Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lithium Lighting:Electric Bikes

Lightning Motors' electric motorcycle it's made for the street . It goes 0-60 in around 3 seconds, hits close to 100 mph at top speed, and has about a 100-mile range at cruise. The bike is a Yamaha R1 that has been modified to be powered by lithium-ion batteries. The entire engine is missing. So are the tailpipes, radiator, gas cap, transmission and clutch. In their place: a wall of yellow batteries, an AC regenerative motor, an electric throttle and a three-pronged plug, which pokes out from the frame and connects to a standard outlet.

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Unlike the Tesla electric sport car, which is powered by thousands of tiny batteries, the R1 conversion uses just 28. Each of them is 90 amp-hours at 3.2 volts and 6.6 pounds. Together, they weigh less than everything that was taken off the bike to make it electric. While the majority of the batteries are concentrated in a Mondrian-esque block where the engine used to be, they're also tucked under the seat where the exhaust was once located, to mimic the weight distribution of a stock R1.

The Lightning Lithium is, after all, just a prototype — an idealistic vision of what could be. Using a track-beaten 1999 Yamaha R1, the conversion cost about $15,000 total. It was the brainchild of Richard Hatfield, a motorcycle enthusiast and solar panel importer based in Burlingame, and Todd Kollin, who's been making electric bikes out of past-their-prime gas-powered ones for the last six years at his Oakland shop, Electric Motorsport. Right now, the shop does custom conversions of aging internal-combustion bikes, with a turnaround time of about 30 days.

Within a couple years, the two hope to make a comparably priced production version of the bike using a custom chassis, as well as a smaller, less powerful $6,000 to $8,000 model.

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