From small town roots in Northern Canada, Michael Uhlarik has devoted most of his life in the pursuit of his two wheeled passion. Educated as an industrial designer in Toronto, France and at London’s prestigious Royal College of Art, Michael first explored careers in toy and bicycle design before focusing exclusively on motorcycles. His nearly twenty years of experience span three continents and senior design and planning roles at brands including Yamaha, Piaggio, Aprilia, Derbi, Bombardier and over a dozen startups and niche manufacturers.
Today, Michael is a leading product planner and industry analyst serving clients worldwide, a regular feature columnist for a number of motorcycle publications, and part time design instructor and lecturer. He is also the co-founder and designer of SURU Cycles, a brand of electric mopeds based in Nova Scotia, Canada.
A Vision that Less could equal More
Michael is also a pioneer in electric propulsion, having become an early convert after a test ride of an electric scooter in 2007. “The sheer elegance of the package, and a compact drive system with only one moving part, enchanted the designer in me. I could see the possibilities that battery-electric propulsion was going to have on the basic layout of motorcycles.”
His masters degree thesis, Parabolica, was a composite monocoque motorcycle built around a gas turbine. Designed in 2000, the rear wheel was driven by hydraulic fluid, instead of a chain or shaft, and the rider used a curved glass computer interface on the tank. The inspiration came from studying the simple elegance of aircraft fuselage design.
After flirting with some electrification programs at previous employers, Michael founded Amarok Racing in 2010 to develop his concept of a fully-monocoque electric motorcycle. Using an aerospace approach that defined the vehicle specifications based on mission requirements, the Amarok used load path-defined shapes for strength, rather exotic or expensive materials, to radically reduce weight and overall size.
The first prototype, the Amarok P1 integrated the frame, body and battery storage into one part. The Amarok structural aluminum fuselage (SAF) was inexpensive to produce, easy to service, incredibly stiff and space efficient. With a final vehicle weight of 147 kg including 7.5 kWh of energy on board, the narrow, short wheelbase package was a revelation at a time when electric racing motorcycles of similar spec weighed over 240 kgs and were as wide as touring models.
The Amarok project evolved over the next few years and was featured in Wired, the New York Times, Engadget and almost every motorcycle magazine in the world. The P2 variant was raced at the 2013 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and starred in an episode of the Discovery Channel’s MegaSpeed.
“Electric motorcycles can, by nature, be significantly more efficient than gasoline powered ones, both in terms of aerodynamics and ergonomics.” said Michael in 2011. “with electric power, the very nature of motorcycle architecture can be challenged!”
After winding down Amarok to focus on client work, Michael rededicated his SAF concept this time to an even lighter class of electric motorcycle: the moped. “No vehicle in history has moved as many people as effectively as the Honda Super Cub. While I appreciate the recent electric Cub concepts, I felt that a more systematic design approach could change the personal urban mobility paradigm.”
The SURU is the result of the Amarok SAF architecture approach superimposed on a Super Cub scale. With functional pedals and a narrow body that allow casual cycling, the SURU also incorporates a 500 Watt electric hub motor drive that can propel it via a throttle to 32 km/h, the maximum speed allowed for e-bikes in Canada and the US.
“It weighs less but is sturdier and has more comfort and safety features than any electric bicycle, because of the integrated design.” Like the Amarok, SURU is an all aluminum monocoque design, but requires 90% less tooling than a conventional bicycles, and is riveted instead of welded. The result is added precision, stiffness, and production cost that allows it to be manufactured in Canada profitably.
“I really want to build electric motorcycles forever. Low speed, high speed, cargo bikes, flat trackers, superbikes… everything. There is simply no other vehicle that gets me as excited.”