Moto Electra Takes Its Place in History (w/video)

3 years ago by Ted Dillard 2

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Moto Electra at home at the “sheep farm” in Virginia (black version)

While some seem to attract the media spotlight, others quietly go about their business thrashing records and breaking down barriers.  Team Moto Electra falls into the latter category, and often, through their years of effort, it seemed that history would pass them by.  As they took their place as the first electric motorcycle acquisition of the renowned Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum this past month, we’re reminded of the subtle difference between the fleeting cycle of the newsfeed and the painstaking rigor of the historian.  Though we may not have read much buzz about this remarkable team, and they’ve been eclipsed by others with better press savvy, they’ve collected more than their share of accomplishments:

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Team Moto Electra Mascot and Director of Development

  • Coast-to-Coast, All-Electric World Record in 2013 (Jacksonville, FL Pier to Santa Monica Pier in 3.5 days)
  • 1st place in first-ever sanctioned Gas v. Electric race – Barber Motorsports Park 2010
  • Second overall in TTXGP Points Standings for 2011
  • ECTA Land Speed record in 2011
  • World record, ¼ mile in 2009
  • 2nd place finish (2010) at Mosport in Canada
  • 3rd place finish (2010) at Virginia International Raceway
  • 3rd  place finish (2010) at Road America
  • 2nd place finish (2011) at Infinion Raceway, Sonoma, CA

…and now, as an icon of the new era of motorcycling in one of the most respectable, and largest, motorcycle museum in the world.

Team Moto Electra is the creation of Brian Richardson, a “country lawyer” in the hills of Virginia, as he’s fond of putting it, on a sheep farm.  Built on the 1950s vintage “Featherbed” frame of a classic Norton, then, in it’s second generation on a much improved, beefier re-design of the same frame (to handle the weight of the enlarged battery pack), the bike got the attention of vintage enthusiasts, EV followers and motorcycle roadracers alike.  Add to that mix veteran motorcycle legend Thad Wolff – an AMA Formula 1 roadracer who came out of retirement to ride this strange mix of motorcycle tradition and future technology, pretty much responding to an email and phone call from Richardson out of sheer curiosity.  It seems he was looking for some fun, and found it:

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Moto Electria, version 2

“After not racing at Laguna Seca since 1982 it feels great to be back with the excitement of competing at one of my favourite race tracks at the Moto GP weekend, alongside not only the top American riders but the worlds best!”

From Brian Richardson: “Thad may be old as the 1950’s Norton Featherbed, but none the worse for wear.”  Thad was the primary rider throughout the 4-year run of the team, and his times are a testament to what a classic, vintage double-downtube steel framed motorcycle is capable of in the hands of an expert.

The drivetrain of the bike boasted some respectable stats, though even in a few short years later have been somewhat eclipsed by the fast pace of the technology.  Here’s a look at what one of the several configurations:

  • AC induction motor, 67 hp, 120 ft/lb. of torque
  • Regenerative braking
  • 118.5V (nominal)
  • 100 mile range, Top speed of 135 mph
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Thad Wolff at work on the Moto Electra Norton

The Moto Electra in it's new home at the Barber Motorsports Museum

The Moto Electra in it’s new home at the Barber Motorsports Museum

Some excerpts from an interview with Brian Richardson back in 2011 on The Electric Chronicles:

What are the specs?

“…Last year we ran (the) AC-20. Suffice it to say, we ran everything over spec. The AC-20 and Curtis controller were bullet-proof. We were topping 125 mph on the straights at VIR in 110 degree heat. That motor got really hot, but despite all the punishment, it never failed. Our batteries are Kokam purchased through StarkPower.

“We opted for a very simple set-up of large amp-hour cells. Result: Fewer connections/simplicity but limitations on our flexibility to re-configure the pack for higher voltage. We never made any adjustments to our battery pack. After a full season of racing and testing, everything is in perfect balance and ready to go racing in May of 2011.

“This years machine will be a little different. Will it work? We don’t know.”

On Richardson’s racing/building experience:

Can you give us some info about your background in racing?

“I have zero background in motorcycle racing (well except for last season!).”

…but probably the most telling, and inspiring glimpse into the experience for Richardson and the team is this comment about the team’s place in history – especially in the context of this recent news:

“This is the golden age of electric vehicle racing — no need to look back — you are living through it! Teams from barns and back-yard sheds are taking on corporations. Like NASCAR or Grand Prix in the 1950’s & 60’s, anyone can win. Anyone can make history. Money is spent, but this is a special time when desire is more valuable.”

For a look at the “four Years in four minutes”, don’t miss the video, The Moto-Electra Story:

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2 responses to "Moto Electra Takes Its Place in History (w/video)"

  1. jzj says:

    Congrats on a wonderful effort. While there was no discussion of costs, I suspect that the cost was not extreme. This is a great demonstration of what a little vision, commitment, and positive attitude can do.

  2. Brian Richardson says:

    What a nice article! We sure did have fun, and the Barber museum was the perfect bookend to our big adventure. We never had much of a budget, so we played off of that fact for our identity. Of course, when you use a chassis patented in 1949 (Norton Featherbed), and a rider from 1959 (Thad Wolff), it’s easy to play the underdog. Thank you for the article. It has been the adventure of my lifetime.
    Brian Richardson