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

  • Westward

    $38,000 for 38 miles of fun is would suspect, and 5-8 hours ’til you can do it again. If I had to guess, I would guess it’s not going to work out as they think, cause obviously they have not planned…

  • MikeD
  • Ken C.

    A bit too expensive to become mainstream, but I applaud their efforts. Hopefully the bike will actually look like the sketch above and the range will be usable. 100 miles would be great, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  • protomech

    Westward – if your “38 miles of fun” are conducted at the race pace used at the Isle of Man, then I hope you’re doing them on a track.

    Even very fast 100+ mph street riding will probably yield 50+ miles of range with the 12 kWh battery, and Lightning claims 100 miles at a steady 70 mph for the race bike. 120 Wh/mile is quite low for 70 mph, but Lightning knows a thing or two about aerodynamic fairings.

    Lightning claims a 2 hour charge time for the bike with a 30A J1772 charging station. Customers interested in using the bike for short track sessions might look at an offboard charger like the Manzanita Micro PFC-75, which could charge the 12 kWh model in around 40 minutes.

    Bringing this bike to production even in limited quantities is going to be a significant effort. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

  • sideswipe

    Saw the Lightnings run and win this year at Laguna Seca. Does look like a whole lot of fun. Stomped those Brammos so on the track at least it’s not a slouch in that category. Your right though. It’s a big leap from a self run racing exercise and a commercial product.

  • Strider

    You know that the 38-mile range was at race-pace right? That has nothing to do w/ public road range. Lightning believes the bike will deliver over 100 sport-riding miles which is a huge leap from where the industry was a few years ago.

    Remember that in the early days of ICE motorcycles they were slower than the competition (horses) and were very expensive but over time we’ve come to where we are today. So ebikes aren’t for everyone today but progress marches on. And if this bike is anything like my Tesla my Benelli will be gathering dust.

  • Dan

    I saw this about a week before you posted your report. interesting write up

  • Tom

    Looks like a Fischer. Wait, did the Fischer motorcycles ever get made either?

  • JimBob

    We really need one of the japanese big 3 (or is it 4?) motorcycle outfits to swoop in and sell an electric motorcycle for less than 10k *with* decent performance/range.

    Clearly these small west coast companies cannot cut it. Lightning/Mission are/were way overpriced (no economies of scale). Brammo can’t deliver — 3 years late on empulse and price bumped up near 20k. Zero makes cheap chinese crap.

  • I love this bike its fuel efficient. Honda Autumn Sales are happening NOW! Stop into the Baltimore or Bel Air location to take advantage of these.