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TTXGP North America electric motorcycle race announces competitors [updated]

May 3, 2010 |  6:00 am

MavizenIn 2009, a tiny island in the middle of the Irish Sea played host to something spectacular. The place was the Isle of Man. The event was the TTXGP, the world’s first zero-emissions, electric superbike race. For 2010, the TTXGP is expanding in the U.S. and Europe, and California gets first dibs.  

As it should. Ten of the 12 teams competing in the TTXGP North America are from our fair state.

When the four-race series kicks off on Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway on May 16, the competitors, who are running a mix of purpose-built and retrofitted electric motorcycles, will have a chance to max out their bike’s whisper-quiet motors as they run 12 laps on the 2.22-mile course. Though some of the bigger names in electric bikes are missing – Mission Motors from San Francisco and Brammo of Ashland, Ore. -- a number of smaller players are filling the void to drive innovation in the fledgling field of electric propulsion.

We’ve got the exclusive on who’s competing  -- and what they’re riding...

Electric Motorsport, Oakland

Electric Motorsport, a.k.a. Native Cycles, won the open class of the 2009 Isle of Man TTXGP (for bikes that cost less than $33,000 to build) using a modified version of its production electric GPR-S motorcycle. The only Isle of Man TTXGP competitor to compete in the TTXGP North America, Electric Motorsport will race a converted Yamaha R6 with a custom-wound AC induction motor and a 10.5 kilowatt-hour, 108-volt battery pack capable of propelling the bike to 120 mph. [Updated 5-4-2010, 12:20 p.m.: A previous version of this post said Electric Motorsport would be racing a converted Yamaha R6 in the TTXGP. It is racing a converted Yamaha R1.]

Werkstatt Motorcycle Racing and Repair, San Francisco

Shop owner  Jennifer Bromme  will race the $45,000 Mavizen TTX02, which uses the chassis of a KTM RC8. The 81-horsepower machine uses a 96-volt Agni 95R motor and has a top speed of 130 mph.

ZeroAgni, Scotts Valley, Calif.

An international partnership, ZeroAgni outfits an electric street bike from Santa Cruz-based Zero Motorcycles with a British-based Agni Motor – the same DC motor that propelled the Agni Motors  motorcycle to the top of the podium at the inaugural Isle of Man TTXGP  with an average speed of 87.734 mph, and a top speed of 106 mph, on the 37.73-mile course.

Electric Race Bikes, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Powered with two Agni  95R motors and 72 volts of lithium-ion batteries, the Electric Grand Prix, or EGP, bike will be piloted by American Federation of Motorcycles Formula III class winner Mike Hannas.

Swigz, Aliso Viejo

Founded by American pro rider Chip Yates, the Swigz e-bike is built using the frame of a Suzuki GSX-R750 and produces 190 horsepower from its liquid-cooled, permanent magnet DC motor.

K Squared Racing, Scotts Valley, Calif.

The K Squared Racing motorcycle is built from a production Zero S street bike from Zero Motorcycles in Santa Cruz with a modified Aftershocks suspension. The bike uses a permanent magnet brushed DC motor and 5.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack. Its top speed is 110 mph and its range (at race pace) is 30 miles. Zero electrical engineer Kenyon Kluge will race the bike. [Updated 5-4-2010, 12:20 p.m.: A previous version of this post said the name of the team was K Squared; it is K Squared Racing. The bike's range is 30 miles.]

Blue Grass, Monterey, Va.

The only licensed antique vehicle to race the TTXGP, the Electra is a 1966 Norton Atlas retrofitted with a lithium polymer battery and 118-volt AC induction motor. The 50-horsepower bike claims a top speed of 120 mph.

Pril Motors, San Mateo, Calif.

Pril will race a next-generation version of its XR1 – a converted Kawasaki Ninja that, in its original version, was powered with six lead-acid batteries.

Volt, Sebastopol, Calif.

Not much is known about Volt, except that the bike will be built by Lore and Eland Eggers, who are employees of Thunderstruck, a longstanding mom-and-pop EV shop in Sebastopol, Calif.

Square Wave Racing, Columbus, Ohio

A partnership between EV builder Sean Ewing, Jordan Rhyne of Rhyne Electric Powersports and racer John Wild, Square Wave will race a 1996 Honda CBR600F3 converted to electric with an 8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. The 35-horsepower bike claims a top speed of 120 mph.

Lightning, Woodside, Calif.

No additional information available.

Empirical Electric, Palo Alto, Calif.

No additional information available.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo credit: Azhar Hussain

Click here for a photo gallery of the electric superbikes.

To read my coverage of the original TTXGP on the Isle of Man last summer, reported from the Isle in June 2009 on latimes.com, see below:

ISLE OF MAN -- For days, traditional gas-powered sport bikes ridden by John McGuinness and other top road racers sped along the track for the 2009 Isle of Man TT – breaking records, bottoming out their suspensions and wrestling their wobbling front ends into line as they navigated lap after lap of the notorious 37.73-mile course at don't-even-have-to-blink-and-you'll-miss-it speeds approaching 200 mph. So when the electric bikes started wheeling through the gate on the inaugural run of the world's first zero-emissions motorcycle road race, the energy was more subdued. There were no whirling helicopters and the crowds were polite, rather than yelling -- a mood that matched the superbikes, which were quiet and comparatively slow on takeoff -- the thrills of petroleum-induced smells, sounds and speeds replaced with the milder excitement of possibility.

When an electric version of the TT was given the green light 10 months ago, it was embraced by the Isle of Man's chief minister as embodying the island's "spirit of adventure" and by organizers of the legendarily dangerous 102-year-old race as a "glimpse into the future." Where the future stands right now: at a top speed of 106 miles per hour -- the maximum reached by an India-Anglo outfit called Team Agni, which won the TTXGP Friday with its lithium-polymer-battery, 80-horsepower X01 bike built from the rolling chassis of a GSX-R750.

Going into the TTXGP, it was American manufacturers Mission Motors (a San Francisco company that plans to build a 150-mph, 150-mile-range electric motorcycle) and Brammo (an Ashland, Ore., firm that will soon be selling its Enertia electric motorcycles at Best Buy) that were favored to win. Each company has spent years and poured millions of dollars into developing bikes from scratch. Brammo came in third overall, Mission fourth, having been trumped by a couple of guys who started jury-rigging their ride two months ago in a shed in London's outskirts. The cost of the Agni X01 was about $30,000, according to Arvind Rabadia, a former newspaper deliveryman who worked with longstanding motor developer Cedric Lynch to build the winning bike.

"It works," said Rob Barber, the TT racer who helmed the Agni X01 for the TTXGP in addition to racing in other TT events throughout the week. "It feels like home as soon as you ride it."

How the electric bike compared to his usual internal-combustion Suzuki GSX-R1000: "Better, more peaceful. You can concentrate more because your eyes aren't bleeding," said Barber, who placed 12th in the final TT race of the week immediately following the TTXGP -- the Senior TT -- during which he attained an average lap speed of 120.255 mph versus the 87.434 mph average he achieved on board the Agni.

Another of the day's TTXGP racers wasn't so lucky. John Crellin, who placed eighth out of nine teams in the electric GP for the Indian Tork team, was killed just a couple hours later while racing in the Senior TT -- becoming the 224th racer to lose his life on the course since 1911.

Team Agni was one of 60 entrants from 15 countries initially registered to compete when the race was announced. Sixteen showed up on the island last week; just nine finished the actual competition -- the final one being the Brunel X from a London-based university team, which wheeled over the line pushed by foot, 19 minutes after the previous finisher and smack dab in the middle of the podium celebration for the TTXGP winners as they were dousing each other with champagne.

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