Transmission Debate: Qualifying Results at Laguna Seca FIM eRR

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There’s an old Argentine saying in the storied history of horse racing:  “…en la cancha se ven los pingos”.  After all the passionate opinions, armchair pundits voicing strident “facts” and fervent fans beating breastplates, ultimately, “On the track – that’s where you see how the ponies run.”

Indeed.

We’ve all gone around in circles arguing theory and such about transmissions, until finally the point came that we all pretty much agreed: Let’s see what happens on the race track.  Well now.  At Laguna Seca they’re having the FIM eRR right now, and a little bird got me the final qualifying times.  (Yeah, Jensen thinks he’s all badass with his spies, he’s got nuthin on me, bitches.)  So here they are:

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Shelina is riding what I think is a Brammo-tweaked Empulse TTX with the six-speed.  Ted Rich, according to my spies, is running a stock Zero S.  I’m not sure what tuning or tweaking has been done to any of those bikes, but I think it’s fair to say the Parker Brammo bike must be at about the highest state of tune possible, since it’s a factory team.

All other observations and conclusions aside, what does this tell us about the transmission debate?

Well, let’s break the debate down to a few core questions.  Assuming the Zero S and the Brammo Empulse TTX are around the same price and target rider as stock bikes, with nearly the same motor and battery specs (and understanding that the Brammo TTX is not a stock bike, but a race-ready version of the Empulse), does adding a transmission make the bike go faster?  That would be a no.  Not in actual riding, on a track, with a qualified rider.  They’re pretty obviously evenly matched machines.

I think you can take the conclusion a step further.  I’m concluding the Empulse transmission at least pays for itself in overcoming it’s weight and parasitic losses in leveraging torque (…by the way, “torque multiplication” as an engineering principle?  My new favorite phrase to hate) but in terms of adding overall performance to either the top speed or acceleration in real life riding (to surpass a bike with no transmission)?  Not so much apparently.  Simply put, you want to go faster, you can add any number of things, but a transmission ain’t one of them.

Second question: Riding style with transmissions/no transmissions in the curves.

Several riders have said that the Empulse excels over the Zero because the transmission allows the rider to operate in a more conventional riding style – downshifting into the curves, and acceleration out of the curves, notably Wes Siler and Shelina Moreda.  See this post.  Here’s my personal opinion.  Sure, riding a bike with a transmission and some aggressive regen settings is going to feel more like what you’re used to, and how you’ve learned to ride.  However, I find my riding style changes on my bike, and I feel like once riders stop looking for what they are familiar with, and exploring outside of their comfort range, you’re going to see riding styles emerging that surpass the now-traditional corner strategy.

Think Kenny Roberts using his dirt-track riding style to change Grand Prix racing forever.  And no, don’t ask me how that style is going to look, I’m not a rider in Kenny Robert’s class by any stretch, but I just feel that once riders stop looking for familiar, they’re going to find breakthrough.  I’ve said this all along.  It’s been backed up by a few friends who’ve done some club racing, too.  They may not be able to keep up with a 600 on the straights, but they are faster through the corners because they’re not wasting effort down- and up-shifting.

So, with the assumption that these machines are pretty well matched, and the rider’s skill is pretty well matched, can we conclude that a traditional transmission-based riding style using the transmission in the corners gives you an advantage over a bike with s direct drive?  No we cannot.  At the very least we can say the direct drive seems not to be penalized by the lack of transmission use.  At best, I feel like we can think that as riders get better at riding these drivetrains, you may see the direct drive becoming an advantage.

The bottom line on the Great Transmission Debate?  It all comes out even.

Here’s my rundown:

  • If a motor is small enough to overheat, you can fix that by adding cooling and a transmission, but you can also fix it a lot easier by increasing the motor size. The decision of adding a transmission and cooling is very clearly a Sales and possibly supply issue rather than a Physics or Engineering issue.
  • If you want more range you will not solve that with a transmission, you’ll solve that by adding more battery capacity. (i.e.: Transmissions do not make the drivetrain more efficient.)
  • If you want higher top speed you will not get that from simply adding a transmission because of the parasitic losses that come with a transmission.
  • If you want quicker acceleration along with higher top speed, then it seems a transmission can give you that to some degree (depending on what you’re running to start with), however, to get that you really only need a two or 3-speed, certainly not a 6 speed.
  • If you want to win races, build a bigger bike with a bigger motor and bigger batteries. A transmission will not give you a significantly faster bike on the track.

Please note: Regarding comments on this post.  If you’re fairly new to this debate, and want to explore and discuss the issues, please read up first.  Here’s a list of all the posts I’ve done on the subject:  Transmission Search Results.  Comments re-hashing well documented discussions and principles, either here, or on the many links I’ve provided, will be ignored. 

Comments indulging in keyboard racing will similarly be ignored except as they directly apply to builder’s and designer’s interests in transmission principles.  

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3 responses to “Transmission Debate: Qualifying Results at Laguna Seca FIM eRR

  1. “Shelina is riding what I think is a Brammo-tweaked Empulse TTX with the six-speed. Ted Rich, according to my spies, is running a stock Zero S. I’m not sure what tuning or tweaking has been done to any of those bikes, but I think it’s fair to say the Parker Brammo bike must be at about the highest state of tune possible, since it’s a factory team.”

    Shelina was riding a stock TTX. The drive train was the same as all the other bikes were when they left the factory.

    • Didn’t I say that? By “state of tune” I meant just that – the tuning of the controller, suspension, etc. on essentially a stock bike. At any rate, it’s just an assumption.

      Splitting hairs about the specs of each bike, though I’m sure fun for you armchair racers, is completely missing the point, at any rate. If the times were further apart, and less consistent, it would still support my conclusions – the transmission/direct drive bikes are fairly even matched. There is no “quantum-leap” advantage to running a transmission over running a bigger motor/controller/pack.

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