TTXGP eGRAND PRIX – Electric Bikes
Round 4 & 5 of the Parts Canada Superbike Series at Mosport was a historic first for Canadian motorcycle road racing. Mosport has had many firsts in it’s long and distinguished history. To that they can add another first.
A field of 5 all electric motorcycles took to the historic 2.459 mile circuit to compete in the country’s first such event. One may well ask, was this a “gimmick”? From my perspective it was no gimmick. This was a serious race with impressive results.
The winning Lightning Motorcycle bike, a work in progress, as all of the entrants in this emerging technology, completed 8 laps, 31.656 km in 12:55.8 for an average lap time of 1:36.9 with a best lap time of 1:35.3. To put this in perspective, the best lap for the Lightning Motorcycle entry was only 14.2 seconds slower than Jordan Szokes best lap in the Pro Superbike race in Round 5.
What strikes one watching and listening to this event is the lack of familiar sounds (and smells). The bikes look traditional enough, but the sound, or lack thereof is the immediate sensory distinction. The roar or high pitched triple decibel, ringing in the ears inducing sounds of the traditional gasoline powered bikes is gone. It is replaced with a new sound, a hushed whine as the bike approaches, then a somewhat higher pitched more pronounced sound that can only be described as a swarm of bees travelling at 150 mph as they whiz by you. The ear plugs were not needed for this race. The announcer mentioned something to the effect that it should be easier for spectators to follow the action as he put it, “because you can actually hear me”.
After the race and traditional trophy presentations, I had a chance to speak with Richard Hatfield, the driving force at Lightning Motorcycle (www.lightningmotorcycle.com ). I asked how long he has been racing. The answer was a little surprising, last year they had 1 race and this year they were planning a full season. Mosport was the 3rd race of the TTXGP North American series. The best in class will be invited to the world championship race in Spain this October. A few races and they were already posting respectable lap times. It begs the question, how far and how fast can this technology develop to the point that it is a contender to the dominance of traditional racing? To be sure, there are significant technological hurdles, but Sunday’s action and results speak to a new era in motorcycle racing and motorcycle technology in general.
The biggest challenge is clearly the battery that is at the heart of the machine. Lightning was using a lithium-ion cell from A123 Systems (www.a123systems.com), one of the world leaders in battery technology. The goal is more power with less weight. Even with its advanced battery pack, the Lightning bike weighed in at over 500 lbs, with over half that weight in the battery pack alone. This compares with 376 lbs for Szoke’s CBR1000RR and 406 lbs for Martin’s BMW S1000RR. Continuing advances in battery technology, advanced electronics and circuits will no doubt narrow the gap, but it will take significant effort, dedication and investment by pioneers like Richard Hatfield of Lightning Motorcycles. Another telling aspect of this revolution is the cost of energy to run the 8 lap race. Apparently, it took the equivalent of about 1/3 of a gallon of gasoline to power the Lightning bike for the 8 lap race. 1/3 of a gallon, and with no emissions from that 1/3 gallon of gas (assuming the energy was generated by renewable sources such as hydro). That is about 1.3 liters. At $1.60 / liter for racing fuel it would be around $2.08! Energy costs should be way down the list of expenses in future electric bike racing budgets.
Perhaps next year we will be reporting on the first mixed gasoline-electric motorcycle race, or even a win for an electric in such a head to head competition? I doubt it, but beyond next year, all bets are off. Stay tuned…
© RIF | Mike Vanic