Vanguard Roadster. Photos by Kurt Ernst and Jim O’Clair.
Since bottoming out in 2010, the U.S. motorcycle market has begun a gradual climb back to pre-recession sales numbers, but 2015’s 500,000 sales (an approximate number) is still a far cry from 2005’s peak of nearly 1.1 million sales. That means starting a new motorcycle company, especially one in the premium segment, is a risky proposition, but that’s hardly enough to deter Edward Jacobs and Francois-Xavier Terny, founders of Vanguard, a new American motorcycle start-up located at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City.
At first glance, the Vanguard Roadster seems to defy categorization. Power comes from an air-cooled V-twin, an engine design that dates back to the early years of the 20th century, yet there’s nothing retro about the prototype. In fact, its appearance is somewhat futuristic, but in a purely functional manner. Visually, it’s a lot to take in, and the absence of conventional features (like a frame, control cables, oil lines or an exhaust system) plays tricks on the eye.
Designer Edward Jacobs poses with the Vanguard Roadster in New York.
It’s hard to compare it to other motorcycles, though an updated Münch Mammoth comes to mind, as does a reinterpretation of the Confederate Hellcat. The latter is no coincidence, as designer, engineering head and Vanguard cofounder Edward Jacobs spent five years with Confederate Motorcycles before opening his own design studio in New York City. At last week’s Progressive International Motorcycle Show in New York City, we spent a few minutes with Jacobs, who was kind enough to take us through the Vanguard Roadster’s design, and the company’s somewhat ambitious agenda.
Jacobs describes the Roadster’s design as utilitarian, modular and functionalist, a trio best summed up as “function over form.” Practicality and purpose is placed before style, meaning the Vanguard will never have a mascot adorning its fender, or conchos and fringes on saddlebags. The lack of heritage, in this case, is liberating, allowing Jacobs to adopt an almost architectural design on the roadster. One isn’t forced to look at electrical conduit or plumbing inside a home, so why should one be forced to see this on a motorcycle?
The modularity is important from a design perspective, but also from a manufacturing one. At final assembly, Jacobs tells us that just five bolts hold the Roadster’s key component groups together, meaning that assembly of production models will be a streamlined process. Though the prototype was built in Roadster configuration, Vanguard also plans to build a cruiser and racer variant, all of which will use the same engine and integrated frame unit seen here.
The downtubes, which resemble oversize pushrod tubes, serve multiple purposes. First, they’re structural, but they also function as housing for control cables, electrical lines and hydraulic lines. The crankcase houses oil passages (machined into castings, eliminating the need for external plumbing), but also the exhaust, the encapsulated rear suspension and even the shaft drive. Turn signals, tucked into the bodywork when the bike is parked, are positioned via servo motors when the engine is fired up.
Rather than going it alone on engine design, Vanguard turned to builder S&S to provide the 117-cu.in. air-cooled V-twin, which should put out 110 pound-feet of torque in production form. Not only does using an established supplier reduce time to market, it also ensures that the Vanguard can be serviced by both the brand’s to-be-appointed dealers and any shop familiar with Harley-Davidson’s V-twin engines.
Heat is the enemy of power, so running the exhaust through the same chamber as the oil seems counter-intuitive. To get around this, Jacobs turned to the aerospace industry, where carbon foam is used to create heat shields for spacecraft. Capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, just a quarter-inch of material is all that’s needed to keep heat away from components in the crankcase. It’s relatively low in cost, bonds with adhesives, and is easy to cut or shape with water jets.
When Jacobs arrived at Confederate in 2005, the company didn’t use computers in the design department. Vanguard takes an entirely different approach, one that should reduce both manufacturing cost and time to market. The Roadster prototype displayed in New York was built from computer-designed and computer-generated components, a strategy that allows for easier replication of parts. Going from prototype to production requires no reverse engineering, just production of parts that already exist, as zeroes and ones, inside a computer.
That is, of course, an oversimplification. Cast parts must be produced by third-party suppliers and billet parts must be machined from stock, and both functions require expensive machines and machine tools. Buying these requires investors, and Vanguard is currently in the process of seeking backers to fully fund the venture. If successful, the company projects it will be able to sell its Roadster model, the first to market in the third quarter of 2018, for a price of $30,000.
While not inexpensive, Jacobs repeatedly used the word “accessible,” meaning the Vanguard will be affordable by many willing to make a few sacrifices to ride a truly unique motorcycle with class-leading components, like an Öhlins suspension and Brembo brakes. The plan is to offer financing through dealers as well, which may help to increase the population of potential buyers.
Manufacturing relies on scale to keep costs contained, though cost optimization is an area of expertise for co-founder Terny. Will the brand be able to progress from ambitious upstart to bona fide boutique manufacturer? Can Vanguard keep pricing at projected levels? We certainly hope the answer to both questions is “yes.”