There are two separate Shredder devices, but they're obviously quite closely related, love children of a Segway and an Abrams tank -- Johnny 5 with a skate deck. They're both jet skis for the sand, but one is rather more menacing than the other. The "Sport" edition is powered by a 250cc engine ripped from a go-kart and situated beneath an over-sized skate deck, complete with grip tape. That engine is connected to the company's patented dual-CVT differential, which evenly splits power between the two treads. Unlike a tank you don't have to brake the inside strap to turn, so there's no loss of power.
Good thing, as there's not a lot on offer, between 15 and 20hp depending on who you ask. That pretty light, even for a 250cc motor, but thankfully it doesn't have much weight to move: just 160 pounds -- plus your sorry self. The lack of power helps to make it all rather easier to ride, a good thing for those who don't like broken arms and scraped up knees.
Step up to the big boy military version and it all gets a bit more serious. Despite a carbon fiber deck and composite construction it's 90 pounds heavier, for one thing, a slew of batteries and electronics adding their heft. The drivetrain here is completely different from the Sport, relying on a small rotary engine that again comes from a kart. Here it's been fuel-injected and turbocharged, putting down about 30 horsepower.
But, that doesn't go to the treads. It's instead used to charge the onboard battery packs, which in turn provide the juice to dual 20kW motors, one per tread. This has a few crucial improvements, most notable being that the machine can now power each tread completely independently. It also means the thing can run purely on battery power and, while the team still doesn't know just how far it can go, they estimate about an hour's worth of silent running is possible.
If you don't care about making noise the rotary engine can be spun up to recharge the batteries. Or, for when you absolutely have to get out of Dodge ASAP, electricity coming from the rotary engine and the batteries can both be directed to the motors to provide more power -- and more danger to the occupant.
All that is controlled by an Arduino Mega board, which handles the throttle and steering inputs. This is a pure fly-by-wire ride, killing the mechanical connection between what you're doing and how the system behaves. That's a good or a bad thing depending on how well you trust the machines, but it does enable the device to drive itself and even follow somebody around. That, again, is good or bad depending on that level of trust.
The team of braniacs from BPG Werks and Air Force Academy cadets were gathered in New Mexico ahead of a military competition in which the Shredder would be competing for a contract. The device had been hauled down from its home base in the Toronto, Ontario area. Some customs confusion caused a delay in arrival, in which a border patrol guard did what he thought was right by preventing what could only be the beginning of a Terminator invasion from reaching American shores.
He was eventually satisfied but the delay meant time was precious. The Military version was still being bolted and soldered together when we took the Sport out to some dunes to play. For a few hours we crashed over jumps, buzzed around dry riverbeds, and in general caused confusion amongst the many ATV and dirt bike riders.
Riding the Shredder Sport is definitely an odd sensation, a bit like a harsh stand-up jetski with a somewhat more painful penalty for falling. Thankfully it's generally easy to just hop off the side when it all starts to get weird, which it did a few times.
The biggest thing to get used to here is that you can't turn without power, which is again like your average jet ski. Here, though, turning is activated by leaning from side to side on the big skate deck. So, you have to hang off and really crank the throttle, which definitely takes some practice.
Figure it out we did and, once mastered, we started having a lot of fun. Sure, the brakes don't really work and the throttle cable stuck on us once, which was a little disconcerting. But, despite the lack of grunt, motoring around on this treaded terror is a blast. Mind you, this is still very much a prototype that, by the time it starts showing up at powersports dealers, ought to be far more refined and easier to ride.
Our experience on the Military version was, sadly, far more limited. The team did finally get everything affixed into place and compiled into memory in time for us to take it for a quick spin, but we could only run it in "stealth" mode, relying on battery power and at 40 percent maximum power. Plus the steering was still having problems. Basically, we couldn't turn.
Still, riding the Military version -- even mostly in alternating straight lines -- was quite an experience. The extra size gives it much more stability and, despite cruising in stealth mode, it felt more powerful and accelerated smoothly than the Sport. It's quiet, too, without the nasty vibrations the other model uses to tenderize your feet and mitts.
Even when not running in full-form, the Shredder is an impressive piece of machinery, an opinion echoed by the US armed forces, which granted the BPG Werks team a victory in its competition. What happens next to the brawnier version is entirely up to the whims of the military, but if all goes well it could be on battlefields by the end of the year.
We're thinking of enlisting in the hopes of getting another ride, but the safer bet is to wait for the Sport edition to hit powersport dealers. Pricing is expected to be somewhere south of $3,500, but that's liable to change between now and 2012. Sure, you could get yourself a proper dirtbike for that kind of money, but only the Shredder will have you storming into the coming apocalypse with this kind of Mad Max style.