to my boss and him thinking I was absolutely crazy I think at the time. I had just been through some haptic experience where I was in virtual reality as well. I ended up sort of in a lake and train came across the lake and hit me and burst into lots of birds, which turned into ribbons, which created a tunnel, and I went through the tunnel, I ended up in a womb with a baby. I remember telling him that exact story and him looking at me as if to say I'm paying you too much and you're maybe taking something you shouldn't be. Talking him into allowing us to continue to look at this. It was really interesting, we found that playing music through the haptics actually gave you the same emotional response as if you were listening to it, because things were happening and all sudden, you'd have your hair stand up on the back of your neck and then we started to realize we could do more with the system.

Speed, Safety and Euphoria

Now the system has got three modes: it's got sports mode, we started to realize that it can be used as a safety thing, you know, sort of taps on the shoulder blind, spot monitoring, there's got the same system as your car might have where a light comes up in your wing mirror to say there's a car overtaking you or behind you. But instead of a light coming up, you'll get a tap at the back on the bottom of your spine on the side that the car is approaching. That tap will get further up your back the closer the car gets. And the speed that it will go up your bank will obviously give you an idea of the closing speed of the car. This is all about allowing the rider to keep focused on what they're doing. And then we created this third mode, which we learned by accident which we call euphoric mode, which is basically designed to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up based on these experiences that we had. You can download five tracks of your sort of old time favorite feelgood tracks onto the bike. And when the system is completed and finalized, if you're having one of those wonderful, twisty road, sunny day moments, where you think you've Valentino Rossi, you can press the button, and it'll essentially play that music through your jacket. And just about giving you one minute of a sort of an amazing feeling.


Thanks to Brian, and to Mark for showing us around ARC’s headquarters.

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This is an 18Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Sound design and editing by Ollie Guillou. Location recording by Hannah Dean. And music by Rowan Bishop.

Episode Guests

Mark Truman, CEO and Founder of Arc Motorcycles

More About Arc

Brian Thompson, Divisional GM CAD Segment at PTC

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