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Buckeye Current maintains podium position in 100th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Buckeye Current team during practice days at Pikes PeakBuckeye Current, The Ohio State University’s student electric motorcycle team, competed at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) on June 26 for the second time. Although a number of technical issues left the motorcycle, RW-3x, completely non-functional mere days before the race, Buckeye Current team members rallied behind exceptional technical expertise to finish third place in the electric motorcycle class.

“The team went into the competition with a motorcycle that was extensively redesigned from the previous year and, as expected, many technical problems had to be solved on the mountain,” says Marcello Canova, team faculty advisor and assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “The performance time of 11 minutes and 16 seconds, which earned Buckeye Current a podium finish, is testament of the talent and ability of this team to work quickly and efficiently under extremely high pressure.” Buckeye Current’s rider, Rob Barber, was notably the second fastest rookie rider up the mountain, and the bike finished 16th overall in a field of over 30 motorcycles, both gasoline- and electric-powered.

With a completely redesigned front suspension, a new battery pack and a high performance cooling system, the Buckeye Current RW-3x motorcycle was designed to be a leading competitor through the 156 turns of the steep mountain course. During the practice days leading up to the race, the team overcame many technical issues presented by the difficult, fast-paced setting and complex electronic systems. From cooling system issues to an electric failure in the motor controller, the team’s experience in building and troubleshooting custom mechanical, electric and electronic components allowed them to effectively tackle all the technical challenges that emerged. “Working out here in a fast-paced racing environment makes you quickly learn that everything from the classroom is a stepping stone,” says Brody Ringler, suspension and handling project captain. “The heart of engineering lies in being able to troubleshoot and problem solve on the fly using some not so traditional methods.” IEEE Spectrum writer Phil Ross elaborates on some of the specific problems in a series of articles.

Rider Rob Barber at the starting line for the Pikes Peak International Hill ClimbAfter successfully readying the bike for race day, Buckeye Current was confronted with a challenge even more difficult to overcome than technical issues. The electric motorcycle class was the first class scheduled to climb the race course early in the morning, and the RW-3x faced very challenging road conditions. A storm the previous night left snow on the upper half of the course, creating wet and unfavorable track conditions.  Left with no options to change tires or bike settings in a very short time, Rob Barber still successfully steered the team to the top.

Last year, Buckeye Current’s performance at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb resulted in a time of 11 minutes and 12 seconds under the helm of the veteran PPIHC competitor Joe Prussiano. This year, although the official time was four seconds slower than last year’s, the RW-3x operated at a higher performance than 2015’s RW-3. The power-limiting thermal issues experienced last year were entirely removed this year with an updated battery pack and higher performance cooling systems for the motor and motor controller, and the team refined a number of the electronic systems.

The team has returned to Columbus, Ohio and will begin analyzing the data from RW-3x’s more than 30 sensors, with the goal of determining possible areas of improvement. The team will then identify the goals for the 2017 race season.

About Buckeye Current

Buckeye Current is a student team at The Ohio State University based at the Center for Automotive Research and advised by Marcello Canova, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The team researches, designs, builds and races electric motorcycles to not only create innovative electric vehicles, but also to educate both students and the community about green technologies. The team’s first bike, RW-1, set the East Coast Timing Association record for electric motorcycles at 144.3 miles per hour. Buckeye Current’s second bike placed third in the Isle of Man TT Zero 2013, an international all-electric series, and their third bike placed third the following year to defend that podium finish. In 2015, RW-3x changed pace and competed at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for the first time, and placed second in the electric modified class. To read more about the team and to follow its progress, visit current.osu.edu.