Setting Bonneville speed records with three wheels, batteries and the sun: Motoramic Experts
Kevin Clemens is an award-winning journalist and author. Trained as an engineer, he has worked as a research scientist, a designer of racing and sports car tires, a public relations counselor and has been an editor and contributor at some of the transportation industry’s most influential magazines. His history-based adventures have included driving a 1959 Mercedes around the world, a Buick through the wilds of South America, a 1929 Chrysler from Beijing to Paris, and setting Land Speed Records on electric motorcycles he builds in his shop in Lake Elmo, Minn. — Ed.
In 2011, my wife and I dragged a little electric motorcycle that I had built from a 1970s Honda Scrambler out to the Bonneville Salt Flats and came home with an American Motorcycle Association (AMA) national record at the blistering speed of 61.538 mph. It was fun, but turned out to be addictive. I had caught Salt Fever.
Back to the salt again in 2012, my new bike was based on a 2004 Kawasaki Ninja 250, used high-tech lithium polymer batteries, a motor controller provided by Alltrax, Inc. and a lightweight 30kW Agni motor manufactured in India. I competed for records recognized by the Fèdèration Internationale de Motocyclisme (F.I.M.) in the 150-kg unstreamlined and partially streamlined classes and set four world records and two national records. The fastest speed on my machine was 85.7 mph, and my fastest F.I.M. record was 78.4 mph for a two way average over the salt. True, a stock Zero S electric motorcycle could better those speeds, but Bonneville is tough and setting any record is a challenge.
Better aerodynamics promise a higher top speed so for this year, Bonneville pal Tom Anderson built me a new exotic front fairing, based on an early 1970s Bob George design. It moved me into a different classification — altered partially streamlined. A new experimental controller from Alltrax upped my voltage from 72 to 100 volts. I also converted my trusty Honda Scrambler into a land speed sidecar bike. The record for the 300-kg electric sidecar class was 50 mph, a speed I felt certain the little bike could exceed.
At Bonneville there is a near-constant drone of gasoline-powered generators, including the one that I used to recharge my bikes’ batteries. Minnesota-based tenKsolar provided two RAIS solar photovoltaic (PV) 190-watt modules to power my digital charging system. Now, not only would my bikes be nearly silent riding on the salt, my pits would be blissfully free of the noise and fumes from a generator. Being powered by the Sun made me a winner before we even left for the Salt Flats.