Wind-powered motorcycle for a Mad Max world

Forget the guzzoline. This motorcycle collects and stores wind and sun power for a time when fossil fuels will be scarce.

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3 min read

Alistair McInnes

Fossil fuels aren't going to last forever.

Come the days of scarcity, hopefully we won't be living in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland warring viciously over the few resources left -- and hopefully we'll be a little more prepared, with sustainable replacements for the fossil-fueled technology we live with now.

This is the idea behind James Dyson Award entry Strangeworld -- a motorcycle powered by the wind and the sun.

"I was riding a rented motorcycle through Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland in late 2013," explained project creator Alistair McInnes, an industrial design student at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

"In the middle of Glencoe I stopped as a thought hit me, in some years' time there will be no way for me, or others, to enjoy a recreational ride like this; thus I envisioned a motorcycle design that would allow for people to travel for leisure, when fuel is no longer an option."

The machine -- its name inspired by Dr Strangelove -- was specifically designed for the Australian environment in a hypothetical 2050, by which time, McInnes calculates, fossil fuels will be in very short supply, if not completely depleted.

"The design for a 'renewable energy' motorcycle has to address two major problems surrounding tourism travel in Australia; the vast environment Australia has to be traversed, and how to supply the means," he said. "The chameleon-like manoeuvrability of a motorcycle in today's society, lends itself to the environments of 2050, and the hostilities that may arrive in this new age."

Strangeworld doesn't collect kinetic energy and use it simultaneously. Instead, slung from its frame is a compartment that contains a collapsible wind turbine that can be erected when the motorcycle is not in use. It also uses photovoltaic panels to collect additional solar energy.

All this energy is channelled to a battery housed in the motorcycle's chassis to power the motorcycle.

The turbine packed away in its compartment. Alistair McInnes

The motorcycle, McInnes said in a phone call, was designed in eight weeks and built in a further six weeks for about AU$7,000. At this point in time, it can travel at a maximum of 80 kilometres per hour for about 15 minutes, using a hybrid engine picked up online.

Ideally, McInnes said, the finished prototype would be able to travel up to 500 kilometres on a full charge, using an engine designed specifically for Strangeworld -- the current model is a proof-of-concept, and further development is required to improve its performance.

The turbine unpacked. Alistair McInnes

He envisions its primary demographic to be campers, tourists and hobbyists -- people who can buy a kit, put the motorcycle together themselves, and travel across Australia, not bound to a specific route by the availability of charging stations or petrol stops. Strangeworld could be charged during the day, and ridden at night, or the rider could spend a day riding, then a day recharging, taking a leisurely journey and taking in the magnificent sunburnt landscape.

McInnes continues to work on the project. At time of writing, he was working on improving the telescoping legs of the wind turbine. As yet, however, there are no concrete plans for Strangelove to be commercialized.

"I would like it to be, I think it's tangible, but the hybrid systems lend themselves more to recreational vehicles rather than commercial," he said.

He is also open to the idea of Strangeworld making an appearance in the next Mad Max film. "I was going for a very specific chopper iconography, and it does look very Mad Max," he said. "If George Miller wanted to use it, I would be pretty happy."

The James Dyson Award will continue to accept submissions up to and including July 2. The competition is open to current engineering and design students, or previous students who graduated from engineering or design subjects in the last four years, with a chance to win a first prize of $45,000. You can find out more on the James Dyson Award website.