Purdue group hopes to break a land speed record

Aug 20, 2013

One-hundred miles-per-hour – that’s the record-breaking speed a group from Purdue hopes to achieve for an electric motorcycle.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering, enlisted the help of students to create an electric motorcycle. He says they used an existing frame, but modified it with an electric motor and batteries.

John Sullivan checks the diagnostics on the electric motorcycle that he and Purdue students built.
Credit Chris Yamamoto / Purdue University

They will get an official measure of their top speed at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

“So we need a lot of power for a short period of time,” he says. “To do this, we use very high-power model airplane batteries and we build up a very large pack of those to supply power to the bike.”

Sullivan says they will be judged in a 150-kiligram, custom motorcycle category, which has a current speed record of 70 miles-per-hour. He says the team’s own time trials have approached 100 miles-per-hour for the motorcycle he and the students have been working on it since last year.

“This is the first electric bike that we’ve done, so a lot of enthusiastic ‘aero’ students working on the aerodynamics and a couple of students who are from Mechanical (Engineering) and EE (Electrical Engineering) helping with the installation, and particularly the electronics of it.”

He says they’ll be competing against other electric motorcycles from around the world when they race for speed next week at the salt flats.

John Sullivan prepares for a test run on the electric motorcycle at the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
Credit Chris Yamamoto / Purdue University

Team member Grant Chapman is a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. The Electric Vehicle Club cofounder says he always wants to make a vehicle perform better.

“When I saw the Big Three struggling in 2008, I decided electric vehicles might be a good alternative,” he says. “So, then I decided to pursue electric vehicle design and technology at Purdue.”

Chapman says there are a growing number of manufacturers, so electric motorcycles are more than a hobby.

“The great thing about them is most people ride them as recreational vehicles than actual travel vehicles, so the range anxiety and range problems don’t hinder them as much as, let’s say, a passenger car.”

The group is traveling to Utah Saturday, August 24.