Trial and error leads Purdue team to Bonneville Salt Flats

Posted: August 25, 2013 by JonoShmono "SykOse. Live. Extreme." in Bike, Motocross, Motor, Motor cycle racing
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English: Brammo Enertia electric motorcycle

A team from Purdue University raced its electric motorcycle in Utah last week in search of high speeds and maximum energy efficiency.

On a small, 200-pound aerodynamic bike, the team competed in theBub Motorcycle Speed Trials at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The northwestern Utah flats are home to many land speed events, including Speed Week.

“The goal before we even got to the track was we wanted to break at least 100 miles an hour,” said Purdue student Grant Chapman. “We wanted to go triple digits. It shouldn’t be too hard.”

About 10 students worked on designing and building the bike with professor John Sullivan from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the College of Engineering as part of a motorcycle aerodynamics course.

Sullivan rode the electric motorcycle, which is powered by model airplane batteries, or high-power lithium polymer cells. It has a liquid-cooled motor.

Chapman, who is a founder of Indianapolis-based EVC Racing, says the motorcycle’s batteries set it apart. Chapman is consulting on the project while he finishes his undergraduate degree.

“That’s where we really get our advantage,” Chapman said. “Since they’re made for model airplanes, they have to have great power, but they don’t have to last very long. This battery pack can produce many times more power than a standard motorcycle pack for an electric motorcycle, but just can’t do it for as long.”

The bike’s detailed and adjustable energy meter has also been a key.

“We started at 24 horsepower. Through some really creative motor controller tuning, we’ve been able to get that up to 37.5 horsepower,” Chapman said. “We’ve gotten really substantial gains just by really paying attention to the details. It’s a lot of trial and error.”

Fine-tuning the aerodynamics of the bike was a challenge, said Andy Yu, a graduate student.

“You have to slowly analyze it, piece by piece, almost like little sections, to figure out where you’re losing most of your energy from,” Yu said. “We took apart everything, turned this into a skeleton and slowly started adding pieces back in and creating our own pieces.”

Yu said one of the most interesting parts of building the motorcycle was testing it inside a wind tunnel at the Purdue Airport.

“We ran smoke across it to see how the smoke twirls around it,” Yu said. “We were adding things smaller than a rock (to the motorcycle) and that would make a huge difference. We saw the smoke spiral kind of like an airplane coming out real smooth, real nice.”

Sullivan said last week that he looked forward to taking the motorcycle out on the flats.

“It’s like a big white beach. It’s hard. It cracks,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got a long way to get up to speed.”

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