Racing improves the breed: that’s just a fact. Almost as soon as there were motorcycles, there were motorcycle races, and that desire to win pushed motorcycle manufacturers, engineers and designers to build better, faster, more reliable motorcycles to keep them a split second ahead of the competition. As a result, the leaps and bounds motorcycle development has made in the last 120 years is remarkable, and the massive improvements over the last three decades is nothing less than incredible.
But those improvements—a doubling of power, adoption of vehicle electronics, great strides in tire technology—seem like new paint and graphics compared to what’s happened with electric motorcycles in just the last year and a half. In 2008, Azar Hussein (who has a company, Mavizen, that builds and rents electric racebikes) announced the inaugural TTXGP, the first all-electric motorcycle race at the 2009 Isle of Man TT. A surprising number of teams entered, and though the first-place finisher, the Agni team posted an average speed close to the 50cc lap record, the performance of the prototype machinery wasn’t exactly the death-defying breakneck speeds moto-race fans expect.
For 2010 (now referred to as TT Zero), we’re much closer to electric motorsport being an exciting thing to watch at the Isle of Man. The MotoCzysz entry (which failed to complete the race last year), piloted by Californian Mark Miller, absolutely smoked (or should we say zapped?) the competition, hitting speeds up to 140 mph and finishing with an average lap speed of almost 97 mph. But it wasn’t just the innovative and heavily developed MotoCzysz E1pc that showed huge improvements: the two Agni 01 machines (ridden by Robert Barber and Jenny Tinmouth) and the ManTTX ridden by James McBride ran speeds close to 90 mph, better than the first-place-finishing Agni in the 2009 event. And there was even some dicing action as Tinmouth and McBride battled it out for third place.
Key to the MotoCzysz victory is Czysz’s proprietary electric motor. Gone are the days of bolting a washing-machine motor into a GSX-R rolling chassis; the Czysz D1-10 uses liquid-cooling and brushless, interior permanent magnet to produce around 250 foot-pounds of torque and over 100 horsepower at the rear wheel. The whole assembly—including mounting plates and pump—weighs in at just 77 pounds and is compact enough to tuck under the swingarm, leaving room for the 200 pounds of battery cells. With the right power source (and granted, that’s a huge caveat with today’s technology, but massive strides have been made there as well), a middleweight sportbike would have a hard time keeping up with a Czysz, especially combined with the unique chassis we told you about last year. Just like Czysz told me in the interview, the E1pc is on its way to meeting the design brief: 115 hp and a 150 mph top speed. I was skeptical listening to Michael on the phone a year ago, but I’m not now.
Okay, the technology is there, but what about the main objection gear-heads have about e-motos, the almost total lack of sound from the bikes? I’m not a fan of noisy motorcycles, but the sound of a roaring V-Twin or shriek of a boiling inline-Four has its place. Well, the Czysz may have that handled too: watch this video of the D1-10 on the dyno and tell me electric motors are boring.
Will the angry whistling of high-tech electric motors stir the hearts of race fans enough to get mass acceptance of electric motorcycles and motorcycle racing? Maybe not from the guys living today, but they don’t yearn for the burbling cacophony of early board-track racers or the clatter of hooves on cobblestones, either. The next generation of race fans will love that whistling, and long for its return when electric bikes are replaced by atomo-nucleotide hoversleds in 2045.