• Dr. Günter Kast

Right at the front.

(Reading time: 6 - 11 minutes)

Technology. Johann Hammerschmid (left in the picture) developed an extraordinary electric motorcycle - and won many admirers. Nevertheless, the Upper Austrian did not want to build more than 50 pieces. Cause actually, he was just practicing. He plans the big litter in three to five years. Then the time is ripe for a real electric revolution in motorcycles. And Hammerschmid wants to lead them.

Johnny Hammerschmid could pat himself on the back. Tell him how he showed it to the big guys in the business. How he launched a sensational electric motorbike when renowned manufacturers like BMW only offered an unspectacular electric scooter called "C evolution".

But the Upper Austrian from Bad Leonfelden saves the story of the electrical pioneer who set out to save the world. The prerequisites for this are not yet in place: "Will there really be so much change if all manufacturers of cars and motorcycles now rely on electricity and lithium-ion batteries?

He himself gives a differentiated answer to this question, distinguishing between production, operation and disposal. The current state of the art in electrical engineering only improves driving operation, which is actually climate-neutral if the vehicles are running on "green" electricity.

However, there are still many unresolved problems with the manufacture of the electric vehicle and its disposal. Because far too much CO2 is still produced during the production of batteries. In addition, manufacturers need lithium for such a battery, which children dig out of the mines in the Congo. The dependence of the West on raw materials therefore remains: "It must be clear to us that the struggle for raw materials for efficient batteries will bring with it conflicts and exploitation. And last but not least, the recycling problem has not yet been solved.

Don't misunderstand him: Switching to the highly efficient electric drive is a first, absolutely necessary and important step, because emissions are eliminated during operation. But then further steps would have to follow to tackle the other challenges as well.

Hammerschmid hopes that there will soon be smarter solutions for the range and raw material problem. Then he'll be ready. Then - and only then - will he be able to shake up the world market for electric motorcycles.

The inventor had thought seriously about electromobility for the first time in 2005, when his company Hammerschmid Maschinenbau manufactured special machines for automotive suppliers. He knows the industry, all production steps by heart. And therefore also knows about the inertia of the model industry. That's why he would have loved to develop an e-car himself. "But there wasn't enough money for four wheels." Therefore he plans a motorcycle, although he is not a biker himself, never owned one himself. But: He likes the attributes with which motorcycling is associated: freedom, adventure, emotion and fun. "An electric motorcycle can carry all this if it's designed to be a pleasure cruiser, not a racing machine."

In 2014, the developer presents the "Johammer J1", a much acclaimed result. The development costs - 3.5 million euros - he had borne himself, no part of the production had been outsourced, everything had been screwed together himself. "We've only broken one battery in all this time. Whoever uses their own money is very careful with it."

The result is spectacular. The bike has a range of 200 kilometres. With a top speed of 125 km/h it is not particularly fast, but thanks to the torque of 250 Newton meters it is extremely strong in acceleration. Established motorcycle manufacturers currently have nothing comparable to offer, enthuses Kurt Sigl, President of the Bundesverband eMobilität e.V. (Federal Association for eMobility). (BEM) based in Berlin: "Johammer is unique!"

Sigl drives a J1 himself, which costs 25000 Euro upwards (without extra equipment) - about as much as a Harley Softail. He thinks it's worth every euro: "That's pure innovation. No dashboard, only digital displays in the rear-view mirrors. A classic example of how design can break new ground instead of just developing existing standards."

Hammerschmid also wanted to set visual accents. However, like many who dare new things, he also gets mild ridicule from some media. The "Welt", for example, writes that the J1 looks like a "mixture of rocking horse and auntie-ju plane". Others talk about an oversized beetle, Batman's service moped, or a fantasy car that would fit wonderfully into Star Wars - The Return of the Jedi Knights. It was above all the inner values that convinced the buyers (see box, page 37).

It doesn't bother the entrepreneur. He wants to reach only a very small target group anyway, plans only a pre-series, wants to sell only 50 pieces. "We wanted to see: Does the machine work? Does she have childhood illnesses? Who buys something like this anyway?"

The J1 quickly becomes a cult object. If you want to buy a used machine today, you have to pay more than the original price. Because Hammerschmid knows all his customers personally, he knows exactly how they tick and think. He calls them "mind buyers." With Tesla customers, however, they would only have similarities at first glance. With these many things are only facade. "There are some disguised Mercedes drivers among them who now want to be a bit hip and admired, chicky consumers who rarely have solar cells on their roofs. J1 drivers, on the other hand, are usually completely energy self-sufficient at home. They follow the principles of postmodernism, buy organic food and live as sustainably as possible."

Many of them had never owned a motorcycle before or were re-entrants who had stopped with their hobby because the industry was not advancing technologically. Even a Harley rider was converted to his J1.

But if the experiment was so successful, why doesn't he continue? Anyone who invests 3.5 million euros is not satisfied with just under 1.5 million euros in sales revenue for 50 motorcycles.

"We're in no hurry. The big take-off of e-mobility in cars and motorcycles will not come until 2022. Five years later - in 2027 - combustion and electricity could be on a par. Then we want to be at the start and be one of the new big guys."

Until then, Hammerschmid lives a very relaxed life. In 2015 he sold Hammerschmid Maschinenbau GmbH, which he founded, to his long-time companions Martin Reingruber, Edmund Jenner and Johannes Kaar. Today he only acts as a consultant there.

Hammerschmid can take it easy with the proceeds from the sale. "I'm not so fixated on money anyway. Work has to be personal, it has to be fun." It was enough for him and his son Daniel, the only permanent employee of Johammer e-mobility GmbH. The two generate small sales with lectures, consulting fees, the rental of some J1 bikes for test rides as well as updates of the delivered machines. "It's not like we sit around waiting for Godot. We develop, plan the next steps. "First of all, we think.

The know-how for the construction of large series, he explains, is available. Now it's about proving nerve strength. Waiting for the right moment. And then, when the time is right, to show something completely new. "More of the same is not our goal. Otherwise only a styled electric scooter like BMW comes out. That's not what we want. The new must be completely different, disruptive, destructive. The carmakers have not yet understood how old the world they live in is. We want to improve significantly." The feedback from current customers is enormously important for this. He himself has now driven his J1 for 60000 kilometres, some buyers have similar distances. Certain parts would be optimized, replaced. Entirely new ideas discussed. "Therefore, we are not afraid to oversleep any development. We're not gonna get into any trouble."

The biggest challenge in the future will be to find an investor, a strategic partner for series production: "It has to be someone with whom I enjoy a beer in the evening. This can't be torture." He has got to know some such pests in the VC industry. He's making a big bow about her. He's currently negotiating with a Middle Eastern donor. "Unfortunately, we haven't found anything in Europe yet."

On the one hand, the founder expects a partner to provide 47 million euros. In 2020, several new Johammer models are to be presented that will go into series production from 2021 and reach break-even in 2027. It is also important that the partner helps to develop the new model family and can support the establishment of a global sales and logistics network.

At the same time, it was important to develop a product differentiation strategy. After all, the entrepreneur has two completely different target groups in his sights: firstly, the big city dwellers who need agile and environmentally friendly e-racers in order to make rapid progress in megacities that are becoming too narrow. He thinks, for example, of Rome, London or metropolises in emerging markets. Such e-bikes should be considerably cheaper than the J1: "We want to serve the masses with them."

Secondly, he wants to convince the leisure and pleasure pilots who are already J1 fans. He wants to present them with an optimized electric two-wheeler of the upper class in a new design, which surprises with a longer range, a new battery system and many technical refinements. A bike that is even more dynamic, original, user-friendly and completely maintenance-free. And then there is the development of a two-seater. Because: A BMW "C evolution" may not look as good as its J1, but it does offer space for a passenger.

He does not want to produce "where it is particularly cheap and the wage costs are as low as possible", but "at a strategically good location that is close to the core markets and close to the customers".

There are currently almost a dozen manufacturers offering electric bikes approved for the European market. In addition to BMW and KTM (the latter with a focus on racing and offroad), the company names are probably only known to insiders: Brammo, Polaris Industries, Zero Motorcycles, Lightning Motorcycles (all USA), CRP Technology (Italy), QvR (Switzerland) and Voxan (France).

It is interesting that the cult brand Harley-Davidson also takes its time: LiveWire has long been the subject of driving reports, but it is not scheduled to go into series production until around 2020. In Japan Suzuki and Terra Motors offer electric motorcycles, in India it is the company Mahindra.

Hammerschmid says he is not afraid of this competition, even if their electric motorcycles drive faster and have more horsepower under the bonnet. "It is not for nothing that I have developed my own design and form language, which also makes it visually clear: something completely new comes along. The e-bikes of the others still look very conservative. Wait a little longer. My next litter will be the Hammer, a real Johammer."


Futuristic single-seater in retro design.

200 kilometres of range and 125 kilometres at the top, electronically limited - that is the performance that can be elicited from the 15 hp electric drive. The synchronous motor with its single-stage gear is "lifetime-lubricated and maintenance-free", promises Johann Hammerschmid. The battery can be recharged at any ordinary socket. In quick charge mode, it would take about 85 minutes.

The 70 kilo battery pack consists of 1200 individual lithium-ion batteries. Hammerschmid mentions a service life of 200000 kilometres. The batteries are then used as a stationary storage medium for photovoltaic systems, i.e. recycled.

The chassis consists of a two-arm front swing arm and a single-arm rear swing arm. The J1 does not have a classic front fork, but a mechanical wheel hub steering. A very narrow, horizontal hollow body frame integrates all suspension elements. The screwed central frame and the swingarms are completely made of aluminium. Motorcycle experts certify that the plastic chassis is unbreakable, stable and extremely light.

Thanks to its special construction, the centre of gravity of the two-wheeler is a low 35 centimetres high. "This gives us a pleasant and safe driving experience, both in city traffic and during overland journeys," explains Hammerschmid. Steering and footrests can be individually adjusted.

The unusually shaped polypropylene fairing, which starts directly behind the very large and spokeless front wheel, is particularly eye-catching. Two high handlebar ends and the two rear-view mirrors remind a little of the feelers of an insect. The rear-view mirrors are integrated with 2.4-inch, high-resolution colour displays. They provide information on data such as the speed and charge status of the batteries. Bikers therefore look in vain for a classic cockpit on the handlebars.

Real eye-catchers are also the two differently sized headlights above the front wheel. Two more spotlights and the indicators are mounted on the front of the mirrors.

The pure operating costs of the Johammer J1 are 1.20 euros per 100 kilometres.



Author: Dr. Günter Kast

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