One student organization at Ohio State is preparing to race teams with $1 million budgets.
Buckeye Current, OSU’s electric motorcycle team, is getting ready to compete in the 2014 Isle of Man TT Zero, a racing competition.
The team of 27 active members built an electric motorcycle to compete for the first time last year and placed in third, said Brendan Kelly, a fourth-year in industrial and systems engineering and team member.
“A lot of the teams we compete against are actually professional race teams, so they have million dollar budgets, they do this as a full-time job. We kind of just do it — we don’t do this for any class credit. We don’t do it for anything like that. It’s pure passion,” Kelly said.
Buckeye Current’s bike is estimated to cost about $40,000 in parts, Kelly said.
He said technical improvements have been made to the main frame of last year’s bike, which was built in a period of about nine months.
“Last year, we had a lot of trouble with ground clearance and lean angle, where our rider kept scraping up the bodywork and the actual battery pack metal, which is bad because if he can’t lean over as far, he has to slow down on turns, and that cuts a lot of speed,” said Polina Brodsky, a second-year in mechanical engineering and team member.
“We’ve also added one more battery cell on there that wasn’t there last year to get more energy on board,” she said.
Improvements to the cooling system have also been made, and there have been efforts to cut the weight of the bike, Brodsky said.
“It is 30 pounds lighter than it was last year, so that was big for us,” she said.
These adjustments, though, come at a cost. Buckeye Current seeks donations and sponsors in order to build its bike. Some companies donate parts or services directly, such as free 3-D printing, and some local sponsors give cash. The OSU College of Engineering also gives funds to match donations received, Kelly said.
Along with financial costs, hours of labor are needed to complete the project.
“I put maybe 30 to 40 hours per week in,” Brodsky said. “(But) seeing the finished product makes all those ‘not sleeping’ nights worth it.”
Building an electric motorcycle versus a traditional bike has its own challenges, said Julia Cline, a fourth-year in electrical and computer engineering and team member.
For an electric motorcycle, the team must put three things together — an electric motor, a motor controller and an “endless supply of configurations of batteries” — in place of a gasoline engine, Cline said.
Despite the challenges, Cline said people might soon be seeing more electric motorcycles on the street.
“This country may be just finally starting to get out on the right foot of green energy — renewable energy,” Cline said. “It’s definitely on the rise.”
The 2014 Isle of Man TT is a two-week festival held on a 37-mile course on the Isle of Man, which is a small island between the United Kingdom and Ireland. The race Buckeye Current is participating in is set to take place June 4.
Cline said last year there were 14 competing teams registered, but she doesn’t yet know how many there will be this year.
The competition itself is free to enter, and the students who participate pay for their own plane tickets, Kelly said.
He said the bike, though, costs about $5,000 to ship because it goes by boat, so the total cost for the trip — including shipping the bike, housing for the students and ferrying to the island — is about $12,000. That cost is covered by the sponsors’ donations and the College of Engineering’s contributed funds.
Regardless of the race results, though, Cline said “the experience has been incredible.”
“I have learned so much — not just about my field of engineering but about all of the different disciplines and how they are integrated into this project,” Cline said, adding that the skill is one that will likely come in handy in the future.
Kelly said his experience in Buckeye Current has given him a skill set beyond engineering. He said it has helped him develop his “soft skills,” by writing press releases, communicating with sponsors and running the social media for the team.
Brodsky said the most rewarding part of the experience for her has been the learning and teaching.
“We’re all undergrads, so at most people stay on this team for four years, and then they leave,” she said. “It’s not only about being really good at what we do, but it’s about teaching other people on the team to be just as good as you, so that when you graduate, this team can still exist.”