Team Norton Electra At The 2009 AMA eGrandPrix

Thad Wolff on the James Madison University Norton Electra

Thad Wolff on the James Madison University Norton Electra

In the days preceding the 2009 AMA eGrandPrix electric motorcycle race at Mid Ohio I covered Brian Richardson’s Norton Electra. It turns out Brian was busy in the weeks preceding the event teaming up with the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Lab at James Madison University. I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian and Rob Prins, the assistant director of the program. The passion these guys have for electric vehicle technology is inspiring. I also saw the Norton based electric bike posting impressive top speed of 108.6 mph and holding it’s own for some time against the Electric Motorsport R1 based TTXGP hopeful. After the event these guys were sitting in the TTXGP tent grinning ear to ear watching on board footage of the Norton circulating the track and being passed by the EM R1 on Rob’s laptop. It was a very cool scene to see.

After the event Rob sent me some information on the Norton Electra and how the JMU AFV team and Brian collaborated on the project. He also wrote up a summary of the highlights of the eGrandPrix. Be sure to check out the JMU AFV lab site for more information.

Thanks to Rob for giving me permission to publish his text in full. After the jump is Rob’s write up and pictures.

Team Members

Brian Richardson – builder

Brian Richardson lives and works in Highland county Virginia. Although an attorney by trade, he has always enjoyed tinkering with motorcycles. Some bikes he fixes up for utilitarian use such as helping his wife (Betty Mitchell) herd sheep on their farm, others are restored to showroom condition. Brian decided to build an electric motorcycle for use as an educational tool after viewing “Who killed the Electric Car?” His intent is to show the Norton Electra at schools in Virginia to demonstrate the exciting potential of electric vehicles. He is a long-time Norton fan so chassis and styling decisions naturally follow classic Norton paths. The Norton Electra’s chassis is none other than the famous “Featherbed” frame initially developed for factory “works” bikes around 1950. The Featherbed was later used in production machines such as the 1966 Norton Atlas which Brian used as the basis for his creation. The Norton Electra owes its’ striking look to a “dustbin” fairing; such fairings were used in MotoGP racing in the 1950’s until their ban by the FIM.

Norton Electra – bike

The Norton Electra now gets its power from a 3-phase AC induction motor from High Performance Golf Cars that is controlled by a 550 Amp Curtis controller. On-board energy storage is supplied by 24 LiFePo batteries that provide the controller with a 72 V (nominal) 100
Ah source. The controller has several tunable parameters and supports regenerative braking.

The wheels, disc brakes, and elements of the front suspension come from a Kawasaki Ninja 250.

What differentiates the Norton Electra from typical TTXGP competition bikes is that it is built from commercially available components; it is not a “works” bike built with secret technology. The implications of this are that spares are readily available and that a bike such as the Norton Electra could be readily produced.

Alternative Fuel Vehicle Laboratory at James Madison University – supporter

As Brian neared completion of the Norton Electra he looked for partners to help him test the bike as well as help him fulfill his educational mission. He followed a lead to James Madison University (JMU) where he met Rob Prins, assistant professor of Engineering and associate director of the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Lab (AFV) at JMU. The AFV houses several student projects; typical projects are focused on converting existing vehicles to alternative fuel such as biodiesel or electricity. These projects offer students a hands-on experience in alternative transportation. Dr Prins is enthusiastic about the Norton Electra project and has participated in early test sessions, data acquisition, logistical support, and bike promotion. Dr Prins discussed the Norton Electra project with Stuart Garner of Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd. and received Mr Garner’s permission to use the “Norton” brand name to help with promotion. Most recently, Dr Prins and JMU engineering student Mike Kessler supported the Norton Electra at the Mid-Ohio TTXGP event. Future work at the AFV includes controller parameter tuning with the help of AFV volunteer and electrical engineer Ed Thurnau as well as investigation of the battery system.

Thad Wolff – Rider

As the Mid-Ohio TTXGP event neared, Brian began searching for a rider. His efforts were rewarded by interest from Thad Wolff; professional rider, writer, and former AMA Superbike competitor. Thad’s portfolio includes experience at Mid-Ohio as well as Norton bikes; this background coupled with his interest in the TTXGP event make Thad the perfect rider of the Norton Electra.

Local Motorcycle Enthusiasts – supporters

Brian is known throughout the local motorcycling community as the host of “camp night”, an annual rally at his farm. Camp nights feature live bluegrass and serve as a fundraiser for the Blue Grass Book Bank; a local children’s library. Attendees of camp night include other riders from Highland county as well as other nearby groups such as the Twin Valley Riders from Roanoke and Montgomery counties. Such riders have contributed necessary moral and financial support to the Norton Electra project. At the Mid-Ohio event the team campsite was full of riders from Virginia who had made the trip to watch the Norton Electra and the electric bikes in the TTXGP exhibition.


Several entities and individuals have supported the Norton Electra along the way, they include:

The Blue Grass Book Bank

Blue Grass Ruritans

James Madison University

James Madison University School of Engineering

James Madison University Alternative Fuel Vehicle Lab

The Amtek Company

Twin Valley Riders

Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd.

Dan McGlothlin

Ed Thurnau

J. Taise Kiser

Philip Hudgens

David C. Anderson

Franklin P. Watkins, Jr.

TTXGP at Mid-Ohio

The TTXGP event in at Mid-Ohio follows the inaugural TTXGP event at the Isle of Man which occurred in June 2009. The TTXGP USA debut began with a media event at the American Motorcyclist Museum in Pickerington, OH. This event provided a wonderful venue for the motorcycle teams to meet the TTXGP executive team, media representatives, and each other.

An array of electric bikes participated in the Mid-Ohio TTXGP; a highlight was the entry from Native Cycles whose experience includes victory at the Isle of Man TTXGP in the open class. Also of interest were the commercially available ZERO motorcycle and the Enertrac hub motor based machine. The spread of electric motorcycle enthusiasm was evident in the motorcycles of Schultz Engineering and Tony Helmholdt which both serve as daily drivers. Although just 22 years old, Tony Helmholdt designed and built his own electric motorcycle and participated in the TTXGP at Mid-Ohio without pit crew or other support staff. Go Tony!

Although the Norton Electra had been road tested, the Mid-Ohio event was the first opportunity for closed-course testing with a professional rider. Results of previous testing suggested that the bike had enough power to exceed posted limits in any state in the U.S.; even so, the Norton Electra exceeded expectations by posting a high speed of 108.61 MPH while turning a 2:09.32 lap time on the 2.4 mile course. Thad’s ability to maintain nearly 67 MPH average speed on the road course allowed the Norton Electra to keep the Native Cycles entry in sight.

The Norton Electra team fully enjoyed the Mid-Ohio event; Brian’s wife Betty kept us away from the funnel cake and polish sausage vendors with her homemade fare, Thad introduced Brian to a handful of old time racers who had experienced international success on Norton machines, and three team members (including JMU student Mike Kessler) went home with project bikes from the swap meet.

The Norton Electra is the first bike to pass the camera in the following Mid Ohio eGrandPrix TTXGP Video:

Author / Source: Rob Prins of James Madison University Alternative Fuel Vehicle Lab

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  1. Written by Walter Venters
    on July 24, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I like the dustbin fairing, is this commercially available? I think it would suit my Ariel Arrow.

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