Lightning Strike targets 250 mph with upcoming electric land speed run

Lightning Motorcycles once had the fastest motorcycle you could buy in its electric LS218 barn, a ride that remains a solid top ten in my four and a half decades on this planet to this day. The 218 mph (351 km/h) run that gave the bike its name was achieved in 2012 with a relatively standard bike, save for high-speed gearing and an aerodynamic fairing, in the Bonneville saltworks.

Then in 2016, Kawasaki put supersport rider Kenan Sufuoglu on his supercharged H2R, and made a video of him crossing a Turkish bridge, with the speedometer on the dashboard indicating 400 km/h (249 mph). It was not a street-legal bike, nor was it an official record; there’s been no independent monitoring or verification, and it’s certainly not that hard to get a speedo to read what you want. Indeed, the fastest official time we could find was a 209.442 mph (337.064 km/h) Bonneville Race by Kawasaki’s 38 team in 2018, albeit aboard the street-legal H2 bike without any high-speed fairings.

For combustion bike fans, it didn’t matter. The petrol was even faster than the electric. So founder Richard Hatfield and the Lightning team plan to return to Bonneville with a new bike and 250 mph (402 km/h) in their sights.

“Exceeding 400 km/h,” Hatfield tells us, “if we have the right conditions, it’s doable. The last two times we went out the salt just wasn’t good. It was soft, and we had a lot of wheelspin. Last year everyone I spoke to came back saying the salt was the best it had been in a very long time. So that’s encouraging.

Lightning will make changes to its production Strike bike for the new Land Speed ​​effort

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Rather than using the LS-218 again, the bike this time will be a version of Lightning’s Strike. “We actually have two different motors in the Strike at the moment,” says Hatfield, “an induction motor and an axial flux motor. The axial flux motor is derived from Formula E, and it’s really capable of a lot The bottleneck is packing a big enough controller, inverter, and battery that can keep up with it all.” Could it do something like the roughly 300 horsepower claimed by H2R? Hatfield smiles. “You know, we are certainly capable of manufacturing that power.”

“It will basically be a Strike,” he continues, “with a Bonneville fairing, same size battery with higher wattage, lower energy cells and a more powerful inverter. Inverter and battery can become options for people who want to buy Strikes and do that sort of thing with them.”

The bikes will also start to include some exotic niobium metal, thanks to a partnership with Brazilian company CBMM, the world’s largest producer of niobium. “It’s really interesting material,” says Hatfield. “When you combine it with other metals, it makes the grain structure much more uniform and much finer. It does several things: First, it makes the metal stronger and less likely to crack. Second, it makes also the magnetic properties. more effective.”

Niobium crystals next to an anodized niobium cube
Niobium crystals next to an anodized niobium cube

Lightning began using niobium in capacitors and a high-power charger. “In the inductors of our charger, this reduced the temperature by more than 30%. We were able to remove about 20 pounds (9 kg) from our charger and produce the same power,” says Hatfield. “It also increases the magnetic properties of motors, and they also use it in batteries.” Beyond the electrical components, Hatfield says the frame and brakes will use niobium alloy steel for added strength.

Lightning calls on an old friend for Bonneville fairings. Mike Corbin is best known for his aftermarket motorcycle saddles, but in the 1970s he was an electric motorcycle pioneer. Not only did it have the first road-registered electric motorcycle in America in 1972, it also set a land speed record for electric motorcycles in 1974 that stood for 38 years, before Lightning finally took it down with the LS218. Corbin couldn’t even try to break it in himself, because the “Quicksilver” bike he raced on was built for around US$100,000 in money that Corbin “borrowed” from a safe from the US Navy, and he had to recycle the batteries and put it back after the race.

Lightning currently operates under the prominent Corbin umbrella, having lost its large San Jose facility and Chinese factory at the onset of the Covid pandemic. So Corbin and the Lightning team worked together on the Bonneville fairing of the land-speed Strike.

Lightning and Corbin team up to create a high-speed Bonneville fairing.  Pictured: part of the tail
Lightning and Corbin team up to create a high-speed Bonneville fairing. Pictured: part of the tail

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“We try to do some things differently than anybody else has done,” Hatfield says. “Typically the partial extrusions have a streamline through the nose and the rear to the tail. They’re pretty consistent. But we did a lot with the front fender, and we just considered the whole like an overall aero shape. I think we were able to push the limit a little bit further than anyone else has. I really think it’s a step forward.”

The team is touring for this year’s season at Bonneville, which will run from somewhere around the end of August through October. Veteran land speed campaigner Joe Amo will ride; he’s seen what 270 mph looks like on a partial fairing before. “I don’t think anyone went faster than Joe at Bonneville,” Hatfield said.

Lightning therefore has his work cut out over the next few months. With a staff of around a dozen employees post-lockdown, up from 30 before the pandemic, the company is also scrambling to get customers’ bikes built. “We have a core group that’s really focused on the mission,” says Hatfield. “There’s a big demand for the bikes. We don’t release exact numbers for production, but that’s not what we’d like it to be. We get a lot more requests for the bikes than we we are able to satisfy at the moment.”

The Lightning LS-218: a large stopper behind the Corbin saddle keeps the rider in place during extreme accelerations
The Lightning LS-218: a large stopper behind the Corbin saddle keeps the rider in place during extreme accelerations

Loz Blain/New Atlas

This is hardly surprising; Riding Lightning’s LS218 was a “game-changing” moment for me, and I imagine just about anyone else who’s had a chance to see what demons lurk at the throttle stop on this thing. “We always use the video of you riding Skyline up on our bike in presentations,” says Hatfield. “No one has been able to communicate what this looks like better than you. Everyone just grins from ear to ear when they see this. So there’s a standing invitation, whenever you can come back here, to come and see what a 300 horsepower electric looks like.”

I’ll keep an eye out for a fairly brown brief for the occasion. Our LS-218 review video is embedded below.

Review: Lightning LS218 – the world’s fastest superbike is electric

Source: lightning motorcycles / CBMM

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