Going into the opening motorcycle road race for the TTXGP North American Championship at Infineon Raceway, I really did not know what to expect. Of course any first race weekend of a new season is full of uncertainty, but with TTXGP being an all new series for "zero-emission" motorcycles with myself riding a one-off prototype with no idea of where myself and my machine would stack up against the competition, you could say that I definitely had more questions than answers leading up to the event.
I knew with our GP-derived chassis we would have an advantage in the corners, but would my lightweight ElectricRaceBikes.com EGP machine have enough power to keep up with the other bikes down the straights? Would it even have enough power to finish the race? How much would I have to conserve power during the race to make it to the finish?
Practice sessions before the race consisted of no more than two or three laps at a time for us while working through some new technology, and there was not a long enough practice session to complete a full race distance stint anyway. This meant that teams like ourselves who had not done a race distance test before the weekend would be making their best educated guess on whether or not they would be able to make it to the finish with any juice left in the batteries.
The ElectricRaceBikes.com team made all their calculations and assured me that if I followed their instructions regarding my use of power during the race that the bike would make it to the finish. Of course I was confident in their computations, but without actually testing over the full 25-mile race distance, I think it is safe to say that none of us were completely sure that we would have enough battery life, especially during race conditions.
So, "What is it like to ride an electric bike?" seemed to be the question I was asked over and over during the weekend. This was usually followed by "Isn’t it weird without any noise?" As far as the noise goes, I really didn’t notice that much after the first lap or two on the bike.
Since you still get wind noise and a little noise and vibration from the motor, the sensation isn’t as different from a normal bike as you would think. There are so many other things about riding an electric bike that are just different than any other bike I have ridden that the noise issue was one of the last things that was weird to me.
Differences from a gas-powered bike that were the first things I noticed more concerned power delivery, handling characteristics, controls and gauges that I needed to monitor while riding. The power delivery is very linear, and since there is no transmission, the bike just pulls hard from a stop all the way up to its top speed.
The more interesting part is what happens when you let off the throttle, which makes the bike freewheel with no feeling of engine braking whatsoever. I quickly learned with all the hills at Infineon that there were certain sections of the track where it was actually faster to simply coast down the hill than to power down it, since I didn’t have the drag of the dual Agni motors, which also saved battery.
The ElectricRaceBikes.com EGP is based on a TZ250 chassis, so the handling is actually extremely good. Unlike most of the other teams, we had no ground clearance issues whatsoever, and I could lean the EGP over as far as I wanted. Although it holds more weight with the batteries and motors and controller than it would with the internal combustion two-stroke 250cc engine it was originally designed for, it actually feels lighter while changing direction on the track.
This I am guessing is because while there is a shaft spinning in approximately the same location that the crankshaft would normally be, there are no pistons going up and down at over 10,000rpm with the associated gyroscopic force to overcome while turning.
Not having a clutch lever on the left handlebar was another difference that was actually easy to get used to, but what wasn’t easy to adjust to was having to monitor all the gauges that I needed to while riding to make sure I wasn’t stressing the motors and batteries too much. Having raced two-strokes in the past, I am accustomed to having to monitor things like rpm at certain sections of the track and water temperature, but the number of things I needed to keep track of on the instrument panel of the EGP was somewhat overwhelming, especially considering one of the major things I needed to keep track of was my amp usage at all times.
This meant watching a tiny number on the digital screen while dragging my knee on the ground at speeds reaching the century mark, and then backing off the throttle slightly when this number exceeded the predetermined mark, regardless of whether or not I actually needed to be on the throttle to finish the turn.
After qualifying the EGP in fourth position, which put us on the outside of the second row, I was fairly confident of at least a podium finish. While the top two bikes had basically ten seconds per lap on us, we were right on the heels of the Norton-based machine ridden by Thad Wolff that qualified third, and I knew we had a little more speed left for the race.
Plus I wasn’t getting beat by a chassis older than me! The start of the race was actually the weirdest part of the whole weekend for me. Without any type of warm-up or sighting lap in order to save battery for the eleven-lap race, we all just lined up on the grid, and once the marshals cleared the grid, it got really quiet. While normally you would hear the racers revving their motors up as the #1 board goes up and then goes sideways, all I could hear was complete silence from the crowd and the bikes next to me. I think I actually started making "vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom" noises in my head, and then the green flag flew and I took off like the wind, literally.
I got a really good jump but was overwhelmed by Michael Barnes on the Lightning and Wolff on the Norton on the way up the hill to turn two, and then Shawn Higbee snuck by me going up to turn three. From there for the next few corners we actually had a race, as all four of us swapped positions a few times, with myself using the handling advantage of the EGP to ride around the outside of Wolff in the carousel, only to get motored back again up to turn seven. I quickly realized that the top two were going to clear off and have their own race, while my battle would be for third.
I knew if I could ride hard enough through the corners to keep the pressure on, maybe I could stay close enough to force Wolff to override his machine and risk a DNF, or at least have to slow down to make it to the finish. Sure enough, it happened much sooner than I thought, when on the third lap Wolff pulled off the track with a broken bike.
I looked behind and saw I had a pretty good gap to the next guy behind, which I maintained for a couple laps until one time I looked back and no one was there. The rest of the race was spent keeping track of the gauges and making sure I wasn’t overstressing the package so that I could be assured to make it to the finish, which was actually more stressful than battling with other riders normally is.
The ElectricRaceBikes.com team’s calculations were spot-on, and the EGP made it to the finish without missing a beat, crossing the line third, for a spot on the very first podium ever for an electric motorcycle road race in the United States!
Special thanks to: ElectricRaceBikes.com, Sevcon, GP Frame and Wheel, Epic Engineering, SuperPlush Suspension, Dunlop, Arai, SHIFT, Epic Images, and D&W Images.Google+