The Asaka R&D Center, Honda R&D's research and development arm for motorcycles (in 2002; now the Motorcycle R&D Center), had a program called the Dream Contest in which associates could submit an application for something they wanted to do, and if their proposal was selected for the "Realize Your Dream Award," the company would help them achieve it.
There were no restrictions on the types of dreams that could be proposed—anything went, such wanting to fly or go spelunking or eat or drink something. Since this was an R&D center, however, most applications were about creating a new technology or realizing a new application for an existing technology. And so hundreds of associates each year submitted applications to the Dream Contest arguing why their dreams were special.
As it turned out, in 2002 three associates submitted three separate applications for the same dream: to create a zero-emissions motorcycle and use the motorcycle to lead a marathon. Their idea was selected for the Realize Your Dream Award and the three winners—Yuji Ono, Kenichiro Ikeda, and Takashi Murayama—were teamed up to make it happen.
Now, the purpose of the Dream Contest was personal development. Although the company provided support in the way of money and use of equipment, recipients had to do the designing and building and other activities during non-work hours. In other words, Dream Contest activities were essentially nothing more than a company-sponsored club. Honda R&D's hope was that helping associates use their knowledge and skills to realize their own dreams would create stronger, better-rounded individuals.
And so the three winners, Ono, Ikeda, and Murayama, gathered outside of work and kicked off the project with a series of discussions.
The three happened to submit the same idea, but once they started talking they realized there were big differences in their motivations.
Ono, looking back on the time when he submitted his application, said: "I competed in marathons and triathlons myself, so I knew what it was like running behind a lead motorcycle. I knew just how much the smell of exhaust can ruin a runner's concentration.
“When competing, runners push their bodies to the limit and experience what's called runner's high. Just a faint whiff of exhaust fumes in this state can throw off your concentration. It can even keep runners from setting new personal records.
“Based on my desire to improve conditions for runners, I proposed an electric motorcycle for leading marathons. In all seriousness, I wanted to create a lead motorcycle that would help set a new world record."
Murayama and Ikeda, meanwhile, had their own reasons for wanting to create an electric lead motorcycle.
"At the time, I (Murayama) was working in a department away from development. Even so, I had this urge to make something with my own hands. And I wanted to see the thing I had made riding around. So I thought, if I made a lead motorcycle, I could watch it on television for a full two hours. I wanted to relieve this feeling of being pent-up at work from not being able to make something. That was the idea."
Murayama also spoke for Ikeda, who was not available for the interview.
"At the time, people started using hybrids made by other companies as official referee vehicles and news vehicles. Although most of the police motorcycles that led marathons were Honda’s, they were also gasoline-powered. Ikeda saw that and thought, 'Why not make our lead motorcycles hybrid or electric too?' There shouldn't be any major technical challenges since the motorcycles would only have to travel 50 km at most, and at a speed of about 20 to 30 km/h. Engineers find it strange to not do something that is technically possible. That's what Ikeda said."
The more they talked, however, the more their goals gravitated toward those of Ono.
"The reality of being a runner himself, his unique perspective as a competitor, and above all his drive to make a motorcycle that would contribute to the setting of a new marathon world record slowly had an effect on me. After a while, I wanted what he wanted," said Murayama.
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