Riding, And Racing, The Lightfighter LFR19 Electric Motorcycle - Part 1
Trizzle helps develop an e-bike with the potential to disrupt the industry
The history book (or Wikipedia page, if that’s your thing) on electric motorcycles is rather slim, especially compared to its internal combustion counterparts, but what you’ll find is a myriad of ideas and concepts. Such is the beauty of a technology in its infancy. The section on electric racing motorcycles is even thinner. If you discount the inaugural MotoE championship running alongside MotoGP this year, the biggest stage for electric racing motorcycles has been the Isle of Man TT Zero race, wherein each entry tries to complete one full lap around the 37-mile course as fast as possible. Well, it was until the event was put on hold for at least two years. The machines you would have found at the TT Zero are full of ideas and concepts to win the race, but the one constant is the fact the batteries dominate the vehicle’s overall design. It’s understandable, considering you need a lot of battery to travel nearly 40 miles at 150-plus miles per hour.
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But designing to a large battery comes with compromises, not least of which is to the motorcycle’s overall chassis geometry. Big batteries mean short and/or oddly shaped swingarms, funky linkage ratios – or no linkage at all – which leads down a rabbit hole of other chassis geometry (not to mention packaging) issues and compromises. These unconventional rear suspensions and high final drive ratios (to make up for a lack of transmission) veer away from the linkage-based designs racing teams with far greater budgets have moved towards for decades in an effort to maximize mechanical grip and provide the flexibility needed to tune a bike for a particular track or conditions. Without this geometry and flexibility, the race team can be left feeling around in the dark for an optimal setup. See some examples below:
There’s Another Way
The Lightfighter LFR19 takes the conventional wisdom of using very unconventional designs for electric motorcycles and turns it on its head. “We wanted to design and build a motorcycle centered around proper geometry first, with the battery a distant second,” says Brian Wismann, co-designer and builder of the LFR19. If you’re a fan of the electric motorcycle space, the name Brian Wismann may sound familiar. By day he’s the VP of Product Development at Zero Motorcycles. By night he’s designing and creating electric racing motorcycles, drawing on his past experience leading the racing efforts for Brammo at the Isle of Man, and the now-defunct TTXGP series, before transitioning to Polaris/Victory and taking the helm for its short-lived racing efforts at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and the aforementioned TT Zero race.
Wismann’s partner in crime is Ely Schless, a pioneer in the electric vehicle world, with over three decades worth of experience figuring out how to make things move quickly on battery power. Together, Wismann and Schless created the Lightfighter LFR19, named after a road Wismann passes along US-1 South whenever he ventures to Laguna Seca. “It’s such a cool name, I thought it would work perfectly for this electric racebike, since light weight and challenging gas bikes was the intent all along,” he says.
This story really begins on eBay, where Wismann sourced a swingarm from a 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1. Short of going into a deep discussion about shock linkage ratios and anti-squat properties, we’ll just say the swingarm met the handling properties Wismann was looking for. It also has the benefit of having its shock placement directly in the center with it mounted vertically, which is key for packaging reasons. Darn near everything else is completely custom.
Wismann and Schless went back and forth on final chassis design, studying geometry numbers from existing motorcycles before Schless commenced cutting and welding each tube of the steel-chromoly trellis frame by hand. “Brian spent more time studying,” Schless admits. “When you’ve done this as long as I have, you eventually have a pretty good idea how many tubes to use, how thick they should be, and where to put them.” For the sake of safety, however, Schless overbraced the frame and double-checked it with Wismann.
From there, the front of the bike is suspended by a Öhlins FGRT 210 fork, which was a common replacement racers used on the Ducati 1098/1198/848 family. The internals are different, of course. The triple clamps are also custom machined with the fork centers slightly narrower than the Ducatis they would normally be found on, and being a pure racing motorcycle, the rake and trail are adjustable via a concentric insert at the steering stem. In the end, the LFR19 touts a 24.5º steering head angle, roughly 4.0 inches of trail, and a 56-inch wheelbase. All with room for adjustment.
Schless’ custom handiwork continues at the hand-assembled battery, where he installed each large, automotive EV-type pouch of the roughly 11kWh battery himself. Pushing over 400 volts (410v to be exact), the Lightfighter’s battery cells (not to be confused with the battery itself, which is completely custom) were originally meant for an iteration of the then-Brammo Isle of Man TT racer that never got off the ground in 2016. And while three years is a lifetime in battery tech, it’s still pushing serious power. This current is fed to one of the few components you actually can buy off the shelf – a water-cooled GVM210 motor from Parker Hannifin with custom windings and custom end plates to accommodate the gear reduction on one side and the water plenum on the other. Power is fed through a gear reduction set mated to a jackshaft which places the countershaft sprocket in correct alignment with the rear sprocket. Speaking of power, Wismann estimates the Lightfighter makes in the ballpark of 120-ish horsepower at the wheel. But the real eye-opener is the torque number – a whopping 200 lb-ft – at the countershaft sprocket!
Besides the geometry-first design approach, Wismann’s vision for the Lightfighter was to create an electric motorcycle the average person could take to trackdays, or even their local club race. Drawing on his past experience, Wismann knew current battery technology could handle roughly 25 miles of high-speed action, which translates to roughly six to 10 laps depending on the track – a lap count most club racing organizations abide by. Eleven kWh is enough to handle this distance assuming the motorcycle is light enough, a fact Wismann and Schless were acutely aware of when setting their target weight of 350 lbs. Most tracks also have RV parking areas, which are equipped with 220Vac/50 Amp power – perfect for recharging the Lightfighter. “So far in testing, we’ve found that, throughout the course of a normal trackday, we typically only have to skip one session to let the bike recharge,” Wismann says. “Otherwise, we can do a session, come in, and recharge before the next rotation without over-stressing the battery.” At tracks without RV hookups, lugging along a big, 6000-7500 watt generator is the next option.
OZ Racing Wheels supplies the super trick magnesium wheels, while braking comes from dual 330mm discs Brembo two-piece billet GP calipers. Finally, a set of bodywork from Kramer Motorcycles wraps everything together. On the surface using Kramer fairings helps distinguish the Lightfighter from your run-of-the-mill Gixxer (though not at all from another Kramer), but there’s a symbiotic relationship, too, as both parties specialize in niche, performance, track-only motorcycles – which is exactly what the Lightfighter would be if it ever found a path to production. The hope is to utilize the partnership with Kramer to find avenues to bring an electric sportbike of or near this caliber to the (racetrack) market. But first, the proof of concept needs to be, well, proven.
To do that, Wismann and Schless had to find a willing victim – err, test rider. That’s where I come in. Over the course of several months, we tested, tuned, and ultimately raced the Lightfighter at select AHRMA rounds. Our end goal was to show what it could do against the fastest V-Twins in the country at the Barber Vintage Festival, the Super Bowl event on AHRMA’s schedule. The journey to Barber is what follows in Part Two of the Lightfighter story.
Troy's been riding motorcycles and writing about them since 2006, getting his start at Rider Magazine. From there, he moved to Sport Rider Magazine before finally landing at Motorcycle.com in 2011. A lifelong gearhead who didn't fully immerse himself in motorcycles until his teenage years, Troy's interests have always been in technology, performance, and going fast. Naturally, racing was the perfect avenue to combine all three. Troy has been racing nearly as long as he's been riding and has competed at the AMA national level. He's also won multiple club races throughout the country, culminating in a Utah Sport Bike Association championship in 2011. He has been invited as a guest instructor for the Yamaha Champions Riding School, and when he's not out riding, he's either wrenching on bikes or watching MotoGP.
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