jonescg’s Build Thread: Voltron Evo

Voltron Evo looking good sml

I just have to post this in The Electric Garage, because it’s just so awesome.  It’s the complete saga of a totally over-the-top build, and it makes me want to start a new build again.  To a seasoned builder it’s going to bring back all the memories – joy, pain and everything in between.  To the new builder it’s a roadmap of how these things go, if you’re pushing the envelope of not only the technology, but your experience and knowledge. You might not get exactly this kind of rollercoaster ride, but it’s sure going to be something similar if you’re doing it right.

There are a couple of things that are particularly awesome here.  The first is that you see, at the beginning of the thread, the guy has some very clear ideas of what he wants to do with the build, in terms of motors, batteries, and ultimate goals, and a big part of that is his experience building the previous bike, Voltron, with dual Agni motors and a really nasty host frame.  It’s a great case study in what I’ve said all along.  a) You’re going to learn a lot from your first build.  b) Your second build is going to be a whole different story. You see him start with some ideas, try some solutions, and the full evolution of the final design.

The other awesome thing here is that it’s a really inspiring example of how a forum like ES can be a truly collaborative effort.  There’s a lot of sincere support for his efforts, some great perspective and advice, which is accepted graciously, some strong opinions and zero snark, posturing or ego.  Throughout the high points and lows of this build, (at one particularly low point his original donor bike is stolen, putting him $7000 in the hole) the community pulls together for him, both in spirit, but also with offers of loans, donations and sponsorship, because the effort, his commitment, and the project are all so awesome.  It restores my recently dashed faith in the community, and is a model for how this can work when it’s not simply a vehicle for people to posture as the final word, or type themselves smart.  Cue Aretha: r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

One thing that building Voltron taught me, is that people who don’t build bikes are sometimes the most vocal about how things should or shouldn’t be done :lol: The dual motor, one shaft thing was a classic – all these people telling me that I needed a flexible element in there, where as the flexibility was the very problem in the first place.

First, a bit about jonescg – His name is Chris, and he’s from Perth (Australia).  He’s Vice President of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA) and Chairman of the AEVA Perth Branch.  He’s also, apparently, a biologist.  As in Dr. PhD. Chris.  Yet another thread in the rich fabric of the Electric Motorcycle community.  Troy Rank did a nice little podcast featuring Chris, here, talking about the original Voltron.

OK, here’s a synopsis of the build thread, though I’d encourage you to sit down with a cup o’ joe and read the whole thing yourself.  It’s about two years of the best storytelling you’ll see on any of these forums, and yes, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and it’s not over yet.


On the first post Chris outlines the goals and what he’s thinking about reaching them.

The next bike will use a CBR1000RR chassis. I’m checking out a few bikes online and at repo auctions, but my heart is set on a late model, preferably 2008 onwards. Unfortunately most litre sportsbikes have engines that outlive their frames, as the frame is jammed under an SUV somewhere :(

So with the rolling chassis in mind, it’s time to think about the electric bits.

Motors. Everyone goes on about batteries as if they are the biggest limitation to electric vehicles, but I firmly believe that there are more options for performance with batteries than you do with motors. Motors take up a big chink of the bike, and weight a fair bit too. More development needs to happen here! Anyway, what are my options?

MARS or ETEK? Gutless.
Agni? Ok, but you need to pair them up, and if you don’t melt them you have 60 kW peak. Not enough.
EMRAX? Looking better, but you still have to pair them up and run two controllers. The outrunner thing bugs me too.
Brusa? Crazy motors – bit porky for their output though.
UQM? A solid motor with insane power, but it’s a chunky sod. And did I mention the price? $22,000 including the pizza-box sized controller?

So quality and power is proportional to cost… Nothing new there. At this stage, I am leaning towards the UQM Powerphase 125, or if I can shoe-horn it into a ‘Blade, the 145. I have written to them to see if they will sponsor Team Voltron. Always worth a shot. I am open to other suggestions of alternative motors though. Most will need water cooling, which isn’t a problem with todays technology.

A bit about the batteries:

I want the total capacity to be about 7.5 kWh. As I can get access to A123 pouches this could be a safe, convenient option for energy storage. 113 cells will give me a capacity of 7.6 kWh and a hot charge voltage of 412 V, but is sure to stabilise around 380 V. This voltage is ideal for running most high-powered AC motors, and the controllers can use IBGTs. Unfortunately, 113 cells needs a careful arrangement of cells to make sure it all fits, and makes use of the space available. Fireblades, like most Jap IL4s are right fattys, so width is your friend. Still trying to arrange these large format pouches in an efficient, yet convenient way. Cell weight would be about 55 kg.

Another alternative is using the 5 Ah 40C Turnigys and making a stack 84 cells high and 5 cells wide (105 S 4 P, 388 V, 430 V hot). Being much narrower, this leaves more room for motors and controllers etc. Balancing them will be a matter of multi-pin plugs in the right spots, with appropriate BMS/monitoring wires everywhere. This pack would also weigh 55 kg. despite their safety issues, this would give me a very energy dense pack, and slightly higher total capacity ~7.7 kWh.

The batteries are one of the interesting threads he tackles, and finally decides to go with a pack made up of single cells of the Turnigy 40c, assembled into one big pack.  How he accomplished that, after several tries, is one of the most elegant solutions I’ve seen.  Check here, in the thread,  for that.  Here’s what it looks like.


Here, he gets his donor bike, a really sweet GSXR 1000, which he intends to ride until it’s time to cut it up.

On this post he commits to the AFM140-4 motor, an absolute beast.  Spec sheet here.

About here, he decides that his GSXR frame isn’t going to work.   The model he bought was slightly different and smaller than the specs he had, so he decides to have a frame built, and sell the GSXR:

After much head scratching and pondering, I have decided I won’t be using the K5 GSXR1000 as a donor chassis. Apart from the fact that it’s an awesome ICE bike as it is, there are some serious issues with how I will fit everything into it. The K5 GSXR1000 was shrink in almost every way compared to the K4, and even more than the later, K7s. Why I didn’t notice this, I don’t know. But the reality is, it ain’t going to fit, and if I did try to make it fit, I would be left disappointed with the compromises.

So I have decided to get a custom frame built.

That sale attempt would ultimately result in the theft of the GSXR, with the case being dismissed over a year later with no recourse for Chris.  He’s out $7000 on a build that is gushing money as it is.  Here is one of the first shots of the custom trellis frame:


Here are some shots later on with the frame during fabrication and the battery mockup in place:


…we also get to meet their supervisor:


He gets the frame and has some soft, warm moments with it.  Ripperton has joined the conversation, and then this:

Damn.. Shit balls cock arse damn! I had to walk outside for a little bit, realising what I was about to face – years of planning, kilometers of emails to Randy, ten thousand dollars, and it doesn’t fit!!??? Does it have to come to this?

… a moment all of us have experienced at one point or another doing this insanity we call building an electric motorcycle.  Then, as quickly as it came, this:

I calmed down a bit, put the frame together and removed the main control box from the battery. I dropped it in, and to my massive relief, the pack sat down perfectly and at the ideal height. PHEW!!!!

Sometimes you just have to go for a walk in the rain.

So the major decisions are made, the build is progressing, and you’re looking at the final punchlist to make it roadworthy.  Here are a few shots of it with the final glass work:

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I don’t know how much Chris has invested in this build, and I’m not sure I want to, but there are more than a couple of envelopes he’s pushing here.  The frame is built by Framecrafters, and it’s a no-compromise race frame designed and built by guys who are at the top of the game.  We’ve seen a lot of BS in the past about frames purpose built for the electric drivetrain, but this is none of that.  It’s built as a frame, pure and simple, by guys who build frames, and it’s certainly one of the best.  No reinventing the wheel, simply working at the top of the art.  It only remains to be seen how it performs.

The battery idea is also at the cutting edge, though terrifying.  It’s a 7.5kwh pack made of of cells that, at best, have a reputation for needing precise and careful attention to be used safely.  It’s the first I’ve seen of an actual construction of individual cells that looks like something that is even remotely elegant and robust.  And yes, it got me looking at individual Turnigy cell pricing.

The motor?  There’s not much to say about that, but to repeat a comment on the thread: “Beast Mode: Engaged”.  It was chosen on the theory that, weight, cost and size be damned, you can’t have a motor that’s too big.

Finally, the voltage.  This thing is going to run at 700VDC.  That is profoundly frightening, and more than a couple of people have expressed their sincere concerns.  Chris is committed to that kind of voltage simply to get the most out of the motor – remember, volts = RPM, and seems to understand the risks, cost, and safety in design that this is going to demand.  We can only see…  and make sacrifices on the altars of whatever Gods of Electricity we hold reverence to in hopes that this will go well.  The discussion and concerns are found on this page.

Will this all work?  To repeat my favorite Argentine horseracing adage: “On the track, that’s where we’ll see how the ponies run”.  Is it lunacy, or genius?  One thing’s for sure, it’s commitment.  …not to mention, inspiration.

If you want to throw some support Chris’ way, this will take you to the post where he give his PayPal information.

6 responses to “jonescg’s Build Thread: Voltron Evo

  1. Thanks Ted! Great to see my 750-odd post thread condensed nicely into a concise blog post.

    I can answer the investment question, even if it was rhetorical – I’m looking at a roughly ~$45,000 bike. Over the course of three years, it’s still a fair whack of cash.

    Capacity – it’s actually a 9 kWh pack – 168s, 3p. The entire battery assembly is self contained, including BMS, isolation contactors, fuses and the like. As for the pack voltage, I ain’t afraid of no volts…

    Thanks for the write up man, really appreciate it.


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