Steve Rapp’s Famous Mission R ride

Hell For Leather, HFL -

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People are excited about this new Mission R for one big reason: it’s fast. A point demonstrated by Steve Rapp at Laguna Seca two years ago, when he annihilated the competition, throwing down lap times competitive with 600cc ICE race bikes. We interviewed him shortly after and figured the bike’s public launch date was a good time to revisit that.

Two weekends ago, San Francisco-based startup Mission Motors made history when rider Steve Rapp lapped Laguna Seca in 1:31.3. That’s a new record for electric vehicles of any kind and would have put them 5th on that weekend’s AMA Supersport grid. Steve went on to win the race, utterly blowing away competition from MotoCzysz, Lightning and Brammo. Two days ago, we talked to Steve and our old buddy, [now former] Mission marketing guru David Salguero, about that achievement.

On finishing 40 seconds ahead of MotoCzysz in an eight lap race.
David: “The Mission R is a bike that was conceived at a system level to perform well at the track. You basically start from a clean sheet and say ‘what is gonna make this bike the fastest?’ Distinct from every other bike on the grid, we do not use any off-the-shelf powertrain components.”

“We’re using our own stuff and our own stuff is about as power and energy dense as it comes. We have 14KwH of battery on that bike, which is 2 less than what’s in a Chevy Volt. It’s a LOT of battery.”

“So James Parker’s Chassis allows for 14kWh of our technology, but it also gives us that 55º of lean angle that Steve uses every degree of. Really you just have to start from the top and use the lightest and most powerful tech or the smallest and more powerful tech.”

“You need a rider that’s really consistent to be able to dial in that powertrain. Steve has ridden everything under the sun and knows how to dial something in and how to be consistent.”

A slow start.
Steve: “The first time I rode the Mission R was at Thunderhill maybe a few months ago and, to be honest with you, I wasn’t impressed at all.”

“They had it setup really mild and they didn’t tell me a lot of stuff at the beginning, cause I don’t need to know everything, they just wanted to make sure everything was working.”

“They said ‘don’t worry, we have it in a safe mode right now. There’s a lot more power we can pull out of it.’”

“So then we rode it at Buttonwillow and it was a lot better than the first time. A lot better. It worked great and they kept adding power to it and all the stuff they needed to do and then we went to an electric vehicle race at Laguna, Refuel, and it really started to come alive there. It was really starting to run fast, and the power was better and we were getting the suspension to work better.”

Electric tuning.
David: “That’s kind of how we develop our electric powertrains. That bike does have our very latest technology in it. When you’re bringing it up, you set a threshold and once everything is running ok, you bring it up a notch and repeat. That’s how we were able to drop a full ten seconds between Refuel and the TTXGP. Every time we hit another threshold reliably, we’d say we can turn up the wick a little bit. We’ve got this stuff called cell-to-server software that looks at all the parameters in real time; the temperature of each battery cell and all that kind of stuff. It’s that kinda game.”

Steve: “It’s unheard of. It’s never happened to me and I’ve never heard of it happening in motorcycle racing, that you can drop ten or eight seconds.”

“In racing, in the past, it’s like you’re looking for tenths and maybe one second at the most, not ten seconds. It’s cool that you can make that much progress.”

David: “Brammo rider Steve Atlas asked us, ‘where the hell did you guys find that many seconds? Where did that come from?’ And we just kinda pointed to our guy that had a laptop connected to the bike and went, ‘Yep, it’s right there.’”

Steve: “I was working on the spring rates and different tire compounds, different brake pads, etc. And, by the end of that electric vehicle challenge at Laguna, I was really feeling good and enjoying riding the bike. Then we rode it one more time at Buttonwillow and they got it going even faster. Then I was really starting to be impressed by it to the point where I wanted to ride it more and more.”

“There’s nothing coming up right now and I’m bummed because I wanna ride the bike because it’s such a fun bike to ride. I like using analogies to compare things, but I can’t because there’s just nothing really like it out there.”

“It’s not the novelty or the newness of it, it’s just how easy it is to ride and the way the power comes on. There’s no shifting with your feet or hands and you have a lot of time just to worry about riding the bike. You’re not worrying about the gearing and all the other things that go with gas bikes.”

2011′s race bike.

2014′s production bike.

Lapping on par with 600s.
David: “I think this was really the year where general motorcycle and vehicle enthusiasts started to take notice. We had our other bike on display all weekend out in front of the Pro Italia booth and people just kept coming up, asking educated questions about kWh, regenerative braking, all those things. People are starting to understand what these things are and it’s no longer people saying things like ‘oh, do you put cards in the spokes?’ and stuff like that. People are genuinely interested and they look at the bike and they’re impressed.”

A little on regen.
David: “We put about one percent of the total energy used back into the pack through the use of regen. That number is particuarly low due to rider preference – Steve asked to have it turned down low. But it’s representative of the fact that, in a race bike application, regen is more for feel and balance than for putting energy back in. It’s really a sort of traditional engine braking kind of feel and that’s a tunable parameter.”

Riding an electric through The Corkscrew.
Steve: “Actually, it’s easier to accelerate because you don’t have to shift gears now. There’s nothing hard or awkward. If anything, it’s actually easier to ride because of that. It’s just one gear, smooth power, there’s no hits in the powerband like you have with a gas engine, it’s easy to maintain partial throttle, everything. It’s just so fun to ride.”

“There’s only one difference. And the shifting is no big deal, that’s easy. Anybody can ride a bike and not shift. That wasn’t hard to get used to. Riding the bike, the way it feels, the way it turns, the way it leans, none of that feels out of the ordinary. The only thing that I’ve noticed that would catch anyone off guard is the weight of it [545lbs]. So when you come in to a corner, you definitely notice that you’re braking quite a bit earlier that you normally would.”

“Anybody could jump on the bike and ride it easily, safely and that would be the only thing would really notice. When they came back I bet they’d say, ‘oh, it feels a little heavy when you try to stop it.’ That’s it.”

Electric speed.
David: “The bike is, theoretically, according to all our logging and logarithms and stuff, capable of over 160mph. Again, the electric motorcycle race is basically one big multi-variable mathematical equation where you take into account speed versus corner speed versus range versus all this other kind of stuff, so to say get to a lower top-speed more quickly, is a more efficient way to get good lap times than to go extremely fast and get hard on the brakes. I think the 133 was a safe lower limit of what the bike can do.”

When you’ll be able to buy one.
David: “There’s no plans right now for a road bike. Mission is all about technology. We got a bunch of people that are doing things here with electric powertrains and batteries and electric motors and software running the stuff that hasn’t been done before. That’s what we do best. We don’t do distribution, we don’t do volume vehicle manufacturing here. It’s just not what we do. We’re not gonna focus on that, we’re just gonna focus on what we do best.”

“We’re really, as a company, focused on the OEM car stuff. We’re getting so much traction there and it’s really actually kind of exciting for us and for a lot of people at this company, which is growing a ton. There’s 35 of us now. People are passionate about making an impact on the world here and getting thousands, or tens of thousands or even more powertrains out there is one way to have a real massive impact for a company of this size, so that’s really what we’re focused on right now.”

What’s next.
David: “Setting AMA 600 lap times was the thing to and we’re just trying to think of what’s next and we think the Mission R is the bike to do it and Steve Rapp is the guy to ride it. We’re gonna keep thinking creatively about that.”

Steve: “What I’ve proposed actually to Edward, who’s the founder and owner of Mission Motors is, ‘We can go race all these other electric bikes, but at this point it’s not really gonna be much of a race.’ I think the next frontier for us is going to a race and racing some gas bikes. I honestly think we can beat them. That’s what I’d like to see.”

“Even at Laguna, before we went out on track, they were joking around over the loudspeaker and then it seems like now, I honestly think that this bike and this company have changed the way everybody thinks. They can’t say anything about a bike that can beat theirs. I honestly think this was an historical event for electrical vehicles in a lot of ways and I think it’s just gonna keep progressing.”

“I could see these bikes in the next five to ten years, maybe less, going faster than some of the fastest gas bikes. Last year the lap record was a 43 and this year we did a 31, so it was 12 seconds in one year. Can you imagine if we did that again? We’d be going faster than the MotoGP bikes.”

  • http://hey-just.us justusz

    Wait, so the production bikes are made by Mission Motorcycles using Mission Motors drivetrains, but the race bike is still built by Mission Motors?

    And two weekends ago their marketing staff was saying that there were no plans for a road bike, right before Mission Motorcycles launches the production version of said bike?

    Hella confused.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      As explained in the first paragraph, this article was originally run on HFL two years ago. It’s neat to look back at it now that there’s a production bike.

      It’s best not to think about the motors/motorcycles thing, that’ll give you a headache.

      • http://hey-just.us justusz

        Ah, my mind glossed over that bit, thanks for the clarification.

  • Robotribe

    I hope this tech becomes common place (more affordable, lighter, and better charge range and charging time) while I’m still young enough to appreciate it.

    • nick2ny

      It will. Sense the velocity.

  • NIGHTSCOUT

    I can’t get over how disgusting it sounds. A screaming exhaust pipe sounds so much better. Also, why no transmission? I think power delivery and a higher top speed can be achieved with a built-in tranny, no?

    • Brett

      No trans needed because an electric motor produces its full torque from 1 rpm all the way to “red line” unlike an ICE that only produces useable torque over a relatively narrow rpm range.

      • NIGHTSCOUT

        A transmission does not only manage torque. It also acts as a pulley system. Similar to the way cranes use pulleys to lift ridiculous amounts of weight with a weak little electrical motor. A greater top speed can be achieved with a transmission, GUARANTEED!

        • Matt

          Those pulleys allow small motors to lift large objects, but the cable attached to the motor must move much faster than the load. Transmissions do not create power (torque times rotational speed for motors). They only alter the ratio between the force and velocity components. Another gear may drive the rear wheel faster relative to the motor, but the torque delivered to the rear wheel would be reduced, possibly enough that aerodynamic drag can not be overcome, and the bike would actually slow down.

          Transmissions work well with gas motors because of their torque curves, which are much different from the essentially flat torque of electric motors. That said, there are still cars that reach top speed in fifth gear rather than their overdrive sixth gears.

      • Richard Gozinya

        There’s some advantages to using a transmission on an electric. Brammo’s got one, and there’s some company that developed a 3 speed for EVs. It’s all pretty new still, so there’s lots of territory to explore, lots of experimentation, different formulas. Part of what makes the EV world interesting, I think.

      • NickNick

        You’re exaggerating a bit. Electric motors have extremely flat and wide torque curves, but not “full torque from 1 rpm”.

        I haven’t seen a torque curve for the Mission R, but on the Tesla, for example, torque does drop off a bit at very low rpms (around 200 rpm, judging by dyno runs I’ve seen). It’s impressively flat for a great range of speeds, but not 100% of max torque all the way down to 1 rpm.

        More like “above 95% of max torque from 250 rpm to 5000 rpm” — still better than any gasoline engine.

    • grindz145

      In this case the transmission would only lead to more drivetrain loss and excess weight. It’s more wide-band torque than you can imagine.

      • NIGHTSCOUT

        I don’t think you understand the function of a transmission. Regardless of torque, a higher top speed can be achieved with gearing.

        • http://protomech.wordpress.com/ protomech

          A transmission never exists in isolation. It takes up weight and volume that can go to more battery or more motor. It’s always a tradeoff. Nevermind the cost and maintenance requirements.

          Once you get into the Mission R type power levels – 120 kW, 150 hp – you can have both traction-limited 0-60 times (3s) and 150+ mph top speeds. No transmission required.

          At the 40 kW, 50 hp levels .. like the 2013 Brammo Empulse and Zero S bikes .. the Empulse is both quicker and faster, despite the added weight. Empulse also has a motor controller that gives it 40% more current .. curious whether the transmission or the beefier motor controller is more responsible for the higher performance. Maybe we’ll find out in 2014..

        • grindz145

          Only when assuming a limited RPM range of a gasoline engine… You only need enough torque to break the rear wheel free, or cause the front end to come off the ground after that it’s no longer useful. If you have enough torque to reach these limits up to maximum speed, then there are no advantages to a mechanical transmission. The output of this power train approaches these limits over a wide-band operating range. Throw your gasoline engine intuition out, it’s no good here.

    • http://victorlombardi.com/ Victor

      I love the sound of technology eating the past.

  • Toly

    A fast, fat, castrato bike… nice

  • Wes Harris

    The article says “There’s no plans right now for a road bike”, yet you can put down a deposit on the Mission R on the website?

  • http://victorlombardi.com/ Victor

    RE>And we just kinda pointed to our guy that had a laptop connected to the bike and went, ‘Yep, it’s right there.’”

    Like so many other industries this is the ‘softwarization’ of motorcycles. How long before there’s a RideApart software review? A year?

    • NickNick

      Have you ever seen a software review for a performance automobile?

      This is the sort of thing that’s completely baked in. You can’t upgrade it yourself, and it’s so crucial to the performance of the vehicle overall that reviewers won’t be able to tell what’s “software” and what’s “not software”.

      It’ll be like reviews of traction control systems today. Once you’ve got the sensors and actuators and everything-by-wire control, the only real difference is software. Reviews might point out that everything is controlled by software, but in the end, they’ll be written the same way they always have: this one works better, or that one feels better, or whatever.