Electric superbike rolls out to everyday street drivers

Lightning Motorcycles' electric bike -- the first to win the Pikes Peak challenge -- is now ready for your driving pleasure.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Lightning Motorcycles' LS-218 can sprint up to 218 miles-per-hour. Lightning Motorcycles

The Pikes Peak car and motorcycle race is often called the "race to the clouds." It's a harrowing 12.5-mile ascent up one of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks wrapped with 156 turns.

Typically, the winner is driving a Kawasaki, Ducati or Honda. Last year, for the first time, the winner was driving an electric motorcycle.

It was a Lightning Motorcycles bike, and it sped to the top in 10 minutes flat, 21 seconds faster than its gasoline competitors. On the straight-aways, it raced up to 160 miles-per-hour.

That competition was the first year electric motorcycles were allowed to compete in the Pikes Peak challenge, a significant shift in the sports bike competition. Now, these racing bikes are coming to regular customers.

Lightning Motorcycles delivered its $38,000 superbike to its first customer on Tuesday. But just because it's for mere mortals doesn't mean the LS-218, as it's called, is your grandad's motorcycle. It's a sleek, aerodynamic, soundless machine. It doesn't get hot in traffic. It doesn't vibrate.

And, it can hit a speed of 218 miles per hour. Most gasoline sports bikes max out at around 215 miles per hour.

"When I test drove this thing I didn't know what to do with the torque. It was unbelievable," Lightning Motorcycles' first customer Troy Helming said. "I felt like I was going to fly off the back."

This isn't the first electric motorcycle to come onto the scene; dozens of other companies have products on the market or are working on prototypes. But, Lightning Motorcycles' bike has proved to be the fastest. Helming said his previous electric motorcycle couldn't handle much more than 65 miles per hour.

The Lightning Motorcycle isn't the first high-performance electric drive vehicle either. Tesla got its start outfitting Lotus Elise sports cars with specialized electric motors. And much like Tesla helping change people's perceptions about cars, Lightning could do the same for motorcycles, analysts say.

"It upends the prevailing wisdom that going electric sacrifices performance," Parks Associates analyst Jennifer Kent said. "Lightning Motorcycles has proved that electric motorcycles can perform -- or even outperform -- traditional gas bikes. "

Besides speed, the superbike is also more energy efficient than its gas rivals. Helming estimates it will cost him 5 to 7 cents worth of electricity for his daily 25-mile commute. And, a full charge on the LS-218 could give him a range of 90 to 100 miles.

When Lightning Motorcycles CEO Richard Hatfield handed off the bike's keys to Helming on Tuesday, he said even though the LS-218 is built for performance, it's comfortable for anybody.

"You ride it and it feels like the future," he said.