Right now, on a tiny island in the Irish Sea, one of the world’s premier motorsports “happenings” is taking place. For over a century, motorcycle racers and fans have, at the end of May, converged on the Isle of Man for the Legendary Tourist Trophy (or TT) Races. Modern superbikes are hurled around the 37+ miles of public roads that make up the iconic Mountain Course at top speeds approaching 200 mph. Part of what makes the TT so special is that it’s almost totally a throwback to an earlier time. Unlike most modern circuits it is not lined with air fences and gravel runoff areas. Rather, the Mountain Course is defined by the same trees, hedges, stone walls, and utility poles that the racers knew a hundred years ago. Tens of thousands of spectators sit at the course’s edge drinking Irish Cider – seemingly close enough that they could reach out and touch the passing riders. Wholly consistent with bygone era “feel” to the event is, unfortunately, the fact that the Isle of Man TT is one of the most dangerous sporting events in the world. Over 200 riders have died during sanctioned events on the Mountain course since 1910, including one rider already this year. Yet, throwback event that it is, The Isle of Man also stands, perhaps, at the cutting edge of the future of Motorcycle Technology.
Beginning in 2009 the organizers added an event solely for bikes with Zero Emissions. This “TT Zero” event basically became a showcase for a new generation of electric bikes. In 2009 the class attracted a handful of entries and the winner completed the single lap of the Mountain Course at 87 mph. In a few short years the technology, and the level of competition has rapidly evolved to where the 2012 winner, a Moto Czysz ridden by British Superbike Legend Michael Rutter, lapped the course at over 104 MPH and earned a 10,000 Pound (Sterling) prize for being the first TT Zero bike to break 100 mph.The second and third place bikes also exceeded the 100 mph mark. Especially notable was the second place finisher, current “King of the Mountain” John McGuinness (with 19 TT Wins) aboard a Mugen electric bike from Japan. Mugen? Maybe you know that name – the motorsports firm was founded by the son of Honda patriarch Soichiro Honda and has seen their engines and cars victory lane in Formula One, Japanese GT championship, and The World Touring Car Championship over the years. And they are VERY close with their counterparts at Honda. Both Mugen and Moto Czysy are back for the 2013 and are predicting 110 mph laps in the TT Zero event slated for next Wednesday, June 5.
So, electric bikes. They’ve been developed to be fast, decent handling (if not especially light), and with increasingly viable range. Certain factories are, apparently, interested enough to put factory riders astride these devices and help with the ongoing development. And you can now visit any number of motorcycle dealers and test ride/purchase offerings from Zero, Brammo, and others. The question really is, are electric bikes for you? Can you live with the limited range between re-charges? Do you like the idea of being at the leading edge technologically? Do Loud Pipes Save lives – in which case “no pipes” might be a problem.
If you’ve test ridden an electric bike, or just studied the situation carefully please weigh in here and let us know what you think. And, in any case, check out the Isle of Man TT Zero race next wednesday at http://www.iomtt.com and see how fast these electric bikes go this year!