The Electric TT: The Answer or a Chancer?

Bikes

The 2010 eGrandPrix race season has been announced. It will now culminate with a championship race organized by the European Motorcycle Union at Spain’s Albacete circuit. The date has yet to be announced, but the addition of this championship gives the fledgling electric motorcycle racing organization not only four-race national series in the UK and Italy and three races in North America, but also a headline event at the Isle of Man TT – and now an officially sanctioned European Championship event. It looks, then, that Electric bike racing is a huge element of at least the immediate future. Who knows where it will end up.

Whatever the future hold for the formula: covering the world’s first Grand Prix race event for electric bikes at the 2009 TT did my head in. I learned everything I know about electric motorcycles over three solid days of back to back interviews. The words ‘Lithium Ion’ were never further from my lips than the end of my nose until I boarded the ferry back to Heysham.

Stood on the wall on Glencrutchery Road, as the marshal walked down the line of bikes with the two minute board above his head, it truly felt as if history was being made. Somehow, and very few people really know how, the worlds’ most venerable motorcycle race had squeezed the schedule of its most important day to allow 13 electric bikes to compete in a unique race of their own.

National TV cameras and media from four continents buzzed around the bikes. The procedure was identical to that of the real Senior TT that would line up in the exact same place two hours later.

It was like the Grand National pausing to allow a Donkey Derby.

Competitors ranged from Michael Czysz’s truly astonishing E1PC (top) to Team Tork’s Pune – an Indian University’s project. The latter was a machine so ugly, as one onlooker pointed out, “that you wouldn’t ride to the pastie shop”.

electric

The winner (above) was an anglo-Indian effort from Agni Motors – A GSX 750 with its ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) ripped out and two Agni DC motors, a bunch of Lithium Ion cells, a motor controller and a battery controller motherboard jammed in. The Agni was about as pretty as a toenail, but lapped at 87 MPH.

OK, so 50cc racers lapped the mountain course at 86 MPH as far back as 1966, but it’s still shifting – more than fast enough to kill you at various parts of the 37.73 mile course.

The Indian ambassador to London was even there to see the historic win, helping to give the event a feeling that a shift in power was happening – a shift from ICE to electricity, from Japan to other, emerging economies.

Then, someone plucked the sun out of my new dawn.

The TTXGP was supposed to be about finding an answer to the problems caused by fossil fuel-burning vehicles. As well as electric power, there are after all many different ways of improving on our beloved Internal Combustion. But with the winner’s leathers still sticky with champagne I began to get the feeling that someone had forgotten the point of the race.

When Azhar Hussain, founder of TTXGP, stood up in front of press, teams, locals and politicians and said, “The TTXGP will accept electric vehicles only, so it is easier for spectators and the media to understand the concept,” it felt like a veil had been lifted – or rather a curtain had fallen.

I looked around. Few people had even noticed what he had said. “The people are electro-Nazis”, I thought. They’re not exactly looking for the optimum solution for sustainable motorcycling _ they’re looking to develop a saleable 45 minute race package for Sunday afternoon, with highlights repeated on Monday.

Hussein spoke about animosity from ‘those invested in the status quo’, whilst establishing and investing heavily in a new status quo.

The TTXGP is said to be ‘visionary’, ‘exciting’ and ‘challenging’. But how far does it get us toward an answer to the question: how do we ride bikes fast without producing emissions?

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