What’s the point in racing if you aren’t aiming to make things better? Whether you’re looking to improve your machine, your reaction times, your teamwork, or your life, racing can make all of that happen and more. There is no better trial for a new motorcycle than one by fire, and that’s exactly what the Suicide Machine Co. racing team set out to do last weekend with a pair of unproven LiveWire One electric motorcycles. The team pit their rides against some of the best gas-powered bikes in the world, and while they didn’t exactly win, they experimented and proved racing is fucking cool.
I saw these bikes while at Laguna Seca on Sunday during MotoAmerica’s round there and was immediately intrigued. On Tuesday I had a phone call with SMC’s own Aaron and Shaun Guardado, brothers and riders for the team they run together to get the lowdown on how their weekend went.
This odd little program was thrown together somewhat last minute, as the SMC team went out to a Bagger Racing League test at Chuckwalla a few months ago and happened to have a LiveWire on hand at the time. If you have a bike at a track and there’s an opportunity to run it and you don’t, what’s the point? At that event, even with the bike still 100 percent in its stock configuration, even with its factory-fitment tires, it was really hauling the mail. Obviously Chuckwalla is a much shorter and tighter track than Laguna Seca, but they were encouraged enough by the outing to give the LiveWire a shot in the big Super Hooligan race coming up later that season at Laguna. Even as a one-off, it had potential.
Aaron and Shaun told LiveWire what they had in mind, and asked if they could get a second bike for display purposes in the paddock. Because the MotoAmerica Laguna Seca event was already looking like the record crowd it turned out to be, the electric Harley-Davidson subsidiary agreed and sent off a brand new LiveWire One for display purposes. Technically the bike did get displayed at the races, but it also got raced at the races! You can definitely get more data when you run two bikes, right? So the team gave their own bike and the LiveWire loaner a totally bitchin “prototype” livery, bolted on some slicks, removed the lights and license plate, and hit the track.
These bikes are still stock, down to the wheels. According to the Guardados, they didn’t even change the factory suspension setup, as the LiveWire lab told them it was set up optimized for a 180 pound rider, which is right around where the pair hit on the scales. The prep was so easy for the LiveWire, as the only safety measures they needed to commit were safety wiring on the caliper bolts. Because the bike carries no fuel or oil, it didn’t even need a belly pan!
When the team showed up at the track with a pair of LiveWires most of the paddock was asking “What the heck are these guys doing?” but Suicide Machine isn’t the kind of team that shies away from a challenge. “We’re the guys to do something like this,” commented Aaron. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.”
So, what’s it like to race an electric bike at Laguna Seca? The brothers agreed that they had to adapt their riding styles quite a bit, because they’re used to racing Harley Sportsters with a massive gyroscopic effect of a massive engine in between their legs. The bike is very ‘flickable’ they said, but the further you lean over the less stable it feels at the limit, because of the lack of gyro. Because the battery is so tall, the center of gravity is a little higher than they’re used to, but with plenty of practice sessions before the race, they had time in the weekend to learn a new riding style.
With warm slicks the bikes lean over quite a lot, but the programming of the bikes didn’t really like that. At full lean, the bike started panicking and wouldn’t let the riders apply full throttle out of the corner. That required another adaptation of the riding style, so the brothers now needed to get further off the bike and keep it a little more upright to prevent that loss of throttle but still keep the mid-corner speeds high.
The Super Hooligans series typically races on dirt, and the bikes have to do a lot of full-lean while hard on the throttle. Aaron admitted that he wasn’t sure the LiveWire would be up to the task of dirt flat track without some hefty remapping. A good 19" dirt tire might not fit on the bike without a custom swingarm, which is another hurdle to get over. Will Suicide Machine Co. move forward with a LiveWire program in Super Hooligans? “It’s not a no. The data from this weekend will be helpful to see how things can move forward.” With a custom throttle map, traction control map, and regen map, and the right tire, he thinks it might be possible.
“We talked to the LiveWire Lab people about building custom maps. ‘Can you spice it up a little? Can you take the speed limiter away with lean angle?’ and they can, but it’s not going to happen quickly.” The team are already working with LiveWire programmers to get more speed and efficiency out of the bikes.
The LiveWires certainly weren’t a match for the KTM 890 Dukes that ran away with the show, or really any of the other bikes on track, honestly. Shaun’s best time of the weekend was a 1:55.612, while the full race-prepped Dukes were running 1:32s. It’s hard to call that a fair representation of the LiveWire’s showing, however. The Guardado’s were impressed with their bikes as they had good braking, mid-corner, and off-corner speed, but just couldn’t keep up on the long straights.
The LiveWires would catch pretty much everyone in the complex of corners between the Andretti Hairpin and turn 5, but would run out of steam going up the hill between 5 and 6. And the main straight was hell, as they would get passed like they were standing still. “In the first 100 feet off the corner we were the fastest bikes on the track, but we maxed out around 100 on the straight where the other bikes could hit 130 or so. We just didn’t have the legs.” If Laguna Seca had been more Chuckwalla, the team might have been able to finish a bit higher up the order, as even on street tires the bike was holding its own against full prep racers.
I asked the two racers what hardware they might like to see developed for the LiveWire to make it a better track bike. Both agreed that they were more impressed with the ride than they thought they might be. Custom rearsets to move the pegs further up and back might get a little more lean angle out of the bikes on left handers, but otherwise they wouldn’t change much. Just the typical race stuff, like adjustable brake master cylinders for the front and rear, and some race-spec suspension parts, but not much else.
So how did these bikes do on charging? It’s the question we’re all asking, right? Well, apparently quite well. The LiveWire’s 15.5 kWh battery pack would last two full 20 minute sessions for both riders. In the bike’s standard Sport Mode, which allows full throttle and full regen they used about 35 percent of the juice. If they ran without traction control, which turns off regen, that same 20 minute session would use up 50 percent of the electricity reserves. It’s probably all for the better, anyway, because coming out of turn 11 with the throttle pegged the bike has enough shove to basically throw the riders from their saddle!
Laguna Seca is working on installing some electric vehicle chargers, but they aren’t in just yet, so the guys had to load up their bikes and haul them to a nearby public DC Fast charger in a Nob Hill parking lot. They were pretty easy to charge while still on the trailer, but it took a bit of finagling to get it positioned just right for the cable of two chargers to reach.
There haven’t been many LiveWire riders going out and doing track days with their bikes, so this is all pretty much new data for the LiveWire engineers. Suicide Machine might not be taking these leccy bikes out for a full season of Super Hooligans flat tracking (but it would kick ass if they did), but they’re certainly talking about running a spec LiveWire series or something. Say ten bikes identically prepped at famous racing circuits all over the country? Yeah, that sounds like it would rip. I’m extremely interested in subscribing to this newsletter.
For a first time effort, I found this extremely promising. Okay, 23 seconds off the winning bike is hardly something to write home about, but considering they’re running literally street bikes with slicks and the KTMs are factory-prepped race bikes, the deficit seems quite a bit less. With a year or so of on-track development, especially if there are ten or more of these things running around, they’ll learn an awful lot about going fast on electric bikes in awful short order.
The Guardados wanted to make sure I mentioned how grateful they were to Dainese and LiveWire for helping support them in this project.