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“Why isn’t there the Tesla of motorcycles?” Tarform is bringing the ancient vehicle into the new age

guy posing with Tarform motorcycle in the desert
Image Credit: Tarform

Taras Kravtchouk spent most of his career in design and product development, after growing up in Sweden and moving to New York 12 years ago, but was always fascinated with motorcycles, primarily vintage bikes: “British classics from the ‘60s and ‘70s,” as he put it. Back then, “I spent a good amount of time in a dusty shop here in Brooklyn, spending weekends building 50 to 60-year-old machines, and then,” he said, “one day I was thinking, why isn’t there a Tesla motorcycle?”

“It feels like such an obvious thing to electrify an ancient vehicle that’s loud,” has gas, and an engine between the rider’s legs, he said. “I just felt like, there’s definitely room for making something cleaner here,” he told FootPrint Coalition. So, he set out to bring the motorcycle, which dates back to 1885, into the future.

So about six years ago, Kravtchouk came up with the idea for Tarform: a Brooklyn-based startup that makes fully electric motorcycles with the planet in mind from emissions to materials. But at that stage, Kravtchouk had a tech startup in the mental health space and Tarform was only a napkin sketch. Then he decided, “Okay, this is not a side project. This needs to be my full-time endeavor.” Switching to Tarfom full-time was “worth it,” he said, jokingly adding, “for now… we’ll see.”

Tarform isn't the only e-motorcycle company in this space. Aside from the concept companies out there, very few of which are selling e-motorcycles, there’s Harley Davidson’s LiveWire, as well as Zero Motorcycles which has been on the market for 15 years.

“But the thing is, none of those companies capture the imagination of the modern rider,” he said. “I would say Tarform stands out in its aesthetics.”

According to Tarform, its bikes — the Luna Racer and Luna Scrambler — are at the intersection of art, ecology, and technology.

On the ecology side, it uses biotechnology and natural inspiration to eliminate some of the waste that comes from manufacturing motorcycles.

The team behind Tarform wanted to rethink “the entire lifecycle of the vehicle” Kravtchouk said. “When we started building the prototype, I realized that there are so many toxic materials that go into the creation of a vehicle, from, petroleum-based plastics to non-recyclable parts: everything from vinyl used in seats that end up in landfills to really toxic paints and primers.”

So they decided to replace those toxic materials with biodegradable and plant-based materials such as the flaxseed fiber weave which is a replacement for plastic, which is derived from fossil fuels, and algae carbon which is where the colors are derived from.

“At the end of life, we can remove those parts and then recycle it down to sort of its core elements,” he said, adding that the team is also looking at employing aluminum, which can be infinitely recyclable.

However, batteries are the biggest challenge, as battery recycling is still a nascent industry.

Other United States-based startups are working on this now, from Redwood Materials which recently landed $1 billion to boost its recycling efforts, to Ascend Elements’ which closed a $542 million Series D round in September, money stacked on top of $480 million awarded in U.S. Department of Energy grants. Nevertheless, despite the push from the federal government, the recycling infrastructure isn’t quite at scale yet. But once it is, Kravtchouk says partnering up with the facilities makes a lot of sense.”

On the technology side, in addition to its lithium-ion battery pack, Tarform’s motorcycles can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.8 seconds, reaching a top speed of 120mph, with a 100-mile range per charge.

While a lot of energy has been dedicated to electrifying cars, motorcycles still emit not only planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) but as an L.A. Times report details, smog-inducing hydrocarbons. In fact, while motorcycles are more fuel-efficient than cars, emitting less CO2, and only accounted for 1% of vehicles in California at the time of the report, they emitted 10% of vehicle-related hydrocarbon emissions.

In addition to going electric to slash its emissions, the team behind Tarfom also wanted to preserve a part of the bike that disappears once electrified: the sound.

“Motorcycles are such a visceral experience,” he said, which sound is a big part of, not only for the emotional connection but also as a safety feature.

“All electric motorcycles are quiet,” he said, “So when we developed our first prototype, we said, we have to figure out a way to give the bike a sound. It felt gimmicky if we were to create a digital sound.” So, instead, they sought to amplify the sound that already comes from the electrical motor.

“We worked with a composer out of Brooklyn and a crazy electrical engineer,” to design “a system where the bike acts as a musical instrument,” he said. With a little bit of amplification and tuning, the sound emits through an acoustic resonator that's located under the bodywork of the bike.

And finally, there’s the artistic side of the motorcycle.

“We couldn’t do something that was too futuristic,” because that “kind of alienates people," Kravtchouk told FPC.

Instead, Tarform went for a sleek modern look that pays homage to the look of a classic café racer motorcycle from the ‘70s, while being noticeably different in its architecture.

A lot of people first discover the brand design and say they never really cared about motorcycles, Kravtchouk said, adding that after seeing it, they say, “I want to ride it.”

Therefore their customer base varies, from motorcycle enthusiasts like Kravtchouk to people who used to ride, but hung their bikes up, to those who have never sat on a motorcycle before. But they all have one thing in common, Kravtchouk: they care about the planet, usually already owning EVs and having solar panels on their roofs.

Right now, Tarform is in the luxury market, with the Luna Racer and Luna Scrambler priced at $26,000. However, they plan to emulate Tesla’s playbook, starting in the premium space, and then transitioning to having a wide range of options at different price points. Right now, the startup is working on a more affordable option, the Tarform Vera, that will be priced at $16,000.

To date, Tarform has delivered 20 made-to-order bikes over the U.S., a couple in Canada, and one in the Middle East. Right now, the startup is focusing on scaling production, and fulfilling deliveries of a long reservation list that is currently closed for 2023 and open for 2024.

Kravtchouk said they’re taking a step from low volume, bespoke production in Brooklyn to larger serial production as their next step. But, the “pie-in-the-sky vision” is not just to build electric motorcycles, “but look at mobility as a lifestyle.”

Recently, the startup teased an electric jet ski concept to demonstrate that its thinking beyond two wheels, which was so well-received by its audience, that Kravtchouk says people were looking to buy. The startup is interested in bringing the jet ski to life, extending to electric snowmobiles, and “who knows maybe eventually drones,” Kravtchouk said, “we’ll see.”

What continues to get Kravtchouk out of bed every morning is a sense of responsibility to help the world move away from outdated systems and processes in terms of materials and manufacturing. But, he is also motivated by people enjoying what he makes.

“When you ride a bike,” he says, “few vehicles give you the same sense of sort of thrill and excitement, than riding a motorcycle.”

“If we can get people to think in more sustainable terms and zip around on an electric bike, then I think that’s a good reason to do it.”

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