SPARK Electrifies Motorcycle Racing

With their newest electric motorcycle, the student team took second and third place at the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association Formula Lightning Series competition.
SPARK team members gathered around the motorcycle
SPARK team members Leo Lavigne (ME), Peter Jaskoski (ME), Mustafa Khan (ME), Jackson Bahm (CS), and Aashish Harikrishnan (EE) gathered around their electric motorcycle, Atlas.

Michigan’s SPARK Electric Racing team claimed Second and Third place trophies at the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association Formula Lightning series competition in New Jersey this summer. It was their first time competing at this event, and second-ever competition.

The Formula Lightning series is the premier zero emissions motorcycle road racing series in the US. Bikes may be powered by any means of propulsion that does not emit exhaust, such as electricity, magnetism, gravity, flywheels, springs, etc.

“There’s a lot of passion to make something like this more popular, because it’s such a cool intersection of what’s going on with EVs in today’s world and motorcycles,” said Electrical Engineering undergrad Aashish Harikrishnan, who serves as the team’s Electrical Lead. “It’s freaking awesome.”

Group photo of the SPARK team
The SPARK Electric Racing team.

SPARK Electric Racing entered their third motorbike, Atlas, in the competition (their second bike did not compete due to the pandemic). Able to reach speeds of up to 150 mph, Atlas features a custom tube frame chassis, custom battery, and fully functional onboard telemetry.

“We’re creating our own templates from the ground up,” Harikrishnan said. “That challenge was one of the most attractive things about the team to me. Some of these bigger teams have a lot of regulations and specifications they have to meet – for our bike, we just need to make it safe, make it work, and make it run fast.”

We just need to make it safe, make it work, and make it run fast.

Aashish Harikrishnan, EE undergrad and SPARK Electrical Lead

SPARK aims to operate on a two-year cycle, with the first year focused on designing the motorbike and the second year on manufacturing and testing. While the pandemic slowed the production down for a while, SPARK stayed on schedule for this summer’s competition series. They were the only collegiate team participating this year, with their competitors comprised mainly of private e-bike (electric bike) teams.

The competition was held on a full circuit course featuring 22 turns over two and half miles and three laps. SPARK hired David McPherson, a professional motorcycle driver, for the actual races, which were held on two separate days.

“It was really cool having a rider test the bike to its limits,” Harikrishnan said. “We got a lot of good data, and it helped us work out some issues. I think we have even more potential.”

Photo of the driver and motorcyle in mid race
Professional motorcycle driver David McPherson tests Atlas on the course.

Harikrishnan’s interest in motorcycles began as a kid riding around India with his family.

“Growing up, it was the most fun experience, riding on the back of the motorcycle my grandpa or uncle or whoever would drive to places,” Harikrishnan said. “Electric motorcycles are way easier to drive cause it’s just straight throttle. It’s like driving a scooter around the neighborhood – you just have to get used to that initial jump cause they’re a lot more powerful.”

This interest is part of what drew him to join SPARK his freshman year. What ultimately impressed him was the culture of the team, and the challenge of building a new bike from scratch.

“Spark has been a really valuable part of my experience at Michigan,” Harikrishnan said. “I’ve made a lot of great friends, and it’s been a really fun project to work on. We don’t have any requirements for people to join – our motto is show up and have a good time.”