Designing Electric Racing Motorcycles

For December 5, 2018        
Hi WN@TL Fans,
The motorcycle is a surprisingly pervasive player in the moviesmusic and mindset of America. The movies go back at least to Charlie Chaplin in Mabel at the Wheel in 1914, and to Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. in 1924. Here in Wisconsin, UW Cooperative Extension is still mighty proud of the photo from 1912 of E. L. Luther, Wisconsin’s first county agent, and his motorcycle in front of the Oneida County Courthouse in Rhinelander. The motorcycle conveyed a commitment to go the distance, over rough terrain, using modern flair.

Those early images capture much of the essence of motorcycles—speed, freedom, maneuverability, even sex appeal (except for the Extension guy).  However, they are but photos and silent movies and therefore they lack one key feature:  the roar of the engine.  This cinematic aural oversight was quickly overcome, and the thunder of the machines played prominently in classics such as The Wild One, Easy Rider, and Mad Max.
Closer to home, the industrial and cultural history of 20th Century Wisconsin is hardly understandable without the throbbing rumble of the Harley-Davidson on the open road heading up north to Sturgeon Bay, or out west to Sturgis. 
The acceleration and the speed, the sound and the fury of motorcycles are thanks to their engines— gas-burning internal combustion engines with pistons and crankshafts, with valves and carburetors, with gas tanks and oil crankcases, with exhaust pipes and (all too rarely) mufflers.
We’re pretty tuned in to the elegant simplicity of electric cars, but what about their two-wheeled counterparts?  What challenges & advantages come with designing and building an electric motorcycle?  It’ll have a motor, but no engine; a battery, but no tank. Tons of torque, but what about its range?  
And will they thunder down the road? 
This week (December 5) we get to hear Lennon Rodgers of the Grainger Makerspace in the Wendt Building talk about “Designing Electric Motorcycles for The World’s Most Dangerous Motorcycle Races.”
Here’s how Lennon describes his talk:
Let’s explore the process of designing, building and testing electric motorcycles for the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) Zero race and more recently the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC). The TT is the oldest existing motorcycle race (est. 1907), and is known for high speeds, over 200 sharp turns, and danger to the rider. PPIHC is a similar age, shorter distance, but with more extreme mountain conditions. 
These demands created a challenge to engineer machines capable of finishing the entire course on a single battery charge in the fastest time possible. 
The design process consisted of systems engineering, subsystem design, final system design, testing, and model validation. Real-time sensing provided a rich data set that was used to validate the models; it was found for the TT that the models were able to predict the acceleration, maximum speed, and energy consumption to within 10% of the actual values. Finally, a related project with BMW will be described where the objective was to understand and improve an electric vehicle’s “distance to empty” algorithms.

About the Speaker: 
Lennon Rodgers is the Director of the Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Lab (Makerspace) at UW-Madison. He earned his PhD and M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (all mechanical engineering). Previously he worked at MIT as a Research Scientist and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an engineer. All of his research is related to engineering education and modeling, designing, building, instrumenting and testing complex systems ranging from spacecraft to electric vehicles.
Given the pivotal role of acoustics in the mystique of motorcycles, one wonders about the electric ones:  will their lightning more than make up for their thunder?
Next week (December 12) we continue with the theme of dazzling speeds but on a smaller scale and with a sweeter endpoint.  Danny Minahan of Entomology will be here to give us some comparative insights into the foraging strategies & energies of the humble bumble bee and its melliferous cousin, the honey bee.
Honey, comb, hive, cell, wax, music:  bees do it concisely.
Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Cooperative Extension