Harleys they're not, and that's just fine. This weekend the zero-carbon racing circuit marks the debut of electric motorcycle road racing on American soil at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma County, Calif. The races, known as the eGrandPrix, are happening under the auspices of TTXGP (Time Trial Xtreme Grand Prix).
The founder of the eGrandPrix, Azhar Hussain, is an entrepreneur with a history in the electronics industry and interest in electric motorcycles. He lays claim to the world's first zero-carbon, clean-emission motorcycle race, which took place on the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom in June 2009.
Caption:CNET Reviews staffPhoto:James Martin/CNET
The eGrandPrix is open to any zero-carbon-emissions motorcycle, says Hussein, including other alternative power sources such as hydrogen or solar. So far, though, the entries in the circuit have only been electric bikes.
Patrick Schindler of team Mavizen says that battery management is one of the most crucial aspects of racing electric vehicles. Schindler developed his own software and battery management system to figure out how to control the charging and energy distribution to his advantage.
Many variables go into the management of batteries, Schindler says, along with the type of battery. He uses 20 lithium polymer cells in series, a setup he says gives the best power-to-weight ratio.
The LTC 6802 chip is an all-in-one processor made by Linear Technology that provides a powerful platform on which teams can build personalized hardware and software for their battery management systems.
Zero Motorcycles, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a favorite to win in the TTGXP electric motorcycle races. Founder Neal
Saiki, a former NASA engineer, decided to go after the motorcycle market after years of designing and engineering mountain bikes.
Among the more home-brewed racing teams, the two members of Square Wave Racing from Columbus, Ohio, have been working together only since February. Their Honda CBR 600 chassis carries 24 lithium iron phosphate batteries, which Square Wave members say are safer to use than the lighter lithium polymer ones used in some electronics, which are known to overheat and occasionally catch fire.
Here, Square Wave driver John Wild, on the right, and Sean Ewing, electrical engineer, work on their bike in the pit on Friday.
Durng the 11-lap race at Infineon Raceway, most of the electric bikes will hit top speeds of around 100 mph.
One of the main challenges in electric motorcycle racing, says driver John Wild, is stuffing enough battery power into the bike frame. The frames that most teams are using were designed for traditional bikes, and fitting in all the batteries while maintaining proper weight distribution and aerodynamics can be challenging.
Currently, all bikes in the TTGXP races compete in the same class, which means that bikes that vary greatly are racing against each other.
Some bikes, for instance, weight just 250 pounds, and favor the quickness and speed of a lighter bike over the weight of having more batteries. Other bikes in the race weigh are loaded with batteries, and weight upwards of 450 pounds, with one bike in this weekend's competition topping 660 pounds.
Volt Motorcycles, based in Sebastopol Calif., is running a low-budget operation, with a motorcycle that costs only around $15,000 to build. Some of the bikes at this race, coming from more established and commercial teams, cost upwards of $45,000.
Built on a Yamaha R1 frame, and powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries made by Sky Energy, Volt's bike has been built entirely from off the shelf parts from Thunderstruck EV.
Patrick Schindler, known in online electric motorcycle communities as "Methods," checks in on his bike's charging prior to a test run on the track at Infineon Raceway on Friday.
The battery management system he developed decides when each of the 20 series batteries has been charged to the maximum levels without degrading or doing any damage to the charge, and cuts it off while moving to the next cell.
The 11-lap, 25-mile race is a challenging distance for these bikes to cover, and maintaining enough charge in the battery to complete the races takes careful work.
The rules for the TTGXP races are decided entirely by the teams themselves, with participants editing an online wiki with their thoughts on rules and fair practices. An official team of judges then edits and decides on the rules before finalizing and making them official.
TTXGP's founder says one of the primary reasons for the wiki approach to the official rules is to allow the TTXGP to keep on the cutting edge of technology and adapt to the fast-moving changes in the field of zero-carbon energy technology.