A truly alternative motorcycle design from Branko Lukic

Posted by: Helen Walters on May 7, 2008

I’m a big fan of the work of designer Branko Lukic. Having spent many years at consultancies such as Frog and IDEO, he branched out in 2006 to found his own design firm, Non-Object. A part of what he and his team of four, split between Palo Alto and Lukic’s native Belgrade are working on is a book which will feature 45 radical design ideas and experiments. Lukic dubs the thinking behind the book “design fiction” and proposals includes concepts and prototypes for products such as cell phones, cameras and cutlery. Now here’s travel, and an exclusive first look at nUCLEUS, Non-Object’s alternative fuel motorbike concept.

nUCLEUS-Run-mode.jpg
Image of the bike, ready to roll

Looks unlike anything you’d see on a road, huh? Well that’s exactly the point. These concepts are not necessarily meant to be produced, but to start a conversation about received design wisdom and to get people thinking about design — and those elements we take for granted. More from Branko — and more images of the motorcycle, after the jump. Also, check out the film on the Non-Object site.

nUCLEUS-Sleep-Park-mode.jpg
Image of the bike at rest

Here's Branko's own description of the bike:

It’s a motorcycle built on the antagonistic principle of “square against air”. And yet, despite its unique appearance and apparent opposition to aerodynamic design, nUCLEUS ended up being surprisingly nimble. The square side-view hides the fact that these pieces of metal are simply... fierce blades that cut through air. nUCLEUS also boasts a thin comfortable saddle and horse-like behavior system - a new way to connect with your vehicle: it gets up on its hind legs in action, and rests down squarely while locked or at rest.

In an age when so many companies claim to be looking for design thinking, they'd do worse than to give Branko a call. However far-fetched some of his ideas might seem on first viewing, this is not mere gimmickry. Some of the products could be produced without too much difficulty. And if this is the quality of the ideas he's giving away for free (as he says, "they’re not patented. I’m giving them away to any designer and any company. You go and develop them if you want to" then imagine what you'd get if he's really focused on your company and what you need to do next.

nucleus.jpg
The front (left) and back (right) of the bike.

Reader Comments

Katya

May 8, 2008 11:28 AM

amazing!!! true design to the extreme!!

Kat

May 8, 2008 12:19 PM

What the hell is it?
To me, it looks like someone just slapped a piece of metal on it.

Brian

May 8, 2008 1:19 PM

As a biker, I must say that while I appreciate the effort, it seems that none of the designers actually rides a motorcycle.

One word: Crosswind.

I'd hate to be on that thing when a crosswind came along and knocked you over. And on a similar note, I'd hate to have to try and pick that up after it got laid down.

And the flavortext's claim that the front is just a couple of blades, well, that's a nice premise but it simply isn't true. The front wind that gets caught between the front wheel and the sides of the faring needs to go somewhere and there are no ventilation slots in the sides to direct air away from you so you can cut through it. Motorcycles already have the drag coefficient of a barn door. All this design does is make it official.

But, that's what prototypes are for...to learn how not to do things.

Phil

May 8, 2008 2:23 PM

Uh, well, it's extreme, all right. Extreme what, I'm not exactly certain. My first thought was that it was a joke, a gag; but then I realized he's serious. I'd take a guess that he's never ridden a motorcycle, because the thought of riding that ... monstrosity ... makes my brain hurt.

Let's not even get into the safety issues of riding what would amount to a 100+-HP motorized egg-slicer on public roads. The liability suits! The outcry from the people who already think motorcycles are horribly dangerous instruments of death and mayhem! And Ralph Nader would have a triple coronary.

(Hmmm ... you know, come to think of it, that's not necessarily a downside.)

Steven Takayama

May 8, 2008 3:41 PM

Hi. I am one of the designers of the bike and co-founder of NON-OBJECT. First, for the record, I've been a biker since high school. My first bike was a kz550. I've owned several bikes including a GPz 750 and the then revolutionary Honda vf 750 Interceptor ridden by Freddy Spencer of superbike fame. So to the comment about crosswind, I have to ask: what about fully faired bikes? They block about as much crosswind as the nUCLEUS.

Other aerodynamic issues will for sure come up as we test the design but we will make the necessary changes. For example, there will be side air exhaust vents to cool the batteries and motor. There may also be additional vents above and below.

As far as weight is concerned, we don't anticipate any major disadvantage. The plates though they seem heavy, are made from light weight materials. Riders will have the option to change the appearance of the plates according to their tastes.

One thing to keep in mind. This is not meant to be a bike that appeals to your typical biker. Our interest is not to rehash old ideas or repackage a motorcycle. We wanted to create something that is new and worthy of an alternative fuel vehicle, that will challenge what people think of what a motorcycle is.

We are here to question the status quo. Kind regards.

Brian

May 8, 2008 4:40 PM

A "fully fared" bike is not quite "fully" compared to the box you've designed. Go look at any super-sport. The wheels are exposed, for example, so the wind can blow through and you don't present as much of a cross-section. Plus, there are vent holes throughout the fairing that allow wind not only to flow over the engine and away from the bike from the ramscoop, but also across the bike from sidewinds.

Again, unless you've got a stripped-down chopper, a bike is a barn door in the wind. It goes with the territory. Riding my old Ninja ZX-6 while passing an 18-wheeler on the freeway is an exercise in leaning over just to keep the bike upright. What this design does is take that literally. It's certainly an interesting design, but it's going to have to give to the reality of actual riding.

The problem with picking it up isn't so much the weight as it is the leverage. With all that flat surface on the ground, you're going to have to muscle it over the lower edge of the fairing in order to get the wheels to contact the ground so you can lift it up...chip, crack, shatter.

And that lower front corner of the fairing is going to shatter on impact the moment you ride over a speedbump.

It's a good first step...the next is going to be to put it on a frame.

Greg

May 9, 2008 11:48 AM

This is design masturbation. Form should follow function. What function does this form follow?

Steven, I fully believe that you've ridden for a long time, but I question if you or anybody on your team have ever designed a bike before. The plates DO look heavy; if they are made of a lightweight material, I suspect that even with ventilation they will flap and shudder at speed causing a dangerous instability.

Motorcycle design isn't just for appeal. It's meant to be functional and as safe as possible going 100 mph or more on two wheels. It's meant to inspire confidence in the rider. Your exercise is just something to look at (design masturbation). Aesthetics at the cost of safety? That's not design, my friend.

E Coli

May 9, 2008 7:52 PM

C'mon now! This is the box the bike came in, right? I cannot think how anyone could honestly claim any inspired design for this. It's like trying to design a better boob and showing a picture of a woman's chest with a pair of milk bottles on it, and is about as "inspired" as that!
An inspired design is Dan Gurney's "Alligator" series where he actually tried to make a better-functioning motorcycle. This is an affront to anyone who loves motorcycles. It is an abomination, not an inspiration! In this case, "the emperor has no clothes!"

E Coli

May 9, 2008 7:55 PM

No, no and NO!
It looks like a box, not something someone would be able to ride.
can someone tell me what is ground-breaking about putting a box onto a bike?

E Coli

May 9, 2008 7:57 PM

The Cd for this monstrosity will set a new record for inefficiency!

Dillon

May 9, 2008 10:09 PM

Looks like a giant sail for all those crosswinds.

warren

May 10, 2008 5:09 AM

Though i Like the purism of the design it almost feels like a missed opportunity.

To do something so radical with the styling yet leave the bike in a practically unchanged format feels almost wasteful. I'd love to see a bit more attentions to detail as well.

Simple bar lights, though they fit within the aesthetic are dont convey the theme of uniqueness, subtlety or feeling of quality that I love about bikes.

Thick sections aren't always the way to evoke strength but here maybe a tweak t the graphics (maybe a soft chamfer around the edges) would add a more muscular and dynamic feel.

Anti-design is a discipline that intrigues me, but attention to details ( the handle bars?) could really make this concept pop.

But props for havin the balls to do this. Look forward to the developments.

Stray

May 10, 2008 9:57 AM

A thought-provoking and innovative design from an abstract perspective.

The monolithic slab sided are unique, but do appear to be counter-intuitive to the rider accustomed to aerodynamic conventions.

I like the design, but the squaring off of the top front (by the handlebars) and the wide square cowling shrouding the front wheel (to accommodate the wheel movement turning) clearly announce this work to be an avant-garde museum study piece.

Interestingly this article "Low drag motorcycle design wins top European award" appears about the same time: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_7-5-2008-13-42-22?newsid=35414

Rob Tannen

May 11, 2008 5:09 PM

I think the non-object team is somewhat succeeding in their goal to stimulate design conversation.

I evaluted a couple of their concept phone designs from the perspective of realistic human factors and usability:

http://humanfactors.typepad.com/idsa/2007/10/human-factors-o.html

Zoran Veljkovic

May 14, 2008 11:11 PM

Outstanding!Lots of problems to solve,and I am sure they will.This kind of thinking shapes the future to come.Bravo!

Lloyd Vader

May 15, 2008 9:21 AM

So, the designers have created a new fairing for a traditional motorcycle? Nobody has designed a bike here, just an un-aerodynamic fairing. *yawn*

Howard Oliver

May 23, 2008 8:37 AM

Cool scarry bike. Amazingly passionate group of commenters. Best one:

"This is design masturbation. Form should follow function. What function does this form follow?"

RS

May 24, 2008 11:15 AM

I find it inspirational.

I need to go for a ride now and flush this image out of my mind.

But, its definitely inspired our thinking.

Rizki Harit

May 25, 2008 1:30 PM

I think it's fine for me if those people wanna try to reinvent Bike, or start discussion about what future Bike might will be.
But, Steve, why you so serious? Its a joke from the very beginning, and its a good way to start a discussion. You just have to be honest to yourself
I think CHINDOGU (the Japanese art of innovation in a ridicilous way) is a better way to do something like this and its not so serious.

Daniel Yorba

May 25, 2009 11:35 PM

I think it's awesome.

Will Baxter

August 27, 2009 5:23 AM

I'm a designer, I've designer cars, I'm a traveller and I've been around the world. I'm also a biker and a bike critic. To me, at first glance I hate this. Second glance I am confused and at third glance I love it. Infact I want one. Infact I need one. Let me know when it comes out or perhaps before then I will have modified my own bike to look like this one! As for the cross wind issues I think it could be solved by having the sides just a little less low. Brilliant, inspiring, if a little over most peoples heads.

Janson

September 18, 2009 1:10 AM

I'm sort of surprised by how many parts of a conventional motorcycle it keeps - like the tank bulge - it's like enshrining a piston engine. I'd love to see this flattened out even more with an eye to the flexibility of battery shapes in electric bikes. Several gas bikes don't have conventional tanks either for that matter (Buell, BMX).

Also, scooters already have monocoque structures. The weight issue is if this panel is decorative, but if it's structural, it replaces the frame. I'd like to see the wheel hubs run through the panel. Then you'd have something really avant garde!

And to the whiners: there are a lot of nonfunctional bikes on the road already, like virtually all Harleys, what's the big reaction about?

i_Reactive

November 29, 2009 1:39 AM

I`m agry with Brian and , as a biker too. This is ugly and terrible.
Steven Takayama, never design bikes, please. Too much foolish boxes in the world, we need a beauty.

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