BMW Simple and Clever Concepts First Look

October 12, 2009
Steve Atlas
Steve Atlas
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Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas is the new blood at MotoUSA. Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

BMW Smart concept
BMW’s “Simple” three-wheel concept vehicle.

BMW has released yet another pair of quirky and cool concept vehicles, this time both are of the three-wheeled urban-commuting form. Both are a cross between car and motorcycle, though leaning far more to the motorcycle side of things. While they may be enclosed to keep the occupant free from the weather, both machines lean and behave like a motorcycle in the corners. You may have though the three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder was a crossover. Not even close compared to BMW’s “Simple” and “Clever” concepts.

While both machines are similar in concept, the “Simple” is, first and foremost, aimed to be lightweight and low on energy. The basic architecture was first designed in 2005, with a running version now ready for display.

“Simple combines features and advantages from both automobiles and motorcycles,” BMW says in a press release on the prototype. “The concept owes its passenger cell to the car, providing protection from wind and weather as well as shielding the driver from exterior noise and offering occupants a high degree of safety in the event of an accident. The motorcycle inspired the slim design of the Simple (at just 43 inches wide) and its configuration for two people sitting one behind the other. Plus it boasts the dynamic driving style typical of a two-wheeler, allowing you to lean into corners as desired. The designation “Simple” is an acronym of the project name: “A Sustainable and Innovative Mobility Product for Low Energy consumption.”

And gull-wing doors...
Gullwing doors. Now that’s a cool feature!

The real standout feature of the Simple, though, is that it rarely uses any hydraulic aid. It only does so when it senses that there is a threat in which the vehicle will become unstable, such as extremely slow driving or at a standstill. Otherwise, it operates totally like a motorcycle, using natural gravity and gyroscopic forces, requiring no artificial energy whatsoever to lean into a corner. This allows weight to remain as low as possible.

Features one wheel in the front and two in the back, yet fully enclosed and self-sustaining when stopped. In fact, mid-corner it’s said to be able to achieve 45 degrees of lean angle – more than enough to put a knee on the pavement on a sportbike. Talk about wild? Imagine being pitched at 45-degrees around a round-about with a roof over year head in shorts and flip-flops, going around the outside of just about any car and most average bikers.

Although engine details remain vague, BMW says all that is needed to power this lightweight vehicle – curb weight approximately 990 lbs – is a 50 horsepower combustion engine. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is said to sub ten seconds and the vehicle has an impeccable drag coefficient of just 0.18. If BMW were to employ the use of an electric motor and combustion engine combination in hybrid form the Simple would need less than a half a gallon of fuel to go over 60 miles, making for 100-plus mpg possibilities. Now that’s Going Green!

As for the “Clever”, which was first seen in original concept from in 2002, it’s a low-emission version of the three-wheeled commuter idea.

BMW Clever concept
BMW’s “Clever” three-wheel concept is designed for low emissions and powered by natural gas.

According to BMW: “CLEVER is the acronym for “Compact Low Emission Vehicle for Urban Transport” and refers to a research project aimed at producing a low-emission, practical city vehicle … Being CLEVER means sitting one behind the other in a three-wheeled vehicle driven by a low-emission natural gas engine.”

Other cool features include two-up passenger seating, one behind the other, so one is able to take a companion when so desired. Sitting roughly nine feet long and just over three feet wide, the Clever is much larger than the simple, a result of it being able to take two people while fitting with amenities such as music player and steering wheel from a BMW Z4 car.

Two-up seating and a roof over your head  yet 45-degree lean angles. Sign us up.
The “Clever” features two-up seating for the ability to take a passenger along for the ride.

As BMW puts it, “When the driver turns the steering wheel a steering transmission with lever arm control transmits the steering commands. This not only prompts the wheel to turn but, depending on speed, also tilts the entire passenger cell into the corner.” No doubt that would feel odd for a while – turning a steering wheel and having the vehicle lean?
Internally, the engine has a CVT automatic transmission mated to a 230cc single-cylinder engine powered by natural gas, the German automaker claiming it will get from 0 to 60 mph in seven seconds; slow for a bike but decent by auto standards. Though top speed is a measly 60 mph, so say clear of the freeways. Plus, range is only 60 miles per natural gas fill-ups, making this an urban-only vehicle.

Quite impressively, though, BMW has employed Formula One technology to make the machine far safer than any motorcycle. The main frame is made of up a “survival cell, while the front wheel and steering ensure a deformation path of some 35 centimeters to absorb sufficient energy in an impact.” This all means it meets Euro NCAP crash test requirements for a small car, even in a frontal collision.

While no plans for production have been announced at this time, both the Simple and Clever are currently on display at the BMW Museum October 9th. Let’s hope reception is strong and they make these bad boys. It may have three wheels but I, for one, want one! I mean, it’s got gullwing doors, seats two in comfort and leans like a motorcycle. I’m sold. Well, maybe…

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