World’s Most Powerful Electric Motorcycle Needs Batteries

After breaking his pelvis in a race last year, professional motorcycle racer Chip Yates turned to tinkering with electric motorcycles. The result — unveiled this week in more detail at The Battery Show in San Jose, Calif. — is what Yates says is the world’s most powerful and technically advanced electric Superbike. Yates says the Superbike has 194 horse power and 295 foot pounds of torque, and he plans to ride it in (and win) electric motorcycle races next year.

Yates himself hasn’t actually ridden the bike yet. He’s still recovering from his injury, and the bike is still very much under development. The “unveiling” at the Battery Show was more of a discussion of the technology complete with video clips of the bike running — and melting its tires — on a testing dynamometer. Yates told me after the press event that he plans to start riding the bike in November and start competing in races next April.

One of the key reasons that Yates and his racing team attended the Battery Show was to meet battery makers in order to test out batteries that could function well on such a high performance bike. While the Superbike is using a UQM motor, Yates hasn’t yet chosen a battery for the bike. ‘The challenge has been getting batteries to work well with us,” said Yates during the event. ‘The idea was the pick the best motor and let the batteries catch up.”

Batteries that can run at such a high performance and last 12 laps at the Laguna Seca racetrack (the electric motorcycle race) could be a tall order. As we’ve pointed out numerous times, there’s no Moore’s Law for batteries.

Yates says he needs a battery that: is a 36 Amp hour pack, can run at 160 watt hours/kg, weighs no more than 180 lbs, can charge and discharge between 13.5 C/7.5 C, only reaches 70 degrees max, only has 120 cells max, and can be air-freighted between U.S. and Europe (li-ion batteries need to be approved by air regulators to be shipped on planes). On top of that the battery should be able to last 10 race weekends, although he contends that at this point he’d be happy if it survived one race weekend.

Any takers? Yates says he hopes to announce a battery partner in the coming weeks. What a battery partner would win is international exposure and press, and the chance to test the battery under these extreme conditions.

While Yate’s Superbike isn’t planned to be a commercial production bike, some of the innovations developed in the building process could help advance electric vehicles. As we’ve written before, racing has long been used as a test bed for the latest cutting edge technologies that later on make their way onto production vehicles. The limitations of racing — light weight, high speed, exact engineering — mean designers are pushed to be creative to solve the problems in the extreme environment.

Yates says that the ideal situation would be to win the championships next year, then sell the bike and IP to an OEM who could take it to the next level. Well, first he needs to ride it.

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