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An Interview With Mission Motors: Electric Motorcycles Evolving At An Incredible Rate Hot

rappElectric Motorcycles haven't received a lot of respect from the motorcycle crowd in recent years. Most motorcyclists show interest when an electric bike is around, but when the engine "fires" up, the interest seems to go away. In the past, these quiet motorcycles have been laughed off as toys, with open-minded critics saying that electric motorcycles are full of potential, but, well, they just aren't ready yet.

At the USGP last month at Laguna Seca, Mission Motors silenced those critics with a record breaking lap around the California circuit. But "silenced" isn't the right word. Actually, the exact opposite is true. For the first time critics began taking notice of the electric races. The Mission R Motorcycles was lapping within 10 seconds of the MotoGP qualifying times, and it was doing it without an ounce of gasoline.

The jokes turned into questions. The laughter turned to cheers. Electric Motorcycles officially made their United States debut with a 1'31.3 lap time around the Laguna Seca circuit, emphatically stating that it was time for the world to take notice.

But at the moment, the competition isn't evenly spread. If the TTXGP could lineup 10 motorcycles that could give competitive lap times, we could have some amazing races. The sport isn't there yet. But it's well on its way. Every bike that lined up on the grid at Laguna Seca put in faster laps than they did in 2010. As for the Mission Motors team, the Mission R dropped more than 10 seconds from its record breaking time that it set a month prior to the Laguna Seca round.

All About Bikes got the chance to talk with David Salguero, the marketing manager of Mission Motors, about Laguna Seca, the Mission R, and the future of Electric Motorcycles. 

What changed between the ReFuel Time Trial and the Laguna Seca round? What enabled you to drop 10 seconds?

Mission_MotorsTesting, testing, testing. The Mission R is our technology development platform, so it's running our latest components and software. We test with a threshold in place and when the bike performs reliably at that level, we turn it up. We developed a software program named Cell-to Server that monitors everything from motor efficiency to temperature of each individual battery cell in realtime. We look at the readouts after every session so we can confirm that everything is working well. So, when the bike went out at ReFuel, it was at one threshold. After a few more track days, we were at a new threshold for the TTXGP/FIM race.

We are still not at the limit yet, there's a few more seconds in there.

In all motorcycle racing, the motorcycle obviously plays a big part in the race. But with electric motorcycle racing, it's even more obvious. It seems like an electric race is more about "motorcycle vs a motorcycle," instead of a "racer vs a racer." Do you agree? What makes the Mission R stand above the rest?

In electric motorcycle racing, the bike is a significant percentage of the winning formula. This is because the technology is so new and teams are taking different approaches. We are not playing the game of inches that you see in MotoGP powertrain development. There are giant strides to be made here and that's what makes it so exciting.

The Mission R excels as a race bike because our EV components are small, yet powerful and efficient. We have a 14kWh of battery on board our bike, which is just 2 kWh less than a Chevy Volt. Yet, the whole powertrain fits in package the size of an R6, complete with 55 degrees of lean angle at full compression. It's the same philosophy we use with our OEM client programs: to build the best EV, you have to optimize and integrate at a system level.

That said, a good rider is certainly important. When we are testing changes in the powertrain, you want everything else to be held constant so you can measure the impact of that change. It's great to work with Steve Rapp not just because he is fast, but because he is so consistent and he is very good at communicating what the bike is doing. We have really enjoyed working with him, he's a total professional.

Electric motorcycle racers and teams are obviously striving to win, but they're also striving to improve technology. Is there a lot of collaboration between teams? A mission_motors_teamlot of secrecy?

Racing's racing. There are elements of I.P. and strategy that teams see as a competitive advantage, and steps are taken to keep those secret. But there is a lot of respect and camaraderie between the teams. At electric races, there are always instances of teams helping other teams and engineers talking shop. We are all here to promote the capabilities of electric vehicles.

Animosity between competitors would not get anyone anywhere.

On a consumer level, what do you think will spark the EV revolution? Right now I feel that Electric motorcycles appeal to a non-motorcycle crowd. It's feats like what you guys did at Laguna that will start to persuade motorcyclists to try electric bikes.

Three things need to happen, and this applies to all EVs, not just motorcycles.

  • First, perceptions have to change. Vehicles like the Mission R and events like Laguna are vital to this goal.
  • Second, the technology must continue to improve. Mission is certainly working hard on this one, developing electric powertrain technology that is smaller, lighter, more intelligent, and ready for integration into a wide variety of vehicle types.
  • Third, the infrastructure must be put in place so that EVs are as effortless to own and operate as combustion-engine vehicles.

steve_rapp_laguna_secaWill there be a consumer Mission R?

There are no plans for a production version. It's a development platform. It has our newest technology and software that will eventually move on to commercial applications.

At Laguna, a couple of riders made comments like "the sky is the limit." Is there an end goal for Mission R? Are you guys shooting for 100 miles on a charge? A certain speed? Do you want to be faster than the MotoGP?

I hesitate to call anything an end goal, because knowing our engineers, they will move right on to the next challenge! We will continue to develop and test new technology by pushing it to the limits. It's how we learn, how we make our powertrains more reliable, and how we continue to change perceptions.

[You can read more about Mission Motors on their website]

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0 # Joan 2011-08-05 06:45
This is very timely article about the surge of electric motorcycles. The more positive articles show the growth pattern of e-motorcycles is very exciting. Thanks.
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