This is the 2010 MotoCzysz E1pc, a race bike built by a tiny Oregonian company focused on pushing the limits of electric performance to the absolute max. It packs 10 times the battery capacity of a Toyota Prius and 2.5 times the torque of a Ducati 1198 into a package that looks like something out of a 24th-century Thunderdome.
Tomorrow it will race in the Isle of Man TT, the toughest motorcycle race in the world. The technology at work is so advanced, so unprecedented, that we may be looking not just at the future of motorcycles, but of all electric vehicles.
The reason the all-electric race bike is here, 4,600 miles from its home in Portland, Oregon, is to prove itself. Ever since 1907, the Isle of Man TT has been the race for bike manufacturers and riders to show their mettle to the public. The thinking goes that if you can lap its 37.7 miles of tiny, twisty back roads with an average speed in excess of 100 MPH, you or your bike become indisputably proven. Well over 200 riders and a handful of spectator’s have been killed trying to do just that.
But as recently as two days ago, the future of motorcycles was missing its body panels (stuck in customs). Before this week, the finished bike has never even seen the light of day. But even in its unproven, incomplete state, it's been putting in laps that have the competition quaking in their leather.
The customs snafu (and the mad dash to even finish the bike in time for the race) is not the first time Michael Czysz, MotoCzysz’s founder, CEO and the driving force behind the E1pc, had suffered a set back on this tiny rock in the middle of the Irish Sea. Last year, the Isle of Man TT hosted the first ever all-electric motorcycle road race, and MotoCzysz was there with the E1pc's predecessor. But while the machines that entered were technically impressive, their performance wasn’t. The race-winning team only averaged 87 MPH, well short of the 100 MPH watershed that defines a serious lap and way behind the 131.5 MPH lap record set by the fastest gas-powered superbikes. MotoCzysz didn’t even complete a full lap, suffering an electric spike from their experimental kinetic energy recovery system that fried the bike’s electronic control unit (ECU).
That was a major blow for Czysz (pronounced "sizz"). Five months of whirlwind effort from the former motorcycle racer and architect and his small team in Portland saw them abruptly transition away from developing a 200 HP, gasoline-powered MotoGP bike to produce an electric bike that blew the zero emissions competition away standing still. The E1pc looks like an X-Wing crossed with an iPod to the other electric racer’s cobbled-together adaptations of existing internal combustion engine bikes.
“We overreached and it bit us in the ass,” says Czysz of last year’s race. “We’re trying to do too much with too little, we’re effectively building a Formula One level machine with one engineer, two machinists, one CAD guy, me and a body dude.”
But the E1pc was out in front when it broke down. Way out front.
This year’s all-new 2010 E1pc is too--out front, that is, not broken down. During practice this week, it reached a top speed of 140 MPH—besting its closest electric competitor’s 102 MPH. The E1pc also clocked a 94.6 MPH lap, tantalizingly close to the 100 MPH goal. Yes, it completed that lap. But that’s not the amazing thing; the E1pc ran that time while using, on average, less than 40 percent of its throttle and crossed the finish line, according to Czysz, with “plenty in reserve.”
But this new bike is way more than just an ECU that doesn’t blow and a bit more battery capacity. It’s a ground-up redesign of 2009’s largely off-the-shelf approach. “A bike has a relationship with the rider and a balance that is way beyond cars and computers, so you can’t just randomly shove stuff around and hope it works,” describes Czysz. “You have to work around the batteries, they’re they largest component, the heaviest component and the most important component.”
On the 2010 E1pc the batteries are huge, visually dominating the bike and occupying the space traditionally reserved for an internal combustion engine. There are 10 individual lithium polymer cells that each weigh 19.5 Lbs and were hand-assembled by a company that typically builds batteries for NASA. The level of integration here hints at the kind of work that’s gone into the rest of the bike. There are no wires connecting the batteries to the bike or any exposed terminals. Instead, posts on the batteries lock into receivers on the bike’s frame, at once making the electrical connection and supporting the batteries’ weight. The proprietary internal arrangement is secret, so we can’t show you a picture of it, but it allows the batteries to be swapped out in just a couple of seconds.
That ability is crucial. The electric motor is powerful enough to chew through the 12.5 kWh of on-board power in just 40 miles under race conditions (in comparison, the 2010 Toyota Prius's battery pack holds just 1.3 kWh and can travel only a single mile in full-electric mode). Quick-swap batteries allow the team to run road tests without waiting four hours between charges and, more importantly, removable batteries bring huge safety benefits. The E1pc is running close to the maximum allowable 500 volts, enough power to turn a wrench into molten metal in a flash of white light or split a mechanic’s hand in half (it’s already done the former). The ability to remove that power source from the bike before working on it renders the machine safe from accidental electric shocks. This level of safety and convenience have clear applications in mainstream electric consumer vehicles--don’t expect Czysz’s patents to stay on one-off race bikes.
But the custom-engineered, oil-cooled electric motor that sucks up those batteries’ juice may be the single most important individual component driving the E1pc’s exceptional performance; while most electric bikes repurpose electric motors built for forklifts or high-power drills, Czysz’s motor is the first to be developed from the ground up to win races.
The DC internal permanent magnet motor, which Czysz calls “D1g1tal Dr1ve,” is small enough to hide within the swingarm beneath the rear shock. The oil-cooled motor makes more power and torque than all three air-cooled motors in last year’s E1pc combined, while being smaller than one of them individually. And crucially, it develops its 100 HP and 250 Lb-Ft of torque continuously. Air-cooled electric motors, on the other hand, quote peak figures which they’re only able to reach for a very brief period of time due to the rapid buildup of immense heat. Sometimes, they can only reach peak power for a fraction of a second. The MotoCzysz can always make that 100 HP--as long as the batteries hold out, that is. The oil-cooling is key here, allowing the motor to exponentially shrink in size and weight for its output level; air-cooled motors are huge, so their large metal components can soak up the heat.
Despite batteries' limited ability to carry energy on board when compared to internal-combustion bikes, battery and motor together form a near ideal powertrain for racing. Adrian Hawkins, MotoCzysz’s lead engineer who left fabled engine design firm Cosworth to develop the E1pc’s electric drive technology, explains: “With the interncal-combustion engine, you’ve got a long way to go from where that throttle is: through the port, through the piston, through the combustion chamber, through the rod, through the clutch, through the gearbox, through the chain to the rear wheel.” In comparison, the E1pc’s electric motor offers a virtually direct connection between throttle and rear wheel. And for racing, that’s what engineers strive to develop. But power is not as important as control.
“I can pretension the chain with the throttle on that motorcycle,” says Czysz, explaining the implausible level of precision possible. “One percent throttle means one percent torque, it is the perfect drive. But now we have to work around all the other problems that aren’t perfect.”
First among those "other problems" is the constant struggle with a limited energy capacity and therefore limited power. Just as it’s pointless to pair a V12 engine with a two-gallon gas tank, there’s no point in carrying a motor that makes more power than the batteries can dish out. So a major design challenge for the E1pc is to insure it makes the most out of every single Lb-Ft of torque it makes.
“Ninety percent of a vehicle’s power is used simply to move the wind,” says Czysz, pointing out how aerodynamics play an even more important roll on electric vehicles than conventionally-powered ones (exhibit A: the Prius’s odd stub nose and compressed rump). Czysz has radically reduced the frontal area of this year’s bike — eyeballing the two next to each other, 2010 looks a third slimmer than 2009 — but it’s the wind’s exit that’s more important than its entrance.
“The low pressure area behind the bike is extremely vital,” explains Czysz. “That’s how planes work, the air accelerates so fast over the top of the wing that it creates low pressure that sucks the airplane up.”
So the challenge for a motorcycle aerodynamicist is to recombine the airflow behind the bike so it’s not sucked backwards as much as it is to split air cleanly around the front. Czysz also created ducts through the E1pc’s frame that suck air from the high-pressure area at the front through to the area beneath the seat, breaking up the low pressure. Gulfstream-jet-style winglets on the fairing whirl turbulence into these ducts just as the pull air rapidly through the motor and controller-cooling radiators.
The other extreme limiting factor to motorcycle aerodynamics is the big leather sack of human sitting on top, spoiling the airflow. Czysz has addressed this too, with perhaps the defining visual element of the 2010 E1pc. Turning to time trial bicycle racing for inspiration, he created a second riding position that the racer will move into on straights. By sliding their butt off the main seat and onto what's basically a modified pillion pad at the extreme rear, the rider adopts an incredibly low, flat-backed riding position that still gives them the ability to keep their feet on the foot pegs and hands on the handlebars; they can still fully control the bike in this position and even attack high speed corners by weighting the pegs and turning the bars.
All this aerodynamic innovation is reaping rewards on the racetrack. While competitors have adopted all-enclosed 1950s-style dustbin fairings that can negatively impact stability and therefore safety, Czysz is reaching far higher speeds using his modern methods.
Every one of the E1pc's components — the motor, the controller, the battery packs, the aerodynamics — is all-new and class-leading, but they're not what makes the machine so special, the real trick here has been integrating all those into a whole that actually looks and functions like a motorcycle should; a rider accustomed to a gas bike will feel right at home on the MotoCzysz.
So what’s the ultimate payoff for all this besides a one-off, priceless prototype race bike? MotoCzysz does plan to develop its own range of production electric motorcycles eventually, but right now it’s about proving ideas, inventing technology and laying the groundwork for a future electric motorcycle industry. But don’t be disappointed if you want to get your hands on some of what you see here in the near future--the patents MotoCzysz is creating will probably appear on production machines from other manufacturers very soon. Indian automobile giant Bajaj, which plans to enter the US market in the near future, has partnered with Czysz for that reason. Hawkins’ talk of the perfect relationship between rear wheel and throttle is also revealing. That’s technology that could easily find a home in hybrid cars or applied to Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems that are popping up in race cars with increasing frequency. In fact, there’s a couple of distinctly four-wheeled vehicles hiding under tarpaulins in the MotoCzysz HQ right now. What they are or who they belong to Michael isn’t saying, but you can bet some of what you see here on the E1pc will end up on production vehicles in the very near future.
The 2010 MotoCzysz E1pc will be racing at the Isle of Man tomorrow (check back here for a followup on the results), and will return to America in July, where it will race at California's Laguna Seca in support of the US Grand Prix on the 25th.
Wes Siler is the editor of Hell For Leather
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