How fast can electric go? Pretty freaking fast. We’re not just talking all-electric racing cars, either. Motorcycles, boats, buggies and even bar stools are pushing the limits. “Electric motors have the advantage of instant torque, which means that you don’t have a clutch and you don’t have transmission,” said Joshua Allan, vehicle engineering manager for electric drive system maker AC Propulsion. “That kind of power can get addicting quick.” The vehicles featured here are based on top speeds instead of acceleration. Since records are constantly being broken, these leaders could change faster than you can say, “recharge.”
Racing Motorcycle In the world of quarter-mile drag racing, Bill Dube; KillaCycle was the world’s fastest electric motorcycle for a time. His wife Eva Hakansson drove it 174.05 miles per hour in 7.955 seconds at the Bandimere Speedway in 2008. Then in October 2010, rider Larry McBride broke the record by going 177 mph on the “Rocket,” an electric drag racer custom-built by Shawn Lawless and Orange County Choppers. Dube congratulated the team, saying that he’d only been “borrowing” the record. Last spring, McBride rode the Rocket shattered his own record, going 185.46 mph at Virginia Sports Park. Outside the drag racing arena, racer Chip Yates set an unofficial record in April by going 190.6 mph in the Mohave Mile. That’s not all. He’s said that his bike hit 227 mph once during stress testing. In September, Dube and Hakansson will be racing a cigar-shaped electric motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He’s hoping to “borrow” another record. “When we do a record-setting run, that all takes 7.5 cents of electricity,” he said. “Our goal is to prove to people that electrics aren’t nerdmobiles.”
Production Motorcycle Limited battery space once made it hard for production electric motorcycles to even hit highway speeds. Now that batteries are lighter and more compact, there are more choices than ever. The EM5000, made by Liberty Electric Bikes, packs a lithium-ion-phosphate battery, can top 55 mph, has a top range between 50 and 90 miles, and retails around $5,500. Zero Motorcycles’ street legal Zero S can hit 67 mph, has a range up to 58 miles, and costs about $10K. The Vectrix VX-1 Li+ has a maximum speed of 68 mph, a range of 55 to 85 miles, and retails for about $14K. Brammo, which just opened a production facility in Europe, makes the Empulse 10.0, which the company says can exceed 100 mph and go 100 miles on a single charge. Like the Ventrix, it costs about $14K. Mission Motors’ Mission R can exceed 160 mph, but this factory bike is designed to ride against the likes of Brammo’s RR racing motorcycle on the racetrack, not the highway. High-speed electric production motorcycles are so new that the National Electric Drag Racing Association world record is up for grabs. The current record holder is a moped that went a mere 21 mph in June. “We talked the guy in DC into it the day at the track,” said John Metric, Gulf Coast Director for NEDRA. “I think that no one has realized they could have a PMC world record quite easily.”
Custom Racing Car In May, the Formula 1 EV, an electric race car collaboration between French companies FCI and Formulec, hit speeds of over 155 miles an hour. That was enough to leave an all-electric Nissan race car prototype called NISMO RC in the dust. There are race cars, and then there’s the Buckeye Bullet. Last year, the electric vehicle built by Ohio State University’s Center for Auto Research with an A123 Systems lithium-ion battery averaged 307.7 mph miles at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Its top speed was 320 mph. “In order to get high speed, you need sleek aerodynamics so you’re not holding the car back,” said AC Propulsion’s Joshua Allan. “You need high power so it can cut through the wind.” That’s just what Ohio State wants for the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3, designed to exceed 400 mph when it debuts in 2012. They’ll have competition from Don Wales, a descendant of British speed racer Sir Malcolm Campbell aiming for 500 mph in his Bluebird Electric. He told the Global Herald he’ll try for the record in 2013.
Production Car The world record holder for an electric production car is a Tesla Roadster Sport driven by Scotty Pollacheck in July 2009 on the Portland International Raceway. He went 102.89 mph in 12.643 seconds, according to NEDRA. Pollacheck is actually a motorcycle driver for KillaCycle, said Bill Dube. “One of the
owners asked our driver, Scotty, if he wanted to drive it and he set a record.” Then he proceeded to beat his own record twice. This year Nissan sought to set a speed record for going uphill backwards with its electric Leaf but officials at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in Chichester, England recently nixed the plan as too risky. Driving normally, its top speed is 90 mph. The French automaker Venturi, which sponsors the Buckeye Bullet, unveiled its 2010 Fetish sport scar in October. According to the automaker, the vehicle can go 200 kilometers per hour -- about 124 mph. Still, the official record set in the Tesla has yet to be broken. “I look at the way that the automotive industry is going,” says AC Propulsion’s Joshua Allen. “They’re trying to make cars quieter, smoother, easier to drive, better efficiency. And just by nature, you get all of those things with an electric vehicle.”
Prototype/Conversion Car An old Datsun? Eight wheels? No roof? Why not! Conversion and prototype electric car enthusiasts are like Back to the Future’s Doc Brown with a heavy dose of eco-geekery. New Zealand engineer Ian Wright converted an Ariel Atom open wheel sport scar into a racing roadster with an electric motor and inverter from AC Propulsion. His Wrightspeed X1 prototype has a top speed of 104 mph, but goes 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds. Road and Track’s Dennis Simanaitis called it “the second-quickest car I’ve ever driven in my life.” The record holder in the National Electric Drag Racing Association’s ProStreet Conversion category is John Wayland’s converted 1972 Datsun. Driver Tim Brehm pushed the White Zombie to 123.79 mph in September 2010 at the NEDRA Nationals in Oregon. The back window read “SUCK AMPS!” Sam and Olly Young modified a 1965 VW Beetle to make the Black Current III. Earlier this spring their ride hit 132.22 mph in the UK, setting a new record for a non-rail drag car. Looking under the hood, All Cars Electric’s Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield reported that its custom lithium cobalt oxide battery pack is similar to those in model airplanes. In 2004, a team from Keio University in Japan created an eight-wheeled prototype electric car. The Eliica, short for “electric lithium ion car,” reached 250 mph on a test track in Italy. It also accelerated faster than a Porsche 911 Turbo.
Bicycle What’s the difference between an electric bicycle and an electric motorcycle? That question has been debated intensely at the National Electric Drag Racing Association. NEDRA’s John Metric says that a more fitting category title for this Top 10 might be “electric bicycle conversion,” meaning bikes converted to run on electric. He adds that it’s not a NEDRA class and probably isn’t safe. That hasn’t stopped speed demons from trying, though. Conversion kits promise 20 to 30-plus mph speeds and some DIYers claim they’ve gone past 50. The eCortina V2 hybrid bicycle designed by Roy Prince resembles a durable mountain bike on the outside but packs lithium polymer batteries. While the bike can be pedaled, using the motor alone can get it to 45 mph. On his blog, Prince says he’s still monitoring the performance and range. The electric commuter bikes made by Colorado-based Optibike have motors that push some models above 34 mph. The 36-volt lithium-ion batteries give them a 57-mile range with moderate pedaling. But each one carries this warning: “Electric bike laws vary by location, it is the responsibility of the owner to ensure compliance.”
Boat Nearly 20 years ago, John Paramore was working for an electric utility in Washington State that decided to include electric boat racing to promote recreational areas they were building around a reservoir. Little did they know what they were starting. In those early days Paramore helped pull together enough battery-laden boats to run through a kilometer-long pass called a “kilo.” The first modified vessels were weighed down with batteries and had what Paramore calls giant “Frankenstein” switches. “They’d slam the switch on and hold on for dear life,” he said. The first runs were 9 to 12 mph, mostly because the racers thought they needed to maintain flat planing boat bottoms for speed. Then in 1994, one of their racers discovered that enough air could be trapped under a hydroplane to lift a battery pack off the surface. With batteries underneath instead of on top, Paramore and his fellow enthusiasts were going faster than the 50 mph record held by the British. In 2008, the UIM, the international governing body of power boating, recognized American Mike Bontoft’s 98.8 mph run in a circuit electric battery-powered 144-volt hydroplane. Bontoft and racing partner Lorhring Miller set the record at Devil’s Lake in Oregon. Their boat had fiberglass, carbon fiber, honeycomb and A123 Systems batteries. During an early test run, the boat hit 101 mph. With new battery tech, Paramore thinks racers will be able to compete all day without recharging. “All this stuff is out there,” he said. “It just depends on how crazy you are.”
People Mover Strip away the aerodynamic exteriors and you’re mostly left with wheels. Electric people movers are the cousins to e-bikes, and can come across like the proud nerds of the EV family. Segways, the two wheeled self-balancing vehicles that debuted 10 years ago, are among them. The Segway PT has two settings, with the faster 12.5 mph being its standard. That’s plenty fast for tourists and patrolling mall cops, even though a world class sprinter could easily lap one. Looking like a Dada-esque take on the Segway, the Solowheel is a $1,500 single wheel with spaces on either side for the rider’s feet. The device is made by the company Inventist, has gyro sensors and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack that gives it a dozen miles on a single charge with a top speed of 12 mph. In 2009, Segway and GM developed Project PUMA, which stands for “Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility.” The electric propulsion prototype has a two-wheeled buggy appearance and is designed to go up to 35 mph. So far it’s still a prototype.
Remote-Controlled Car Nic Case’s Guinness World record still stands. In 2008, the remote-controlled car builder put his small, bullet-shaped vehicle to the test on the Rockingham Dragway in North Carolina. The $4,000 custom-built car, a Schumacher Mi3, was constructed by hand from carbon fiber with an 11 horsepower motor, a 12-volt battery pack, a high-frequency receiver, and all-wheel drive. It’s not all just pure battery power, either -- Schumacher RC Racing confirms that the pack is rechargeable. With Case at the controls, the 1:10 scale car reached a top speed of 161.76 miles per hour on the dragway. Guinness certified it as the fastest battery-powered remote-controlled car ever, but Case is determined to shred his own record. He’s been hard at work on a new vehicle, one that he hopes will reach 200 miles per hour.
Bar Stool Motorized bar stools have been used as pit vehicles for a while, but the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah require them to be powered by electricity instead of gasoline for safety reasons. In 1998, a streamlined electric bar stool raced for the first time there, going nearly 22 mph. Ten years later, project engineer Karen Mohr and her colleagues at the medical device engineering company IMDS made their own bar stool racer. Mohr was tapped to drive. “Some of the guys were terrified of trying it, but I really enjoyed it,” she recalled. The vehicle has a 30-inch minimum seat height, is limited to one 12-volt battery, can’t have a gearbox, and must be made from a real bar stool. The top speed is recorded at three-tenths of a mile. Mohr set the record in 2009 at 53.557 mph, then she broke it the next year, reaching 54.062 mph. “Unofficially we got up close to 58 miles per hour, but the records are an average of your two top speeds,” she said. “It’s definitely an unexpected accomplishment to have in life.”