During last weekend’s round of the eMotoRacing series, held at New Jersey Motorsports Park, the series had a special entry. Mixed among the Brammo TTXs and Empulse Rs that are normally seen in the series, the Bolt II electric motorcycle from Virginia Tech University filled a grid slot amongst them. Here, series founder, promoter and competitor, Arthur Kowitz tells us what it’s like to ride this completely student-built electric racing motorcycle.
What follows is an unsolicited riding impression of the Bolt electric motorcycle, built by students at Virginia Tech University. Arthur Kowitz is in no way affiliated with Motorcycle.com. -TS
Upon looking at the bike, it was clear that the front tire was not heating up…a quick tire temp check revealed a malfunctioning front tire warmer (whose job it is to pre-heat the tire before going onto the track, until racing action keeps it hot). Also noteworthy was that the rear tire was up to temperature, but not having power applied very hard while leaned over.
A quick visual inspection also revealed excess weight that could be trimmed. Items such as the thick and beefy rear brake rotor, which is barely used on a roadracer. Extra weight costs every time we accelerate, brake, turn, or even adjust a racing line.
My first laps on the Bolt were emphatic. Three things leaped out at me:
1. This bike is very FAST.
2. The front brake rotors are bad. They chatter, eliminating any potential feel of the tire on pavement, unsuitable at a racing pace.
3. The throttle transition from off to on was overly abrupt; a struggle to keep steady throttle.
Until the brakes are fixed, there will be no hard braking done while the bike is leaned over, which wastes much time as it requires braking to be done upright, hence shortening the straightaways and lengthening the corners. Also important, when the bike is leaned hard into a corner and steady throttle needs to maintained, the bike wants to either go hard or decelerate hard, making cornering clumsy and slow.
The Team took this feedback and reduced the regenerative braking by a whopping 75% to soften the abrupt throttle. This made it much better, and now rideable. However, unsure if it is a side effect of the adjustments or if it existed before, a pronounced lag of a second or so exists upon opening the throttle, making it lazy off corners, and the corresponding lag of a second when cutting the throttle.
Heading down the track at 130-plus mph toward the sharp 90-degree right hand turn at the end, closing the throttle and waiting a second or two until the motor starts to drop power is unnerving. This condition seems to worsen a bit as the bike heats up — it could be that I was pressing harder on track and becoming more demanding.
Crisp and accurate operations are not only essential to control the bike, but give the rider confidence that he can do what is needed at any time. Racing is a head game, and confidence rules.
There are several ways to steer a motorcycle: turn the handlebars, adjust throttle, apply footpeg pressure, apply (front or rear) brakes, adjust lean angle, and alter body position. With throttle adjustment and brake application untrustworthy, the other techniques would be used to maintain control. Too many compromises.
This is a big, fast bike, which suits me fine. My daily streetbike is a Kawasaki 1400 Concours which feels similar in size, heft, and power. I have hustled that Kawi around many mountain roads over the years and am comfortable doing so. Although the Bolt requires heavy force to turn the handlebars while cornering, it feels steady and stable. Once the throttle response issues are corrected, I believe it will corner fine with appropriate technique.
Now, to power and speed. The absence of a tachometer is detrimental. The motor feels as if it is just hitting its stride when it is time to shut off throttle for the next corner. Run the bike on a dyno, graph the power/rpm relationship, and gear it to maximize the rpm range. Otherwise the rider is guessing. I think it is over-geared and will accelerate better, cover ground faster, and have higher top speed with shorter gearing, but I’m still guessing without a dyno chart and tachometer.
Lastly, once the rider gets onto the bike, the sequence of powering up is too chancey — it would benefit from lights that prompt the process, avoiding any contactor or powering up issues.
In my opinion, it is a resounding success when a hand-built prototype can go to a track, compete in battle, keep running all weekend, and improve from Friday morning through Sunday afternoon. Expecting perfection the first time out is lofty, but unrealistic.
We did grid up Sunday afternoon for the weekend finale. Most of the ebike field had left the event early for various reasons, so I was relegated to mostly racing 750cc gas bikes, which was okay with me.
The Green flag is dropped and I jet away with all that power. Nice. As there was only a few bikes on the track, I could concentrate on the Bolt. Each lap was a second faster than the one before, down to a 1:48, which would have won the Saturday race. The VT Team was happy, I was happy and the Bolt was still in good shape. A good day at the track.
Riding and racing the VT Bolt was a challenge and a joy. Hopefully I can do it again. This bike has real potential.
See the video below to watch the Bolt leap off the starting line.