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:

The Brammo and Victory Isle of Man prototypes always mounted the motor “underslung” behind the swingarm pivot to make space for the battery. A conventional gas-powered motorcycle typically doesn’t do this because, primarily, the motor and transmission can’t possibly fit in this space. But it also changes the effect of the chain line on the chassis’ anti-squat response. The rear shock is link-less and connected from the massive billet swingarm to the top of the battery case.

The Mugen Shinden Roku competed at the Isle of Man in 2017 and incorporates a similar motor placement as the Victory above. This creates some odd angles for the chain and rear sprocket as they relate to the countershaft sprocket, especially over big bumps. See too the unconventional shock and linkage placement. Rumor has it Mugen had the largest capacity battery among the TT Zero competitors. This arrangement provided the space they needed to fit a battery to exceed a 120mph average lap.

The placement of the countershaft sprocket is more conventional on the Energica Ego Corsa competing in the MotoE championship, but the swingarm is short, and the direct, link-less, shock placement is offset to the right side to keep the wheelbase as short as possible. This is definitely not a conventional tactic, to say the least. Photo: Marcello-Mannoni

When it comes to unconventional, look no further than Michael Czysz. In his later bikes, Michael adopted a very long push rod with a bell crank to actuate a rear shock mounted in the tank area of his TT Zero racer to make room for the motor and batteries and use “under-utilized” space on an electric motorcycle – i.e. the gas tank.

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.

Unlike those other electric racebikes, whose build begins at the battery, the Lightfighter LFR19 starts at the swingarm. A Yamaha YZF-R1 swingarm to be exact. The motor is placed in front of the swingarm pivot shaft – a more conventional spot – and the shock uses a traditional linkage mounted directly to the electric motor.

The Build

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.

With the hand-built frame in place, it’s starting to look like a real motorcycle. You can also see the tail piece/seat from a Kramer HKR-EVO2, which normally serves triple duty as the fuel cell, loosely mocked into place with a bungee cord. Since the Lightfighter doesn’t need gas, the tail piece “only” serves two purposes in this application.

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.

A closer look at the motor and the gear reduction set. You can’t see it in this photo, but behind the uppermost gear, a jackshaft runs across to the countershaft sprocket.

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.

The day after Christmas, 2018, the battery takes its place in the frame. The erector set is quickly coming together.

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.

With the addition of Öhlins suspension bits, Brembo brakes, and Kramer bodywork, the Lightfighter LFR19 comes in at 375lbs, and is ready for action! Wismann and Schless missed the target weight of 350lbs by a pinch, but it’s still a fraction of the weight of the Energica Ego Corsa circulating around the MotoGP-supported MotoE series, and on par with 600cc gas-powered racebikes on a full diet. Speaking of the gas-powered competition, tune in to Part Two of this series where we test, tune, and finally get to race the Lightfighter against its gas-powered counterparts.

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