CAKE Is Going to Build the Cleanest Dirt Bike Ever

Going fossil free isn't just about how things are powered. It's about removing fossil fuels from how things are sourced, made, transported, and assembled.

Cube in park
CAKE bike in cube of CO2.

Jakob Ihre

Embodied Carbon Emissions, or Upfront Carbon Emissions, as we prefer to call them, are greenhouse gases released during the making of a product before it is delivered to a customer. Most manufacturers or customers pay little attention to them; operating emissions were important in a fossil-fuel-powered world. 

One manufacturer paying a lot of attention is the Swedish electric motorcycle company CAKE. It has joined with European energy company Vattenfall to build what they call the world's cleanest motorcycle by 2025. Vattenfall's head of corporate sustainability, Annika Ramsköld, summarizes the problem of upfront carbon: "Going fossil free isn't just about how things are powered, it's about removing fossil fuels from how things are sourced, made, transported, and assembled. So while electric vehicles are a great start, we need to go further."

Cake Dirtbike
Kalk OR Dirtbike.


We have discussed it many times on Treehugger, particularly concerning electric cars and trucks. It's one reason we like e-bikes, including CAKE's Åik. Just going from four wheels to two dramatically cuts the upfront carbon because there is so much less stuff. That's why the Kalk electric motorcycle has upfront carbon of only 1.186 metric tons, compared to a midsize car's 15 metric tons.

But that's not good enough for CAKE; they want to reduce it to as close to zero as possible. CEO Stefan Ytterborn says, "Fossil fuel free vehicles means greenwash until the entire production part has been decarbonized, regardless of the fuel they are running on."

One of the hardest parts of a project like this is to explain it to the public, which can have trouble visualizing carbon dioxide. In my upcoming book on upfront carbon, I am considering using Acme anvils from Road Runner cartoons to demonstrate the weight of the CO2; my MacBook Pro is two anvils. CAKE recognizes the problem and takes a different approach:

So how much is 1,186 kg CO2e? Buzzwords like carbon footprint and environmental impact when talking about our bike, and products in general, may be abstract for the general public to understand. To bridge this gap, CAKE and Vattenfall launched THE CUBE to visualize the equivalent volume of carbon dioxide, 1,186 kg CO2e, that the CAKE Kalk bike emits during production, and thus what the project aims to reduce to zero.
bike hanging in cube

Jacob Ihre

The company uses volume to represent visually the cloud of CO2 and hangs a Kalk OR inside a smoky cube enclosing 637 cubic meters of CO2, equivalent to 1.186 metric tons at sea level.

CAKE goes into considerable detail about how they will be decarbonizing their bike:



"CAKE and Vattenfall's first action was to literally disassemble a Kalk OR, resulting in just north of 100 assembled components lying in front of us. Which in turn, are made up of +2000 smaller parts. Each of these parts have a history and more importantly, an environmental footprint." 

They followed the transportation of every component because, "just as the coffee you had this morning has traveled long and far to reach your cup, all components that make up a CAKE bike come from somewhere in the world."

Process detail


For those who want to seriously go down the rabbit hole, CAKE provides detail of their Life Cycle Assessment. "Every single component starting from the bike's frame to single screw's origin and detailed manufacturing plan was documented. A distinction was drawn between the data provided by the producer and the generic data offered by various databases."

They came up against the problem that vexes many who try to do this kind of investigation: "As the Cleanest Dirt Bike Ever project involves global suppliers and partners, it is difficult and sometimes nearly impossible to get primary data, due to the complex global supply chain and some assumptions that need to be made."

It is also difficult to clean up that global supply chain. If CAKE were the size of Volvo, they might be able to get suppliers to change their methods and materials, but CAKE sees limits to what they can do:

"We've looked into two separate pathways to move forward. At first, we investigated the feasibility of treating each component separately. This entailed tracking the entire supply chain of each individual part, a sobering process that we eventually learned could be greatly simplified by not focusing on the end product—in this case specific parts—but rather tackling the materials used to make said parts."

So instead, they are concentrating on the four main materials in the bikes—aluminum, steel, plastic, and rubber—and somehow "finding the ultimate solution for each. We realized that we could leapfrog the process and offer clean, viable materials for our part manufacturers to use when making their components, instead of individually developing their emission-free supply chains."

I have asked for clarification on this, but it appears that the complexity of cleaning up the supply chain is overwhelming. Aluminum is 24% of the bike's footprint, which can be cleaned up relatively easily these days with hydroelectric-powered smelters and the new inert anode technology. Virtually zero-carbon steel can be found right in Sweden with HYBRIT. But 62% of the bike's footprint comes from the motor, battery, controller, brakes, and suspension, all made by outside suppliers located all over the world. CAKE will have a lot of trouble making much of a dent in that.

Factsheet shoing carbon cubes


Ultimately, the answer is how much stuff goes into your vehicle. The CAKE Kalk OR bike has between a tenth and a twentieth of the upfront carbon of an electric car. This is where CAKE's work is so important; when people finally understand the importance of upfront carbon emissions—the size of the carbon cube around everything—they may well realize that the most important choice they can make is not to drive a car in the first place. As CAKE notes succinctly:

"Zero-emissions while driving (any electric vehicle) will not save our home planet, it is also about the product itself, its materials, production processes, logistics, and not least its end of life. To put it simple, we need to use less resources, use them longer and keep them circulating."