Our Japanese correspondent and test rider Hiromi Kinukawa had the chance to talk to Richard Hatfield from Lightning Motorcycles when he visited America.
Source: Hiromi Kinukawa | It was during the week of Monterey Car week. I was already very excited to visit that place. However, as I knew somehow, it was all about the future of electric motorcycles.
Monterey, California August 2019
I was invited to a private jet center to have an interview with the founder and CEO of Lightning Motorcycles, Richard Hatfield.
Lightning Motorcycles is one of the pioneers, survivors and, most of all, one of the most successful manufacturers in the electric motorcycle world with honorable records in both top speed and lap time.
History of Lightning Motorcycles
Founded in 2006 by Mr. Richard Hatfield in San Carlos, CA, where Tesla also started its footsteps. Lightning first used existing motorcycles chassis to convert to electric ones. YAMAHA R1 and Ducati Monster were among the first to be converted.
The first footstep Lightning set to the world was in 2009 at Bonneville to achieve a top speed of 166.388mph with an electric motorcycle. Which proved to the world that Lightning Motorcycle was the fastest production electric motorcycle at the time.
Then in 2010 Lightning Motorcycles set a new FIM and AMA land speed record with an official two-way average speed of 173.388 mph.
Soon after in 2011, Lightning Motorcycles became the first to break 200mph with an electric motorcycle. With a top speed of 218mph.
Top speed to Cornering
After setting the new world record, Lightning Motorcycles starts to turn corners, and of course as the fastest.
In 2012, Lightning Motorcycles won EPower/TTXGP race, an e-powered track race by FIM, held in cooperation with MotoGP in Laguna Seca. Lightning powered their Barracuda Lightning Machine with solar energy to set another record as the first ever solar powered motorcycle to win a race.
Followed by another win at Le Mans in the same in year, Lightning Motorcycles goes beyond track and participates in Pike Peak International Hill Climb in 2013.
2013 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
As you may be aware of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, winning it isn’t just by challenging, wishing luck nor gaining experience. All elements, such as machine, rider, pit crew, staff, support, sponsor, weather, road condition, audience, and more must be in perfect balance.
Yet again, Lightning Motorcycles wins. Even more, this time not just against other electric motorcycles, but against all the competitors including gas powered motorcycles as well. The record still stays with Lightning Motorcycles as the fastest electric motorcycle to win Pikes Peak.
Exclusive interview with Richard Hatfield
So already with a great path up to now from its beginning 13 years ago, Lightning Motorcycles is more ready for the future of electric motorcycles.
What is your primary goal as of now?
My goal is to see Lightning Motorcycles everywhere. I want to see Lightning Motorcycles in front of stores, restaurants and streets everywhere. I want to keep producing motorcycles that are preferred by riders, fun to ride, exciting, beautiful and affordable.
Will electric motorcycles take over ICE or coexist?
Electric motorcycles will take over ICE motorcycles. It will happen, we just don’t know when. ICE took 100 years to get to this point now , Lightning Motorcycles has passed already this point in only 13 years. With more room for the technology of electric motorcycles to improve, especially motor and battery, it is a matter of time that electric motorcycles will take over ICE motorcycles.
Also, another benefit that electric motorcycle have (ICE don’t) is the capability to change the output power of motor depending on the needs of the riders. For example, if a rider has a license to ride motorcycles under certain power, dealer can adjust the controller to limit the power to the permitted output. Then, if the rider upgrades his license to ride a more powerful motorcycles, the dealer can reprogram the controller to unlimit or upgrade the power output to fulfill the requirements of the new license obtained.
You already won races with electric motorcycles, are you plan to race more?
Yes. Back in 2013 when we challenged Pikes Peak Hill Climb with Carlin Dunne, Carlin believed in electric. Carlin tried our motorcycle before Pikes Peak and he felt that he could win Pikes Peak with our motorcycle. And he won.
Currently, we are looking for the right competition. If FIM allow us to compete in MotoE, we will race in MotoE. Isle of Man is another possibility. We would love to compete against MUGEN. Also, Bonneville will be a great place to prove that our motorcycle has improved a lot since the last time we set world record.
It will be exciting if electric motorcycles are allowed to compete in MotoGP against ICE motorcycles. Not only for us as manufacturers but also for the viewers and riders from all over the world.
Who are your primary customers?
Our customers are successful people with experience in electric motors, like Tesla, and high performance motorcycles. Once they understand the motor, people tend to shift to electric and they request the same experience on motorcycles as well.
Where is your primary market?
Our initial market is the US as where our HQ and manufacturing are located. Also, we are providing after service by ourselves for now to make sure customers get proper service. But we aim to expand our market to outside, too.
Which is your preferred choice of charging system? CCS or CHAdeMO? Will you plan to adopt various charging methods for different markets?
We are capable of handling both systems and can adopt it depending on the market or customer request.
Will you get into charging infrastructure business?
Not at this time. There are already many good companies competing, so Lightning Motorcycles can keep focusing on delivering better motorcycles. We will of course pay attention to the charging infrastructure to benefit from it for us and for our customers.
Will you make smaller size motorcycles?
Yes. We have already done a lot of engineering for other companies building smaller motorcycles. 90% of motorcycles in the world are under 250cc, so it is important to get into this market, but we also need to be in a bigger scale to develop and produce smaller electric motorcycles. If this happens, it will only be by collaborating with a partner company that can produce and sell in large numbers.
What are the requirements to be an official importer/dealer?
A distributor must create a good network in the country or the area with strong after sales/customer support. Ideally, importer/dealer should already be experienced and successful in distributing motorcycles.
What are the differences between Electric and ICE motorcycles for mechanics?
Basic maintenance is much less when it comes to electric since there are less moving parts and virtually no friction parts. However, it is very critical to do it correctly. Gasoline is dangerous only if you mix it with air in the right ratio, but electricity always has potential. So it requires a different level of skills.
How often a mechanic is required to touch or to fix inside of a battery or a motor?
Usually those parts will never require to be touched. In case of malfunction, it is recommended and always better to replace the whole module, not trying to fix parts inside.
How would you invite a rider to shift to an electric motorcycle?
”Just ride it”
It is very hard to describe how an electric motorcycle feels, but from my experience, it was like riding to the future. It awakens you to feel the future.
All of the riders who tried our motorcycles were excited about electric riding. Riding it is the only way to understand.
Will you be ready once the Japanese big4 decides to enter in electric motorcycle market?
Yes we are. And I think we do actually have the technology and the resources equivalent to what they have at his moment. With AI, we do not need large numbers of engineers to design new parts. Even more, we have the records and experiences on the road with customers. So we are, may be a very little but, ahead of them. I am waiting for them to get in the market!
Advancing the future
After talking with Richard Hatfield for over one hour (with a nice lunch), I was fully electrified with Lightning Motorcycles’ knowledge, experience and future plans. The electric motorcycle market is still small and it is clear that profit is not enough to cover investments and running costs to date. Yet, whatever the gain is surely invested for better future.
Electric motorcycles are the future for now and it will dominate the entire motorcycle market to replace the ordinary ICE motorcycles. But that doesn’t mean that the evolution of electric motorcycles ends there. Lightning Motorcycles is clearly seeing the future of motorcycle beyond the shift of drivetrain.
Lightning Motorcycles, with Richard Hatfield, knows the right path to evolve electric motorcycles. And they will continue to pioneer the path for fellow riders to access extraordinary riding experience. Being electric does not only mean environment friendly, but also more eccentric fun for motorcyclists.
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