There is a little friendly shootout underway in the electric motorcycle land speed record field. In August a land speed record was set in the under 150 kilogram electric motorcycle class. Last weekend Brandon Nozaki Miller, who bills himself as The Electric Cowboy, went to the Bonneville Salt Flats for the 2012 Bonneville Shootout, looking to set one or more land speed records in that same class. By the end of the weekend he'd set a 101.652 miles/hr land speed record for a motorcycle whose manufacturer claims an 88 miles/hr top speed.
Miller is a young man on a curious path into electric motorcycle racing. He's been bitten with the electric motorcycle bug, and rides a Zero Motorcycles made Zero S ZF6 electric motorcycle on his daily commute. This summer he began training for a AMA motorcycle racing license, something that many young men do except that, unlike most of these people, he has never ridden a gasoline powered motorcycle. Ever. Last weekend he was invited to the 2012 Bonneville Shootout to bring that same Zero S ZF6, his daily commute vehicle, to the salt flats and set one or more land speed records for unfaired electric motorcycles under 150 kilograms.
Miller was riding to break a record set in August by Kevin Clemens, with Clemens' encouragement. That record, in the World Unfaired Electric Motorcycle under 150 kilograms class, was set at 78.4 miles/hr during the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials. Higher speeds have been attained with electric motorcycles in other, heavier, classes. The highest record, at 216 miles/hr, was achieved by Lightning Motorcycles in August 2011, at the Bonneville Speed Week. A little later that month a set of speed records just shy of 200 miles/hr were set by Chip Yates during the 2011 BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials. Both were in a heavier weight class than are the bikes Miller and Clemens were riding, whose bikes are in the under 150kg class.
Almost immediately upon arriving Miller broke Clemens record, just during initial testing, with an average speed in the upper 90's. However there were several changes required for compliance with AMA and FIM regulations. For example the AMA requires steering dampers which are not stock on the Zero S, and members of the Al Lambs Honda team pitched in to fabricate steering dampers for Miller's bike. Other changes included a chain guard, and an automatic shutoff lanyard. At one time there were six people all working on different parts of his bike and everybody at the event was very interested in the electric bike.
After a series of runs between Sunday and Tuesday, Miller ended up with a 101.652 miles/hr land speed record, certified by both AMA (national) and FIM (world), for modified production motorcycles under 150 kilograms, averaged over a 1 mile distance. The highest speed shown on the timing slip is 103.381 miles/hr.
Again, with an almost stock Zero S ZF6 that just a couple days before Miller had ridden on his daily commute.
One of his goals was to see what he could do in electric motorcycle racing, starting with a production electric motorcycle and a few modifications. Before arriving at Bonneville Miller made a few small modifications with the assistance of Hollywood Electrics and DigiNow. These included tweaks to the controller to modify torque and maximum RPM settings, as well as changing out the rear sprocket for a different gear ratio. Nearly any Zero S owner could make these changes themselves.
The 2012 Zero S ZF6 is a production electric motorcycle, is sold by Zero Motorcycle dealers around the world, and manufactured in the SF Bay Area. It is rated for an 88 miles/hr top speed, or 75 miles/hr sustained. Riding range is 76 miles city, 43 miles highway. The electric motorcycle field is evolving rapidly enough that this level of performance was available only on experimental bikes just two years ago. Now it's being manufactured by the hundreds. Any motorcycle rider could buy one today, have a competent commute bike, or make a few modifications, and go racing.
Zero Motorcycles themselves had a similar idea, supplying four Zero S ZF9's in the 2012 TTXGP series for the eSuperStock award. While they weren't making headline grabbing speeds, they put in exciting credible racing performance nearly equal to 250cc gas bikes.
Miller's next step is to enter a 250cc gas bike race this weekend, with the same bike, and to keep taking the steps in front of him. He's looking forward to the salt flats next year and bumping the speed up a few notches. He's also looking forward to competition from Brammo Empulse owners who may be able to do as he's done, make a few modifications and go racing.