The rush of wind you felt recently was the pent-up sigh of a million twenty-somethings finally seeing Incredibles 2. I was slightly too old to fall head-over-heels for the first movie when it came out—but I was still excited to see the sequel with my friends. It was a bit weird, coming back to a bit of childhood as an adult. There was quite a bit of cringing & nodding going on, as scenes triggered embarrassing memories. Also, I am now definitively old, because I couldn’t stop ogling the mid-century modern decor. Also, the cars.
The Incredibles films are set in an alternate version of the 50s & 60s, which is arguably one of the greatest periods of automotive design. So I was drooling over the rides as much as the furniture.
*WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD!*
One vehicle stood out in particular: the Elasticycle. When Elastigirl, aka Helen Parr, finds herself employed as a quasi-legal superhero, her new boss Winston Deavor, head of DevTech, gives her a slick new motorcycle as her wheels of justice.
Pixar’s design team really captured the spirit of the era with this bike. The artists went through numerous iterations before they arrived at the final design, taking inspiration directly from motorcycles of the period. It looks like a 60s cafe racer designed by a Spacely’s Sprockets employee.
And do you know the best part? It could totally exist in real life.
If I’m honest, I didn’t expect this from
DevTech Pixar. It isn’t unusual for movie franchises to release tie-in literature—like the Star Wars Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels on my bookshelf—but there’s a big difference between a fictional vehicle behaving consistently within its own universe, and being actually viable within our reality. Physics can and will pimp-slap your technobabble.
But having specific information about the powertrain, brake and suspension hardware, and performance figures means we can directly compare Elastigirl’s wheels with the current state of motorcycle technology.
Let’s get started.
The designers didn’t just knock it out of the park, they freakin’ shot it into orbit. This bike looks like something the Doctor would ride if he wanted to join the Ton-Up Boys.
The modern cafe racer trend descends from those Rockers, who would down a cup of coffee, slam a coin in the jukebox, and belt around, seeking that elusive ‘ton’ (100 mph). They’d push their engines for every last horsepower, strip their bikes down to the bare minimum. I think the Ace Cafe would get quite a kick from the Elasticycle.
Visually, the bike fits right in. It’s designed for speed and speed alone. Smooth, flowing lines; single, curved seat; very little ornamentation. Sling a twin-cylinder underneath, and it wouldn’t look terribly out of place at a custom motorcycle show. At least one person on the sub-Reddit r/motorcycles thought it resembled the Honda Super Cub 90 concept from 2015.
Another commenter also likened it to the Honda Super Cub Road Runner concept built in Taiwan.
Seeing the initial concept art, I don’t know if any Pixar artists saw those particular builds, but they were clearly taking inspiration from this style of bike (I’m both glad and sad they didn’t try the monowheel).
So from a visual perspective at least, the bike could realistically work. Even the—wait, are those drum brakes?
Actually, that’d be par for the course. Although the first disc brake debuted on the Jaguar C-Type racer in 1953, the first motorcycle to get disc brakes on both wheels was the 1975 Honda CB750 Four. Technically, Lambretta fitted a scooter with discs in 1962, but the Elasticycle ain’t a scooter. So while it does seem weird that an advanced tech company like DevTech would still be using drum brakes, historically, it isn’t unrealistic.
Of course, that’s assuming they are drums.
What makes it go?
If you didn’t see the movie yet, Elastigirl helpfully spells it right out:
No visible engine, instant torque, still-futuristic whine: yup, it’s electric.
You’re probably thinking, “So those aren’t drum brakes! They’re hub-mounted electric motors!” While this would be exactly in line with existing real-world technology—and also strengthen the Super Cub 90 case—it’s also not true.
The E1 Elasticycle, turns out, is powered by a ‘proprietary’ oil-cooled electric motor, putting out 140 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. While electric motors like that might have very well been science fiction in the early 60s, in our world it’s just science. Sweet, exhilarating science.
Two companies, Energica in Italy and California-based Lightning Motorcycles, make bikes that use such a motor. Their performance matches up, too. Energica’s Ego superbike and Eva 107 streetfighter both put out 107 kW (144 hp) and 140 lb-ft, while Lightning Motorcycle’s LS-218 makes 200 hp and 168 lb-ft.
While the E1 Elasticycle tops out at 155 mph, beating out both the Ego’s and Eva’s limited 150 and 125 mph respective top speeds, the LS-218 blitzes all the way to a world record that gave the bike its name: 218 mph.
Even the Elasticycle’s 0-60 time isn’t out of this world. DevTech quoted ‘around 3 seconds’ for their baby to blast to 60 mph, matching the Ego’s time. I couldn’t find a quoted 0-60 time for the Eva 107, but the less powerful Eva EsseEsse9 can do the deed in 2.8 seconds, according to The Drive (most likely due to gearing ratio changes). But Lightning Motorcycles desperately needs to find a cooler name for a bike that can go 0-60 in 2 freaking seconds.
This is one of those rare moments where truth is better than fiction.
You make the Elasticycle sound almost...conventional.
I can’t remember which spy film I heard this in, but a character remarks about how the smartphone basically made most spy gadgets irrelevant (or at least dated).
Intriguingly, I did find some fan speculation and some lines in the junior novelization that suggested the Elasticycle was powered by an electric jet engine. While the RideApart article definitively slaps this hypothesis down, a bike with that kind of engine is also not infeasible. But that’s another article.
If the engine choice seems run-of-the-mill, though, the rest of the Elasticycle definitely isn’t. Let’s start with the weight.
Why the weight?
Two reasons: batteries and frame design.
Whether you’re talking Tesla, Bolt, Zero, LS-218, or Energica, you’re talking lithium. More specifically, lithium-ion (Li-ion). The specific chemistry may vary, but Li-ion battery technology has become the standard choice for powering everything from the latest electric car to the device you’re using to read this.
These batteries last long, and ever-increasing demand for them has driven constant improvements in capacity and recharge time. However, to power something like Ludicrous Mode or the LS-218, you need what engineers refer to as a s**t-ton of Li-ion cells. Beyond the battery pack’s monetary cost, there’s also a performance cost. That much battery capacity adds a lot of weight.
That’s why the LS-218, even with an aluminum frame as well as body panels and a swingarm made of carbon-fiber, weighs in at 495 lbs. Energica’s lower-cost Ego and Eva use a steel frame and non-composite panels; with a battery capacity only slightly lower than the base LS-218's (11.7 kWh vs the latter’s 12 kWh), the Italian siblings sit at a relatively porky 569 lbs.
In contrast, the E1 Elasticycle cuts a svelte figure of 355 lbs. Part of that’s down to the monocoque frame. It’s a design usually only found on expensive racing machines, for maximum stiffness and weight-savings. It doesn’t hurt that DevTech made the E1 from a blend of carbon-fiber and magnesium alloy, similar to Ducati’s 1299 and 1199 Superleggera super-bikes.
The other part of the light-weight recipe is the battery tech. And it’s here where DevTech veers away from every single other electric motorcycle—hell, every other electric vehicle—on sale today.
The Elasticycle’s batteries may contain lithium, but they aren’t Li-ion. They’re lithium-sulfur (LiS).
Sulfur? Like, the stuff that smells like rotten eggs? In a battery?
Sulfur in its raw elemental state may reek of high-school Halloween shenanigans, but it offers several advantages.
For one, Li-ion batteries require exotic and expensive metals like cobalt and vanadium to make up their electrodes. Sulfur is significantly cheaper, and more readily available.
Secondly, LiS batteries are significantly more energy-dense than even the best commercially available Li-ion batteries. Sulfur is relatively light-weight, and it can ‘hold’ more lithium ions than other Li-ion electrodes. This means you can get the same voltage and current out of a much smaller and lighter battery pack. That’s probably why the E1 Elasticycle is quoted as having a range of 150 miles, compared to the 12 kWh LS-218's 100-120 mile range and the Ego’s 125 mile range.
Because of all this, there’s a lot of research going into making LiS batteries the next industry standard. A company like DevTech would no doubt want to cash in on that.
If it’s so good, why hasn’t every other battery company started making them?
What makes LiS so energy-dense is also what’s been hampering it. Unlike Li-ion batteries, which function by trapping and releasing lithium ions to make electrons flow, LiS batteries work by having lithium directly react with sulfur to transfer electrons. As the lithium-sulfur compounds build up, they start to drift. This causes the electrode to degrade, leading to a loss of conductivity, and therefore power. In base form, LiS batteries just don’t have long life-spans.
Protective coatings do help, but they add weight and cost, and decrease the battery’s performance (sulfur’s not very conductive to begin with). At least, that used to be the case.
Last year, research papers were published by Yale University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on membranes that, when sandwiched to the sulfur electrode, dramatically increased the LiS battery’s life-span, without hampering its storage capacity. Which makes the Elasticycle’s quoted range and requisite life-span absolutely feasible.
While Yale’s team developed a graphene oxide coating, and the Berkeley used a polyelectrolyte membrane (think Nerds Rope, with the ions being the Nerds), there’s also been successful research into using sheets of manganese dioxide nanoparticles to do the same job. And you know what? That’s exactly the solution used in the E1 Elasticycle: a manganese dioxide nanosheet.
I would hazard a guess that this solution was chosen over the membrane based on the research undertaken at Canada’s University of Waterloo. The team there developed their nanosheet solution around sulfur chemistry discovered over 170 years ago. The membranes may be effective, but that level of established chemistry would be difficult to overlook. Taking the safer route would make sense for a company like DevTech.
OK, there has to be some part of this bike that’s unrealistic, right? Brakes? Suspension? Anything?
Look, people, I’m trying. But Pixar did their research.
The brakes are four-piston Brembos with ABS and carbon-composite rotors. Yes, they look like drums, but making discs look like drums isn’t unheard of in the custom bike world. At the front are modified Showa gas-cartridge forks, and at the rear is a swingarm linked to an Ohlins monoshock. None of these are new names within the motorcycling world. The LS-218 even uses Ohlins, for crying out loud.
The wheels are made of carbon-fiber and magnesium; nothing crazy there. The headlight is an LED, and the main display is a touchscreen. The bike incorporates a color-changing charge indicator into its design, along with a military-grade radio and police scanner. Again, all this already exists.
I briefly thought that the Elasticycle’s high-efficiency magnetic coupling drive would be the issue. Instead of using a chain, belt, or shaft to send power to the rear wheel, the drive uses magnetic fields to move power around. No physical connection required. Turns out, the only unrealistic aspect to it is that no bike has been fitted with this kind of tech...yet.
It’s mostly used in places were liquid of questionable cleanliness has to be moved around, and the pump motor can’t be contaminated. But precisely because of the lack of physical connection, the technology is also noted for its high power transfer efficiency. DevTech fitted it to the Elasticycle to cut drivetrain loss. It might be more complicated and expensive than a chain drive like the LS-218's, but a company like DevTech can swallow the development costs for a single bike. There’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t theoretically be fitted to a real-world electric bike.
Even the Elasticycle’s ability to burnout while split in half could work. The throttle controls are ride-by-wire, now found on several high-end bikes, including the Energica models, due to performance mode and traction control options. There’s no physical connection that would be affected by the split!
It all works!
I’m not going to lie: when I first started looking into the details of the Elasticycle, I thought for sure I’d run into something that was pure Hollywood fiction. Some detail that was just a smidge too good to be true.
But no. Every aspect of the Elasticycle—the frame design, the performance specs, the suspension and braking hardware, even the freaking battery—is something that has either appeared on a real-world motorcycle or is a few years development time away from doing so.
And that’s simply incredible.