Electric motorcycles, while economical, technologically fascinating and environmentally friendly, are unlikely to light a fire under the average petrolhead until they start tickling our inner hooligans... Which is why we're hanging out to throw a leg over the Mission One electric superbike. Fresh from its first run at the Isle of Man TTXGP, this battery-powered beast pulls power wheelies from faster than freeway speeds, handles like a dream and can top 150 miles on a battery charge.
And the latest feather in the Mission One team's cap is a national AMA land-speed record for electric motorcycles. Product Manager and test rider Jeremy Cleland pushed a production prototype - with the same powertrain that customers will get off the shelf in late 2010 - to a top speed of 161mph (259kph) and a two-way land speed record of 150.059mph (241.5kph) in poor conditions and high winds at Utah's Bonneville salt flats. Excellent.
Belting across a slushy salt lake, battling poor traction and harsh crosswinds at more than 150mph is a pretty fearsome job, but it's all in a day's work for Jeremy Cleland. Cleland, who spoke to us from the world's first electric motorcycle race a couple months ago, is the product manager for Mission One's electric superbike, and chief test rider into the bargain.
Part of Cleland's job is to drum up a buzz around the American-built electric superbike's fun and performance potential - and on September 1, he piloted the bike to a new national AMA land speed record for electric motorcycles, with a two-pass average run of 150.059mph at the Bonneville Speedway, hitting a peak speed of 161mph.
To put that speed into perspective, the Mission One team have taken their production prototype to a top speed similar to what the famous Killacycle electric drag bike manages over its fastest quarter-mile runs. And they've held it above that speed for a whole mile, going both directions to cancel out any wind assistance.
It's Mission One's first visit to the salt flats, and a remarkable achievement for this start-up company. More importantly, it's a bold display of the kind of performance we can expect from what will be just the first generation of electric performance bikes. This thing is able to get within 20mph of the 180mph limit that's imposed on most superbikes as part of a 'gentleman's agreement' between the major manufacturers - and it'll make that speed on debut.
"The Mission One is just an incredible motorcycle,” said Cleland who, in a previous life, raced both AMA and AFM, “This is a bike that can rip up the track at Infineon Raceway, do power wheelies at 80 mph, and then come out here to Bonneville and dismantle the prior electric world speed record. It pulls hard all the way from 0 on up to 161mph, all in one gear, with incredible torque. It's a riding experience like no other. The important thing to understand is this is not a one-off race vehicle, this is a production prototype. It is the same bike that we raced at the Isle of Man and features the same powertrain that we will be delivering to our customers in 2010.”
As much as I'm impressed by the top speed result, I must confess it's the wild wheelie photos that have caught my imagination today (there's lots of other shots in the gallery). Proof positive of the engine's meaty 100 lb-ft torque output that kicks in immediately from a standing start. That's right, from a standstill, this puppy can unleash around 17% more torque than this year's Yamaha R1 does at its 10,000rpm peak.
And here's where the potential of electric bikes starts to become apparent - as batteries continue to advance and store more and more energy, electric engines can be tuned to deliver virtually any sort of riding experience, from learner-friendly to brutal wheelie machine - at the flick of a switch. Traction control or wheelie control becomes a doddle to implement, because you'll have incredibly intimate control over the engine. It's all simply a matter of software.
The Mission One is more than the world's fastest road-legal electric motorcycle - it looks like the first battery powered roadbike that's going to deliver a serious hooligan giggle factor along with its green credentials. Congratulations, guys!