8 cylinders, 0 pistons: The Curtiss Zeus Radial V8 is a minimalist $75,000 electric motorcycle

Designed by Jordan Cornille, the Zeus Radial V8 is the first offering from Alabama’s Curtiss Motorcycles.

The future of motorcycling might or might not be completely electric, but even if it is, we don’t have to abandon the look or feel of machines of the past — nor do we have to mindlessly copy them.  

The 2020 Curtiss Zeus Radial V8 gives us a glimpse of another approach: a bike that is wholly, even radically, modern, yet still shockingly fresh. Designed by Jordan Cornille, it’s the first offering from Leeds, Alabama’s Curtiss Motorcycles, a high-end cycle-builder founded by Matt Chambers.

If these names, and the overall look and feel of the girder-forked bike, seem somehow familiar, that’s because the Curtiss Motorcycle Company is a sort of reincarnation of Confederate Motors (which, confusingly, lives on as an unaffiliated company called Confederate Motorcycles). Confederate, founded by Chambers in 1991, was known for its exotic, handcrafted and fabulously expensive motorcycles. The company’s extreme designs — think classic American V-twin-meets-Pagani Zonda cockpit — pushed internal-combustion motorcycles as far in that particular stylistic direction as they could possibly go.  

The Zeus takes another route entirely. It’s as minimal as the Confederate bikes were baroque, yet certain elements — like those front forks or the arching backbone that defines the machine’s profile — tie the two companies together. Early Zeus drawings and prototypes actually looked much more like the old Confederates; this new iteration takes things in a decidedly less Dieselpunk direction.

No pistons here: These cylinders are, in fact, battery packs.

And then there’s the most distinctive feature: The eight cylindrical batteries arranged in a modified V formation. It’s hardly as blatant as Triumph wrapping fuel injection system throttle bodies in castings deliberately designed to mimic old carburetors, but it’s a clear nod to the internal combustion-powered past. Even on a bike as radical as this high-dollar, hand-built Curtiss, we can’t seem to get away from certain form factors and design elements — even though, as this design demonstrates, new technology allows us to play with familiar cues in unexpected ways.

“With the battery cells packaged inside eight cylindrical towers configured in a flaring radial ‘V’ pattern, we’re not only able to tap into Glenn’s iconic V8 form language, but we’re also able to achieve maximum battery cooling efficiency,” says designer Cornille. Something tells us aesthetics were the primary consideration, but maybe there is a benefit to dividing a battery pack into modules and letting air flow around each one individually.

The “Glenn” Cornille is referencing is company namesake Glenn Curtiss, American inventor and daredevil. Curtiss came of age during the 19th century’s bicycle craze, while led naturally into motorcycles; one notable stunt of his was a January 1907 top speed run, which saw him hit 136.36 mph on Florida’s Ormond Beach. Curtiss was piloting a V8-powered motorcycle that he designed — a spindly bike clearly referenced by this new machine.

Despite this record, which stood until 1930, Curtiss is best known today (to the extent that he is known at all) as an early aviation pioneer rather than a motorcycle builder and racer. Maybe that only makes this little-known part of history a richer vein for Curtiss, the modern company, to mine.

No, it’s not set up as a long-distance tourer.

With regard to the Zeus, we’re still waiting for some crucial numbers like range — not that this thing is set up for an Iron Butt ride in the first place — but expect output in the range of 217 hp along with 147 lb-ft of tire-shredding torque courtesy of an electric motor engineered by Britain’s YASA. The battery capacity is said to be 16.8 kWh.

The Curtiss Zeus is expected to sell for $75,000. A lot for two-wheeled transportation, but perhaps not too much for rideable sculpture. And anyway, it’s comparable to Confederate’s offerings, so it’s not total fantasy.

If you’re looking or something more affordable with a similar sensibility, know that the Zeus is just Curtiss’ leading punch; expect followup models to “occupy more accessible product categories,” according to the company.

But not too accessible — we’d bet that Curtiss, like Confederate before it, will be perfectly happy to build extreme bikes for the few rather than watered-down offerings for the many. It’s how the company can get away with pushing designs as far as it does.

h/t to Jalopnik for putting this bike on our radar.

In its simplicity, the Zeus resembles early motorcycles — including the record-setting V8-powered bike of Glenn Curtiss.

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