Trackside Tuesday: Do Motorcycles Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Now the dust has settled on another TT, a look back over the numerous pages of lap times and race results can only tell us so much. With so many incredible stories to be told it is difficult to choose one for this article.

From the blatantly obvious, such as; Dunlop’s incredible four wins, McGuinness’ new outright lap record or Ian Lougher rounding out his career on the Mountain course, which spanned four decades, tallying nine wins plus an additional nineteen podiums.

To the equally awe-inspiring, like; David Johnson’s impressive return to the island on privateer machinery, Dave Madsen-Mygdal completing his 100th TT race, and the first ever Chinese competitor at the TT, the likeable Cheung Wai-On.

Above all these, one team’s story caught my eye – the Buckeye Current team from the Ohio State University’s College of Engineering, whose Honda CBR1000RR-based electric motorcycle was tackling the Mountain course.

Consisting of a number of students from various science and engineering programs, the team’s RW-2 bike was the sole American entry from an educational institute and was pitting itself against three other teams from similar institutes and six non-collegiate teams from across the globe.

While in the paddock admiring the Mugen project’s Shinden-Ni race bike early during practice week, I first spoke to Kyle Ginaven, the Buckeye’s technical team lead, who gave me some background details on their project. Needless to say, I was intrigued to see the machine in action and witness exactly what a group of undergraduates were capable of producing.

With Rob Barber, who has been involved in the TT Zero since its inception, riding the RW-2, their final goal was to lap the circuit at an average of 90-100mph by the end of the fortnight. Initially these goals were distinctively more modest; completing a lap was their primary goal.

With a battery management system created from scratch by the team and numerous widely-available parts, such as the cooling fans under the rear sub-unit, the many circuit boards and panels visible once the fairings and “fuel tank” are removed, the RW-2 is a far cry from the megabucks projects of MotoCzysz and Mugen.

At the end of the day, the team has the same drive, passion and end goal as the two aforementioned teams; with their increasing media profiles and vastly higher budgets and resources. This becomes blatantly clear when Rob completes his lap in the Friday practice at an average of 88.1mph, making the project look like a clear challenger for the 4th place spot after the three machines of McGuinness, Miller and Rutter on their Mugen and MotoCzysz rides.

After the high point of their previous lap, technical issues hampered the team’s progress, causing the bike to cut out at numerous points around the circuit, leaving Rob to nurse the bike over the line. This was soon forgotten about after the following (and final) practice session on Monday, two days before the race.

Lapping at an average speed of 91.77mph, the team had reached their target lap time window, despite having further adjustments planned for the race, including a harder rear spring to set a greater ride height and alleviate some clearance issues caused by the camber of certain corners on the course.

Race day arrived too soon for many; another practice lap would have been snatched up by all teams involved if given the chance. The unpredictability of racing may well be it’s one predictable factor and this was proven on race day for the team when Mark Miller’s transmission gave up the ghost after jumping Ballaugh Bridge with a bit too much speed while following John McGuinness.

This left a clear chance for the third step of the podium and a claim of “best of the rest.” With Rob and the RW-2 out on the circuit, this left OSU’s team no doubt taking plenty of deep breaths, bites on nails and head-holding while they followed the race progress over race radio and timing screens.

Despite a handful of motor cut-outs during the race, Rob crossed the line over 35 seconds ahead of the next competitor, taking the third place and still lapping at an average of 90.4mph.

After the race I spoke again to Kyle, who was impressively level-headed about the result, but the buzz from the team was clear to anybody passing by their tent. The team were already thinking of further refinements to the machine once all the data gathered from the TT had been digested and the equipment had been repacked into the crate that they had custom-made for transport to the island.

After this year’s adventure in the middle of the Irish Sea, the possibility of re-packing that crate next year and making the journey to the Isle of Man is very much a reality.

Photos: © 2013 Richard Mushet / Mushet Photo – All Rights Reserved

Richard Mushet is a British photographer who has been known to cover motorcycle racing in it’s many forms. You can view his site here, and follow his Facebook page for more frequent updates over here: MushetPhoto.