At AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, set for July 24-26 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, enthusiasts will be able to see history unfold: For the first time in North America, electric road-race bikes will gather for laps for the fans, circulating quickly and silently without the use of internal combustion.
Dubbed the AMA TTXGP Introduction, the event will see several teams field unusual zero-emmission machines for the exhibition, and fans will be able to get up close and personal with the motorcycles and riders between laps.
The man behind it all is Britain’s Azhar Hussain, a consumer electronics exec who started the ball rolling by organizing electric-bike teams for this year’s races on the famed Isle of Man circuit off the coast of England.
For a quick look at the upcoming event, AmericanMotorcyclist.com’s Grant Parsons caught up with Azhar for a few questions:
Q: American fans really are going to see something special with the AMA TTXGP Introduction. Tell us how did the zero-emission TTXGP get started?
A: I don’t come from a motorsports background, but I love them -- motorcycles in particular. I come from the technology industry, from consumer electronics, and I had some insights into what the technology was for batteries and motors, and I realized we could do something.
The tipping point has been the technology that’s been driven by electronics and telecoms. That’s what’s pushing better technology at such a great pace -- mobile phones and laptops. They’ve changed the performance-to-price equations. And our bikes are just running bigger versions of the batteries you have in your mobile phone.
We’ve had a sattelite manufacturer look at what we’re doing, because they need to get huge power outputs under extreme conditions -- which is exactly what we’re doing.
Q: Some of the bikes coming here recently raced at the Isle of Man. How’d that go?
A: It was a success beyond what any of us could have imagined. A full 19 bikes finished, and the winning team didn’t just finish, they finished in style. We saw a peak speed of 106 mph, and an average lap speed of 88 mph. It was a grueling 38 miles per lap, just amazing, and the bikes looked stunning during it.
Q: What surprised you from that event?
A: It was the little things. I was surprised to the degree that experience outplayed money. We had some really big-budget teams show up, but the guy who won, he built the bike in his shed. But he’s been doing it for a really long time, and the little tricks he did, each of them by themselves didn’t make a difference, but in aggreatate, they added up. Something as simple as keeping a cable short, and soldering it the right way -- they add up. The bike looked not as nice as the American bikes, but boy did it deliver. You could stand by the track and watch him go by, and it was clear you were seeing a whole different thing.
The other thing was how quickly everyone got behind this. When it started, even the announcers were talking about it as if it were a novelty. But when the bikes were out on the course, you could actually sense history changing, and by the end of it you could sense genuine enthusiasm.
We really benefited from the idea of lowered expectations, but that’s great. The people really, really got behind it in a big way.
Q: What went into the decision to bring the bikes to the U.S.?
A: The U.S. is obviously a huge market, and I think it’s important that we put a stake in the ground and introduce this. This is a great opportunity to introduce a technology that’s green, but is also credible, to the market.
A lot of our success in Europe and in coming to America is down to (the AMA’s Director of International Affairs) Robert Rasor. He was really instrumental in getting the whole industry looking at this zero-carbon racing.
Our goal is to spur on bikes that look credible and work, but that people can get behind not just because they’re green, but because they’re great products. And these things are great products -- they’re for sale now. The price is a bit out right now, and they come in at the high end around $50,000. But for a race machine, that’s not a lot of money. And in time -- meaning very, very quickly, those prices will come down.
If you think about it, it’s taken us 100 years to get to where we are now with internal combustion engines. It’s not going to take even near that long to make the next jump -- it’s going to happen in the blink of an eye.