British start-up Skarper has officially announced that it has teamed up with F1 team Oracle Red Bull Racing’s Advanced Technologies division to create the world’s first device that can turn any bike electric with a single click.
Backed by six-time Olympic Champion and Skarper founding investor Sir Chris Hoy, the tech company has created a click-on, click-off portable drive system that attaches to a bike’s disk brake and delivers powered assistance to the rider.
The partnership – which has been under the radar for the last few years – arose after Sir Chris Hoy impressed Oracle Red Bull Racing CEO Christian Horner with a demonstration of the device’s prototype.
“While Skarper has an amazing engineering team, it’s hard to beat the technology that Red Bull has when it comes to knowledge of gears, bearings, and the longevity of these systems,” Skarper Co-founder and inventor Alastair Darwood told Zag Daily in an interview.
“They’re dealing with insanely high-performance power transfer systems.”
The patent-protected disk-brake was invented by Alastair and developed by Skarper’s engineering experts together with Red Bull Advanced Technologies. By engineering a gearbox into the space of a rear disk brake, Skarper’s DiskDrive is compatible with virtually all bikes making it a micromobility solution that’s akin to holding an e-bike in the palm of your hand.
One of the key hurdles of bringing the device to market has been overcome by the combined engineering and technological expertise of the two teams which made the device’s gearing smaller yet more powerful.
“It’s like taking a grandfather clock and shrinking it into a wristwatch,” said Skarper CEO Ean Brown.
The Destroyer Experiment
A big benefit of the partnership for Skarper was that it gained access to Formula 1’s simulation capabilities to test the design of the DiskDrive. More than 40 iterations later, Skarper and Red Bull were able to master the precision engineering needed to confine the all-in-one unit into a space which occupies just 34 cm by 16 cm, while also reaching the desired gear capabilities.
Rigorous testing such as water ingress tests and force tests have been carried out to ensure the Skarper DiskDrive can last thousands of kilometres. Internally dubbed the ‘Destroyer’ experiment, one approach is to try and break the device by simulating continuous cobblestone riding.
“We try to break the Skarper to see what could happen in real life and then we improve on this,” Skarper Co-founder Uri Meirovich said.
An example of this experiment is the cobblestone test where Skarper simulated the vibration that came from riding a bike on cobblestone and then increased the intensity by a further 30%. This enabled the team to test a bike with an attached Skarper unit to ensure that it survived over 1000 kilometres ridden at 30 kmh over cobblestones.
This thorough testing is what lets Skarper confidently offer a two-year warranty.
“We’ve created something that is bulletproof,” said Ean. “What gets sold stays sold.”
The unit contains a 250-watt rated motor and a 240Wh battery pack giving a range of up to 50km.
Since its founding in 2020, Skarper has raised more than £8 million including £4 million last year. With a predicted UK retail price of £1,395 including VAT, Skarper expects to deliver first units to customers who paid a deposit already by the summer of 2024, and reach full-scale high-volume production of the DiskDrive by the end of 2024.
Christian Horner, CEO of Oracle Red Bull Racing and Red Bull Advanced Technologies, added: “This partnership with Skarper demonstrates how F1 expertise can help to improve everyday technology for the benefit of the public. The device is an incredibly clever piece of engineering and we have been able to make it smaller and more powerful thanks to our own talented engineers.”