Voltron EVO: When Too Much Is Not Enough (w/video)
Where to start? There’s so much to this story – the EV motorcycle community in Australia, electric motorcycle racing, the (quite insane) build, the (even more insane) story behind the build, the (you’re getting the idea – pure insanity) performance of this bike?
OK, how about some introductions. This bike is built by Chris Jones, of Perth, Australia. It’s kind of a big place, Australia, and Perth is in the Southwest somewhere. Oh, apologies: “Dr. Christopher Jones, Vice President, Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA), Chairman, AEVA Perth Branch, and Adjunct Lecturer, School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia”. It’s his second build, his first pretty much written off as a learning exercise, and for this bike he decided he needed a purpose-built frame from the US company Framecrafters, and needed to run a beast of a motor: the EVO-Electric AFM140-4. It’s big.
More importantly, it really needs a lot of volts to get it to it’s sweet spot. 700, to be precise. 700V in DC electricity is far beyond dangerous – 700VDC is, simply, deadly. Metal doesn’t arc and burn, metal vaporizes. People can die. For further reading, see “Plasma Event“, but the simple equation from the electric motorcycle builders handbook is Volts = RPM, and Amps = torque. The EVO motor makes a lot of both. Here’s the spec sheet for your motor geeking pleasure: AFM-140 Specifications.
Jones started a while back and posted a complete build thread of the bike on Endless Sphere, here. There you can read the entire (and continuing) story of blood, sweat, tears, and thankfully no stray sparking, including the bit about his original donor being stolen and, almost a year later recovered, but not really, him losing his job, his primary sponsor, Mike Hanlon, selling his share of a bar and diving in to back Jones 100%… like that. On The Electric Chronicles there’s a more concise distillation of the tale.
With due and ultimate respect, here’s one comment by a fellow builder that’s particularly frank:
“yo dude. that build is crazu. and the motor is huge. and lipo is scary. i am interested in that thread in the same way i’d go to a demolition derby or monster truck show. i expect disaster and if everything goes great, its still entertaining”
Oh, did we mention the batteries? That’s right, radio-control “lipo” cells configured into a huge, volatile, dangerous (in the wrong hands) pack. Search “lipo fires” on the YouTube some rainy day for endless hours of video enjoyment.
In the face of Good Sense and the Odds, not only is the bike still in one piece, and it’s owners and riders are healthy and still in the possession of all of their appendages, but they’re running races. And winning a few as well. The first series Jones’ and the team was happy just to have the bike running, but it soon became clear that some suspension tuning was in order. Once that was done, the bike starting dominating the (admittedly small, but crazy-good and fast) field.
From Jones’ ES thread:
by jonescg » Sat Oct 04, 2014 9:25 pm
Saturday was a good day for getting some new settings for the suspension. Being a race day, we had to start tuning.
Paul Cox took Voltron out for a half dozen laps and was doing some consistent 66 second laps. He said at this pace it was handling very well, but the front end felt rather wooden in the turns. So we got a local suspension ‘guru’ to have a look and of course, everything was all wrong. He added some more preload and opened up the rebound damping a bit, to what he felt should be better. He went slower. I’m beginning to take less notice of self-proclaimed suspension gurus, particularly in a situation where we have a completely new system with no baseline.
Race one started well, but Paul pulled into the pits to change it back to the original settings. He took off in a hurry, only to return after another lap. As he was now pushing harder, the front end was not up to the task. The black flag was literally handed to him – speeding in pit lane. He knew better.
Race two was all good, and we tried pulling the forks lower into the triples, effectively raising the front quite a bit. A crash in turn one meant red flags, and a full race restart. We only had the small pack in, so there was no way we could make the distance. After a few more laps we came in to try a few things. The program was speeding along very well, so by the time race three came up we had only got about 2/3rds of a charge into the 6 kWh pack.
Race three was good, even though it was another 4 or 5 lap effort. Paul found a sweet spot for the fork height, and was doing 65s without too much trouble. By this stage our tyres (AKA “tires”) were starting to spin up out of turns, and the front was getting loose too.
So all up, not a great day of racing, but good to get some more baseline settings for the bike. The MCRCWA have been very accommodating for us, even changing the class regulations to include electric bikes. So we’re good to race, compete and collect points, if we so desire. And it’s great to start from the grid too!
It’s kind of tough to keep up on the status of the racing Down Under, but we’re working on a post covering that. Follow the Endless Sphere thread for updates, and Tony Castley’s Flickr page for all sorts of awesome photography of this bike and the others from Oz.
Just a taste of the races: “The O’Hanlon Electric Motorsports ‘Voltron Evo’ being ridden by Paul Cox, flies past the pit wall at Barbagallo Raceway, Wanneroo, WA. Our bike is the quiet one.”
For an in-depth look at the electric motorcycle racing scene in Australia, along with interviews with both Chris Jones and Danny Ripperton (a down-under EV legend in his own right), see this segment (fast-forward to 25:29) from Cycle Torque TV :