15 Nov 2018

World's fastest electric motorcycle designer and rider Eva Hakansson eyes overall record

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:14 pm on 15 November 2018

The world's fastest electric motorcycle now lives in Auckland along with the woman who built and rides it - and she's confident her next bike design will be faster than any on earth.

Engineer and racer Eva Hakansson with her motorcycle Killajoule, which holds the electric motorcycle speed world record.

Engineer and racer Eva Hakansson with her motorcycle Killajoule, which holds the electric motorcycle speed world record. Photo: Supplied

Eva Hakansson teaches engineering design at Auckland University, but spends her spare time on what she calls "a very expensive hobby".

"A drug addiction could have been cheaper, but not nearly as much fun. So, I have the world's fastest electric motorcycle."

She claimed the title last year, also becoming the world's fastest female motorcycle rider and hitting a top speed of 434km/h.

"What I like also about motorsport is it's not gender divided - everybody's competing on the same terms. And actually, being a female is an advantage because we're generally smaller, so we can have smaller vehicles and therefore have lower air resistance which makes us go faster."

Her red, nearly six-metre vehicle Killajoule weighs nearly 700kg and looks almost more like a rocket than a motorcycle. She says with the third wheel on the side it's a sidecar motorcycle - but it still counts.

"That's a perfect loophole in motorcycle racing rules because it drives like a car, has the safety of a car, but it's still a motorcycle."

While many engineers find a rider or driver for their vehicles, Hakansson does it all herself. She says that wasn't always the plan.

"I was trying to find another rider but it's very small - you'd need to be about 5 foot 2 or shorter to ride it.

"The first time we headed out, we couldn't get hold of another rider, and I said 'okay, I've got to do it: we have built it, we have to race'.

"And, I did it and sponsors loved it, media loved it, I realised I'm stuck being the rider and the builder."

She hasn't had any real training.

"I'm actually inside the bike, so I sit inside it like a car - with a seatbelt, helmet, fireproof suit and all the safety equipment - and I basically look out through the windshield, twist the throttle and go.

A view of the salt lake from inside the Killajoule motorcycle.

A view of the salt lake from inside the Killajoule motorcycle. Photo: Supplied

"There is not really any training needed. Landspeed racing is, from a driving or riding perspective, fairly simple: you drive in a straight line as fast as you can.

"You have three to six kilometres to get up to speed, your speed is measured over a 'flying mile' they call it. Then you just slow down, turn around, and do the same thing in the opposite direction."

She says the landspeed records are generally run on salt lakes.

"The most famous one is Bonneville in the US, that's where I've raced every year for the last eight years - but now when I've relocated to this wonderful corner of the world, Australia is the better place to go.

"The West Island is where we're going to, which is a salt lake about an day's drive from Adelaide … everything is organised, this is not any kind of wild, outback, outlaw racing - it's a international-sanctioned organised event.

"It's like riding in an airplane, you don't really have a frame of reference and you don't know how fast you're going … hoping nothing breaks, hoping nothing catches fire, hoping nothing falls off, hoping this is over soon and we have a new record."

Eva's team prepares to race Killajoule at the salt flats

Eva's team prepares to race Killajoule at the salt flats Photo: Supplied

She says the challenge is in the engineering side of things. With her next design, called Green Envy, she's hoping to beat the overall motorcycle record which sits at 605km/h.

"Well, obviously it will be green instead, about a metre longer and the target is 1 megawatt of power which is 1360 horsepower.

Eva Hakansson with her sidecar motorcycle Killajoule.

Eva Hakansson with her sidecar motorcycle Killajoule. Photo: Supplied

"My target is 650km/h which is the equivalent of 400mph - it's a nice round number.

"Right now Green Envy is a big pile of steel tubing and sheet metal, and it's a computer design … maybe towards Christmas, we will actually start cutting and welding."

She says electric vehicles have had a bad reputation "since forever basically", but they have a lot of advantages.

"From a transportation perspective overall, electrics is just a no-brainer. Most of us just drive back and forth to work - that's how I get around in my Nissan Leaf - but I like electric vehicles because they have a lot of torque, a lot of power, can be moulded to fit into a small vehicle.

"With the current technology - not with my current budget but the current technology - you can beat all-wheel driven speed records … Also I'm a treehugger at heart, I wanted to race something that isn't unnecessarily polluting.

"The skepticism, a lot of it is just people's inexperience: they think they're going to run out of battery power, they think they are slow - and I really want to change that image."

As part of her efforts to change that image, she takes her motorcycles to motor shows, and will be making an appearance at the Big Boys Toys show this weekend.

"And if you're 5-foot-2 or shorter you can sit in it."

Eva Hakansson will be at Big Boys Toys at ASB Showgrounds in Auckland with her motorcycle Killajoule on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to demonstrate and answer questions.

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)