Motorsport can reduce emissions and improve performance and electric bikes are its future, says UK entrepreneur
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Motorsport is an unlikely ally for the environmentally conscious. Petrol heads crave speed and performance, rather than fuel economy. But, like all others, the industry is under pressure to cut its carbon footprint and changes are underway.
Mike Edwards, founder and CEO Meteor Power, says his start-up business has at least part of the answer, and motorsport chiefs are paying attention.
The Silverstone-based company has developed a prototype electric motor and battery pack for an all-electric superbike. Tests and simulations have shown the bike can compete with petrol powered engines, plus the technology has other benefits.
The Meteor Power superbike
"You’ll be able charge our bike in four minutes. It will do over 200mph and provide all the performance, too. The bike will do nine laps of Thruxton race circuit, the fastest track in the country, at British SuperBike lap record speed, or 80 to 90 miles at 70mph,” says Edwards.
One of the issues with electric vehicles is the potential strain they will have on the national grid once there are millions charging all at once. However, Meteor’s battery system can both charge and release energy rapidly.
"The charging system works in two directions. It can charge quickly, but power can come out of the bike very fast, too. This makes it a useful tool in solving issues such as grid balancing. Our bike could power your house for 24 hours, or it could power something big like an MRI scanner."
Edwards was previously the founder and manager of the Mist Suzuki SuperBike race team. The team, which Edwards managed, competed in various classes at World SuperBike events and also competed in the British SuperBikes championship.
“The team won races, set lap records and was leading the championship until the money ran out,” he says. “I raced myself in the early days but once we set up the team we found more talented people to ride the bikes."
Mike (left) founded the Mist Suzuki race team
During his time in motorsport, Edwards realised new technologies were offering ways to totally reinvent motorbikes. Replacing petrol engines with batteries would be a liberation, rather than a limitation.
"We realised there were some big opportunities in electric motorcycle design. Once you are free of the limitations of having a big petrol engine which dictates the whole layout of the bike, you can design a bike with better handling and performance,” he says.
“So we decided to create a business building very high end, very fast, superbikes. Think about the sort of bike a company like McLaren would make and you can get an idea of the sort of innovation, performance and overall rider experience that we are aiming for.”
After evolving the design for several years the business began building their new electric bikes in 2015 but concluded the existing technology was “too big, heavy and the wrong shape” for a small motorbike chassis.
So Meteor has developed a solution where the electric motor and rapid charger are combined. In practice, this means the more powerful the motor, the faster it can charge. "You can make a much better motorcycle, which happens to be electric, compared to all the petrol ones, including the high end ones,” says Edwards.
Meteor’s technology has attracted the interest of government and the company has won grant funding from Innovate UK. This cash enabled it to develop a prototype that was tested by the Warwick Manufacturing Group, part of Warwick University, which validated its plans.
Meteor is currently fundraising in order to complete its work on the electric motor and build another fully electric bike to take advantage of the new size and power. Edwards says riders and race organisers are expressing an interest. “We are meeting with Dorna, who run the MotoGP championship, as it is holding an all-electric series in 2019,” says Edwards.
Certainly one thing Edwards has on his side that will impress the sport bosses is power. "A MotoGP bike can produce 240-270 horse power but costs a fortune to make. A typical superbike makes 220 horse power. But our motor can do 270 horse power so we are going to go straight past them."