Imagine cruising up a steep, snowy mountain without the noise or smell of a snowmobile. All you hear is the gentle hum of an electric motor. Once you reach the top, it’s a smooth ride back down the slope. It was impossible until the Moonbike — the world’s first electric bike designed to ride on top of the snow. The French company behind the invention shipped its first batch of 250 bikes last month, and it’s on track to continue delivering units in 2022.
Interesting Engineering sat down with Nico Muron, the company’s founder and CEO, to talk about how Moonbikes came about. He explained what makes the product different from traditional snowmobiles.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Interesting Engineering: What inspired you to design the Moonbike?
Nico Muron: I’m a former aerospace engineer. I went to Georgia Tech, and then I worked six years for a French aerospace company called Dassault Aviation. I’m a mountain and tech lover, and I got the idea five years ago because I realized that we have so many ways to move on with bikes, e-bikes, skateboards during summer. But during winter, we only have bikes we only have cars and snowmobiles, which are big, polluting, and hard to drive — not for everyone. So, I wanted to use my skills as a space engineer to make an ultra-light machine that’s powerful and totally silent, to explore snowy environments.
IE: How is a Moonbike different from a snowmobile?
NM: It’s three times lighter than a snowmobile and totally silent. And I spent, two or three years of R&D working on the propulsion system. Because on my first prototypes, I used snowmobile technology with a motor and chain, but the efficiency was very low because so many parts created so much friction. To take the torque from [the motor to the treads] wasn’t efficient. My autonomy was very poor. I wasn’t able to climb slopes.
IE: How did you get around the problems with efficiency and torque?
NM: One day I unlocked the backward mode, and I realized that it was much better going backward than forward. When it was going backward, the torque was going from [the back of the tread directly onto the snow or ice].
IE: How did you apply that breakthrough to the current design of the Moonbike?
NM: I wanted to have direct torque on the ground, so I got the idea to use a hub motor and put it at the back of the track. So you have no chain, no belts. [It sits almost] directly on the ground, so the efficiency is much higher, and it’s silent.
IE: Why is efficiency such an important part of the design?
NM: If you want to have an ultra-light machine, it has to be efficient. Otherwise, you will need tons of batteries to have a decent range.
IE: How important are recent developments in battery technology to the Moonbike?
NM: I mean, it has to be a lithium battery. Ten years ago designing a vehicle like this would have been too complicated, but now it’s just a regular lithium-ion battery.
IE: How does the Moonbike handle on the snow?
NM: To turn, you have to lean the bike. It’s not like a snowmobile — you have to lean. It feels like snowboarding or skiing when you go down a hill in powder. But you can go uphill, too. Sometimes people say that it’s like the new snowboard. It’s really like a mix of motorsport and skiing or snowboarding.