This story is part of Gear Patrol’s continuing look at different approaches to sustainability, leading up to Earth Day on April 22nd.
With its combination of speed and freedom, the motorcycle has long represented a spirit of rebellion. That tradition lives on in Brooklyn, where a startup called Tarform is producing a new breed of electric machine, reimagining what’s possible from the ground up. Bucking outdated manufacturing methods and material use, the brand has already ventured into uncharted territory: a world where motorcycles are recyclable and biodegradable. The dream is to become a power player within the clean energy revolution — and to take a new generation of bikers along for the ride.
“Where I think design should be headed today is not just creating things that are superficially beautiful, but using design as a driving force to adopt a more sustainable mindset,” explains founder Taras Kravtchouk. Now 37, the Stockholm-raised former martial artist went from working in digital design and software development while fixing up vintage bikes on the weekends to founding the semi-eponymous brand five years ago. “Be like water,” he says, quoting Bruce Lee. “I think that kind of sums it up.”
Riding out the pandemic, the brand’s zero-emission motorcycles are just now becoming a reality. The first handful of limited-edition Founders models appeared earlier this year, and Tarform aims to deliver a couple hundred of the more accessible Luna series bikes to customers this summer — then get into volume manufacturing in 2023.
While the Luna might look like something out of Blade Runner, not even Philip K. Dick could have imagined the innovation in this state-of-the-art machine. First, there’s not much petroleum-derived plastic on the thing. Recycled aluminum is used in the hand-formed body, while biobased resin, woven flaxseed fiber and algae pigments mix to create the paneling.
“We started playing with all these recipes and doing prototypes and eventually found a way to create a composite panel out of these three ingredients,” Kravtchouk says. “[The thinking was] if we’re going to build something, let’s build something that does the least amount of harm to the environment.”
The bikes also incorporate plant-based leather, 3D printing and bioplastics. The result is a high-performance piece of art powered by clean technology.
The sculptural form is reminiscent of mid-century automotive design, distilled to capture movement in as few pen strokes as possible. “It took months to refine every line on the bike to define the silhouette and the shape of it,” Kravtchouk says. He wanted the bike to communicate organic power, even when standing still — and it does.
With parts sourced from craftspeople worldwide, the bikes come to life at Tarform’s headquarters in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a historic location with centuries of industrial heritage. The significance of returning to a one-time hot-bed of American manufacturing isn’t lost on Kravtchouk.
“It felt almost like destiny,” he says.“They used to build warships, and now we build electrical machines.” Sitting on 300 acres, the space also conveniently accommodates a test track.
The magic of Tarform’s evolutionary approach is that the Luna can be adapted for tomorrow, a stark contrast to our current era of disposable everything. Thanks to a modular platform, what becomes outdated in the bikes can be upgraded. As new materials and technological advancements surface, Tarform can swap out the battery, powertrain and other mechanical components.
For now, the bike can reach 60 mph in under 4 seconds and hit a top speed of 120 mph, with a city range of around 120 miles, recharging via a 110-volt household outlet in about four hours.
The Luna is offered as a Scrambler or (Cafe) Racer, two bikes with the same basic skeleton and capabilities but different style and trimmings. Both versions lean into a classic aesthetic and can switch between three riding modes (highway, city and natural trail), but the Scrambler has knobby tires and taller suspension.
Not unlike Priority Bicycles, their belt-driven, pedal-powered neighbors in TriBeCa, the bikes are virtually maintenance-free, requiring no scheduled servicing. They start at $24,000.
That pricing is pretty premium. The longtime leader in the electric moto space, Zero, offers the stripped-down FXE for as little as $9,795. The California-based brand’s top-of-the-line SR/S — with a top speed of 124 mph, city range of 156 miles and full charge time of 4.5 hours — starts at $20,595.
While old-school moto lovers might have a hard time grappling with the Luna’s lack of gearbox and shifter, they’ll likely appreciate the sound. Tarform chose to amplify the natural noise of the motor through the use of an acoustic resonator — similar to how an electric guitar works — creating a distinct sonorous hum.
For anyone who has ridden an eerily quiet electric bike, that feature is enticing: it emphasizes the exhilaration of acceleration while boosting safety, giving other motorists an auditory cue they’re not alone.
Even though the Luna is tech-heavy and 4G-connected, Tarform aims to use data in intuitive ways, enhancing the connection between bike, rider and environment without getting overly gimmicky.
“There’s a fine line between using too much technology in the two-wheel experience,” Kravtchouk observes. “At the end of the day, we [didn’t] want to put a giant screen and have the bike ride by itself. It’s not a Tesla. You are creating the experience.”
Toward that end, one notable feature is blind-spot detection, which has existed in cars for decades but is much less common in two-wheeled vehicles. (Ducati just rolled it out on the Multistrada V4 a couple of years ago, for example.)
“[It works] through haptic [feedback],” Kravtchouk says. “So vibration in the seat alerts you if there’s a car in your blind spot.” There’s also a front-facing camera that can advise riders to put some extra braking distance between themselves and the vehicle ahead.
It’s clear that for Kravtchouk, Tarform isn’t just about manufacturing revolutionary motorcycles; it’s an exercise in human potential — making it hard not to wonder if he plans to expand beyond two-wheeled transportation. “Yes,” he says with a half-smile. “What that is will for now remain more of a mystery.”
So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. With the ambitious brand still in its infancy, it is better to borrow some wisdom from another of Kravtchouk’s influences, Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” — or, more appropriately, a single twist of an electric throttle.
The Luna Lowdown
Tarform’s flagship bike stands out in a variety of ways. Here are just a few.
The Luna Racer and Scrambler boast a mix of performance and style. Continuous upgradability of the hardware and software allows for improvements to the powertrain, battery and mechanical components that prolong the bike’s life.
The modular body lets riders personalize aesthetic elements, and it’s how Tarform can offer two variants of the same basic design.
Three riding modes — highway, city street, and natural trail — adapt the bike to better suit specific environments. Each mode corresponds to an acceleration profile with customized regenerative braking.
Connected to the cloud using 4G, the rider can see the live status of the bike’s health, like battery charge and temperature, and receive information on the optimal range.
Tarform can predict part failures through the operating system and adjust service timelines based on mechanical wear, rather than relying on arbitrary maintenance intervals.
The Luna Scrambler and Racer share many of the same specs:
- Charges via a household outlet (110v) in 4 hours or Level 2 charger (220v) in 2 hours
- 4G connectivity and over the air updates
- Modular powertrain and bodywork
- No maintenance powertrain
- 0-60 in 3.8 seconds
- Top speed of 120mph
- 120-mile city range
- Lowest weight in its class (440lbs)