Having been involved in the research and manufacturing of electric motorcycles for over six years, Lightning Motors were the first company to bring a truly electric Superbike to the consumer market, with their journey starting back in 2006, when Lithium battery technology became a viable solution to power motorcycles. Taking an old Yamaha R1, the Lightning team converted the machine to electric power, with it putting out over 60bhp, almost 70ft-lb of torque and immediately had a top speed of 100mph!..
Despite the Lightning R1 being a raw prototype, it still had a range of 60 miles and thanks to its considerable media attention from the two wheeled community, was considered as the catalyst that sparked the electric motorcycle scene – including the now famous TT Zero race at the Isle of Man TT.
Following the R1, Lightning Motors went on to build the world’s first PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) capable of exceeding 40 miles in EV mode on one charge, as well as the first ever Lithium ATV. But it was October 2009 when the Lightning team really hit the headlines, breaking the world record for electric bikes – setting an incredible 166.368mph at the infamous Bonneville Salt Flats.
Returning in 2010 they broke their own record, while in 2011 Lightning took yet another step forward, smashing their previous record by over 40mph to set a new world land speed record of 215.907mph! With their credentials unquestionable, and their name now synonymous with electric motorcycles, Lightning Motors made their debut on the world racing stage when they became the first vehicle to win a major motorsports competition powered solely by solar energy. The EPower/TTXGP was held at Laguna Seca in July 2012, with the Lightning motorcycle and rider Michael Barnes winning by 2.903s.
Speaking after that race, Barnes said, “We were not about to lose this one, we have worked really hard on the machine to hold enough energy for the whole race and I can’t thank my guys enough for all the development work they have done. In two years we have improved twelve seconds and are already four seconds quicker than last year. That speaks for itself. Richard Hatfield (CEO of Lightning Motors) has put in his heart and soul and I can’t thank him enough, hopefully it will pay off for all of us soon.
“We hit 140mph in qualifying, which is faster than any of the 600's out there! If I’m honest, the bike does feel more like a 1000cc as far as the torque is concerned....the sky's the limit with electric power and I’m pretty sure we will eclipse something soon. I don't when or how but we are going to make our mark with the electric industry that’s for sure.”
Make their mark they would. Just one year later Lightning and Pikes Peak legend Carlin Dunne set a new record for the fastest ascent of Pikes Peak by an electric motorcycle. What made their achievement even more special was that the duo did not just win the electric category, they were faster than the closest world-class petrol-powered bike by almost 21 seconds!
In the six years they have been designing and building motorcycles, Lightning Motors have continuously set the benchmark for electric machines and their latest Superbike, the LS-218, is the fastest production motorcycle electric or otherwise. Using the cutting-edge products, the Lightning Superbike has a range of between 100-150 miles and a quick charge of 30 minutes (fully charged in two hours), it is an equal contender to many petrol powered machines.
Up front, the LS-218 has Öhlins FGRT forks with NIX30 cartridge internals, fully adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping. Stopping power comes from dual Brembo 320mm discs with Brembo radial-mount forged 4-piston callipers. At the rear, Lightning have chosen an Öhlins TTX36 Shock and linkage, making the machine as forgiving on road as it is sharp on the track.
“We built our brand by setting Bonneville records,” said Lightning CEO Richard Hatfield, “and beating the best machines at Pikes Peak, while winning road racing championships has cemented our position. We wanted our latest machine to provide comfort for the rider and supreme handling and with Öhlins having built their brand by winning in virtually every form of motorsports, as well as their unrivalled products, it was a natural choice for us. Lightning's customers demand the best on their LS-218 Electric Superbikes and we’ve strived to provide them just that!”
Why use solar energy?
There are lots of electric motorcycles being designed and built around the world, but what sets the Lightning Motors group aside is their use of solar power. Hatfield explains, “Solar energy fuelled vehicles are not just theoretical concepts, to be realised sometime in the future, but a reality that we can all benefit from today. We believed from the very beginning that they would be able to compete head to head with petrol powered machines, so our decision to go with solar power was relatively simple.
Naturally it took some extra effort to execute but we decided to make the extra effort for a couple of reasons. First, we wanted to show that using an electric vehicle is not a compromise. So often people comment that electric vehicles are not reliable and are not a viable technology, but by winning these major competitions with our electric racing vehicles I hope people are now starting to realize that electric vehicle technology is viable and efficient.
Solar is a viable source of sustainable energy that allows us to power our superbikes for the race without a carbon footprint. The primary goal of the electric superbike is to win races, but we are certainly aware of the need to make fundamental changes within the transportation industry. Utilizing solar power is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the viability of clean power generation and to show how the technology can be applied the transportation industry.
An electric motorcycles’ power storage needs are met by a system of batteries, whereas a traditional motorcycle derives power from liquid fossil fuels. Batteries, indiscriminately storing electricity, allow for flexibility in the methods by which power is generated for storage. That means the power fed to the batteries of an electric motorcycle can be harnessed from the sun, via solar technologies, or from the wind, or from running water, or – you get the idea.
Our race bikes are virtually the same as our street bikes, with only cosmetic changes for legality, and component changes based on customer preference. Not only are our Lightning Superbikes the fastest production motorcycles available for sale today, but they are also the most energy efficient. On motorways we can achieve more than 100 miles of range for an equivalent of over 250mpg. Even at the Bonneville Salt Flats when we set the SCTA World Land Speed Records of 215.960mph, our range was over 20 miles. At our top speed of over 218mph we calculated that we were still achieving an equivalent of over 50mpg!
Our goal is that within the next two years we will set the fastest lap on the track at an AMA Pro Race weekend, gasoline or electric - the technology is developing very rapidly and I see no reason why this isn’t possible!”