A quest for safety.
Between countless new electric models and a booming charging network, the last decade saw the electric transportation industry grow by leaps and bounds. In the motorcycle industry, bikes have become increasingly more refined and connected, and countless new electric motorcycle startups sprouted around the world.
In Canada, one name that’s been gaining incredible momentum over the past year or so is Damon Motorcycles. It all started when the Vancouver-based company announced its ambitious plan to make riding safer than ever by reducing the number of motorcycle crashes to an optimistic zero by the end of the new decade.
The idea looks good on paper but how do you actually make it happen? I mean, the car industry has been trying to achieve that in ages and not even autonomous cars have a perfect scorecard.
To answer that question, I got Jay Giraud, Damon Motorcycles’ CEO and co-founder on the phone. He generously took the time to answer some of my questions about his company’s big plans. I half-expected to talk with a CEO hiding behind a PR facade with pre-rehearsed answers. What I discovered is a candid man with a passion for motorcycles and the ambition to make the world a little better.
A Little Bit About Damon
Jay Giraud and partner Dom Kwong founded Damon Motorcycles in 2017. Giraud has some serious business development cred after starting several companies over the past decade or so. Kwong has 20 years of experience as a hardware engineer under his belt. The two surrounded themselves with a team of people plucked from such giants as Intel, Citroën, Peugeot, and Nokia.
In mid-2019, two years after its creation, Damon Motorcycles was finally ready to tell the world what it’d been working on; its 360-degree motorcycle safety system. In December of the same year, the company then announced it was heading to CES 2020 with the Hypersport, its first electric motorcycle. The bike was designed not only to showcase the company’s vision for the future of two-wheel transportation, but also to demonstrate its proprietary safety technology, now dubbed CoPilot, and the innovative Shift adjustable ergonomics system.
When asked about which one came first, CoPilot or the Hypersport, Giraud says that he always knew his company would end up making motorcycles. The decision to start things up with the CoPilot system stemmed from the need to appeal to investors. “Grand visions” don’t sell well so he had to make his idea more palatable and motorcycle safety was a great place to start.
What Exactly Is CoPilot?
CoPilot is a 360-degree safety features that observes the motorcycle’s surroundings and warns the rider of potential hazards. That's the summarized version. In reality, the system is far more elaborate.
Using a network of radars, cameras, and sensors positioned at the front and back of the motorcycle, CoPilot scopes out the rider’s environment, records relevant data, and adapts its behavior to the conditions. It offers more typical safety features such as blind-spot monitoring, a virtual rearview mirror using a camera, and front and back collision warning systems. It also offers a tailgate alert that will notify the riders if they’re too close to the vehicle in front of them. Those are the more “familiar” functionalities—it gets a lot funkier.
Giraud describes a system that can also “read” corners. Relying on the data and feedback from the accelerometer, GPS, and leaning angle sensors, CoPilot can detect when the rider is making a turn and analyze the trajectory. In doing so, the system scans the bike’s “destination” at the end of the turn rather than what’s right in front of it.
The system also acts as a tailgate avoidance system in situations where the rider is stopped behind another vehicle—a particularly vulnerable position to be in for a motorcyclist. It warns the rider of the safest distance to keep from the vehicle at the front and ensures they have room to react and get out of the way should the oncoming vehicle at the back be coming in too hot.
Wait, you thought that was it? Oh no. CoPilot is also a learning and adapting computer. That’s some next-level Borg stuff right there. CoPilot can detect other vehicles and obstacles but can also recognize driving patterns and intents as well as detect speed, weather, and road conditions. Talk about multitasking.
For instance, if the road is wet, the forward collision mitigation system will adapt and warn the rider earlier to give them more time to react and brake. The same applies to speed—the faster the bike is going, the earlier the system reacts.
Driving behaviors and patterns are compiled in a cloud. All the Damon bikes are connected to this cloud, which allows every CoPilot system on the road to receive updates and become more responsive and efficient as more data is collected. This means that a single user’s experience can help enhance and improve everyone’s.
Don’t worry, though. You don’t have to use the system if you don’t want to. Giraud specifies that for the purists out there, the system can be partially or entirely shut down so that someone getting on a Hypersport isn’t stuck having CoPilot monitor their every move.
Different Warnings, Different Alerts
So just how invasive are the warnings and how can you tell them apart? If you own a modern vehicle or have driven one, you probably know what I’m talking about: the stress triggered by the sensors' sudden beeps and tweets after detecting god-knows-what, god-knows-where.
I had some concerns about riders going through a similar experience on a motorcycle, which can be dangerous if the rider momentarily panics trying to figure out what’s happening and what the warning is for. Giraud explains that there are different alerts associated with different warnings. His people studied the psychology of user experience and came up with what it thinks are the most elegant and least-intrusive types of warnings.
The blind spot monitor, for example, projects a subtle light warning on the edge of the windscreen, on the side the obstacle is detected. The forward collision warning creates a vibration in the handgrips using haptic feedback. Giraud explains that it becomes particularly useful in situations where, for example, the rider is shoulder-checking and in that split second they’re not looking ahead, the car at the front suddenly brakes. The vibration allows the rider to react faster—he says that signal travels faster to the brain than sight.
He explains that for the haptic feedback system (the motor that creates the vibration in the handgrips), his team studied the parts of the hand that are more sensitive to vibrations as well as materials to make sure the vibration would be felt through gloves, without being too aggressive.
What About The Damon Hypersport?
On January 7, 2020, Damon Motorcycles unveiled its first motorcycle–the Hypersport. I asked Giraud why the company decided on an electric model rather than a standard, internal combustion one. His answer? "It’s easier." He explains that ICE motorcycles are much more complex. There are more parts and components to consider and tight emission standards to meet and respect. Designing an electric motorcycle eliminates a lot of that.
Giraud also has experience with electric vehicles. One of his first startups—Rapid Electric Vehicles Inc.—built electric SUVs. He already had prior knowledge of the industry. He strongly believes that the future of transportation resides in motorcycles and thinks that people are ready to buy electric motorcycles. The math becomes simple.
He also adds that turning the CoPilot system into an aftermarket feature would be too challenging considering the limited real estate on motorcycles. It made more sense for the startup to design its own motorcycle and to directly integrate the safety feature. Hence was born the idea of the Hypersport.
The Hypersport is presented as a superbike, but in reality, it can turn into almost anything you want it to be. That’s thanks to the Shift adjustable ergonomics system. By pressing a button, the rider is able to change his geometry from sport to touring. Motors reposition the handlebar, footpegs, saddle, and windscreen accordingly to give the bike a different shape, based on the rider’s needs.
Giraud adds that there’s no need to stop to make the change—the bike is able to morph on the go. Of course, the Hypersport also features the CoPilot 360-degree safety system, using BlackBerry’s QNX operating system.
Gallery: Damon Motorcycles Hypersport CES 2020
Number-wise, Damon isn’t fooling around. The Hypersport was announced with an output rated at over 200 horsepower and 147.5 lb-ft of torque. It has a claimed top speed of 200 mph and is expected to offer an electric range of 200 highway miles. Pricing starts at $24,995 and pre-orders are expected to open during the week of January 13, 2020.
The Hypersport is only the beginning for Damon Motorcycles. Giraud says that they designed the platform to be modular which means that there are other bikes coming. He says that the Hypersport is the equivalent of the company’s Tesla Roadster and that they have every intention of coming up with their own “Model 3”.
Jay Giraud wants to transform the world of transportation and for him and his team, it all starts with a motorcycle.