‘The sound on my telly’s broken,’ I briefly thought as I watched ITV4’s Isle of Man TT highlights last night. ‘There’s action on the screen, but those bikes aren’t making any noise.’
In fact, the programme was showing footage of Wednesday’s SES TT Zero race, where Michael Rutter made history by becoming the first man to lap the TT course at more than 100mph on a zero-emissions electric motorbike.
Forgive my diversion into the world of two wheels, but watching Rutter was uncanny – the TV images were accompanied by the electric bike’s hushed whine, rather than the high-revving roar of a Suzuki GSX-R1000 or Honda CBR600RR. It looked quick, too.
Rutter – riding for Segway Racing (yes, that Segway) – won the one-lap race on his MotoCzysz machine, crossing the line at an average speed of 104.056mph for the 37-and-a-bit-mile lap.
Impressive enough, but bear in mind that damp patches were reported around some parts of the course when Rutter was flagged away from the start. The next two finishers, John McGuinness on a Mugen and third-placed Mark Miller on a 2011-spec MotoCzysz, also broke the 100mph barrier. Through the speed trap at the end of the Sulby straight, about halfway around the lap, Miller was the fastest rider, breaking the radar beam at 132.6mph.
The electric racing bike idea is a neat one that’s been bubbling under at the TT for four years, steadily building momentum. The MotoCzysz E1pc bike that propelled Rutter to victory weighs about 240kg, carries a 14kWh battery pack and has the equivalent of about 200bhp and approximately 160 lb ft of torque from a liquid-cooled permanent magnet brushless DC motor.
The 2012 bike, which is an evolution of the ones raced by the American firm in previous years, also features improved aerodynamics, and is claimed to be the most aero-efficient bike ever produced, period.
There’s plenty more to come too, although the battery technology needs to take a few efficiency leaps first. Rutter could rarely use full throttle on any point of the lap because he needed to conserve the bike’s battery charge. And to achieve an average lap speed of 125mph would necessitate a battery pack that’s almost twice as big as the current one.
I started wondering what the car-based equivalent of Rutter’s MotoCzysz bike might be. We’ve seen the Nissan Leaf racing car and various one-off electric competition machines from the likes of Peugeot (a sports car), Citroën (a rally car) and, most recently, Toyota, which has built an electric racer to tackle the Pikes Peak hillclimb in Colorado.
Additionally, the FIA’s plans for an electric-based Formula E car racing championship are gathering pace, but on the evidence of the Isle of Man performance, the bike world is edging one (silently propelled) wheel ahead.
The first time a conventionally powered motorbike averaged more than 100mph around the island was back in 1957. I wonder what kind of average speeds electric vehicles will be achieving a half-century from now?