That’s more like it—166 mph on electricity!

Bonneville Diary: Day 4

Before we left the salt flats on Friday we pulled the fairing and tail off the Lightning prototype. I was having high-speed stability issues we thought might have been related to aerodynamics. Removing the bodywork and running naked removed the aero variable, and would tell is if the changes we made to the chassis were moving us in the right direction.
By the time I reached the first mile marker on Saturday morning I knew our stability issues were solved. The bike tracked dead-nuts straight, even through the loamy mess at the two-mile mark where the big cars had torn up the salt. Finally confident, I wound the throttle to the stop and whirred up to 151 mph before the motor unceremoniously shut down, 100 yards shy of the three-mile timing light. I coasted through the trap at 148 mph then rolled over to the return road to wait for the chase truck. We lugged the bike back to the starting line, where a quick diagnostic scan pointed toward a safety override on the digital controller that faulted and shut power down.

“We’ll just turn that safety precaution off and run again,” bike owner Richard Hatfield said. Just what an experimental-vehicle test rider wants to hear…

With the “prophylactic off” (another memorable Hatfield-ism), we looked forward to our first honest, wide-open run. I didn’t waste any time bringing it up to speed, entering the timed mile at 159.460 and exiting at 160.408 mph, using every bit of available power.

With the handling was resolved, and a baseline speed measurement in-hand, Hatfield turned the current up and dialed in 30% more power for the next run. Just one problem: my plane was leaving Salt Lake City (110 miles away) in just three hours. The World Finals were originally scheduled to conclude on Saturday, but were extended to Sunday after rain cancelled the first day’s racing earlier in the week. I was unable to rebook my flight, which left Hatfield to find a replacement rider for the final day.

Race Tech’s Paul Thede, who helped us so much with chassis set-up the day before, volunteered to take over on the Lighting between stints on his own record-holding Honda CBR600RR. Thede took advantage of the extra power on his first run, pushing the naked Lightning to a neck-straining 164.608 mph. Then Hatfield and crew reinstalled the Ducati 1098R fairing, which allowed Thede to achieve a gear-limited 166.338 mph—the fastest the Lightning prototype has gone to-date.

That’s impressive speed for an essentially untested electric prototype—well ahead of the 161-mph figure posted by Mission Motors’ all-electric Mission One at Bonneville this past August, 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, if you prefer, the fastest production-intent electric motorcycle in the world. Lightning is gearing up for series production right now. Hatfield hopes to have the first five production units, based on the prototype Thede and I rode at Bonneville, available for retail sale in 2010.

Though we fell short of our goal of breaking Riches’ outright speed record, we went away impressed by Lightning’s debut performance. We have little doubt that with additional aerodynamic development and optimized gearing, the ultimate speed record is within reach. Hatfield still wants that record, and has already invited us back to try again next year. We’ll be there.