Cedric Lynch and Arvind Rabadia are the two halves of Team Agni, and their tent is the smallest in the pit area, a 10-foot-by-10-foot red E-Z Up. Their kit is equally minimal: an assortment of hand tools, a halogen work light, and a few copies of the latest issue of Battery Vehicle Review to pass out to curious visitors. The zine, which is the journal of the U.K.’s Battery Vehicle Society, is a hand-stapled, Xeroxed affair; the cover story, “Living with the G-WIZ,” features one owner’s evaluation of his electric quadricycle.
In their tent the day before the big race, Lynch positions the hot halogen light over a custom fiberglass battery tank that Rabadia has built by hand. The toxic smell of polyester resin fills the air. “Bloody hell, Cedric!” exclaims Rabadia from his lawn chair. “Are you trying to kill us, man?” Rabadia sports a Mohawk and a gold hoop earring, giving him an all-purpose air of menace. Lynch, on the other hand, has the otherworldly demeanor of someone who has spent the past 20 years meditating in a cave. He’s barefoot, ponytailed, and dressed in little better than rags; it is unclear whether he even hears Rabadia’s outbursts. Right now, Lynch is bent over double, fashioning a part from a piece of scrap metal by holding it with his bare feet and boring a hole in it with a mechanical hand drill. They’re quite a pair–the pirate and the pauper. “I do all the talking and Cedric does all the working,” Rabadia says. “Swearing at Cedric is my way of calming myself down.”
At the center of the Agni tent is the machine that’s blown through the two qualifying laps and set the pace to beat. If the factory-made machines look like the future, the Agni entry looks like Frankenstein’s monster. The bike is a Suzuki GSX-R with a lopsided stack of lithium-polymer batteries where the internal-combustion engine and gas tank would normally be. Twin DC motors, each the size and shape of a stack of pancakes, are mounted outboard of the frame and drive the rear wheel by way of a chain. The engineering is primitive, the craftsmanship nonexistent. The whole bike seems to be held together with zip ties and duct tape. Instead of a dashboard, the rider reads from a battered yellow voltmeter jammed between the handlebars. After the fiberglass tank dries, the paint job comes out of a spray can, and the stickers of Agni’s sponsors–mainly Kokam, a South Korean battery company–are slapped on so haphazardly that they flap in a breeze. But Team Agni is ready for the main event.
The bike’s shabbiness is, for Rabadia, a badge of honor in what he sees as a class struggle between the factory teams and the privateers. “We thought we were the underdogs,” he says. The Agni bike was thrown together in only six weeks. “It could have been half that,” he says. “I told Cedric ‘two weeks,’ but then I wasn’t around to crack the whip.” For Lynch, the bike’s evident ugliness is not a class statement but, rather, the fruit of his rigorous antimaterialist philosophy. To Lynch, it’s what inside that’s important, and nothing else. There’s not much to an electric bike–just a battery bank, controllers, motors, and the wiring that connects them. But unlike all the other designers, who hide their circuit boards inside aluminum cases, Lynch showcases his wiring under Plexiglas right on top of the main battery stack, enabling his competitors to examine exactly what makes the thing go. There’s not a microchip to be seen, but that’s exactly the point. “Anything that’s not there can’t go wrong,” Lynch explains. He races as he lives, on the barest minimum. “Bloody simple, it is,” Rabadia adds. “Nothing to it.”