No clutch. No gears. Just podium-reaching performance. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

There were quite a few firsts in the MotoAmerica series this past season. Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati NYC rider Xavi ForĂ©s became the first MotoAmerica rider to win eight Supersport races in a row, and he also did it as a MotoAmerica rookie, which was another first. Squid Hunter Racing’s Josh Hayes became the first rider to win 87, and then 88, AMA-sanctioned road races. And Tytlers Cycle Racing Kawasaki rider Kayla Yaakov became the first female in the MotoAmerica era–and the second female in AMA history–to reach the podium in a Supersport race. Those were MotoAmerica firsts, but what about world firsts?

Yup, we had two of those this past season, too.

The Energica Motor Company and Stefano Mesa became the first electric motorcycle manufacturer and rider in the world to get a holeshot in a motorcycle road race where EV (electric vehicle) motorcycles and ICE (internal-combustion engine) motorcycles competed on track at the same time in an FIM-sanctioned event. That happened in Mission Super Hooligan National Championship race one at WeatherTech Raceeway Laguna Seca last July. And then, in September at Circuit of The Americas, Energica and Mesa became the first electric motorcycle manufacturer and rider in the world to reach the podium–a runner-up finish, in fact–in a motorcycle road race where EV bikes and ICE bikes competed on track at the same time in an FIM-sanctioned event.

The two world firsts were an enormous source of pride for Mesa, and especially for everyone at Energica.

Energica CTO Giampiero Testoni.

Giampiero Testoni is the Chief Technology Officer for Energica Motor Company S.p.A., based in Modena, Italy. Energica was a project that began in 2010 by CRP Group. Energica Motor Company was officially founded in 2014 for the express purpose of creating high-performance sustainable motorcycles for consumers. I interviewed Testoni after Energica made world history, and I learned more about the Italian and the company with which he is so passionately involved.

Q:

There is this age-old racing axiom about “race on Sunday, sell on Monday.” Since it’s still early days for electric motorcycles, the underlying reason for Energica to get involved in racing is to sell motorcycles to consumers, correct? So, it’s probably more important to Energica than to the ICE motorcycle companies because you still have to show the proof of concept that electric bikes can go fast and also last a long time. Tell us about what racing does for the company.

Testoni:

Racing for us is one of the most important things we do because we were born in the Italian motor valley, so racing is in our veins. We started with racing many years ago in 2005 with the company, with petrol motorcycles. We switched to electric at the end of 2009. We went racing. We started to prove to the world that there was a possibility of having electric racing, parallel to internal combustion. Of course, it was early days, so it was quite different than it is now. But we have seen all the development that has occurred in the past ten to fifteen years, because we were there. We have been involved in the MotoE World Cup for the past four years. So, we were the first doing a single-manufacturer championship within the world championship. Now, we are here in MotoAmerica racing against petrol motorcycles. That is very, very challenging on one side, but is also very, very important for us because the message we want to give is that you can have an alternative. You can go racing with an electric motorcycle. We are racing against nearly 50 petrol motorcycles, and we are in the top five. So, it means there’s an excellent opportunity for electric motorcycles to be an alternative to the petrol ones. And, of course, we are racing here with a motorcycle that is not a prototype. It’s one of the bikes we sell to our customers. It gives you the exact view of what our motorcycle can do on everyday streets. So, as you said, race on Sunday, sell on Monday.

ICE versus EV on the same track at the same time.. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Q:

Let’s talk more about this idea of racing head-to-head against internal-combustion-engine motorcycles and how it relates to consumers who are riding motorcycles on the street among cars and motorcycles that are gas-powered. It’s kind of a real-life situation now with what you’re doing in MotoAmerica.

Testoni:

Yeah, absolutely. We don’t want to be saying it will be only electric. Ours is an alternative, an opportunity. So, you can have the petrol. You can have the electric. Performance is the same. We are here racing on a proper racetrack, so it’s even challenging for electric motorcycles. A very long circuit. A very long straight. Challenging but yet we are in the first position. It means that even among our professional racers, professional teams, with well-established motorcycles… We are fifteen years old. Some of the companies here are a hundred years old. So, it’s a big difference. But this shows off the evolution that has been occurring in the last years. Maybe twenty years ago, electric was not an alternative. It was not possible. Now, with the technical evolution–in the batteries, in the controls, in the motors, and everything else–we reached the point where it’s something that you can choose. “I’ll take that one,” and it’s petrol. Or, “I’ll take that one that is electric.” Maybe you can even have much more fun. Many people say that it doesn’t have a clutch. It doesn’t have gear shifting and so on. But if you really consider why there is gear shifting, why there is a clutch, it’s a reason to repair what is the issue in the internal combustion engine that you don’t have with electric. So, you can have very good acceleration, top speed and so on, and you don’t even need gear shifting. With petrol, you need to have gears because, otherwise, you would not have enough power. You would not have enough torque. You would not have enough acceleration. Also, everyone forgets about the heat in motorcycling. When you go on a hot day and you are traveling on a petrol-powered motorcycle, you feel the heat from the motorcycle on your legs, torso, etc. With an electric motorcycle, due to its efficiency, you don’t have any heat coming from the motorcycle. This makes a huge difference in everyday riding. You don’t have to “cook” your legs while riding. It’s fresh. The sound, and no shifting. It is a very, very positive aspect of riding an electric motorcycle.

Q:

It seems like battery technology is evolving every day. For example, the construction of batteries, the weight savings, the charging times required, and the output of these batteries. Is Energica in step with the advances in battery technology?

Testoni:

Battery technology is one of the most challenging and most important developments right now in the EV industry, not just in the motorcycle industry. We have seen huge steps between even a few years ago, not speaking of fifty years ago, just five to ten years ago. The technology we are using now was “if only I had the possibility to have something like that” just a few years ago. It’s really something that is changing so, so fast, and it’s giving you the opportunity always to push more on power, on range, on torque, and so on. So really, battery technology is the basis right now of the development. It’s one of the two pillars, I would say. It’s battery technology and software development. These are the two main pillars of the development of EV’s. Of course, there is inverted technology, motor technology, but these are developments that I would say are already at the top level right now. You can increase, of course. Go higher and higher with power density, weight saving, volume saving, and so on. But battery technology right now is where we are putting a lot of our effort. We are dialoguing with many important battery suppliers to see what is coming, what’s next. The development is five years ahead, ten years ahead, so you need to start now to see how the technology will be in the next five years, and then in the next ten years, and the next fifteen years. Of course, you don’t have such a long side, but from here to five years, we already know what is happening, how it’s going. It’s very optimistic because we have seen the last ten years, the last fifteen years. It’s a huge step. We have seen it also on our consumer motorcycles that we are selling. In the first three years, four years, we increased 50% more energy in the battery. So, 50% more range. So, it’s incredible, in only four years. And saving weight, saving volume. So, developing a better motorcycle with much more energy and much more power available. It’s really, really important. Of course, it’s still one of the points where we need to do the biggest development. And, it doesn’t depend on us. It depends on battery suppliers and the technology that is coming out.

Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Q:

Let’s talk about WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Stefano Mesa got off the line and he got a holeshot, and that was a first for an electric racebike. We know the bike is fast, but that really proved that the bike is also very quick off the line. Can you talk about what that meant to Energica to achieve that straight up against the gas-powered bikes?

Testoni:

Of course, being first for one lap, even if only for one lap, it’s very important for us to show the public, show the people, and show the industry the viability of racing electric motorcycles, especially in a 99.8% internal combustion race. So, we were racing against many, many other motorcycles and we were the first to get off the line and stay in front. It gives you proof of the capabilities of a motorcycle that is giving a high amount of torque immediately as you open the throttle. But, at the same time, it’s also giving one of the highest top speeds. This is the most important thing. We are doing all this without having any kind of gears in the motorcycle. So, this gives you the vision of what an electric motorcycle can do. We are very, very proud of having Stefano Mesa first off the line and leading the race at Laguna. It was amazing.

One of the other amazing things we experienced this year at Laguna Seca with Stefano Mesa was the electric bike lap record we set compared with the electric bike lap record that was set back in 2011. We were there with another motorcycle, the eCRP Superbike. At that time, the lap record was very impressive. But, we experienced now with a production motorcycle compared to the lap record that was made by a full prototype back in 2011, that now every consumer client can have a motorcycle with the same power and same torque that broke the lap record at Laguna Seca.

So, we decreased the lap record of one tenth of a second, but the biggest difference is that the record in 2011 was made with only one lap during qualifying, while the lap record we made was a pace during the entire race. This year, Stefano Mesa raced 18 seconds faster compared with the race in 2011. Same number of laps, same track. The track was even repaved this year, so everyone was going slower on the track compared with the previous year, and Stefano Mesa went 18 seconds faster over the course of the whole race. So, you can notice the difference on a race pace of a standard bike. Our Eva Ribelle RS that we sell in our dealerships compared with a prototype that was made ten years ago. The development that we have with a standard bike that you can buy on Monday, compared with a prototype bike of ten years ago, is astounding. This is the biggest difference.

Q:

Initially, I thought there were transmissions on your electric motorcycles. Instead, it’s just twist and go. Will there ever be transmissions on electric motorcycles at any point? Is there a need for it?

Testoni:

Electric transmissions are an option if you want to gain at, let’s say, a very, very high range. You could have maybe a two-gear transmission. But, right now, we honestly don’t need it. Why add something that could add weight, can break, and would cost more? So honestly, we don’t need any kind of transmission on our motorcycle. As we always say, what’s not there cannot break. So, it’s always better to have less components of the bike for multiple reasons. Weight, possibility of failure, maintenance, and so on. Maybe in the future, yet we don’t see the real need of having any kind of transmission on our bikes.

Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Q:

The Energica Eva Ribelle RS looks like a motorcycle. It is a motorcycle, of course, but there are some conventional thoughts in terms of what a motorcycle should look like. For example, you think there’s a gas tank in front of you, but it’s not a gas tank. Does Energica have to stick to certain conventions to make the motorcycle look like what people think a motorcycle should look like? Barring that, would it be a different design?

Testoni:

Of course, now we are in a period of transition. So, we have customers, people, public who are still used to seeing the motorcycles as they are right now. So, the first step is to make it similar, but using whatever is needed for an electric. You can also think that petrol tanks normally were in front of you. Now, the petrol tank is no longer there on a lot of motorcycles. They moved it down in the best position closer to the rider. So, we didn’t change this shape of the motorcycle for several reasons. Always people say, you could do a futuristic shape. Yes, we could do it but, still, there are some reasons why the shape is like that. Normally where you put your legs, you need to have room for your legs. So, you cannot make it round, square. You still need room for your legs. Then we are Italian, so how the style is… We are very proud of having our “Made in Italy,” our internal designers, our internal stylist is doing the shape and the design of the whole motorcycle. So, yes, we could do something even more futuristic, but we have to do it by steps. Yet we think that our electric motorcycles will still be similar to conventional motorcycles.

Q:

Does the company, and do you think of Energica as pioneers? It’s early days for all of this, and you’re at the sharp end of this development. We look towards the future and what may happen down the road. Energica is in it early and you’re effecting change on a global basis for this kind of technology. Do you and Energica realize that? It’s kind of a big responsibility.

Testoni:

Yeah. We sense it. We are proud of it, of course, because being a very, very small company, doing what we are doing and being the reference for the electric motorcycle and giving even some headaches to big petrol companies in the motorcycle industry is something that we are very proud of, and we are very happy. At the same time, it’s difficult because being a very small company, few people are doing what normally ten or twenty times the people are doing in bigger companies. It’s very challenging. Energica started with three people, so we are used to building and drawing in a slower pace than becoming a 1,000 or 2,000 employees company. It’s something that is far from here, but who knows in the future? I believe that also big and famous companies now didn’t start with 100,000 employees. They started with twenty, ten, or less. They started in a garage and then they grew up. But we are being compared with brands that have been on the market for the past hundred years. So, we are just ten, fifteen years old. We are really a baby compared with what big brands are. But, despite that, we are a reference. We are there. We are creating a product that we think is the best on the market right now.

P2 was a first for Tytlers Cycle Racing Energica rider Stefano Mesa at COTA. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Q:

Speaking of pioneers, now that Stefano Mesa became the first motorcycle road racer to reach the podium on an electric motorcycle, might we see more Energica Eva Ribelle RS’s, or maybe other Energica models, in MotoAmerica racing, besides just Mesa?

Testoni:

It might happen. The experience this year was very, very positive. We had a push from our USA colleagues to do this kind of racing because it’s what the market is looking for right now. It’s a message we want to give to our customers. So, we decided to accept this idea. I can say now that it was a very positive and excellent experience. We learned a lot. Of course, we are looking at what’s next. We always want to be pioneers. We have been the first electric motorcycle company doing this kind of racing since 2009. We were the first doing this kind of racing in 2019 with the Moto-E series. We were the first racing against petrol motorcycles in MotoAmerica this year. We always want to be the first. So, we are pushing to always do new things. Why not? Maybe we will see more motorcycles next year. This is something that has not been defined yet, but we will see.

Q:

You talked about not having the gears, but the thing that Stefano Mesa has mentioned to me several times, is because he doesn’t have to do all the shifting, he is focused on his riding. It’s difficult for him, because he’s going from an ICE bike to an electric bike, sometimes in ten minutes. So, there’s an adjustment, but it makes it easier, not just for him but on the street. The rush that you get means that when somebody gets electric, they almost never go back.

Testoni:

Another thing that Stefano Mesa pointed out was how easy it is to ride an electric motorcycle on track. That he doesn’t have to concentrate on shifting, on clutch, whatsoever. He is just concentrated on his right hand, and on the throttle opening. So, it’s a direct connection between his brain and the throttle in his right hand, and just focus on riding. So, he doesn’t have to mind about all the other things around the motorcycle. So really at the end, he feels like it’s easier to ride, and he can be much more focused on real riding on the track. At the end of the day, he is switching between the petrol motorcycles and electric motorcycle in the same day because he is participating in two categories. So, he always says that he enjoys much more going on the electric one because it’s so easy to bring to the limit. This gives you the idea that a normal customer can take our bike and go much faster than maybe what they were doing with a normal combustion bike, because they can just concentrate on riding and having all the torque that they want just by opening the throttle.

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