Getting a chance to sit down with Michael Czysz, ahead of the 2012 SES TT Zero race, we asked the designer of the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc and CEO of MotoCzysz a few questions about the Segway MotoCzysz Racing team’s latest machine, as well as his thoughts on the 2012 season and the state of electric motorcycle racing. With aerodynamics being the centerpiece for the team’s 2012 entry, there’s a lot of reading between the lines between Michael’s comments on the bike’s technical aspects, which become fairly apparent when closely examining the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc u-close. And yes, we of course even asked the form-driven motorcyclist his thoughts on the bike’s aesthetics.
Kidding aside, Michael provides a ton of insight not only into the Segway MotoCzysz team, but also the state and trajectory of electric motorcycle racing as a whole. Developing new systems for the 2012 Isle of Man TT, the bar for electrics is constantly being pushed farther, and with several potent entries this year, the TT Zero competition has never been fiercer. Like John McGuinness said to me earlier in the week, in five year’s time or so, everyone will be racing these.
Q: So it’s a new bike and I saw your blog post about the aerodynamics, so why don’t we start there.
A: We had to look for the areas that would be easiest for us to go faster. We’ve done a pretty good job of elevating the drive system, the chassis, and the suspension. So the choice was that we could go back and attack those things again, or we could to a place we’ve never touched — which really was the aerodynamics. We did little hints, and we tried little bits last year, but we really never studied it. I had been reading about it for some time, and doing some sketches in anticipation, but we’ve just always had bigger problems to deal with first. So this was a slight luxury, and this year for sure we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Every year so far, we’ve brought a new bike, and that’s hard for a team of this size, so this year we didn’t want touch every single aspect of the bike, so we focused on the big one, and I thought that would be the aeros.
Q: What sort of changes are you seeing with the aerodynamics package this year that wasn’t there last year.
A: I think the big aspect is that you’d think it was the exterior…you’d think it was the wings, you’d think it was the tail section, or the rear fender, because those are obvious aesthetic elements. But, those things are actually small, and they are there to serve a bigger point of pushing more air through the bike. This reduces our high pressure in front of the bike, our silhouette or cross-section that we expose to higher pressure, and more importantly we start filling that lower pressure behind the bike.
You saw last year, we didn’t have team order. We had a team plan, we had a team strategy, but part of that strategy is to go out and race. They [Miller & Rutte] both want to get the first 100 mph lap, they both want to win, and we won’t do anything stupid — but you did see that Mark did a really good job of keeping up with Rutter, despite having less energy on-board. Some of that has to do with running in that wake, and that wake basically was the overall drag of the bike. We’ve worked on filling in that wake with some of the air.
Q: I know design is obviously a big portion of your skill set, did you have to make some trade-offs to achieve your goals this year?
A: Before I even started, I honestly didn’t want to do it…and I’m still not that happy with the design. I know that we could touch the nerve of most motorcyclists, and role out the coolest looking bike they have ever seen — regardless of whether it was electric or internal combustion. I knew that as soon as we went down this road [aeros], we were going to alienate a lot of them, and that they’d go “oh, look at these future bikes.” Probably it hurts the overall credibility, or at least the attraction to electric bikes by doing this, but you know, there’s a calling. If we want a 100 mph lap, we’ve got big competition this year, and I didn’t want to do it by adding 50 lbs of batteries.
Q: Speaking of the electric components, it looks like last year’s bike was the basis of this year’s bike.
A: Yeah, the basis. We’ve done some…actually, this is one I can’t go into much detail. We’ve done some internal work. We’ve done a lot of what we call connectivities and interconnections – they are all small changes, and that’s what happens. Look at it this way: let’s say we do 100, 102, or 104 mph this year. It is going to be hard to add another 5 mph next year, and another 5 mph the year after that. It gets more difficult obviously, and it’s the same thing we’re talking about with these components. It was easy the first couple of years to make big adjustments, but there weren’t those big obvious ones to make this year, just lots of little ones.
This is the best battery pack we’ve ever made — it’s the cleanest battery pack we’ve ever made. Our ability to monitor is exceedingly high compared to what we’ve done in the past, and done more efficiently. We’ve printed more of our own circuit boards this year, which we did in the past, but not at this level. We’ve written more of our own programs, so we’re doing a lot of microprocessing. We’re sending out signals in pairs of wires, instead of carrying bigger wiring looms. There’s much more interaction between the bike, the torque request, the torque delivery, the range, the batteries, the state of the charge, the current draw…and all that was getting mixed up, and now we’re sending very clear and efficient strategies of what the riders can do, and that’s processed on the fly as they go.
Q: When you say that it’s a cleaner battery pack, what do you mean by that?
A: Internally. I built the battery pack myself, and it’s just like playing the game of Operation like when we were kids, except with high voltage and ridiculous amperage. It’s lethal. So the cleaner you can make the battery pack from a connection standpoint, the less digging and probing you’re doing.
Q: So physically packed with more organization?
Q: Looking at the battery pack, it looks a lot bigger than last year’s.
A: It’s not. Physically the battery pack is slightly bigger, but that’s because we have changed some dimensions for other dimensions. We don’t have air flowing through it this year, so we’ve had to make up that cross-sectional area. We’ve also done a much better job of cooling our batteries, which has meant doing some thermal stuff inside the batteries. I also wanted it fit in the bike a bit better.
Q: I know talking to Mark & Michael, it’s hard when you’re on the course to figure out what pace to be on in regards to the energy consumption. I don’t want to say rider aids, but what sort of systems do you have in place to communicate to the riders where they are on pace for their energy consumption.
A: That’s one of the things that’s the secret sauce of what we’ve done this year. I can’t get into specifics, but that’s where we’ve written our own software, and printed our own boards. We’re taking tons of data, which we’ve tried to deliver to them in engineering terms last year, which probably caused them to have to make too many mental calculations.
You weren’t here four years ago, obviously you were here last year, three or four years ago though, people had ohm meters taped to their dashboards, and I saw a clock taped to another person’s, so…obviously we’ve made a lot of progress.
This year, it was a higher priority. So, we’re doing a really good job of communicating to those guys [Miller & Rutter]. Meter-by-meter, we’re communicating what’s going on.
Q: I know in MotoGP, we see a lot of teams using system to plan out their fuel lap by lap, or even turn by turn…
A: Exactly…we will tune it up after this first practice. We think the aero will help, but we don’t know how much. So it’s hard to bake into the strategy right now. The biggest problem is two laps before the race, you don’t want to make a lot of changes after that second one. So, you really only get one lap to make your strategy, implement it, verifying, and make a minor adjustment for the next session. So it’s kind of a one-shot deal. Frankly if the weather changes, or the air density changes, all our calculations are going to be off. Honestly, this is the most strategic racing going on at the island.
The bikes are professional, well put together, and extremely strong. In the past we told the riders to go easy on them, but this year we have no limitations. Jump as high as you want, brake and hard as you want, accelerate as hard as you can within the rules of the strategy. There will be no thermal issues. There will be no discharge issues. There’ll be none of that…but they’ve never ridden it until coming here.
Q: You touched on the suspension. It looks like the front-end is the same, and you’ve got the two shocks under the tank again, but it looks like there’s been some modifications.
A: Yeah, basically just positioning. The suspension will probably lead the development from this day forward, to the day of the race. From a design standpoint, it’s really the one with the least priority. I can put it anywhere, and do anything with it, for the most part — compared to other things which have a tighter relationship. So I was able to move the suspension this year, changing the cG a bit. I was able to focus more on the bigger parts that don’t move, and aren’t as flexible. So we changed that linkage ratio, and a few other things.
Q: Is it similar enough that you can take your settings from last year, and apply them as a baseline this year? Or is it something where you’re still behind the gun?
A: We’re behind the gun for sure. But, I do think that we have enough understanding and knowledge that we can quickly catch up on that side. For sure though, it’s a whole different swing arm for example. The swingarm length is different, the linkage, the wheel movement, the shock…it’s all different.
That’s one of the things that makes us different from Kingston and Mugen. They’ve said specifically that their bikes are designed to run only at the Isle of Man. Kingston has no interest in racing elsewhere, and Mugen has said they build the Shinden to specifically break the 100 mph lap. So if they want to come with a 50 lbs heavier bike, which they have, and that means 50 more pounds of batteries than us, then that’s a fine call for the Isle of Man, but that would be devastating if you wanted to do other things with the bike, and we do.
To strike this compromise of what’s good at Laguna, what’s good at Isle of Man, what’s good at Bonneville…and then come up with this one electric bike, that means it is compromised at all the events. If Mugen wins here, I’m sure it wouldn’t win on a short circuit. Weight matters on a short circuit, handling matters on a short circuit — but, it’s not as big of a deal this year.
Q: How far into that curve of diminishing returns are we getting into with electrics?
A: Believe it or not, after years we’re getting there now. Not to the level of ICE bikes, but things are going to be incremental until another technology breakthrough occurs. So we’re going to see incremental changes with inverter and motor development, in fact we have a next-generation motor roughed-out and ready to go, which would be a pretty big advantage to what we have now.
This isn’t going to be exploited significantly though, because we still need more batteries, because we consume more energy. I think we’ll see a plateau occur until something happens in the battery world, then we’ll see this big spike of development. We’re really at the point now where we’re pushing the batteries well past the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Q: How’s the rivalry between Mark and Michael shaping up?
A: Great. It’s awesome. They are really good friends. They are both level-headed, they both super enthusiastic. They both respect each other like crazy. You should hear them, “I can’t believe you went through that corner that fast, I can’t believe you took that line there.” They’re both really impressed by each other, but they both want to beat the other BAD. It’s the classic two-rider team scenario. The best thing in the world is to get them both on the box again, and it’ll be up to them to determine which one is first.
Q: Last year we made some predictions, got any predictions this year?
Q: Gonna share them?
A: No (laughs). I can tell you, for the 100 mph lap will be broken. Guaranteed. I think you’ll see that by three or four riders. Don’t forget though, we’re the only team to do a 90 mph, so it’s no small feat to go from 80 mph up to 90+ mph. I do think it will be closer to 105 mph than 100 mph. It’s going to be a fierce race. There’s a lot of buzz here.