Interview : Kingston University e-Bike Team
A glimpse to the future ?
The TT Zero race, raced in June during the Isle of Man TT, shows spectators the high level of efficiency reached today by electric motorcycles. We met one of the oldest competing team, the Kingston University, and their powerful bike, called the Ion Horse.
The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (usually abbreviated IOMTT) is one of the most famous races in the world, since the first appearance of that competition in…1911. A tricky and dangerous paradise for engines, pilots and spectators, pleased both by the danger and the sounds of engines pushed to their limits along the 37.5 miles lap of that mythic track. But, since 2010, that race is also totally quiet and environment-friendly, with the TT Zero.
A special category, created for electric motorcycles. A sight of the future ? Maybe not, riders currently showing serious reservations against that bikes. But, at least, a flagship race for electric development, pushing factories to do their best, creating technologies that you could see tomorrow on road-legal electric motorcycles. Factories ? Yes, MotoCzysz, Honda and now Victory (formerly Brammo, from now on part of the Polaris group) are part of the race, with high financial means and, of course, the best results (four consecutive victories for MotoCzysz between 2010 and 2013, two victories for Honda since 2014). But they’re not alone on the Mountain, and some Doc Emmett Brown try to make their best with less. Some are creative inventors, putting an electric motor and a battery pack in an existing internal combustion engine bike, others are students, trying to find new solutions, as the Kingston University team.
That squad is one of the best non-factory team, with a third place in 2011 and a fourth place in 2013, just behind the Ohio State University project (the only other university team able to made a podium since the beginning of the IOMTT Zero). We met them just before the race, while they were just finishing their Ion Horse, a Desmosedici replica faired monster, powered by a powerful electric engine. Even if some parts come from production (or prototype) existing bikes, like the front fork (Suzuki GSX-R 1000) or the fairing (based on a Ducati MotoGP), all the other parts are custom parts. The frame is a big tubular trellis, with a very beautiful aluminum swingarm. One of the original solutions found by Kingston University is that the output sprocket is part of the swingarm axis. In fact, the chain as always the same length between the swingarm axis and the rear wheel axis, and can have an optimal tension. Clever !
Supplied in power by a big central battery pack, the small electric motor is able to 140 kW, quite enough without any riding assistance like a traction control. When we met them at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (one of the five faculties of Kingston University, which have a total of 20,668 students !), the team was finishing the fairing with a new mouth for the air cooling of the batteries, and was working on the engine and the dashboard display. The students have lot of stuff in the small workshop, and they’re able to made some parts by themselves, with CAD and 3D-printers. They also have high-tech equipment provided by K-Tech to tune the rear suspension. A great team in a small place… Warning, it’s an high voltage interview !
How a University decided to create a team to run TTZero?
The KU e-Racing Electric bike team started back in late 2008 by former lecturer Paul Brandon at Kingston University. Paul Brandon gave a speech in the Science Museum in London at the official launch of the TT XGP in 2008, and explained that his electric bike project would be the start to an amazing and interesting journey in the engineering world for Kingston University. A few students had joined him and slowly it became an extra-curricular activity for the students and the university.
How much people work in the Ion Horse team?
The current team is made up of 10 students, however, three people are leaving so 7 students who are in their first year will take over from September. There are also a few university lecturers involved in this project and oversee the running of the team and any equipment that the team needs.
Who are the members of the team?
The team members are all students at the university from different backgrounds. The team leader, Ryan Duffy, who is in his final year of BSc motorsport engineering, is from Ireland. Laila Guseva is also in her final year of BSc motorsport engineering and is from Latvia. Enrique Munoz, another final year student from Madrid, studied BEng Mechanical Engineering. The other members of the team are all first years who are studying either mechanical engineering or motorsport engineering. The new team members are:
– Ed Wratten is from Yorkshire, England and is in charge of student liaison for the team.
– Kino La Chica Espinosa De Los Monte is from Malaga, Spain and is the team’s project manager.
– Matthew Bottomley is from Oxford, England and is the race coordinator for the team.
– Ravjyot Kaur Bharij is the team’s fairing team leader and she is from London but her family is originally from Punjab, India.
– Emmanuel Falade is from London, England but his family is originally from Nigeria and is the team’s chassis leader.
– James Iveson, who is from London, England, is the powertrain team leader for the team.
– Riccardo Antonini is from Rome, Italy and is the drivetrain team leader.
What are your means ?
The team does get some funding from the university and they also get sponsorship from Motor Tourer and are looking to get further sponsorship from other companies. Kingston University provides us with excellent machine labs and auto labs to work in and their very own dedicated bike dyno.
How did you find your pilot, Shaun?
Shaun is an ex-student of the university and agreed to be our rider. He was contacted 6 years after his graduation from Kingston to see if he will be interested in being our rider as he had taken up road racing.
Your Green and Black ”ION Horse” looks like a prototype, but with some GSXR genes. Do you start with an existent base, or do you made it from scratch?
Yes it is a prototype. The geometry of our bike is based on the GSXR geometry. The chassis and swing arm are custom made to student designs by B-Tech whereas the wheels and brake discs are Suzuki parts.
Who develop the frame, the rear arm, and the fairings?
The frame of the bike and swing arm was a student development in collaboration with a chassis design company. The fairing is a bio tech material and our current fairing is a MotoGP replica but our fairing team leader, Ravjyot, is working on a land speed record in collaboration with C-Tech.
Same question for the Engine, the batteries ?
The motor used in our bike is a prototype motor from YASA motors and the batteries used are lithium pouch cells in a team-designed battery pack.
Can you release some technical information about your bike ?
The current bike has a total voltage of 500 volts, 140kW and can go 0-60 in less than 3 seconds! Top speed is 160mph!
We meet you because you came in France to test your batteries in D2T Powertrain Engineering at the beginning of the year. Why and how did you choose a French partner for the development of your batteries ?
The team met D2T in the Cenex low carbon show in 2014 and we spoke to them and they seemed keen to help us understand the batteries we use. A team member had worked with D2T as a part of his final year project for his degree; they had managed to see how to characterize cells and their discharge capabilities. It has been a very fruitful relationship and we hope to work with D2T Powertrain Engineering again.
What are your different partners and how did they helps you ?
Great help comes from British Motorcyclists Federation and its Financial Director Howard Anderson, who is not just the father of the rider Shaun, but also great bike mechanic and motorbike enthusiast. Thanks to them, the Ion Horse featured the front cover and the main article of BMF’s Motorcycle Rider Magazine winter issue. However, there are many more sponsors involved in the project that the team are very grateful to: Vayon Green Power Group, YASA Motors, Sensor Technik UK, Motortourer, AutoVolt Magazine, Brungtinthorpe, B-Tech, C-Tech Composites, K-Tech Suspension, AnyTech Print (you can see a pattern here!), Goodridge, Vepro, Ace Cafe, Drive eO and Kalup Machines.
From how many time did you participate to the TT Zero ?
The KU e-Bike racing team is the only team to have participated in the TT Zero since it started in 2010. The team’s best finish was in 2011 where we secured a podium position at the race – the Ion Horse finished 3rd. In 2013, the team finished 4th and this year, we are looking to secure another podium position.
What are the main problems encountered in developing the project ?
The bike is an electric vehicle so we are pushing boundaries on new technology and what we can do to improve the bike, which is always tough. The mechanical development of the bike is something we can do with some ease and help from the university, but the battery and controller side is where we push development and our understanding, of how to work and control the bike and what we can improve.
For this year, what is your ambition in terms of results ?
Our aim for this year’s bike is to improve on our results and hopefully come first in the TT zero! Or at least achieve another podium position! The Ion Horse has been designed to break the 100 mile lap and we would be delighted to be able to show our bike’s true potential. We are hoping to race against factory teams such as Mugen and Victory, who are new entries to the TT this year. Our team currently holds the UK land speed record and we are looking to beat that this year too!
Unfortunately, the team didn’t finish the 2015 race, won by John McGuinness on the Honda Mugen Shinden, with an incredible 18’58.743 lap, at an average speed of 119.279 mph ! For those who think that’s not so fast, Bruce Anstey’s current record on the Superbike category (the fastest one) is 17’06.682 at 132.298 mph (average speed, of course). Electric motorcycles have just one silent lap to do, but what a lap ! Could they be faster than current superbikes tomorrow ? Well, we’ll wait 2016 race !
By Simon Palatchi and Max, pictures S.P.