“Over the Moon”
On Friday, race day, the spectators at the start/finish line are in a jocular mood. They’ve come to the Isle of Man to see the afternoon’s Senior TT, the “real” race, in which the boys with the biggest balls race thundering liter bikes at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. Although the fastest TTXGP bikes can hit 150 miles per hour, they can’t sustain that pace for the whole course, because even the biggest, heaviest battery bombs in the field–Mission and MotoCzysz–have the energy equivalent of only about a quarter of a gallon’s worth of gasoline in their tanks. The electric racers must carefully modulate their throttles to conserve energy. For the TT traditionalists, that fact makes the electric race little more than a mildly amusing morning diversion. Voices from the crowd crack jokes:
“That isn’t the warm-up area anymore, then, is it?”
“No more ‘Gentlemen, start your engines!’ I suppose.”
“They’ll need some pretty long extension cords for this track.”
And then, with a wave of a green flag, the electric bikes take off, not an extension cord in sight. The motors wind up, accelerating the bikes with a steadily rising whir: mix, chop, blend, crumb, aerate–until, finally, puree. They’re so quiet that some spectators camped out on the sides of the road aren’t even aware the bikes are coming until they’re already past.
It’s a good show, especially when some of the field start blowing parts under the strain. MotoCzysz is the first casualty: two of its three air-cooled DC motors disintegrate, throwing chunks of metal through its vent holes. The machine, perhaps fittingly, comes to rest in front of one of the oldest churches on the island–St. Runius. Back at the start/finish line, Michael Czysz realizes that he’s a goner when the radio announcers at the first checkpoint fail to note his bike. “That’s it, that’s it, it’s over now,” he says under his breath as the meaning of failure sinks in. One of Brammo’s two hopped-up race bikes is the next casualty, victim of a bump taken at 100 miles per hour that pops the rear wheel in the air ever so slightly. Suddenly free of the earth’s bite, it spins even faster, the motor’s RPM skyrockets, and the overclocking sensor inside does what it was programmed to do: cut the power to protect the engine. The bike eventually gets to within one mile of the finish line before giving up the ghost completely.
The rest of the pack zooms by, chains clicking furiously, on the way to their next checkpoint, the Sulby speed trap. A privateer team from Germany, XXL, pours on the juice to ring up the race’s fastest recorded top speed: 106.5 miles per hour. XXL’s English-speaking engineer, Marko Werner, laughs at the grandstand crowd’s stunned reaction when they hear the figure over the PA. “It vas easy,” Werner says. There were no all-nighters or last-minute track days for him or his team, because instead of trying to reinvent the electric wheel, XXL spent its time and money–four months and 35,000 euros–sourcing the most trouble-free components it could find: a water-cooled motor and controller designed for a 10-year-old hybrid car, the Audi A4 Duo. “Siemens did all the verk,” Werner confides.