Motorcycles with lithium ion batteries

A local Dedham man is restoring vintage motorcycles in a slightly different – but completely 21st century – way. Salvaging vintage bikes destined for the crusher, and discarding the gasoline motors and transmissions, he’s converting them to lithium-powered electric vehicles.

“Honestly, it’s not about the ‘Green’ side of electric vehicles, it’s about the power”, says Ted Dillard, motorcycle enthusiast for over 40 years, and now with two electric motorcycle conversions under his belt and a third in the shop… “The power delivery of an electric motor is a new experience, and like nothing else I’ve ever felt from a motorcycle. The torque is instant. If you have a big enough motor, and your batteries can deliver the current, acceleration is like getting shot out of a gun. My first project was just to find out what that felt like.”

Dillard’s latest project was a “barn find” 1971 Yamaha R5, originally a small 350cc motorcycle that was a favorite of privateer roadracers, with a light, stiff frame, a very powerful 2-stroke motor, and a bike that was cheap to build to race specs and easy to maintain for the private motorcycle owner/rider.

The project is a tribute to the legacy of the bike, an effort to preserve a bit of privateer roadracing history, while embracing the 21st century technology of today’s electric vehicle industry.

“There are so many things about this bike that make it right. It was literally a box of parts. There was no motor, no transmission, not even a seat. Most of that stuff you’d be buying and discarding for a conversion, I was starting with just what I needed: just a classic frame that probably had no other future than getting melted down to scrap.”

Dillard continues: “With the latest lithium-polymer battery technology and the “nano-lithium” batteries we’re seeing developed right here at A123 Systems in Watertown, MA, the performance of the bike matches, and in some aspects surpasses the original machine – a bike that was scary fast, yet handled great. A lot of the modifications we did back in the ‘80s still produce a bike you can take to the track today. And win.”

Dillard’s first project was a 1984 Honda VF500F, a favorite chassis for electric conversion projects. It’s a big, open frame, with plenty of room for batteries. This bike had over 135,000 miles on it – astronomical mileage for a motorcycle – and had no other future than the scrap yard. Dillard converted it to an around-town “streetfighter”, quick and light, with a 0-60 time of 7 seconds and a top speed of 60mph.

“I honestly don’t know where this is heading, it’s a labor of love. Will the bikes be available for sale? … probably not. I’ve taken the bikes to events at the Larz Andserson Auto Museum, and every time I go out for a ride I end up talking to a handful of people about the bikes and electric vehicles. You always have to allow some extra time for an errand. My favorite has been tossing the keys to a Harley guy and seeing his reaction. He was amazed at the ride."

"The Yamaha seems to get even more attention… maybe it’s the bright yellow color, or the "cafe racer" style. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a bit of EV evangelist in me…”

Ted Dillard is a photographer and writer, and his blog, “The Electric Chronicles”, started as a way to keep track of his research on electric vehicles has evolved to be a source of information for the EV community, encompassing reviews, information and opinion on everything from electric conversions and product reviews to solar power and the latest Green Energy technology.

He’s a contributing writer to sites like “The Gardener’s Eden” and Home Power Magazine, and a four-time published author of digital photography how-to books by Sterling Publications. His latest book, …from Fossils to Flux, is a self-published guide to the basics of converting electric motorcycles aimed at an audience much like himself- the backyard builder with basic skills and a modest shop.