I have ridden several electric motorcycles, but never one at the track, so I anticipated the Lightning LS-218 would be a bit different. This particular machine was actually slated for customer delivery and, looking at the exquisitely fabricated carbon-fiber bodywork, I was acutely aware that crashing this bad boy was not an option.That would clearly be a challenge, as I had just been informed that the bike had hit a whopping 244 horsepower on the dyno, and an almost unheard of 230 ft/lbs of torque from the liquid-cooled IPM motor. Clearly, the Öhlins suspension would help, but, in essence, it would all come down to the Lightning controller and its ability to give me a good throttle connection.
The LS-218 is not a commuter, but the riding position is not uncomfortable. Pulling away from the pits (there’s no clutch lever — just twist ’n’ go), I was struck by how elegantly the power streamed in. It is a beautifully easy bike to ride with firm damping and neutral handling; chassis feedback is excellent.Weighing in at a creditable 495 pounds, the LS-218 is closing in on the weight of a typical superbike. The existing 12-kilowatt/hour battery pack is heavy, though Lightning Motorcycles CEO Richard Hatfield tells me that they are testing several new battery types that will hold over three times the current capacity.That would give the Lightning a range of almost 200 miles — currently around 65 miles at the track. However, more likely the new battery would have a 100-mile range with half the weight. For charging, the LS-218 can be plugged into any 110-volt socket; with the optional charger plugged into a 220-volt outlet, refill time is only about an hour.Lightning eschewed any kind of reduction gearing because, as Hatfield explains, “It adds weight, noise, and at least 10-percent in drivetrain power loss.” So, happily, the typical electric jet-turbine-like whine was absent.With the current gearing of 184 mph, the rear sprocket is quite large and a little unsightly—a small price to pay for the upside.Coming out of Buttonwillow Raceway Park’s final turn and onto the front straight, I felt confident enough in the LS-218’s controller to aggressively hit the throttle. The front wheel lifted immediately, but such was the fluid delivery of power that I was able to modulate the wheelie easily; I floated the front wheel six inches off the tarmac for a long time with no problem.Did it feel fast? Yes, of course, it felt incredibly fast; strangely, it didn’t feel insane. The LS-218 simply accelerated as hard as I desired up to its maximum speed, with no hesitation, lurching, or discernible powerband. Actually, it was all powerband.Hatfield’s stated goal is to “build an electric motorcycle that rivals the best gas motorcycles in the world,” and he chose competition as the place to develop it.His strategy has paid off. Remarkably, Lightning motorcycles have dominated racing to the point where the company has won almost every race it has entered. At Pikes Peak two years ago, Lightning won by over 20 seconds. The LS-218 is also a Bonneville record holder at over 215 mph.I was impressed with the Lightning’s build quality and enthralled with its rideability. The parts list is impressive, with Brembo brakes and Marchesini forged magnesium wheels. It is as powerful as you want, and as controllable as you need. Hatfield has taken everything he has learned in the last nine years of competition and put it into the Lightning bikes.The Lightning LS-218 is still pricey at $38,888, but it is a much better performer than any other electric motorcycle I have ridden.Riding Style:
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.