Fastest bikes, then and now
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.