Riding Lightning Motorcycles

Lightning Motors delivers a 166-mph salvo from the salt

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Thomas "Porkpie" Graf

When I wrote in our recent "Going Green" issue that I found the present performance of electric motorcycles somewhat underwhelming, Lightning Motors President Richard Hatfield took offense. "Come to Bonneville and ride our Moto-1 prototype," he said. "We'll show you that an electric motorcycle can be just as fast and exciting as any internal-combustion machine." All it took was one silent, 160-mph blast across the salt to show me the light(ning).

Hatfield, a Bay Area entrepreneur with 20 years experience developing electric vehicles, first caught our attention in 2007 with his electric-powered Yamaha YZF-R1. That development mule led directly to the Moto-1, the prototype of a street-legal electric sportbike Hatfield expects to put into limited production by the end of 2010. The prototype is a bit of a mongrel, but with an impressive pedigree. A&A Racing's Ray Abrams (Kenny Roberts' go-to frame guy) built the steel trellis. The rear wheel is from one of Roberts' Proton MotoGP bikes, while the Marzocchi fork once resided on a Fast by Ferracci Superbike. Drive is courtesy of a liquid-cooled motor from the supposedly disappeared GM EV-1 electric car. "If I told you where I got that, I'd have to kill you," Hatfield says. The custom battery pack is built from the same A123 Systems lithium-nanophosphate cells that Tesla uses in its electric supercar.

Hatfield originally planned to run the prototype with a fully enclosed dustbin fairing, but after tech inspectors nixed that plan, back-up Ducati 1098 bodywork was bolted on. My first few runs down the 3-mile course had to be aborted after a high-speed weave appeared around 140 mph. That problem was soon cured by some on-site chassis alignment courtesy of Race Tech's Paul Thede, along with removing the aero tail that wouldn't cooperate with the Ducati fairing. With the handling sorted, I made a best pass of 160.408 mph before I had to leave for the airport. With Thede serving as the back-up rider, Hatfield turned up the voltage for more power and the Moto-1 eventually achieved a gearing-limited 166.338 mph-the fastest the Lightning prototype has gone to date.

That's an amazing number for an essentially untested electric prototype. It's already ahead of the better known (and much better funded) Mission Motors Mission One prototype, which went 161 mph during the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials at Bonneville in September, and within 10 mph of Kent Riches' APS-omega record of 176.434 mph. That makes the Lightning the second-fastest electric motorcycle on the salt-or, as Hatfield prefers, the fastest production-intent electric motorcycle in the world. Lightning is gearing up for series production right now. Hatfield expects to have the first five Moto-1s, powered by Lightning's own updated version of the EV-1 motor and fitted with proprietary bodywork, available for retail sale in 2010.

Hatfield also thinks his Moto-1 can break 200 mph at Bonneville next year. If that happens, it might be the petrol-powered bike-makers who reach out to impress us next!

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