Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Isle of Man - FAQ


Here are some answers to the most common questions we get asked about the bike and the project...

Why the Isle of Man?
- The Isle of Man TT (it stands for Tourist Trophy) is the oldest and probably best-known motorcycle road race in the world. It started in 1907, and exists in large part because the Isle of Man government has written laws to allow road closures every year for the event. Two years ago a zero-emissions division was introduced, now called the TT Zero, which offers an opportunity for electric motorcycles to compete on the same course. So in other words... why not?
More info here.

Who will ride it in the race?
- The TT rules restrict who is eligible to ride in the TT Zero. Not only does our rider have to have an FIM racing license, he also has to complete six laps of the course in practice before our race. The electric bikes only have two practice sesions of one lap each though, so to get those six laps he has to run at least four laps on a gas bike. The organizers of the race put us in touch with Allan Brew, who lives on the island and has ridden in both the TT and the Isle of Man Grand Prix races (held every fall). He's been a huge help so far, settings us up to work in his garage and helping out with logistics.

How fast will it go?
- We've run the bike at 110mph on the dyno, and hit about 80mph during our track day. We're playing with the gearing though, so that number might change.

How far will it go on a charge?
- The TT course is 37.7 miles long, so we designed the bike to go just a bit further than that under race conditions. If you were only cruising at a constant highway speed, though, the bike could easily go 100 miles.

Does it have tons of torque off the line because of the electric motor? Can you do burnouts/wheelies?
- In theory yes, the motor produces maximum torque at low rpms. Speeds on the TT course are very high though, so we've geared the bike more for that top end. That plus the weight of the batteries on the bike means that we won't be doing any wheelies or burnouts. Our bike will still get off the ground though... there are a couple of spots on the TT course that consistently send the bikes flying (as long as they're going fast enough).

How much power does it have?
- Comparing the power of an electric motor to that of a gas engine is always a bit tricky, as the numbers mean different things. Our motors are rated for a continuous output of 16 kW each, and we have two. 32 kW comes out to about 43 HP. We can get more than that for brief stints ("peak power"), but that risks damaging the motors.

How big is your battery pack?
- Ours is a custom-designed pack from A123 Systems with 12kWh capacity at 100V.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Isle of Man - Day 3 - dyno, fairings and wheels

Isle of Man - Day 3 - dyno, fairings and wheels

We got the bike on a dyno this morning... it was a chance to get the motors up to speed and make sure there were no issues in our last rebuild.

Dave at Evomoto has a nice clean shop, and got us in and out in about 15 minutes.

Here's what our power curve (HP vs. speed) looks like. This is one of the features inherent in electric motors... constant torque.

Back in Allan's garage, we started working on the upper fairing for the bike. We got it set up while in Boston, but we still had to get it off of the mold and do some tweaking to get it to fit right and look good.

Lennon and Radu experimented with different tools to get the foam mold out of the carbon fiber shell.

Allan's wife Jan kept us supplied with English tea while we worked.

Allan also worked on his bike... he has his first practice session on the mountain course this evening. In order to ride in the TT Zero (our race), Allan has to complete 6 laps of the course. At least one of those laps has to be on our bike, but there are only two practice laps scheduled for the electrics. That means he has to ride a gas bike for at least four laps, which means signing up for one of the gas races.

Radu, working away on that foam. He eventually found a good technique involving a hack saw blade, putty knife and elbow grease.

Checking the fit on the upper fairing. Still a ways to go.

Even with the fairing only half-mounted, our rider Allan wanted to check it out.

It feels great to have our rider and bike together. Now we just have to get them out on the road for some practice!

I'll write more later about where we're staying, but this is the view.

Lennon taking a quick snooze over lunch.

To take the bike out for testing on public roads, we have to cover up our race number.

We also have to swap out tires (tyres), so I got to put our new front stand to use.

Allan polishing up his bike for the practice this evening.

We have to extend the top fairing on one side, so Radu improvised on the mold release...

...with cooking spray.

We've been talking about gear ratios since our track day earlier in May (more on that later), and finally decided to give up a bit of top speed in favor of better acceleration. We'll see how Allan likes the slightly larger sprocket we put on.

Right now Radu is still working on the upper fairing and Lennon and I have come down to the start/finish to help Allan with his practice session, meet some folks here and hopefully see some of the other electric teams. It's getting exciting!


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Isle of Man - Day 2 - assembly

Today was a boring day for spectators (and I imagine for blog readers). We didn't make it out to the test track since the timing didn't work out and we wanted to recondition the motors.

Allan had a racers meeting and sign-on session at the start/finish early this afternoon, so we're all signed up with three team pit passes. We'll get some more team passes just for the paddock area, but are limited to three people in the pits with the bike (and fire-retardant overalls).

The morning started with mounting battery modules numbers 3 and 4. We had to undo some of our work a couple of times to re-route cables, but it all came together in the end.

This is the mess of cables that we have to fit to, around and through our various electronics, batteries and frame.

Lennon and Radu mounting electronics.

Radu is really getting into the whole English tea-drinking thing.

We sent our tools and lots of spare parts along with the bike so that we have everything here. But, of course, there's always something we still need (luckily we have two more team members traveling from the US next week).

Checking the battery voltage (and making sure we don't have any potential going to other electronics or to the frame) before plugging in the batteries for the first time.

Radu spent a lot of time getting the motors reconditioned, from blowing out dust to sanding down the commutators. Here are the brushes, just about ready to go back into the motors and get seated.

I spent a bit of time building a flashing LED assembly for the rear of the bike.

Lennon working on some programming.

Comparing the current draw of each motor to make sure they're not fighting each other.

A small piece of excitement happened during the day... Lennon blew up an American power strip when he plugged it into a wall here. The switch on it apparently can't take 220V. :-)


Saturday, May 28, 2011

On the Isle of Man - Day 1

And now for a report on what's happening on the Isle of Man. Our bike was scheduled to arrive on Friday, 27 May, so Lennon arrived on Wednesday afternoon, just in case the bike showed up early. I came in Friday afternoon, and Radu arrived early this afternoon (Saturday).


Friday evening our rider, Allan, had a practice session for the Pre TT Classic road race on a course on the southern side of the Isle of Man. After picking up my luggage (delayed due to weather in Toronto), Lennon and I went to check it out.
Lennon and Allan, waiting in line for tech inspection...

Allan rides in a class of 500cc bikes built in 1972 or before.

Ever wonder how you get a race bike started?

Waiting to start practice.

Heading out for a few practice laps.

The paddocks... lots of eye candy.


On Thursday and Friday, the word from our shipper was that the bike would arrive Saturday morning at 8:00am. My first thought was "oh boy... here we go again." I've had to deal with motorcycle shipping (and international shipping in general) enough to know that the first delay is often rarely the last. Lennon and I arrived at the designated drop-off point (a warehouse in Douglas, the capital city of the Isle of Man) at 8:30. No bike. So we started making phone calls. Our main shipping contact didn't have a reference number, and only knew the name of the shipper on the UK side of the ferry, not on the Isle of man side. So we got a list of the freight companies in town and called around. Long story short: after two hours of stressing out, running around town and thinking about what we were going to do if we couldn't get our bike until Tuesday (Monday is a bank holiday here), we got a call that the crates had arrived at our original meeting point. Phew!

So Lennon and I got to go unpack the crates,

load our mini-van with the little stuff,

and some of the bigger stuff (these are three of our four battery modules - more on the headache of shipping Lithium-ion batteries later).

And we waited for Allan to drive his van down to take the bike itself back to his house.


When the organizers of the TT set us up with a rider, they specifically chose Allan because they knew he would help us out with all of the nigly little details that come up. He and his wife Jan have been a huge help so far in arranging accommodation, transport and Manx hospitality, but the biggest thing so far has really been the use of his garage. While many teams have paddock space at the grandstand where they can work on their bike, complete with semi truck, enclosed tent and electrical power, arranging that equipment from the US or renting it here would have been prohibitively expensive. Instead, we get to work on our bike in Allan's two-car garage with plenty of space and light, and (perhaps most importantly) away from any distractions like other racers or mechanics stopping by to chat and see our bike before it's ready. We have a lot of work to do, and Allan's garage has proven to be a great place to focus on it.

Lennon and Radu, just getting started.

Allan is working on his own bike as well. This is a Kawasaki he plans to ride in one of the gas bike races.

Before we could actually assemble the bike, there were a couple of tasks which required _further disassembly_. This is as far as we had to go in the "disassembled" direction.

We're concerned about the effect of water on the bike. We are on an island in the middle of the Irish Sea after all, and there is occasionally moisture in the air and on the ground. (If you've ever been to the UK, you know how tongue-in-cheek that statement is). Anyway, we decided to wrap our batteries in plastic and 'heat-shrink' it to make the plastic tight.

Always best to prototype before you use up tons of plastic.

Lennon shrinking one of the battery modules.

One of the wrapped modules. Think it will keep out the rain?

We had to cut holes in the plastic to make electrical connections, but then sealed up the holes with tape afterwards.

Radu, fitting a brand new, heavy-duty drive shaft that he made just before leaving Boston.

And, finally, we got to start putting the bike back together, rather than taking it apart...

Me, playing with tinker toys... I mean assembling rearsets for the bike (they're footpeg assemblies that allow a better racing position for the rider than standard fixtures).

Lifting the lower two battery modules into place.

We called it a day with three of four battery modules in place. The hope is to finish assembling the bike tomorrow (Sunday) morning in time for a test run on a local racetrack that afternoon. Can't wait!