An Electric Motorcycle Valentino Rossi Could Love

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Chuck Squatriglia calls Azhar Hussain’s TTX an electric motorcycle Valentino Rossi could love:

The alt-fuel revolution has been slow in coming to motorcycles, but big manufacturers like Honda and KTM now follow a growing number of start-ups in developing electric two-wheelers. So far they’ve been limited to scooters like the Vectrix VX-1E, motocrossers like the Zero X from Zero Motorcycles or commuter bikes like the Brammo Enertia.

Hussain, who co-founded Mavizen, a maker of iPod and gaming accessories, wanted something a wee bit faster. Something capable of, oh, zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds, and 135 mph.

The TTX01 is a prototype of the bike Hussain hopes to begin selling next year. Although designed for the track, he says it will be suitable for the street. With a price tag in the $30,000 ballpark, it won’t be cheap, but Hussain believes there’s a market for eco-friendlier race-ready machines.

“Our customers are after performance,” Hussain says. “Whilst these bikes will be street legal, our intention is that they will be entry-level vehicles for teams and individuals to enter the next generation of motor sport.”

He’s not alone in betting motorcyclists will pay such a premium. Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM is developing a race-ready electric motocrosser, and both Honda and Yamaha are said to be working on battery-powered bikes. Although none of those companies has said how much their green(er) machines might cost, they won’t be cheap: The Zero-X goes for $7,450, and the Brammo is 15 grand.

Hussain is an entrepreneur, not an engineer, so he turned over construction of the TTX01 to some of Britain’s leading green-tech firms. They started with a 2000 Suzuki GSX-R 750, a formidable canyon-carver, and stripped it to the frame. They pulled the engine, transmission and radiator, and replaced them with a pair of air-cooled Agni Lynch electric motors. Each has a continuous output of 20 kilowatts (about 27 horsepower) and a maximum of twice that. The motors weigh 11 kilograms (24 pounds) apiece and are 200 millimeters (7.8 inches) in diameter.

“The motors have the best power-to-weight ratio available, and they are one of the most efficient around (at) 93 percent,” Hussain says.

Power comes from a 4.3 kilowatt-hour battery pack that sports lithium–iron phosphate cells made by LifeBatt. The battery is good for 3,000 cycles and recharges in three hours. Range is 20 to 40 miles, depending upon how hard you’re riding. Hussain claims the TTX01 will do about 30 miles at 100 mph.

Of course, that kind of range won’t go far on the track, where top-tier racers like Moto GP world champion Valentino Rossi push bikes to limits that would suck a battery dry in no time. To meet the needs of racers, Hussain is working on a “hot-swappable” battery system that will require less than 15 seconds to replace a dead pack with a fresh one. It’s one of the top goals, as Hussain continues developing the production version of the bike, dubbed TTX02.

“With the introduction of pit-lane stops and battery swaps, the performance parameters change,” Hussain says. “On a typical 2.5-mile circuit, we would aim to give you about five to eight laps, depending on how it’s ridden and the configuration of the circuit, and aim to give you a zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under three seconds with a top speed of 140-150.”

Another goal for the production bike is a front hub-mounted motor that would allow for energy regeneration under braking and traction control. Hussain believes the benefits of two-wheel drive would offset any impact the added weight might have on handling.

“We would expect no more than 10 percent of the traction to come from the front wheel under any conditions,” he says. “This will keep the motor small and light and minimize adverse vehicle dynamics. The front and rear motors will not be identical. The front motor is very much a real-time assist and not a primary driver.”

Other ideas Hussain wants to explore include belt drive, a two-speed transmission, and an open-source vehicle-management system that would encourage customization. “We’re looking at Linux as a development model for the next generation of motor sports,” he says. He also is considering a composite frame to help cut weight and improve acceleration.

Hussain claims the current bike will hit 110 mph with low gearing, which maximizes acceleration and allows a zero to 60 sprint of 3.8 seconds. Change the rear sprocket, and you’ll max out at 135 mph. That’s far short of the 3.0 seconds and 172 mph the 2000 GSX-R 750 could do, but then, the Gixxer produced 140 horsepower. The Suzuki tipped the scales at 426 pounds ready to ride with oil gas and coolant, while the TTX01 weighs just a tad less than 364, because it doesn’t need all the fluids.

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