Homologation? What’s That?

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It’s just everything.  If you’re interested in developing a production motorcycle, anyway.

I’m going to dive right into the deep end, and ignore a friend’s advice: “And please don’t write about this before you understand the homologation proces. You will look like a bit of a fool.”  Well, that’s a look I’ve learned to live with, but it’s the first step to learning something, now isn’t it?  

Here’s the deal.  If you want to sell a bike as a production vehicle, you need to get it approved for production, based on safety requirements and other things.  That’s called homologation.  I think we may know that, but there’s a little twist.  The process of homologation begins “before you put a pen to paper”, in the words of my friend.  Now, there’s another cold reality of homologation – it costs in the neighborhood of $1-2 million.  But here’s the kicker.  You can’t kind of retroactively apply homologation to a bike you’ve thrown together.

Here’s the process.  Get an idea, raise $2 million.  Start the homologation process. Design and develop what they like to call an “alpha prototype homologated test motorcycle”.  Make it better, then sell it to the masses in the US and around the world.

Here’s what Mission, MotoCzysz, Roehr, Lightning and many others have done.  Build a bike.  Ride it, race it, set records with it, get a lot of backers.  Try to sell it as a production bike.  Fail, because: not homologated, and not homologatable (because: homologation process was not started at the beginning).  The best that can happen is to sell the bikes at that point as custom bikes in the US, and probably not sell them in the rest of the world.

Why doesn’t anyone talk about this?  Well, for one thing, not many people interested in building bikes understand bringing a vehicle to the mass market.  They understand building bikes.  So they may be well down the road of building a bike before it even occurs to them that they may want to go into production.  It’s part and parcel of the character of a garage builder – build it first and see what you can do.  Unfortunately, that’s not how a product like a motorcycle comes to market.

The homolagation industry itself is pretty insular – whether by accident or design – but either you’re in the middle of it and understand what’s going on, or you don’t (and can’t) much have a clue.  There are companies who specialize in helping companies developing products get through, plan, and test the homolagation process, for example, kind of like a patent lawyer helping you through that particular byzantine nightmare.  Here’s one: FEV, and another: SGS Group.

But this tiny little point is hugely illuminating to the stories of many bikes that seem to spring out of some builder’s garage, show promise to be the next Tesla of Motorcycles, then seem to fizzle out.  Whether you’re looking for investors, or sales, or dealers, or anything else you need to get to a place where the bike is a legit product and can enter the legit production motorcycle market, the first question is, “is it, or is it in the process of being homologated?”

There’s more, but it’s well beyond my scope.  For one thing, homolagation in EVs is a moving target – it’s fast developing and changes constantly.  When people talk about technology settling down before the big companies jump in, that’s a part of what they’re talking about.  They don’t want to sink a ton of resources into a homolated product if, next year, it doesn’t pass the new standards.

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