How Kawasaki does electric. Sort of.

At EICMA 2019, Kawasaki hit the Italian stage with a little something green—and by green, we mean in powertrain more than in color, for once. Encased in its own little “EV Project” stand was our first peek at Team Green’s electric project.    

Though earlier patents hinted at its development, it was the first time the manufacturer showed the bike in public. Despite an enthusiastic reception, Kawasaki was quick to clarify that the whole project was more a guinea pig to test future technologies than a plan for an actual future model. Future model or not, it hasn’t kept Kawasaki from thoroughly documenting its experiments with the Ninja-based electric test mule. The manufacturer released a series of ten short videos about its progress and that introduced a series of systems being put to the test.    

We can’t really blame the company for its decision to steer clear of the electric market, at least for now. Thanks to Zero, Energica, and even Alta Motors at some point in time, we’ve seemingly reached the peak of what current electric powertrain technologies can achieve in terms of performance, energy storage, and range. Unless new models bring something revolutionary to the table, they’ll only get a small slice of an already niche market. That could also explain why most mainstream manufacturers haven’t integrated the segment just yet.    

So, for now, it looks like Kawasaki is making the most of the whole “just experimenting” thing by putting its electric test mule through its paces and seemingly having fun doing so. Through the 20-second videos Kawasaki released over the past few months, we learn quite a lot about the Endeavor project and the technologies the company is developing. To be honest, it makes us pretty curious about what applications they will find.   

For instance, we know that the test bike uses a four-speed manual gearbox and a chain drive—unusual features for an electric powertrain. Electric motorcycles usually don't have a transmission (the output is managed electronically) and use a belt drive instead of a chain.   

Kawasaki Endeavor Electric Motorcycle Project: Everything We Know
Kawasaki Endeavor Electric Motorcycle Project: Everything We Know
Kawasaki Endeavor Electric Motorcycle Project: Everything We Know

We could think that the transmission is a leftover component from the donor bike, but we beg to differ. Kawasaki promotes the transmission as one of the bike's most exciting features, saying that it will “shift” our impression of electric bikes (hah!). That probably means that the gearbox was specifically developed to work with the electric powertrain rather than a remnant of the combustion engine it replaced.   

Another feature briefly introduced is the Reverse mode. Yeah, you read that right. A Reverse mode that makes the bike go, well, in reverse. That’s definitely the weirdest feature we’ve seen yet. Most bikes don’t have and don't need a Reverse mode or gear unless they’re big and heavy. Is that Kawasaki testing a feature that could eventually end up on some of its heftier models or should we garner from that that the Endeavor itself is heavy? The latter wouldn’t be surprising considering electric powertrains can get pretty heavy because of the battery. Bigger battery equals more storage equals more weight; easy math.    

The electric system the manufacturer is testing also with two types of chargers, including a CHAdeMO charger, Japan’s version of our DC fast charger. While the other charger shown in the video is closed, we can assume it is likely a Level1/2 charger, the more widespread types of chargers and the type potential buyers can easily have installed at home.    

Performance-wise, Kawasaki doesn’t give us much to work with. It claims that all of the bike’s torque is readily available as soon as you twist the throttle and that its design promotes agile and engaging handling. Of course, because Endeavor is currently only a prototype, the company doesn’t have to commit to any range or power figures. What we do know, however, is that the test mule features an energy recovery system activated by a lever located under the left-hand grip.    

Usually, in electric powertrains, optimal energy recovery is achieved when braking. In some electric cars, there can be an additional paddle at the steering wheel that makes the braking process even more aggressive so that more energy is restored into the battery. We can suspect that the lever produces a similar effect on the Endeavor.    

Of course, the Endeavor Project is just a testing lab on wheels that gives the Kawasaki engineers a chance to test all sorts of weird and wonderful things. The beauty of this all is that this sort of testing usually happens in secret behind closed doors. Very few companies have been so vocal about their advancements on the electric front. The peek at Kawasaki’s behind-the-scene is pretty refreshing. Does anybody want to make a bet on how long it will be before Kawasaki hits the electric motorcycle market? We give it two years. Who says better?