VT Bolt Riding Impressions
– July 2014
~By Arthur Kowitz
A zero-emissions bike hand-built by a team of engineers dedicated to perfection.
The Virginia Tech Bolt II Racing Team boldly rolled onto the New Jersey Motorsports Park roadrace track after a two year build and modest trackday testing…bringing with them some high expectations.
NJMP is a modern racetrack that poses the challenges of several tight and twisty sections, a few infield straights, plus a long front straight.
As the eMotoRacing series founder, promoter, and a series competitor, I was extremely excited to see the VT Team at our event.
Even though the competition in the ebike classes is a field of smaller bikes with limited power, roadracing rewards many things besides raw power.
The 3 day event consisted of a full practice day Friday, and a bit of practice Saturday morning followed by the race in the afternoon. Sunday’s schedule was like Saturday.
I watched the VT Team in practice from the seat of my Kawasaki Superbike, which was in the same practice group as the Bolt…it was clearly a struggle for the Bolt rider to keep roll speed up in any of the corners. Once momentum is lost in the corners, the speed potential of the ensuing straight is ruined. The Bolt was obviously fast, but lap times were slow.
Late in the day Saturday, after a 3rd place finish, the VT Team asked me to ride their bike and see what a rider with 40 years of racing experience could share with them.
Upon looking at the bike, it was clear that the front tire was not heating up…a quick tire temp check revealed a malfunctioning front tire warmer (whose job it is to pre-heat the tire before going onto the track, until racing action keeps it hot). Also noteworthy was that the rear tire was up to temperature, but not having power applied very hard while leaned over.
A quick visual inspection also revealed excess weight that could be trimmed. Items such as the thick and beefy rear brake rotor, which is barely used on a roadracer. Extra weight costs every time we accelerate, brake, turn, or even adjust a racing line.
My first laps on the Bolt were emphatic…3 things leaped out at me.
- This bike is very FAST
- The front brake rotors are bad…they chatter, eliminating any potential feel of the tire on pavement…unsuitable at a racing pace.
- The throttle transition from off to on was overly abrupt…a struggle to keep steady throttle.
Until the brakes are fixed, there will be no hard braking done while the bike is leaned over…which wastes much time as it requires braking to be done upright, hence shortening the straightaways and lengthening the corners.
Also important, when the bike is leaned hard into a corner and steady throttle needs to maintained, the bike wants to either go hard or decel hard making cornering clumsy and slow.
The Team took this feedback and reduced the regenerative braking by a whopping 75% to soften the abrupt throttle…much better, and now rideable. However, unsure if it is a side effect of the adjustments or if it existed before, a pronounced lag of a second or so exists upon opening the throttle, making it lazy off corners, and the coresponding lag of a second when cutting the throttle.
Heading down the track at 130+mph toward the sharp 90 degree right hand turn at the end, closing the throttle and waiting a second or 2 until the motor starts to drop power is unnerving. This condition seems to worsen a bit as the bike heats up…it could be that I was pressing harder on track and becoming more demanding.
Crisp and accurate operations are not only essential to control the bike, but give the rider confidence that he can do what is needed at any time…racing is a head game, and confidence rules.
There are several ways to steer a motorcycle: turn the handlebars, adjust throttle, apply footpeg pressure, apply (front or rear) brakes, adjust lean angle, and alter body position. With throttle adjustment and brake application untrustworthy, the other techniques would be used to maintain control. Too many compromises.
This is a big, fast bike…which suits me fine. My daily streetbike is a Kawasaki 1400 Concours which feels similar in size, heft, and power. I have hustled that Kawi around many mountain roads over the years and am comfortable doing so. Although the Bolt requires heavy force to turn the handlebars while cornering, it feels steady and stable. Once the throttle response issues are corrected, I believe it will corner fine with appropriate technique.
Now, to power and speed…the absence of a tachometer is detrimental. The motor feels as if it is just hitting its stride when it is time to shut off throttle for the next corner. Run the bike on a dyno…graph the power/rpm relationship, and gear it to maximize the rpm range. Otherwise the rider is guessing. I think it is over-geared and will accelerate better, cover ground faster, and have higher top speed with shorter gearing…but I’m still guessing without a dyno chart and tachometer.
Lastly, once the rider gets onto the bike, the sequence of powering up is too chancey…it would benefit from lights that prompt the process, avoiding any contactor or powering up issues.
In my opinion, it is a resounding success when a handbuilt prototype can go to a track, compete in battle, keep running all weekend, and improve from Friday morning through Sunday afternoon. Expecting perfection the first time out is lofty, but unrealistic.
Yes, we did grid up Sunday afternoon for the weekend finale. Most of the ebike field had left the event early for various reasons, so I was relegated to mostly racing 750cc gas bikes…OK with me.
Green flag is dropped and I jet away with all that power. Nice. As there was only a few bikes on the track, I could concentrate on the Bolt…each lap was a second faster than the one before, down to 1:48, which would have won the Saturday race. The VT Team was happy, I was happy, the Bolt was still in good shape…a good day at the track.
Riding and racing the VT Bolt was a challenge and a joy…hopefully I can do it again.
This bike has real potential.
UPDATE: Check out the final results HERE!
About Arthur Kowitz: Kowitz was a pioneer and competitive privateer in AMA Superbike racing from the class’ inception in 1976 until 1982. A quarter-century later, he rode his venerable Kawasaki Z1 to the 2008 AHRMA Vintage Superbike Heavyweight Championship. In 2013, he competed on an electric Brammo Empulse TTX in the FIM eWorldCup Series at Laguna Seca Raceway and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
About Team Bolt as described on their website: “The BOLT team is dedicated to evolving electric vehicle technology through design, construction, and demonstration of a high performance electric motorcycle and as a competition based team strives for nothing but the best performance on the track. By challenging the standards of performance the team expects to increase the visibility of clean emissions motorsports while proving the viability of the technology itself.”