Over the last week on the Bonneville Salt Flats saw the Lightning Motors team led by Richard Hatfield speed testing an electric motorcycle. Their efforts culminated in a recorded 166 miles/hr speed run on Saturday, Oct 10, 2009, leapfrogging an earlier speed record established by Mission Motors. Lightning Motors had intended to take this motorcycle to the TTXGP race earlier this year but it wasn’t ready in time. Additionally this is not a one-off project to set land speed records, but it is the prototype for a street legal production bike they expect to bring to market during 2010. During August two other teams set very fast speeds on the salt flats. The current outright electric motorcycle speed record stands at 176.434 mph set by Kent Riches. Mission Motors set a speed of 151 miles/hr using a prototype of their Mission One bike.
Clearly the world of electric motorcycles is heating up. Brammo, Electric Motorsport and others are beginning production of street legal electric motorcycles. The TTXGP and other race series, such as these races on the salt flats, are offering a proving ground for electric vehicle technology. The technological development that provided this tipping point is the lithium based battery chemistry becoming good enough for use in powerful electric vehicles. Earlier EV’s used lead-acid or NiMH battery packs with lower energy density resulting in being able to carry less total energy than can todays lithium based battery packs. More total energy means the vehicle can go faster and/or longer than previous generations of EV. As the total onboard energy increases we’ll see electric vehicles capabilities continue to increase.
Richard Hatfield believes his motorcycle will go 200 miles per hour, well in excess of the speed record set in August. The motorcycle uses a dustbin fairing which gives great aerodynamics, a battery pack made of cells from A123Systems, and a very rare motor salvaged from an EV1. A123Systems is a battery maker whose cells are used in other high speed electric vehicles such as the KillaCycle electric drag bike, and are used in plug-in prius conversions from Hymotion (a subsidiary of A123Systems).
Unfortunately the best laid plans went a little astray. The aerodynamics offered by fairings like the dustbin style mean for great efficiency and speed improvements over typical race bike fairings. Unfortunately dustbin fairing was deemed illegal by the officials in charge. Fortunately they brought along a normal sport bike fairing to put on the bike.
After several speed runs with different combinations of fairings and controller settings they had some great speed runs. In the end, on the 10th, they recorded a speed of 164 miles/hr with no fairing at all, and another speed of 166 miles/hr with a normal sport bike fairing. This is faster than the speeds posted by Mission Motors and within 10 miles/hr of the existing record. The current lineup of fastest electric motorcycles is now: #1 Kent Riches/Southern Utah State machine High Voltage, with a verified 176 mph. #2 is the Lightning Motors bike discussed in this article. It is, as well, the fastest production-intent electric motorcycle. #3 is the Mission One owned by Mission Motorcycles.
UPDATE: Clarified above the date of setting the record. One key takeaway is that the motorcycle makers are neck and neck, perhaps Lightning Motors is faster today but they could be playing leapfrog with each other for years to come. It’s a great achievement for all three teams any way you slice it.
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