Lightning Motorcycles Announces Street-Legal Electric Bike for Sale – We Have Reservations

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Lightning Motorcycles is getting set to offer a street-legal version of its electric race bike. Featuring the same 240+ hp Remy motor as the racing stead, Lightning will have two battery packs available for street-riders: 12kWh & 14kWh — while the team continues to develop the 22kWh pack it unsuccessfully campaigned at the Isle of Man TT.

Basically the Lightning’s electric race bike with lights, signals, and new fairings, we have yet to see the new bodywork from Lightning, but if it looks anything like the concept sketch from Glynn Kerr Design (of Fischer, Boxer,  & Mondial fame), it should be quite stunning — as is the $38,000 price tag.

The Good:
Having done a few laps at Sears Point earlier this year on the Lightning race bike, I can tell you that the machine has power unlike anything currently being offered to consumers. Coming out of the bus stop at Turn 11, I had to practically crawl over the front of the motorcycle to keep the front wheel down while getting hard on the throttle — it really is a rocket ship, even compared to the venerable Mission R that I test rode just last month.

The Bad:
At well over 500 lbs, the bike isn’t as stable into the corners as a liter-bike is per se, and the wide tank only serves to enhance the notion that you’re riding a “big” bike, despite the Lightning’s relatively normal wheelbase, seat height, and maximum width. This makes the ergo’s mid-corner a bit uncomfortable, and one has to really adapt his/her riding style to fit the machine’s layout. One would think this will be less of an issue once the bike gets new fairings, though I fear the same constraints, i.e. the battery pack, will mean continued wideness in the fuel tank region.

The Ugly:
Lightning says that it will have bikes in the hands of customers within 60 to 90 days of purchase, though I have some reservations about that claim, and the company’s rush to produce road-legal machines.

More of an exercise in a custom one-off than full-fledged production bike like Brammo or Zero, Lightning’s announcement seems premature since not a single specimen of the company’s road bike has been built to our knowledge. Granted the changes Lightning needs to go from race to street are fairly simple and mostly cosmetic, but it still means that buyers are getting bikes that have only been vetted on the race track, not the street — and there is a difference between the two.

Seeing on multiple occasions the general state of the machines that Michael Barnes, John Burrows, Ted Rich, Tim Hunt & Paul Thede have campaigned for Lightning, it doesn’t surprise me that the team’s efforts have been plagued with a variety of failures, some in preparation, some in strategy, and some in mechanical/electrical terms. To some extent that is just the nature of racing, but to another extent that is just the nature of Lightning Motorcycles’s operation as a whole.

As a shoe-string budget track bike, you can forgive Lightning for its hacked together bodywork, worn pieces, and “just make it work” philosophy, but as an exclusive and high-priced street-legal machine that motorcyclists are going to ride on public roads — alongside cars, bicycles, and pedestrians — the rusted bolts, slacken chains, and a general lack of fit and finish become unforgivable cardinal sins.

At $38,000 a pop, buyers are going to expect the fit & finish that has been seen on bikes like the Mission R, Mugen Shinden, or MotoCzysz E1pc, not on Lightning’s Flying Banana. Can the San Carlos company deliver that to its customers? Maybe, but it hasn’t demonstrated that capability yet, which gives me some reservations. So far, Lightning is hoping to trade its handful of racing wins in for some street-bike cred, and unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

Instead of sticking an unwitting journalist on the race bike, and promising that all the machine’s deficiencies will be addressed in the production model, build the consumer-sided model first, and show us the proof of those claims. Looking at the sketch by Kerr, this is a bike I can’t wait to test, and hopefully I will be impressed by not only the bike’s evolution, but also by the company’s. However, to rubber-stamp the idea knowing the build-up to this point without voicing some serious concerns, that would be a cardinal sin on my part.

Photo: Lightning Motorcycles