Fastest bikes, then and now

The Witness - Wheels - - BIKING - LOZ BLAIN

LAST May, when Giz­mag first fea­tured the “truly, hor­ri­fy­ingly fast” Light­ning LS-218, I ended by say­ing: “If I could take any bike in the world out for a test to­day, this would be the top of the list.”

Well, af­ter a 17-hour flight half­way around the globe, I have now rid­den the Light­ning.

It was one of the most ex­treme ex­pe­ri­ences of my young life.

I have also nearly fallen off it, twice, like a com­plete id­iot. With three times the horse­power and some 70% more torque than the Zero SR, which is in it­self an ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­tor­cy­cle, the LS218 is the king of a new breed of elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cles — one de­signed to beat the world’s best petrol bikes.

It makes 200 horse­power, a lu­di­crous num­ber but one we’re more or less fa­mil­iar with in to­day’s mod­ern su­per­bikes. But, be­ing elec­tric, it makes an ab­so­lute moun­tain of torque — 70% more than the punchi­est petrol su­per­bike you can buy, and it can make its full 227 Nm from zero.

With an aero­dy­namic fair­ing and a smaller sprocket on the rear wheel, it recorded a top speed of 351 km/h on the Bon­neville Salt Flats, mak­ing it the world’s fastest pro­duc­tion bike.

When the LS-218 raced against a field of pri­mar­ily petrol bikes up Pike’s Peak in 2013, it de­mol­ished ev­ery­thing else on the moun­tain by more than 20 sec­onds. In rac­ing terms, that’s an ab­so­lute pants-down spank­ing. This thing is cap­i­tal-F Fast. I rode the Aim MXL dash. Like the rest of this pre-pro­duc­tion demo bike, is set up purely for rac­ing. It’s a con­fu­sion of volt­ages, amp-hourages and RPMs with com­pre­hen­sive dat­a­log­ging ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The tacho is an odd in­clu­sion on a sin­gle-speed, clutch-less bike — it merely serves to re­mind you that even as you hit 160 km/ h, you’re still not even half way to the LS-218’s top speed.

I was warned this demo bike has an ex­tremely nar­row steer­ing lock for race­track use, and a throt­tle that’s set up with strong re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing at all speeds on a closed throt­tle.

Pro­duc­tion bikes will have much wider steer­ing stops and the cus­tomer’s choice of throt­tle map­ping, but this one’s set up for rac­ing, and it’ll be a hand­ful at very slow speeds. They were not jok­ing. On my first u-turn and later in the day I twice all but dropped the bike.

The LS-218 is a sin­gle-speed, clutch-less, di­rect drive bike, so it’s ef­fec­tively locked per­ma­nently in sixth gear. From a stand­still, the take­off is brisk, but not nearly as scary as pulling the trig­ger on full-throt­tle launch con­trol on a mod­ern su­per­bike like the Aprilia RSV4 Fac­tory APRC.

From about 90 km/h, full throt­tle en­gages a heart-stop­ping warp drive that freezes my blood in my veins.

The world just blurs as the LS218 hurls me at the hori­zon, I’m hang­ing on for grim death and feel­ing my eye­balls get forced back into their sock­ets. I’m breath­ing raggedly within a few cor­ners, my heart ham­mer­ing against my chest. The ac­cel­er­a­tion is just un­be­liev­able. I’ve opened the throt­tle on plenty of open-class su­per­bikes, but noth­ing throws you into the fu­ture like this thing. Noth­ing.

I can’t keep the throt­tle wide open for more than about a sec­ond. There’s just no straight piece of road long enough. My brain can’t keep up with just how fe­ro­ciously it builds speed, and my eyes can’t bulge open wide enough to take in every piece of scenery that’s hurtling towards me. In an in­stant I find my­self on top of the next cor­ner, thank­ful that the Light­ning comes kit­ted out with su­perb Brembo brakes and Race Tech sus­pen­sion to keep things un­der con­trol.

Where other electrics are quiet, the Light­ning shrieks as it un­leashes its ex­tra­or­di­nary power, loud enough to be eas­ily heard over the rush of wind above 160 km/h. In the tra­di­tion of the best sports­bikes, it’s not just phys­i­cally de­mand­ing, it’s emo­tion­ally en­gag­ing. By the time I pull over to catch my breath, I’m well and truly peak­ing on adren­a­line.

Sure, I ran into cor­ners so hot and over­braked so hard that I doubt I got the bike more than 30 de­grees from ver­ti­cal on my whole test ride — well, ex­cept for when I nearly dropped it at a stand­still. I’d need a few days to cal­i­brate my brain to the ac­cel­er­a­tion be­fore I could prop­erly ex­pe­ri­ence the cor­ner­ing.


The fastest bike on Earth right now is the Light­ning LS-218, and it’s full elec­tric.

Wear­ing no more pro­tec­tion than a leather cap and jacket, Glen Cur­tiss rode one of his fourl­itre V8 mo­tor­bikes at a speed of 219,31 km/h on Jan­uary 24, 1907. The record held for 23 years.

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