It turns out, if you are sitting at the start line at Lake Gairdner about to attempt a land speed record on an electric motorcycle, you need to say “mate, it’s electric” three times before the start line official connects with why your engine isn’t running and sends you on your way.
This is according to Stuart Jameson, a retired solar bloke who now tinkers with electric motorcycles for fun and has just returned from the 2021 Lake Gairdner Speed Week, Australia’s equivalent to the famous Bonneville Salt Flats where he took his bike named Electromanx.
Stuart’s bike is an eclectic home brew of parts of which the famous Burt Munro would be proud, I’m sure. The bike uses a classic Manx style frame built by 72 year old mate Martin Grattin with Honda running gear and an ME1616 motor and Sevcon 6 controller supplied by Rodney Dikes (similar to the gear in a Zero motorcycle).
The 4kWh battery pack was made by another electric motorcycle tinkerer extraordinaire, Chris Evans, with Stuart and a bunch of mates putting the bits together in a shed somewhere in Victoria.
After a previous run on the salt in 2019, the lake was open for racing again in 2021 – even though it only lasted two days before the weather put an end to things – after the cancellation of the 2020 30th anniversary event.
Combined with some tuning issues, Stuart didn’t manage to hit the speeds he hoped to this year, topping out at just under 100mph this year, with a 107mph run in 2019. But he still walked away proud and exhausted with his team.
Chatting with Stuart about his personal mission to set a record on an electric motorcycle, Stuart described how …
“Solar has got so mainstream and commoditised, this is where the action is for me. Trying to figure out how to build, operate and succeed on an electric motorcycle is what solar was like twenty plus years ago. We used to make our own components, learn through trial and error and were very much on our own trying to solve complex problems.”
All around the world, guys and girls in dark dingy sheds are slowly but surely innovating with electric motorcycles. We all may have our roots in combustion engines but for a growing crew, the allure of winning with electric has become so strong that the valve compressors and methanol conversions have been shelved and replaced with laptops and electronic wizardry.
While this might seem sacrilegious to some, I can personally attest that trying to build a fast and reliable electric motorcycle is just as addictive. What is the best controller available today? Who’s making the smallest, lightest motors? Who are the wizards who are cracking the software codes in the same way Phil Irving cracked the mechanical codes to the Vincent motorcycle all those years ago?
Motorcycle builders and sports people have always wanted the same thing – to push two wheeled technology to beyond its known limits in the pursuit of speed and then climb aboard for the ride.
Electric motorcycles are now the new frontier of this pursuit and we are still at the beginning of the technology’s evolution making it exciting, mysterious and groundbreaking. I salute your efforts Stuart and all those like you around the world!