staff, July 24, 2016


At first glance, they might have been dubbed uneasy riders.

When the Buckeye Current, Ohio State University?s student electric motorcycle team, competed in the Pike?s Peak International Hill Climb race this summer, a number of technical issues almost left them at the starting line.

Their electric cycle, the RW-3x, was completely non-functional just days before the race.

Talk about rallying. The team not only fixed all the glitches, but came in third, which even shocked Giorgio Rizzoni, director of the Center of Automotive Research at The Ohio State University.

?We had a new, custom designed bike that had to climb 14,000 feet to the top of Pike?s Peak during the race,? says Rizzoni. ?There were a few technical problems from the start causing overheating."

Enter a determined team of students who wanted to win.

?Our team got it together and ended up with the third fastest times in the entire competition - a great success considering this is something we do on a shoe-string budget with a small group of students and volunteers,? says Rizzoni.?

This isn?t the first time the Buckeye Current has done OSU proud. In 2013, the team also finished third in their first-ever appearance at the famous Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) races. They were the only collegiate team to compete in the TT Zero that year.

?That year, we found our way across the ocean to compete in a very prestigious race,? says Rizzoni. ?The track was very intense, up and down hills, and along the coast of this beautiful island. Our team went and finished third against professional teams that spent 100 times what we spent. I couldn't have been more elated. ?

But why an electric motorcycle instead of the traditional gas-powered model?

The seeds of this team are firmly planted in the past. Rizzoni points to OSU?s automotive research that goes back some 25 years. ?Even from the start, Ohio State has studied the future of mobility,? he says. In 1994, students were encouraged to think about electric transportation. ?We worked on a lot of hybrid electric vehicle programs under the heading of future cars, always supporting student projects dedicated to alternative fuels.?

?For the first 15 years, all of these vehicles had four wheels,? the professor added. ?One day, a student said, ?Why don?t we take this old motorcycle that?s sitting around here and turn it into an electric cycle.?

The science was an easy fit since a motorcycle operates from a much smaller battery pack than a car or truck. Rizzoni recalls an early demo version of the electric cycle turning into very practical transportation for him. ?I?d hop on that cycle and go home for lunch,? he says with a laugh. ?I only live a few miles from campus and I knew the battery would get me there for a sandwich and back easily.?

Rizzoni believes there is a real future for electric motorcycles. ?In many countries, two-wheel vehicles are far more practical than four,? he says. ?And the idea of an electric-powered, two-wheel vehicle is really catching on in Italy and China. You don?t need a large battery pack to get 30 to 40 miles of range.

?Electric just makes sense,? says the native of Rome, adding, ?If you?re just buzzing around and going to work and then the gym, you could certain take your electric motorcycle and then later just recharge it for the night.?

If that sounds too mundane then consider the team?s efforts in conquering the Pike?s Peak challenge.

In the end, Buckeye Current?s rider, Rob Barber, was the second fastest rookie to ride up that mountain range, which featured 156 turns up a steep path.

?The team went into the competition with a motorcycle that was extensively redesigned from the previous year and, as expected, many technical problems had to be solved on the mountain,? says Marcello Canova, the team faculty advisor and assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. It turns out that troubleshooting issues is part of the experience.

The team finished with a performance time of 11 minutes and 16 seconds, earning them a third place trophy.

The Buckeye Current plans to race again next summer. ?Our team has one goal,? Rizzoni said. ?We want to be the fastest motorcycle at Pike?s Peak. I know it?s possible to make the fastest vehicle. Just give us time.?

By Cindy Pearlman