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Daniel Kim with his enclosed two-wheel electric vehicle, the C-1.

Lit Motors’ C-1.

Mission Motors’ Mission R.

BRD Motorcycles’ Redshift.

A simulated side-impact collision shows the C-1 being T-boned—yet not tipping—at 35 mph.

The New Motor City

Why the electric vehicle of the future will not be invented in Michigan.

Scale that ingenuity up to the entrepreneurial level, and you get the likes of Mission Motors, over on Harrison and Eighth, which put together a prototype electric superbike that set speed records at the Laguna Seca Sears Point Raceway. (More profitably, if less sexily, the company manufactures electric power train components for larger vehicle makers.) A few blocks away in the old Hamm’s Brewery on Bryant, BRD Motorcycles has created the RedShift, arguably the world’s most advanced off-road motorcycle. It’s a plug-in electric dirt bike that’s faster than any gas-powered bike in its weight class.

Just like Lit Motors, BRD has done it with a distinctly San Francisco mix of talent. Chief technology officer Derek Dorresteyn grew up with a grandfather, uncle, father, and mother who, get this, all raced motorcycles. Dorresteyn himself raced professionally before starting a local machine shop that still makes precision components for construction and mining equipment. BRD’s chief design officer, San Francisco native Jeff Sand, was a member of the original Thrasher skateboard crew before becoming a furniture designer showcased at SFMOMA.

“There is no other city on the planet where I could build the company and the team we’re building here,” says Marc Fenigstein, BRD’s skier–climber–biker CEO. Partly, he says, it’s about the risk-friendly startup culture: “Anywhere else, you take someone who has two failed startups under his belt and is thinking of starting a third, and his friends and colleagues will tell him to take another path. But in S.F., we actually value someone with two failures more than someone with none.” Fenigstein also credits a resurgence in industrial design, citing companies like Open ROV, which makes autonomous underwater robots; Pebble, the smart-watch makers; and Boosted Board, creators of a mechanized skateboard. “We’re at a stage in product development where it isn’t just about technology anymore,” Fenigstein says. “It’s about putting technology into products that are desirable to the consumer.”

Tesla is the only one of these local vehicle concerns that’s already selling products on the mass market, but you don’t have to squint to see the others following close behind. Fenigstein himself just drove from San Francisco to New York and back again, hauling one of BRD’s dirt bike prototypes on a funding road trip (he won’t say how much was raised other than to call the tour “tremendously successful”). And Kim anticipates selling the first C-1s by the end of next year at a debut price of $24,000, with an eventual target of $11,000 once manufacturing gets up to scale. That would put the C-1 in the same price category as a Ducati Monster—only it would have a 200-mile range on a single dollar’s electricity. 


Originally published in the April issue of San Francisco

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