The TTXGP Electric Motorcycle Racing series is dead, why is it still important?

Yesterday I posted a very long (nearly 10000 words) piece summarizing the TTXGP’s history.  It took over 24 hours of effort to sift through all my old news reporting and pictures, to construct the summary.  All that work for a dead electric motorcycle racing series may sound like I’ve lost my mind.

In 2009 electric vehicles, whether they had two wheels, three wheels, four wheels or more, were pigeon-holed as slow boring ugly golf carts.  If that stereotype stood unchallenged we’d never convince anyone to buy into electric vehicle ownership.  Among the ownership hurdles, that stereotype looms large even if it never shows up on marketing surveys (that instead focus on the price and range anxiety issues).

Among those who recognized the need to destroy the slow-boring-ugly-golf-cart meme was Tesla Motors.  The company focuses on high performance great looking electric cars for a reason – to blow up the stereotypes.  To a large extent the Tesla Roadster opened the door for all the other electric cars to go on sale.

In the motorcycle world the way to make fun of someones ride is to call it a scooter.  When Chip Yates in late 2010 announced he was pulling out of the TTXGP, he claimed they were promoting electric scooters not proper electric superbikes.  He’d built for himself a bike he claimed would perform as a real superbike – though, since it didn’t get enough proper track racing action we don’t know if his boast was true or fiction.  In any case, there’s the stereotype again – slow, boring, ugly, scooters (rather than golf carts).

Not that there’s anything really wrong with scooters.  Like golf carts they serve a specific purpose, and in many countries they’re a prevalent vehicle class.  But at the same time many many many motorcyclists look to motorcycle racers for a clue about the sort of bike to ride.

This pattern is stronger for motorcycles than for cars.  The sports car is fairly rare on American roads, but the sport bike looking like a race bike is fairly common.

That means to make some headway with electric motorcycles, the stereotype has to be blown to smithereens.

In 2009 the electric two wheelers for sale topped out at around 60 miles/hr, with the Vectrix (a scooter).  Brammo’s bike at the time, the Enertia, topped out under 50 miles/hr, and Zero wasn’t selling a street legal bike yet.  Some conversion bikes with higher power existed – such as the entrants in the 2009 TTXGP on the Isle of Man.

During the 2010 TTXGP/FIM e-Power season, the majority of the worlds fleet of high powered electric motorcycles at that time were being raced in that very series.  When the e-Power event was held at Laguna Seca that summer, there were 12 teams and therefore less than 15 bikes.  That handful of bikes constituted the majority of high powered electric motorcycles in existence in the world at that time.

That’s what we were up against in 2009-2010:  A motorcycling world deaf to the potential of electric motorcycles, and no manufacturers of high powered electric motorcycles meaning every single one was a one-off prototype bike.  That’s the conversation I had with Charles Hennekam (FIM) on the Laguna Seca tarmac that weekend.

Today, the electric motorcycle world is very different.  You can buy 100+ miles/hr electric motorcycles from multiple manufacturers for performance comparable to the 250-450cc bikes, and you can even buy a 200+ miles/hr electric motorcycle if you want the fastest motorcycle (gas or electric) on the planet.  These are proper manufactured electric motorcycles you can take to the DMV for registration and get insurance and get warranty support from the dealer or manufacturer.  And, there is a growing list of manufacturers who’ve announced bikes they’re still developing but haven’t put on sale yet.

What happened between 2009-2010 and today (2015)?

Today’s scene may have happened naturally simply due to improving technology.  But let me suggest that the TTXGP, TT ZERO, and e-Power racing series played a big role.  These racing series’ gave the manufacturers incentive to do rapid R&D, and a playground in which to test what they’d designed.

At the moment the electric motorcycle racing scene is in trouble.  The TT ZERO and Pikes Peak events are the most visible venue, and while they’re both epic racing events they happen only once a year.  Otherwise there are some small scale club racing series like eMotoRacing and the M1GP in North America, and it appears the eFXC series in Australia has continued even after TTXGP abandoned them.

Then there’s the predicted 200+ mile range electric cars due from manufacturers in 2016-2017.  This implies the battery makers have achieved an energy density increase.  While that’s great for electric cars, it could also be great for electric motorcycles.  Riding range at race speed is the last issue keeping the top end electric bikes from being directly competitive with gas bike racing.  TTXGP races were limited to 20-25 miles length while AMA Superbike races were 55 miles or so length.  It implies an electric superbike with 30+ kiloWatt-hours battery capacity might be able to run at race speed for enough distance to compete in such a race.

I’m getting out on a limb, but in 2-4 years time electric motorcycles with vastly improved speed/range could be on the market just as we’re expecting 200+ mile range electric cars.

But we have to return to the fact that most motorcyclists look at motorcycle racers to see what to ride.  What if there’s no high end high visibility electric motorcycle racing series in existence?  Where will motorcycle riders get a clue about electric bikes?

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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