This year an all-student electric motorcycle team from Ohio State University, hoped to set a new course record at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Pikes Peak, Colorado, with their Buckeye Current bike. The challenging course rises a punishing 1,440 meters over just a 20-kilometer course, and that meant the bike’s design had to tradeoff delivering power and storing energy. The team chose to give priority to power so that they could tackle tight turns and blaze up the hill, storing just enough to get up the hill. (They decided they would walk the bike down afterwards, if they had to.)
During the four days leading up to the race, the team ran head on into several last-minute engineering crises, including a burned out noisemaker—required of all e-vehicles, so that errant pedestrians could hear them coming. The fix: an $8 car alarm.
More serious was the tendency of the motor to cut out, which forced the professionl driver, Rob “The Bullet” Barber, to reset the system. The initial fix was a workaround circuit, but when the power cutouts became more frequent the team realized they had a fundamental problem, traced to a failure of the inverter, which turns the battery’s direct current to the alternating kind. Two days before the race was to be held, the bike would not start—and the vendor of the inverter was deep into the weekend on the other side of the world.
The team pulled yet another all-nighter, found the culprit—a circuit that had been misaligned and whose fuses had thus blown out—and repaired the damage. On Saturday, they got the bike working at full capacity at a local track. Twelve hours later they brought the bike to the base of the mountain.
Watch the bike and action and find out how it finished the race in this video.
Photos (in order of appearance): Corey Davis/Randels Media Group, James Harris/Randels Media Group, Philip Ross/IEEE Spectrum