When Liam Grace-Flood found Night Shift Bikes’ Leafy Savage online, he was so taken with it that he immediately reached out to Matt Candler about working with them. A few phone calls later, Liam and his lab partner from Dartmouth, Nadav Hendel, were signed on for the next Night Shift build.
They made the 24-hour drive down to NOLA in Liam’s old Saab, and over the next 3 weeks, took a 1973 BMW R75-5 that was flooded in Hurricane Katrina, and restored and rebuilt it as a fully electric city scrambler with Matt in his garage. Like all Night Shift’s builds, the goal was to show off how cool electric can be, and place EVs squarely within the realm of hobbyists and home-brew builders.
Before coming to Night Shift, Liam and Nadav had no motorcycle building experience. Liam studied Math and Fine Arts at Wheaton College (MA), and Nadav studied Physics at Vassar. They met at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, where they were dual-enrolled— exploring intersections of liberal arts theory and engineering practice.
Even Matt came to motorcycles with little experience. His day job is as CEO of an education incubator, 4pt0 schools, and everything he learned about EVs and motorcycles was as he went, completing two conversions before really getting a knack for it and gaining internet notoriety for his Suzuki Savage conversion.
We caught up with Liam about the project—he says if they can do it, you can too! Here are some excerpts from our conversation…
Why an electric bike?
We think electric is better, and want to see more. We love electric’s comparative simplicity, which makes for fewer maintenance needs and lower maintenance costs. They can be torquier and zippier than ICBs, too! Most important though, is that their development is in service to a greener and a quieter world.
Even though we see electric as better, the internal combustion engine has been paid a lot of attention over the years— so it’s been more developed and become more ingrained in public consciousness than electric has. People’s ideas of what a cool motorcycle looks like are usually tied up in the cliché loud exhaust and engine noise—we want to challenge that assumption that fast and cool has to mean loud and polluting.
Big companies have started making great EVs that are changing perceptions— But in the same way that computers needed a hacker community to take off, we need everyday people to further embrace developing and loving EVs, too. We wanted to set that example.
Why the R888?
Matt has built a couple electric bikes— the last one, called the Leafy Savage, got a lot of attention online. But it didn’t gain as much traction among established motorcycle modders. We wanted to work with the BMW R75-5 because it’s a classic bike that custom bike builders love to work with. We hoped doing a good job might get their attention and swing more old-school ICB engine folk to thinking about electric.
Most of our design choices were about speaking to that community while being unapologetic about our preference for electric.
So even though most of the bike was unusable, we salvaged as much as we could: the iconic rear swingarm and frame, as well as some parts of the rear suspension and front fork. As we filled in the rest of the bike, every design decision we made was with the original bike in mind. We emulated the original gas tank but filled it with electrical components. Instead of running a mechanical driveshaft through the BMW’s swing arm, we ran wires. The hub motor is a homage to the original drum brakes.
It was really fun to design for the intersection of those two pretty different worlds: old school bike builders and our vision of an electric future.
What’s the goal of the project?
We want to see a greener and a quieter world. And we want more people to feel empowered to contribute to making that change. We hope the bike will capture people’s imaginations— help people see electric power as cool, and convince some to start building their own— the same stuff Matt’s been doing with his previous builds. Nadav and I had to go back to school, but Matt’s continuing to evolve the project and make it even better— hopefully you’ll be seeing more of it shortly!
Will it be open source?
We started open-sourcing our wiring diagrams, but due to the short time-frame, couldn’t document the whole thing as thoroughly as we’d like to. Open Source is a big part of our ethos, though. Throughout the build, we were actively communicating choices with our local community, as well as online via Instagram and Drivetribe. We loved hearing people’s feedback and at times incorporating their thoughts into our work. Hopefully in the future that can be a bigger part of how everyone works.
Is there a community?
Definitely. Nadav and I were really new to motorcycle making, so we took a lot of questions to local NOLA bike builders— including local legend Chuck House, and folks at TTRNO and Royal T Racing. We got the bike and some help from Wicked Bros. I haven’t given Matt enough credit either— most of this was built on his experience, previous work, and networks. We definitely couldn’t have done this without all the help along the way— especially Matt’s patient support and expertise. We originally were going to work in the Makers of NOLA makerspace at Art Egg Studios, and while we ended up just staying in Matt’s garage, we still loved participating in that community and getting feedback from them, too.
Again, as I was saying we had a really strong online community, also. And a big part of this was about building community, and bringing more people into the fold and encouraging DIY EVs. So if anyone reading this thinks it sounds cool, know it’s a community you’re welcome to!