Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What’s Next?


by Kevin Clemens

When I first went to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah with an electric motorcycle in 2011 to set a land speed record, I had an ulterior motive. I had been told by car company executives that 75 percent of the issue with the acceptance of electric cars was not technical but one of education: people needed to learn that electric vehicles were more than just glorified golf carts. I thought that, in my own small way, I could help show that electrified transportation could be fun, exciting and practical.

After setting a National Record my first time out, my efforts in subsequent years grew with more complicated and sophisticated electric motorcycles and a larger support team of family and friends. The Salt Flats became our yearly family vacation destination and months of evenings and weekends the entire year prior would be spent in the workshop, building new machines to challenge the salt.

Racers have been going to Bonneville for more than 100 years, and the period since the Second World War has seen organized events on the nearly perfect surface of dried salt that forms every summer when the relentless sun dries a briny lake into a seemingly endless expanse. Arrow straight courses of up to 12 miles in length allow some of the world’s fastest and most unusual vehicles to reach their top speeds and set national and world land speed records.

At first, it was enough to just be there and to fly the flag of electrification. Of the 45-600 motorcycles that would show up to compete, each year only 3-6 of them would be electrically powered—we were pioneers staking out a new frontier.  Eventually, the need for speed crowded into my motivation and the hunt for national and even world records became important goals.

Ironically, in the past five years, the general public has begun to accept the veracity of electric vehicles. Almost 120,000 electric vehicles were sold in the U.S. in 2014, a 23 percent increase from the previous year. The Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, BMW i3 and the Tesla Model S have made their mark proving that electric vehicles can be a viable alternative to traditional gasoline engine vehicles. Although U.S. sales of electric vehicles are still less than 1 percent of the total yearly vehicle sales, the public is at least aware that they exist, and resistance to them is slowly decreasing.

In my own, very small and seemingly insignificant way, we can consider our effort with electric motorcycles at Bonneville to be a success. Yes, we have set some records, many of which have been or will be broken by other teams, but we have also done our part to make people aware that alternatives to gasoline do exist and that pushing out new frontiers needn’t be only the purview of large and well-funded corporations. We have done our part and will return this year in 2015 to try to go a bit faster and set another record—watch this space and come along for the ride…

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