by Jerry ElengicalDec 12, 2021
Since 2015, Germany-based motorcycle builder Hookie is possibly best known for seamlessly integrating a custom bike shop, a free-spirited design office, and a creative hub. To capture the spirit of modern individualists, both aesthetically and functionally, their products have been generally panned as ‘game changers’. Founders Sylvia and Nico Müller and their team are known to combine the quality of traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design concepts and processes to create innovative new designs. Following their modular Moto Kits, the motorcycle think tank has developed a drivable lunar exploration vehicle. The prototype, titled Tardigrade, in many ways encapsulates humanity's utopian desires to colonise the solar system.
Inspired by Russian artist Andrew Fabishevskiy’s digital work, Sylvia and Nico kept thinking about the idea of a two-wheeled moon rover. After Fabishevskiy’s approval, the studio began prototyping the idea. Over nine months, the playful thought experiment turned into a highly innovative vehicle. As the world’s first proposed space bike, Tardigrade was just a virtual idea and had no set template, function or scale to work with. Hookie had to start from scratch. Müller reaffirms the studio approach saying, “Because Hookie stands for courage, community and inspiration. We love to take routes off the beaten track.”
The name of this lunar vehicle comes from a microscopic organism that is capable of surviving in outer space. Known for its ability to survive under extreme conditions, Tardigrade seemed like an appropriate name for this two-wheeled bike. For Hookie, this also acts as a symbol of empowerment that ignores the earth beyond borders and stereotypes. The project envisions a world where it is not just NASA exploring the lunar craters. It references space design beyond space stations and satellites but one that is perhaps closer to the experience one has only seen in science fiction TV shows.
The framework and detailing of the bike’s exoskeleton required an incredible amount of work. As there was no template to work from, many of the details had to be specially designed and formulated. The resulting design features an invisible frame made of 10 millimetres thin, laser-cut aluminium with a sturdy exoskeleton made of tubing wrapped around this frame. Kevlar with an aluminium coating protects the sensitive drive-in space from cold, radiation or impacts. The material was acquired from NASA supplier DuPont. The space motorcycle suit is created by Karsten Merz and follows the same idea as well. Mudguards, panels and the inlays for the rims are 3D-printed from UV-resistant thermoplastics.
The biggest challenge was the construction of two highly innovative balloon wheels. Ultimately, the ultra-light, 24x7-inch alloy wheels were made in several parts. They consist of five millimetres thin, star-shaped spokes and carry an overall weight of about 140 kilograms with ease. Developing the airless tires proved to be quite a challenge and finding a supplier proved to be a challenge. Hookie chose to develop the tires themselves based on the required specifications. By 3D-printing 12 polyurethane tread modules for each wheel, the team was able to secure the rims. This not only met the needs for Tardigrade, but also enabled a new tire system that allows damaged parts of the tire to be replaced, instead of the whole tire itself. This adds another element of sustainability to the entire concept.
Designing an off-world lunar bike is one thing. Making it actually work and perform is another. To realise a project of this scale, Hookie partnered with PURAGLOBE to use their e-lubricant, Syntainics. The idea and vision of the Tardigrade project caught the attention of Andreas Schüppel, the President and CEO of PURAGLOBE. Schüppel explained, “Developing our cutting-edge technology to transform used oil into new sustainable motor oils has taken decades of meticulous research and engineering. So, we know a thing or two about persistence and vision. It’s something we can appreciate. And it’s just one of the reasons that we are proud to be a partner of Hookie’s visionary Tardigrade project.”
It is important to remember that Tardigrade is the result of collaboration, technology, and sustainability, bound by the spirit of adventure and innovation. Hookie’s Tardigrade is a part of the ADV:Overland exhibition in the Petersen Museum, California.