Magazine Feature / People

Student attempts land speed record at famed Utah race course

Evan Hakonsson with Killajoule

Grad student Eva Hakansson took her electric motorcyle, KillaJoule, left, to Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to set the land speed record for electric motorcyles.

For Eva Hakansson, even the world famous Bonneville Salt Flats can be a classroom.

In September, the University of Denver graduate engineering student and her husband, Bill, hauled her custom all-electric motorcycle KillaJoule to western Utah for speed trials.

Hakansson was strapped into what looks like a huge red rocket for a dash across the flats, hoping to break the world speed record for electric motorcycles. But her maiden assault on the record of 176 mph fell short. She topped out around 88 mph, done in by some balancing issues on the huge cycle.

Lessons learned. Back to the drawing board — and the welding torch — and Hakansson says she will be ready to go again soon.

“Actually, we did some good things,” she says. “We passed technical inspection. They check everything, right down to the nuts and bolts. Everything is checked. It took two and a half hours, but we passed, and that’s very hard to do. And the run itself, it was very smooth, very straight, it was a perfect run. We just couldn’t go as fast as we wanted.”

With the stability issues, the team was forced to run the bike with small outriggers, which contained wheels that were never meant for high speeds. The wheels didn’t handle the stress of the run and limited KillaJoule’s top speed.

But the experiment was a success for what the team learned in its first tests. And the salt flats, Hakansson says, are impressive. The area is sparkling white with the strong sun reflecting up from salt deposits that feel like crunchy snow underfoot. Keeping cool in a bulky fire suit under the blazing sun was a challenge, but getting to work early in the day and keeping a sun umbrella handy helped.

Hakansson, who previously had only taken the experimental cycle around the block in her suburban Denver neighborhood, also learned a few other things. The passenger compartment proved too short to allow for an adequate steering assembly, and the confines got even smaller once she donned the bulky required fire suit.

The KillaJoule

The KillaJoule rests on the salt flats during speed trials.

But the bike’s motor ran well and the braking parachute worked perfectly.

The ultimate goal of Hakansson’s passion for developing speedy electric bikes is to prove to the world that electric vehicles are every bit as powerful and fast as their gasoline-guzzling counterparts. Only when consumers start to recognize electric vehicles as powerful objects of desire will they really catch on with the mass market, she says.

She and her husband plan to extend the KillaJoule’s passenger compartment, rebuild the bike, add a sidecar for stability and head out for California’s El Mirage testing grounds in November for another run, all in preparation for another attempt at 200 mph and the world record in September 2011.

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