The Lightning Story: Chapter 4 – Breaking the 200mph Barrier

In 2011 our first race of the year was the TT Zero at the Isle of Man in Europe.  We had to ship the bike and batteries separate due to the onerous regulations for shipping lithium batteries.  The bike was sent in pieces and the batteries came in direct from the factory so we assembled it on site.  We built the bike in the paddock that week prior to the race.  Some nights we even slept next to the bike.  This first time the bike ran as a complete system was on its way to scrutinizing and tech review.


Finally after three days of nonstop work on the bike, including one rain delay (answering our prayers), the death of one electric teapot (sacrificed when we tested it by discharging the battery) and two burnt fingers… we rolled the bike up to the starting line.  We started third after the two MotoCzysz bikes (last years winner) and our team anxiously watched the times display through the sections.  We finished each section in third place and were consistently gaining on first two bikes but we wanted to conserve battery and pass them in the final stage.  Our rider said he was able to keep pace while only using 25% throttle.  Through the final timed section we noticed that we had fallen off our earlier pace.  One by one we watched the bikes that had been running behind us cross the finish line as we waited for our bike to emerge over the last hill.   Finally we saw John Burroughs our rider running up the last hill pushing our bike escorted by two marshals.   He pushed the bike across the finish line and then we grabbed the bike from him and he collapsed from exhaustion.  As a result of this lack of time for adequate testing, John had completely consumed the energy in our EnerDel pack within a quarter of a mile of the finish line.

2010 Moto bull frnt rear

The Laguna Seca MotoGP was scheduled 6 weeks after the IOM.  Our bike was  delayed clearing Customs and we only retrieved it one week prior to the Laguna race. The Lightning team worked around the clock preparing the bike for the event.  At Laguna we qualified 1.3 seconds ahead of the MotoCzysz bike that had won at the IOM.  Our team rider Michael Barnes got a great start and increased his lead over MotoCzysz each lap.  DejaVu, during the last half of the final lap the announcer noted that the gap was shrinking between each corner.  As Barney came around the last corner he was noticeably slowing.  3 feet before the finish line MotoCzysz passed  for second place.  Once again, we were caught out due to inadequate time for testing.  

We took the lessons that we learned at IOM and Laguna Seca and committed to be well prepared for a run at the World Land Speed Record at Bonneville.  The preparation paid off and we became the fastest production motorcycle in the world.        

We began by working on the bike with Paul Thede at RaceTech in Corona CA.  His crew blueprinted the suspension and the fairing to make sure is was perfect.  Then we drove overnight to Bonneville.  Paul had said “I really don’t want to go back to Bonneville and not break 200mph”.

So on the first run we actually went 202mph and got the equivalent of 50 miles per gallon.  This was the first time Paul had been that fast on a production spec motorcycle.

We were then put in impound and the next day we had to do the return run at 203mph.  That became the current record.  After that we tweaked the bike suspension and fairing and then went out in the afternoon and ran 206mph.  We did this four days in a row… coming back each day and breaking the record each day.

The last day of testing we were stationed in the hanger where they had the Inola Gay and inside there was a replica of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.  It was very moving.

Paul and the team worked on the fairing for three hours in the hanger and tweaked it little by little and then they said it was ready.  We then took the bike out and ran the record speed of 215.907mph (218.637 top speed) and became the fastest production electric motorcycle on the planet.


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