Last week, legendary MotoGP rider Max Biaggi hopped on a modified Venturi Voxan Wattman electric motorcycle and took a top-secret ride down a decommissioned NASA runway in Florida—the same one where the Space Shuttle used to take off. In the process, he broke 18 land-speed records for electric motorcycles, including top speed, averaging 283 mph over two runs, one in each direction. With that, Biaggi broke his own electric motorcycle speed record, set just last year, when he took a previous version of the Wattman to 253 mph.
All of which begs the question: Why?
"I saw that it started to be realistic, what Voxan was saying—that they could build the bike better to break the record," Biaggi told Road & Track in a one-on-one interview at the Classic Car Club Manhattan, where the electric motorcycle maker hosted a party to announce the new top-speed record. "After that, it was all processed by testing and R&D until we could achieve the results."
The Wattman was upgraded with a host of go-fast componentry. A more potent and lighter battery was installed. The motor was juiced to produce 435 hp. The double-wishbone suspension was adjusted for better precision. And perhaps most importantly, the bike was draped in a carefully developed aerodynamic fairing that resembles one half of a VW XL1. Not that it did much for noise mitigation.
"It’s very different from when I used to ride noisy bikes, with a thermal engine. Because electric motors make just the little zzzzzzttttt," Biaggi said. "But at speed, the wind creates a really big noise. You feel like an airplane taking off. When you break the wall of the air, you make some noise." Here, Biaggi is referring to the subsonic wind pressure, at around .3 Mach (roughly 230 mph), when the air surrounding a vehicle becomes very difficult to compress. The sensation is like driving into, and then through, a wall.
Reaching these speeds inside the protective cocoon of an automobile has reduced some drivers to tears, or vow never to do it again. So what's it like on a bike? "It’s all about power, stability, and aerodynamics," Biaggi said. "You have so much turbulence. You think you can hold. But you can’t. You can’t even see well at this speed. You just try to focus on what is around you. You don’t look anymore at what is straight ahead. You need to look wider. It’s crazy."
Having beaten his own record, what could be next for Biaggi? "Who knows? It’s a good question. Gildo—the president of Venturi, who makes this happen—he is not a dreamer. He’s a pioneer. If he thinks of something... after a few months or a few years, it starts to become reality," he said. "If something really teases me, and gives me the right adrenaline, I’ll accept."
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