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Everything, everywhere, all at Round 1...

Troy and the factory bike re-united and looking great on track. It took some real sacrifices to get to this point, but seeing this made it all worth it!

OK... So I'm really not great at keeping the blog going over the off-season. There's always progress made and plenty to talk about, but I think I need the time to decompress and recover from the regular racing season. And since we ended our season with a big crash at Laguna Seca, there was plenty of work to do. Next time, I'll see how ChatGPT does writing these blog posts... ;) Side note - I did get a pretty good response on "How to build an electric race bike?" as my first test prompt.

I started referring to our first race weekend as "the convergence" as it got closer because it just seemed like everything was trying to happen at the same time for this particular weekend in March, and beyond just getting the bikes ready for racing, there were plenty of logistics challenges to overcome just to make this happen.

But... before we come to how our convergent weekend turned out, a bit of a recap on the "off-season". After that Laguna crash last October, I brought the bike back and performed a thorough inspection of the damage. As it turned out, the main frame of the bike was twisted about 1 degree at the headtube, enough to make the front wheel want to point to the left with the steering pointed straight ahead. Miraculously, the forks were still straight, but the triples were bent as well. Several of our one-off ultra-trick carbon fiber fairing pieces built by Paul Taylor himself were also sacrificed in the crash, but we now have a full set of replacement parts in fiberglass available through Hotbodies Racing. So... while the frame went back to Ely in Oregon for repairs in the original weld fixture, I completed an upgrade on the battery, which needed a tear-down inspection after the crash anyway...

Full bike teardown and rebuild was performed after the Laguna crash. This photo is during the rebuild after the frame was straightened, re-welded, and re-painted by Ely up in Oregon. Note new triples, clip-ons, brake lines, and front fairing mount, which all took damage in the crash. Since Ely hates powdercoat, we're back to our original House of Kolors Honey Neon paint for the season!

Regarding the battery upgrade, Nick and I had been watching battery temperature over the course of the season and using an online tool called SimScale to simulate various thermal designs based on the data collected from our season(s) of racing. We came up with a new design to try, which essentially shifts the conductive cooling path 90 degrees and directs the heat to the back panel, which is now aluminum. To make up for the added weight, I converted the side panels to solid carbon fiber plate, which was less than half the weight of the aluminum iso-grid panels they replaced. Not shown is the clean-up work done internally to provide a less restrictive path for our active air-cooling circuit as well. I could've left well enough alone, but I figured this is what the factory bike is for... to try to keep improving. Am I confident we'll see a big improvement?... Meh. Am I stoked about having more carbon fiber in the bike?... You bet!

Meanwhile... Nick decided to get a head start on his season with CRA and managed to high-side himself off the bike in Turn 2 at Buttonwillow during qualifying. Rider was OK, but the bike got pretty banged up after flipping 3 times in the air before coming down on the front end. It was looking so nice too after we spent a weekend doing a new vinyl wrap...

Unfortunately, Nick's crash left him with bent fork tubes and he didn't manage to get his replacements in time for the AFM season opener. Lucky for me, he's an awesome dude and decided to come anyway to support the team. Wait... what team? Oh yeah... while all this was going down, I also ended up with Steven's bike in my little Moto Shed after it spending the winter with Ely in Oregon to resolve the pesky 12Vdc issues that had plagued our delivery end of last season. The bike came to me effectively "done", save for those million little details for proper race prep. Steven decided he would make the trek down from the frozen tundra of Edmonton, Canada (who could blame him) to join us for AFM Round 1 and get his first race weekend in on his very own Lightfighter.

The LF MotoShed became a busy place. Factory bike in pieces in the foreground, battery on the table in the back left, Steven's bike together but needing race prep and bodywork, and Nick's battery getting a repair after his crash. Ah... Livin' the dream... ;)

The race prep for Steven's bike went pretty smoothly and I was really happy with how the bodywork fit up and the way the whole bike came together. I was able to get it onto the dyno at Zero for a quick pull to confirm power levels and the bike performed great. I threw some vinyl and graphics on for the bike's race debut, knowing Steven and his wife had plans to do a full wrap, so I left most of the bodywork in the native white gelcoat as they come from our friends at Hotbodies Racing.

With the settings used on the dyno to reduce wheelspin and the bike at about 50% SOC, I saw 128hp at the rear wheel, which met our expectations for the settings we were using and the low charge, which starts to limit peak power. At full power settings and full charge, I have no doubt this bike will produce north of 140hp at the rear wheel.

Steven's bike did have one little issue that seemed to be something simple, but would come back to bite us at the track. Every time the throttle went live, about 5 secs later, we'd lose the CAN bus data on the display. It would return intermittently, but it was something I chalked up to a mistake in my dash calibration. It didn't prevent the bike from running though, so I decided I'd continue to diagnose during the weekend between sessions.

Steven's solution to haul the bike back to Canada in the back of his pick-up without needing to haul the trailer all the way down from Canada. The restraint system worked well and the bike made it home safely after the race weekend (with a cover). The plywood base is bolted into the truckbed.

Back to the factory bike rebuild - I also spent the off-season working with Race Seats in Italy to develop a custom seat for the Lightfighter based on the (personally made) hand-cut foams we've been working with since the program started. They come with a fiberglass base with rivnuts for mounting from the underside and a variety of covering types, foam thicknesses, and other features. We even incorporated Troy's "bump stop" into the version used on the factory bike. Not only do these look pro, I think they'll hold up to the abuse of racing much better than the cut race foam versions we've been using, which tend to tear or chunk off as they get caught on leathers, etc...

Race seats in Italy makes a nice product. You can even get your name and race number embroidered, but we'll save that for our pro racing debut...

After some more Hotbodies bodywork fitment, some adjustments to wheel spacing (new triples are now 205mm center to center) and some quick vinyl work, the factory bike was ready to rock again. Special thanks to Bobby Loo at Motorrev Suspension Tuning for coming through with a sweet Bitubo steering damper. Our Ohlins unit got thrashed at Laguna and Bobby took it home to see if it was salvageable... it wasn't.

So with race prep done on both bikes, our family split 3 directions with my wife heading to San Diego for a conference, my son staying with a friend for the weekend, and myself, my Dad (Joe), and my daughter heading down to the track. The dogs went somewhere as well, but that's a detail I've run out memory space to retain...

As we landed at Buttonwillow on Friday. Working theory is that only 2 Lightfighters can be at the same track at the same time. Our last two attempts to have 3 bikes ended in tears, so it must be a law of physics...

With Troy on a plane on his way back from being wined and dined by Ducati on the southern coast of Spain for a press launch (oh the lavish lifestyle of the motojournalist)... shakedown honors fell to Nick for Friday to make sure the bike still tracked in a straight line. Remember that his bike was down for the count, so it was a great opportunity for him to compare the feeling on his bike to the factory bike. That's Nick's first roll-out on the factory bike on the left and Steven's first on his beauty on the right.

Nick's feedback confirmed 2 things - 1. the bike still does all the motorcycle things - turns, brakes, goes straight when you want it to, etc... 2. a Lightfighter feels like a Lightfighter. Yeah, there were little ergonomic differences, like Troy's seat and clip-ons that make the cockpit right-sized for him, but overall the factory bike performs the same as the customer bikes, which was great to hear! Most importantly, the rebuild was a success and it looked like Troy had a bike to race.

With the shakedown out of the way in the morning sessions, and Troy not coming in until that night, I thought it would be a great opportunity to get someone else a chance to try the Lightfighter. For those that don't know - Brenden Ketlesen is a young (19 YO), up-and-coming pro-speed level racer that's been dominating the 600 class races in AFM for the past couple of seasons on his Graves Kawasaki 636. As it turned out, Brenden was at the track on Friday, but his bike was at the Graves shop in LA getting fitted with a new wiring harness, so he had no bike to ride. When I offered the Lightfighter for a couple of afternoon practice sessions, he didn't hesitate to jump at the opportunity.

Brenden's feedback was short and sweet. He really noticed how much torque the bike had as well as how much feedback he could feel from the front tire without the engine vibrations masking the input. He said the bike felt "tall" to him, but commented on how easy it was to flick side-to-side as well as the fact that it pulled harder from some of the slower corners than his Kawasaki. Even though this was his first time on the bike, much less any electric motorcycle, he was quick right away. In the second session we made a couple of little changes and he went faster still. It was a nice confirmation that the Lightfighter can feel so comfortable so quickly to a rider with far less experience on a variety of bikes like our seasoned veteran, Troy. No idea if we'll get Brenden on the bike again in the future, but I hope it helped plant a seed with a young, up-and-coming rider that might open him to some future opportunities with electric motorcycles. I've always said that the purpose of this program is to open eyes and inspire the next generation of designer and engineer (and racer!).

Brenden Kettlesen took the Lightfighter out for a couple of sessions and showed us some of the raw talent he's known for. Troy's lap record at Buttonwillow is safe, but only just... ;)

Troy showed up Friday evening with plenty of jetlag from his trip to Spain, but ready to take over the reins on the factory bike for practice and qualifying on Saturday ahead of Sunday's races. Bonus was his new Carlin Dunne replica lid from Bell that matched our livery quite nicely...

"I just flew in from Spain, and man are my arms tired!" After a good night's sleep, Troy was ready to go!

It was great to get Troy back on the bike after he was forced to sit out the last event of the season last year as he recovered from a strained back. Unfortunately, our practices were impacted by a lack of confidence in the front end, which we ultimately diagnosed as a loose headset bearing nut - almost definitely my error during bike re-assembly. Ugh. Hate those unforced errors... ! With that resolved, Troy got out for qualifying and a got a good run of laps in, really his first full practice session of the day. With the afternoon races starting up, that was going to have to be good enough prior to lining up to race on Sunday.

It was great to see Troy back on the bike. We both agreed we'd treat this weekend as a test and not try to push too hard too fast. Did I mention how awesome that new helmet matches the livery?

Thanks to Nick for grabbing some videos on the day for us!

Powering down the front straight and past an unsuspecting gas bike...

Through club corner, the bus stop, and into Riverside...

Troy picking up the pace in qualifying.

While Troy was getting re-acquainted with the factory bike, Nick was working with new partner Veracity Racing on integrating a Motec M130 ECU with custom developed EV-specific calibration onto the powertrain of his bike. Looking forward to sharing more about this project in the near future, but the basic idea is to provide even more flexibility and tuning options for Lightfighter for more sophisticated traction control and drivetrain maps. Big thanks to David Ferguson, who came out to work on this project, but ended up helping us track down that CANbus issue on Steven's bike as well!

It may not have had forks, but Nick's bike had something the other bikes did not - A Motec ECU!

Speaking of Steven, he was able to hit every practice session on Friday and Saturday morning and continued adjusting to the Lightfighter's more potent powertrain (to his trick custom built FZ07 he's been racing at home). At the end of the day on Saturday, Steven made his maiden race debut in the F40 Middleweight race as a Novice and finished the race as the only electric in a field of ultra-competitive 600s.

Not wanting to throw his new baby down the road while learning a new track, Steven took it slow and steady, making constant improvement as he both learned the track and gained confidence with the bike. I'm sure he'll make changes when he gets the bike to a home track, but for this event all settings stayed as delivered.
We've had a couple taller riders on the Lightfighter (Steven being the tallest) and they're always appreciative of the extra room in the saddle so they can find a comfortable position in a tuck.

After Steven's race was over, we decided we had plenty of time to look a bit deeper into that elusive CANbus fault we'd been seeing. The prevailing theory at the time was there was something about this particular inverter that was causing the issue and since Nick had HIS "known good" inverter at the track, we thought a parts swap would be simple to rule it out. Fast forward to about 11pm that night and I've realized that with the possible combinations of phase lead order to the motor and the central location of the inverter, that this is not such a simple task to attempt track side...

The look on Nick's face says it all. Nothing fun about staying up until 2am when you're over 30... (or 40 for some of us)

At this point, the prudent thing would have been to return the bike to the condition it raced in and accept the annoying CANbus issue to be resolved another day. But... I knew Steven was heading back to Edmonton (it's really far away) the next day AND I've never been known to make the prudent choice. So... with a rally from Nick and some late night coffee from Joe (He's awesome), we dug deeper. I won't go into gory details, but Steven's bike looked more like a pieces of a bike at one point as we eventually found a miniscule short to motor case in one of the phase leads inside the motor. The issue was not signifcant enough to cause the bike problems running, but it was creating a ton of noise on the CANbus. We resolved the issue and put the bike together only to be faced with a new issue as we attempted to run it. I'll cut to the end of that one as well as it's too traumatic for me to relive in it's entirety... We were too hasty in our reassembly at 2am and managed to skew the resolver (motor position sensor) and possibly the rotor itself on reassembly. We took it back apart and reassembled carefully and ... "ZZZZZZIIIIIIIIZZZZZZ!!!!!" she spun up with no issue and no CAN errors. Issue resolved! And just in time for Steven to start packing for the trip back home...

Wait!? What? Going home? What about the races on Sunday, you say? Well... I failed to mention that WHILE we were up at 2am on Saturday night, we also witnessed a hella rainstorm blow it's way into the paddock. It drenched everything, including the track, and everytime things seemed to be drying out on Sunday morning, it would start again. So... after several delays, AFM called it and sent everyone home. Bummer. I was looking forward to getting those first races of the season under the belt for Troy and the factory bike. That said, I was also exhausted and pleased to have all bikes heading home in one piece. Ok... not Nick's bike though. His was completely torn apart. But the other two...

Nick's frame went back with Joe to get to Ely to check in the original weld fixture for straightness. Wine glass for size reference only... we were defintitely NOT drinking a nice red wine to calm the nerves shortly before this photo was taken...

Unfortunately, the weather did clear after about 50% of the paddock had left. That gave Steven the opportunity to ride his bike around the paddock just to be sure Nick hadn't forgotten any bolts on the reassembly (I kid).

Steven just before loading his bike for the long drive back to Edmonton, Canada. Even with the trackside repair, Steven got in every practice and race on offer for the weekend! Looking forward to hearing how his season goes once the tundra thaws...

No racing on Sunday, but I wouldn't characterize the weekend as anything other than action packed. Brian (L) and Steven (R).

So we loaded up and headed home having accomplished most of what we set out to accomplish. We're looking at schedules and talking about "what's next?", but haven't made firm commitments just yet. There's another AFM round at Buttonwillow in April that looks enticing if we can ever get through this winter of "atmospheric rivers"! As always, thanks to anyone that made it through this whole post and thank you for the support. Especially to those in the industry that keep encouraging us to push uphill and do something different. And most importantly to our families that tolerate the insanity of it all!


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