Git’ By Lightning

The other exciting news of the industry this summer was the 2013 victory at Pikes Peak.  A Lightning motorcycle, at 10:00.69, beat all other 2-wheelers at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb– the first official win for an electric over all gassers in a large, organized event.  (Unofficially, Teslas have been humiliating raceboys for about a year now.)pphl

Carlin Dunne, last year’s 2-wheeled winner, jumped from a Ducati Multistrada to a Lightning.  (His 2012 run still holds the all-time motorcycle record at 9:52.82.)  Haters will try to point out that Dunne was the reason, not the bike.  Yet, Dunne freely chose electric over gas; why?

In this case, torque wins, and thus electric wins.  This ain’t NASCAR; the Pikes Peak route has over 150 turns, including switchbacks, most uphill as well.  Here, a high-torque drive launches out of an apex faster, particularly with no instantaneous or permanent losses due to gearshifting.  Even at these brutal apexes (again, no gentle oval), lack of rotating inertia means flickability.  At minimum, your foot can’t ever get trapped in a hard lean; more nebulously, your attention is focused on the final peak, not your power peak.

The disadvantage may also turn out to be an advantage.  Batteries are heavier than gas even after accounting for loss of transmission, clutch, etc.  Yet, this is again a “real” racecourse, with potholes, sand and gravel, bird crap, etc.  Squirting out of the many corners may actually be helped by a reasonable amount of weight.  The battery pack is forward and the mass centralized, which also helps.  Gassers have less leeway to change layouts; the Lightning may or may not have had its chassis tweaked at all.  Ducati has that kind of budget easily, but a startup doesn’t.  And yet, the Lightning won.

There’s some mention of the rain.  It had rained before the start, possibly affecting times.  I’m ambivalent on this one; rain would hurt everyone, you’d think, and thus 2013 times were behind 2012 results.  A gain of weight and a loss of shift judder might help an electric slightly compared to a gasser here, but maybe not.  Results during the trials/warmups, before the rain, were also better than all gassers.

Regardless of 2013 vs. 2012, the path is clear towards 2015 and on.  Gains in piston drive are now marginal.  Advances in electric drive are big, and set to continue.  Some in the industry actually say “Moore-like,” though I would never make such a promise.

Also note that Lightning’s charging system, as before, was a van with solar panels.  Even if the future turns out to be plug-in hybrids, it’s a bright future indeed.

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