A FERMANAGH woman is leading an electric motorcycle road racing team at her university as they push for more opportunities to race electric bikes in events across the world.
Harley Beattie is the project manager for Bath Zero Emissions Motorcycle Team – a team of eight undergraduates who share a passion for building and racing electric motorcycles.
Originally from Enniskillen, Harley grew up around motorcycles.
“I’ve been riding bikes since I was six or seven so I’ve always been into it. Dad is obviously into it, and I’ve been named after a bike,” she laughed, adding that riding motorcycles is a “life passion” of hers.
She is currently studying a Masters in Mechanical with Automotive Engineering at the University of Bath, and although the project she manages is part of the university, it is external to her degree.
“It’s supported by the uni in that they give us a little area to work in, and some facilities, but it’s totally external to my academic studies; it’s a side project,” said Harley.
“It’s run entirely by undergraduate students. We have an academic supervisor who oversees that we’re not spending money inappropriately, but it’s entirely student-run,” she said, adding that they are the only team to attend professional races that is comprised entirely of undergraduates.
Harley explained that racing electric bikes is relatively new.
“You are starting to see more electric bikes coming on to the market just this year, but there are no race bikes [for such vehicles].
“Mugen are the only people that actually make them fresh, and even then it’s only the two bikes that they bring to the [Isle of Man] TT every year, so all the bikes in this area are prototypes,” she said.
Racing their bike at the Isle of Man TT Zero race in 2019, Bath Zero Emissions Motorcycle Team were the fastest non-factory team, clocking 164mph on their entirely student-made electric bike.
“We came fourth overall,” said Harley, adding: “Mugen spent something like half a million quid on their bike, and we spent 80 grand, so when you put the results next to the money and the fact we are seven or eight undergraduate students versus HRC, Honda’s finest, is really cool.
“It means a lot to the team that we can hold our own in something that was built in a university basement, basically,” she said, with pride.
Having shown their worth against professional motorcycle manufacturers, the team are hoping to race at a number of events this year.
“We’ve managed to get into the Bermuda Charge, which is in Bermuda, and this is the first year it’s running.
“It’s going to be an electric race and we’ve got a race lined up in Finland called The Three Flashes, and the local one is the new The Diamond Races, on the Isle of Wight.
“Obviously, international races are subject to Covid rules at the time, but The Diamond Races are currently going ahead in October, so we’re working towards that primarily,” she said.
Due to Covid regulations, the Isle of Man TT was cancelled for 2020 and 2021.
“It looked really bad when the Isle of Man cancelled because that’s all we’d been going to, but we are trying to set up a wee organisation called the Electric Road Racing Association (ERRA) with the other teams, and through that we’re trying to get into more races, [into] what would have traditionally been petrol races to run an electric class.
“Our hope for the future is that we can make ‘electric’ a class of its own in these races,” Harley told this newspaper.
Looking towards their upcoming races, Harley and the team are planning to set up a crowdfunding page to raise money for new parts for their bike.
“We are aiming to raise £4,000 or £5,000 for new parts this year, because we are not going to have time to rebuild.
“We usually build a new bike from scratch every year, but because of Covid and lockdown and access restrictions to labs, we have decided to keep the chasis and redo the interiors, redo the battery and the battery management system this year.
“We want to raise a bit of money for that so that we can get that done and go to races,” she said.
Harley is currently the only female member of the team, and is quite passionate about showcasing women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as she feels it’s something she never had much exposure to growing up in Fermanagh.
“Growing up where I did, you don’t see a lot of women in engineering roles like that, especially when it comes to motorsport. The last couple of years have been a turning point.
“The reason I’m quite passionate about women being able to see themselves in those roles is because until you see someone like you in that role, it sometimes doesn’t feel like an option.
“I think that the more exposure young girls get to see that it’s quite normal for a woman to be the leader of a motorcycle race team, the more that normalises it, and the more women will want to go into it, hopefully, or feel like they can,” said Harley.