I must have watched enough episodes of the Jetsons growing up to have that spaceship car sound permanently embedded in my head. It is the definitive example of what we think the future’s vehicles will sound like. Funny then, as I ride the world’s first hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered motorcycle, that’s almost the exact sound it’s making! Click here for video of the ENV bikeWhat is Dirt Rider doing with this strange contraption? As one of two working prototypes, this one was built with knobby tires and 7.0 and 6.3 inches of travel, front and rear, respectively, so yes, it qualifies as a dirt bike. Technically a zero-emissions vehicle, since the only thing produced is moist air, this may be the bike we are regulated into riding if some of you knuckleheads don’t start riding with quiet mufflers on your four-strokes.As a mere prototype, this bike isn’t too much to get excited about performance-wise. The hydrogen-powered bike’s final drive is electric, belt-driven, putting out about six horsepower. Riding it is like riding any electric scooter or motorcycle; all of the engine’s torque is availible the instant you crack the throttle and goes down as the rpms go up. Its power tapers off at about 40mph before climbing to a top speed of just over 50mph. We rode it around on some grass hills and it wasn’t exactly a powerhouse, roosting up the greenery, yet it put down enough juice to get around without tearing up the lawn.But we weren’t testing the bike for power or agility. The bike’s power source was the focus of our attention. It’s the size of a desktop computer and looks like one, too. It docks inside the twin-spar aluminum frame and constantly charges the batteries on board the bike. The core can also be used to power other things like your house, for instance. It puts out about 600 watts, like a small generator.How does hydrogen-fuel-cell-power work?
Between stacks of metal plates is a membrane which initiates a reaction between hyrogen on one side and oxygen on the other. The hydrogen and oxygen combine together to create water (H2O) and there’s also two electons given of which are then harnessed and fed into the batteries in the elecrtic motor on the bike.So how safe is it to straddle hydrogen gas compressed at over 17,000psi? Safer than you’d think you can get those visions of the Hindenberg out of your head. The hydrogen fuel cells are bullet-proof. But we prodded Intelligent Energy’s reps to humor our notion that the cell could somehow crack, or leak (they maintain, it’s virtually impossible). Hydrogen gas is very light, and would shoot straight up in the atmosphere so quickly, it would be gone in the blink of an eye. And even if it did somehow ignite before it escaped, it would combust instantaneously, looking like a photo flash.Why did they pick a motorcycle to showcase the cell? “It was a difficult challenge as far as space goes and that had been the biggest hurdle in fuel cell design, so we had a go at it. Plus, this is an unique market with the motorcycle in that no one has tried it before,” said Dr. Damian Davies, Director of Research and Development for Intelligent Energy.Is this going to set the world on fire? Well, no it will actually put a little more moisture in the air, is all. And for a few tech-head riders who like to be really different (who maybe just saw Star Wars for the 14th time), true nerds, if you will, this is the future.