Eddie Smith is co-founder of Tremoto. He and business partner, Rob McIver, have just received their patent for a leaning vehicle suspension system that allows their retrofitted, three-wheeled motorcycles to ride with the feel of a traditional motorcycle. Smith earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Mississippi and works as a stamping engineer for Nissan in Canton.
Q — What is unique about the suspension system for which you have received a patent?
A — It’s the Tremoto System, but the title of the patent is a “leaning vehicle suspension system.” There are three major claims to it that are different. One is that it is mounted on a pivot so it can lean. Also, it uses leaf springs and rotary dampers. These things are unique in this application. It’s more compact, lighter weight and with fewer parts.
Q — A three-wheeled motorcycle with the Tremoto system can ride and turn like a regular motorcycle?
A — Yes. And there are different companies you’ll find that try to do that. By and large they haven’t been successful, and there are different reasons for that. A lot of them have failed on technical grounds: They just haven’t been very high-performance. So that’s the angle we really wanted to take. We wanted to build something high-performance because we know that if we can make it work high-performance, we can make it work in an area that really doesn’t require that much
Q — So you can full speed on this bike and it’s all good?
A — Yes. [Laughs.] After several years of development and a lot of trial and error and many times when that was not the case at all. We have not had any accidents. I started riding when I was nine, so I guess I’ve been riding for 16 years. I’ve had my share of wrecks … but – fingers still crossed – I have not crashed this one.
Q — Is it harder to fall over on one of your the three-wheeled bikes?
A — Yeah. And that’s one of the things we were interested in was that level of safety, because the most common type of crash you’ll have on a motorcycle is when you’re riding on gravel and you slide your front end down and fall. Well, this system is designed so that when you inevitably lose traction on the front and slide, you can just catch yourself. It’s not crash-proof by any means, but it’s better.
We ride this in the rain. We got a little bit of snow in Oxford back in January, and I took this out in the snow. You’d never try that on a motorcycle, but it was possible for this vehicle.
The conventional trikes with two wheels on the back are fairly common, and there are a lot of companies that build those. It’s mostly older riders or retired couples if they both want to ride. There are reasons why you’d want to do that, but then you lose the whole motorcycle feel. This will bridge the gap.
Q — Is your system easier for first-time riders?
A — We’ve taught a few people to ride who have never ridden before. If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle before, it’s intimidating and scary. One thing we’ve found is it’s a lot less intimidating, even though it’s the same skill set. It’s not necessarily easier, but it is more forgiving of mistakes and can get you over the mental block of, “I’m going to fall down.”
Q — Who are competitors?
A — That’s a little bit tricky. Brudeli is a company out of Norway has a product that is probably the most similar. It looks like the same thing. But they haven’t really come to the United States. The other thing you see is the Pan Am Spider. They are selling about 7,000 of those a year in the United States, but it doesn’t have that leaning ability, so it rides more like a four-wheeler instead of giving you that motorcycle feel.
Q — How much does a Tremoto bike cost?
A — Right now it costs between $10,000 and $15,000 to do a conversion, and that’s on top of the original motorcycle cost. Obviously, that’s our big barrier to market. If we had some more volume … and could get our conversion costs down to the $5,000 or $6,000 range, which I think is reasonable, I think we’d have a lot more marketable product.
Q — What bikes work best?
A — We feel like you could convert almost any type of motorcycle.
Q — Business plan?
A — We’ve put some business plans together (and worked with Mississippi Technology Alliance to some degree). We raced the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb last year in Colorado. It’s a time trial. We raced that because we knew we’d get some publicity from that. We ended up meeting a guy who commissioned us to [retrofit a bike that we’re working on now]. I think finding individual customers is going to be the thing that gets us there. We also talked with a company called Brammo out of Ashland, Ore. The owner of that company has really swallowed the pill on electric motorcycles. We flew out to see him and flew our prototype out there. Nothing really ever came of that. The potential of selling your patent to a big manufacturer, while it exists — there’s so many people who have kind of tried and failed to do that. The next thing on our calendar is the Indianapolis Powersports Dealer Expo. It’s where all the motorcycle dealers go. This year we’re going to exhibit. I think the best way for us to make our case that our technology is good and worth buying is to essentially prove it.
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—Interviewed by Amy McCullough
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