Electric Muscle: Riding Victory’s Isle of Man TT Race Bike

Experiencing Lee Johnston’s competition-tuned TT Racer at High Plains Raceway.

It's a long way from Minnesota to the Isle of Man, that weather-beaten rock in the middle of the Irish Sea, but a number of the newly formed Victory Electric team traveled there earlier this year to support Victory's entry in the 2015 TT Zero electric bike race. There they were rewarded with a third-place finish by TT regular Lee Johnston, who lapped the mountain course with an average speed of 111.62 mph and blitzed the Sulby Straight speed trap at lightning-fast 144.34 mph—numbers that made even a combustion-crazed racer like Johnston take notice.

“I was proper impressed by what the bike did,” Johnston told us during the Empulse TT launch in Colorado, which he attended as a guest. “I remember my first ride over the mountain, cruising along at such speed, with no noise whatsoever—it’s unbelievable.”

Victory gave us a three-lap taste of the TT Racer's magic-carpet ride at High Plains Raceway, and we walked away equally impressed. We rode the bike in the same state of tune as what Johnston raced at the Isle, and we were immediately surprised by how fast the racer was, easily achieving the advertised 145 mph top-speed on the front straight. Unlike the Empulse TT streetbike, the racer doesn't use a gearbox—you just pin the throttle and enjoy a seamless, silent (except for the chain and tire noise) rush to top speed.

The lack of mechanical feedback is both thrilling and slightly disconcerting. “I had to retrain myself on the TT course,” Johnston says. “There are so many spots where you use rpm and gearing rather than actual braking markers, so that was a major challenge.” On the more predictable and consistent confines of a 15-turn closed circuit, however, this lack of distraction quickly becomes an advantage. With no gearbox to manage and no worry about rpm—the electric motor delivers peak torque whenever you twist the throttle, no matter how fast or slow the motor is turning—it feels like you have 50 percent more attention to devote to braking, turning, and body position. It’s liberating.

And cornering is a joy on the racer, legitimately fine-handling despite its 485-pound curb weight. “Over rough sections of the TT course this bike didn’t even move,” Johnston says, “because the weight is so low.” The location of the motor, with the rotor actually located behind the swingarm pivot, creates an anti-squat effect and the smooth, strong power delivery only enhances your sense of confidence and control.

If Victory could bring a bike with this level of performance to market, we'd all be lining up for electric sportbikes. Of course it can't—for starters, a 37.73-mile range is unacceptable to most commuters; then there's lights, and turn signals, and mirrors… But to know that this is the potential for eBike performance, not to mention the promise of such a novel riding experience, has us thrilled at the prospect of more of this technology trickling down to the Empulse TT streetbike.