Salt Addiction: Paul Thede

September 23, 2011
Rocky Robinson
Rocky Robinson
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Having raced everything from Flat Track to Trials, Rocky Robinson now pilots streamliners at the Bonneville Salt Flats and currently holds the ultimate land speed record at 376 mph aboard the Ack Attack streamliner.

Paul takes a moment to prepare mentally before his attempt to break the land speed record for electric motorcycles.
Paul Thede currently holds the world record for the fastest electric motorcycle at 218.637 mph.

Imagine rolling on the throttle as you slide back on the seat, transferring your weight over the rear wheel as the rpm build. You lean forward, tucking under the paint as you carve through the wind. Instead of the deep thunder of a nitro-burning V-Twin, or the high pitched scream of an Inline-Four Hayabusa on steroids, all you hear is the salt crunching beneath your tires, the wind buffeting against your face shield and the muffled whirring of an electric motor – not unlike a jet airplane, pulling seamlessly to 200 mph and beyond. By the second mile you’ve already reached terminal velocity, yet you haven’t shifted gears. Even though you’ve already surpassed two bills, you’re running on the SHORT COURSE with no need for the additional real estate the long course has to offer. And the best part is you did it utilizing a mere 18 cents worth of energy!

Suspension guru Paul Thede, owner of Race Tech, has been riding or racing motorcycles since he was ten-years-old. Be it motocross, Supermoto, track days on sportbikes or racing up the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Paul has done it all.

“I moved from Hawaii to So Cal to get my engineering degree, but mostly it was to go racing. I was a pro motocrosser and did okay, but I never liked feeling bumps so I started Race Tech – a suspension company. Clever, huh?”

Mug shot of business owner  land speed record holder  alternative energy advocate  and all around nice guy  Paul Thede.
Mug shot of business owner, land speed record holder, alternative energy advocate and all around nice guy, Paul Thede.

Paul is also a successful land speed racer, achieving recent notoriety as the first rider to break the 200-mph barrier on an electric powered motorcycle at the August SCTA Speedweek event. He and electric motorcycle manufacturer Richard Hatfield of Lightning Motorcycles have proven that ‘green technology’ has found its place not only on the road, but the race track as well. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, as Paul tells us of his first experience on the Salt in earlier days.

“The very first run I did at Bonneville was back in 2005. I was riding a 2004 CBR 600. The first run was so rough I was literally knocked out of the seat. It was a licensing run and I wasn’t going to waste it so I kept it just under 150 mph standing on the pegs.”

I asked what the motivation or driving force was that led to his using electric power for motorcycling.

“After the SCTA Speedweek at Bonneville in 2007, Paul Livingston, Rod Falkner and I met to discuss the future of the FL Racing program. We discussed bio-diesel, alcohol and other energy sources and eventually agreed on electric. This decision hinged on the future of energy. While it’s true we still need to convert other sources of energy into electricity, it’s commonly known that electric vehicles are, at minimum, five times more efficient than gas powered vehicles. In addition, if we can generate electricity with solar panels we can go racing with no emissions and end up with more oil left over to run our gas powered vehicles. It became my goal to be the rider of the first electric motorcycle to go over 200 mph.”

Former pro motocrosser Paul Thede roosts a berm at Glen Helen on a YZ450F.Paul Thede conducting KTM Supermoto testing.Under the paint and flying. Paul Thede on his way into the record books on his electric powered motorcycle.
Paul Thede is a man of many talents with racing credits in motocross, supermoto and land speed racing.

Joe Amo made an impressive run of 272 mph at Bonneville on a conventional motorcycle not long ago. I questioned Paul about electric motorcycles equaling or surpassing conventional motorcycle speeds in the near or distant future.

“I think it’s quite possible,” said Thede. “The smoothness of power delivery and the lack of shifting reap huge rewards in traction. There are a number of conventional turbo-charged engines out there making in excess of 500 horsepower. When a motorcycle with one of these engines shifts gears the interruption and, more importantly, the reapplication of power is so strong and abrupt it’s common to break traction, especially on salt. This is where electric motors shine. It’s not how much power you make, its how much you put to the ground.”

Getting back to your recent record (and milestone of being the first rider over 200 mph on an electric motorcycle) what were some of the challenges you had to overcome?

Pauls ultra fast Lightning electric motorcycle in impound before a return run record attempt.
Paul’s ultra fast Lightning electric motorcycle was in impound before a return run record attempt.

“The biggest was a lack of time. After the TTXGP at the Isle of Man, the bike was stuck in customs for almost a month. Next came the MotoGP at Laguna Seca. It had never been on a dyno and we needed to optimize the controller. We didn’t get it to Race Tech until Wednesday and the body work had not been fit. Rob Brown and my crew worked for two days until 12:30 a.m. to get it done. Richard (Hatfield) and I drove straight through to Bonneville to get to tech Friday morning.

“On the Salt we battled side winds which forced the bike to lean. We realized the body was mounted a bit crooked but decided to make a faster pass. We had controller issues on the dyno so I had to take it easy until 130 mph or it would reset and shut down the motor. On the short course we went 205 mph! Just like that my three-year goal was realized! The bike was still leaning so the bodywork mounting was still suspect. On our record return run the next morning we topped out at 208 but the bike had a weave and lost speed out the back door. Our two-run average and new record was 206.079 mph.

“The next day Joe Amo and Rory Mannhalter spent four hours straightening out the body while we geared it up. We took it out the next day and went 214. What a rush! The bike pulled like a freight train, ran straight too. The next day out of impound I figured I’d stop babying it and went wide open at the three-quarter mile mark. The side wind hit hard into the third mile then disappeared a half mile later. I found myself heading from one side of the track to the other and lost speed going out the back door. Still, the average of the two runs was 215.960 with a top speed of 218.637 mph!”

With twins on the way, Paul’s ‘haul pass’ has recently expired, but don’t be surprised if next season he returns amped and ready for more…