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TTXGP Newsletter

February 26, 2010

I was the guest editor of the TTXGP newsletter this week and wanted to make sure that, in addition to the copy on the eGrandPrix.com website and the one that might have come in your email, one copy of it got posted here on my blog.  I enjoyed writing it and I had a great time working with the folks at TTXGP.  They continue to solicit guest editors, so if you’re interested, let them know.

Slogans and mission statements are often such meaningless tripe. When I first heard TTXGP’s slogan “New Day. New Rules. New Game. Be part of it,” I winced. Aside from its ungainly length, I thought, as a slogan, it suffered from delusions of grandeur. What is “New” about the day, rules, and games that could draw enough people to want to be a part of it?

The enthusiasm of TTXGP’s founder, Azhar Hussain, convinced me that my stubborn skepticism was off the mark. He believes in that slogan, and after collaborating with him on the revolutionary idea that became the TTXGP Technical Rules Wiki, I believe in it, too. And, as I found out, I’m not alone.

Azhar told me that his idea for “putting the rules on a wiki” came while he was at home, sick with a cold. (I imagine him ranting deliriously from his sickbed.) As we fleshed out the idea, it became clear to me that the idea of using the power of the crowd to shape the rules that govern the sport of electric motorcycle racing was as innovative and groundbreaking as the nascent sport itself.

Yet, as I was often to be reminded, there is nothing new under the sun.

Electric motorcycles have existed since the late 1800s and have shown up from time to time since then in various iterations. Tracing the history of electric motorcycle racing is more elusive, but it isn’t difficult to imagine two of more of these vehicles coming off of an assembly floor, ridden by workers anxious to test the finished product and their own skills against each other.

Until June 2009 at the Isle of Man, however, a meaningful race involving electric motorcycles had not occurred. The success of the first TTXGP was evident in the worldwide attention the race received, and the interest that this year’s racing series has garnered. In this respect, the “New Day” is upon us.

Along with this “New Day” came a requirement for “New Rules” to be put in place. Specifically, the TTXGP Technical Rules had to be created to address the types of concerns present in electric bike racing that do not exist in internal combustion engine (ICE) motorcycle racing. For example, if a race course steward is rushing toward a wrecked motorcycle in order to clear it from the course, he knows that if it’s sputtering, then the engine needs to be shut off before it can be safely moved. No similar audible cue exists with electric bikes. A steward’s inadvertent twist of a throttle on a silent, downed bike could potentially send it rocketing across the course . . . or toward a crowd. This particular hazard was addressed in the TTXGP Technical Rule mandating an “Emergency Stop” device – a large, clearly-marked button that, when pressed, breaks the circuit between the battery and the motor.

The TTXGP Technical Advisory Panel was created to give order, consistency and balance to the rules. Staffed by members certified by the Institute of Engineering and Technology as experts in technology, electronics, electrical engineering, and product safety, the Panel’s job includes reviewing the rules for safety concerns, internal consistency, and to assure that the rules remain neutral and independent when applied to bikes, riders, and teams.

TTXGP did not stop after it had addressed the unique safety and performance issues of electric bikes. It broke new ground, encouraging streamlining and feet forward (FF) design. Yet, just like the historical aspect of the “New Day,” this “New Rule” has a history. Streamlining had been allowed in motorcycle racing until 1957 when it was banned by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM, International Motorcycling Federation) following complaints by manufacturers that racing motorcycles covered with extreme full body fairings (“dustbins”) bore no resemblance to production motorcycles.

The TTXGP did not have to answer to big motorcycle manufacturers, however, and Azhar Hussain saw the value of streamlining as it applied to electrics. The ability to slip easily through the air with decreased drag not only meant greater speeds for the motorcycles that took advantage of this technology, it meant a longer range—something that could mean the difference between finishing and not finishing a race. Azhar looked to two individuals to help him draft the streamlining rules: Craig Vetter, the inventor of the iconic Windjammer fairing; and longtime FF proponent Royce Creasey. Creasey even had a prototype in the works for the 2009 TTXGP, but the sponsor got cold feet. FF design looks so unusual that it would take a sponsor/supporter with creative vision to buy into the project. So far, no team has come forward in this year’s series with a FF machine. The rules, however, exist to support such an entry.

Which brings me, finally, to the TTXGP Technical Rules Wiki. Azhar placed me in charge of this effort to harness the energy of the crowd to shape the rules for the 2011 season. Although I serve as the moderator on the project, the users of the Wiki will do most of the work. So far, Vetter and Creasey are on board. Creasey has already dug in with both hands, changing the word “motorcycle” in the “classification” rule to a term which will be more inclusive of the traditional designs and FF machines: “Powered Two Wheeler” or PTW will be inserted into the rules wherever “motorcycle” appears now. He has also rewritten the “streamlining” rule from the version which appeared when the wiki went live.

Racing enthusiast Jim Race (MotoGPod) created a new rule about “Qualifying.” I have suggested a new rule about separate prizes for “energy efficiency.” Meanwhile, members or representatives of at least three of the teams which will be racing have joined the Wiki to monitor and to, hopefully, contribute to the rules for next season.

Given the novelty of this sport, it is expected that issues will arise in its inaugural season which will need to be addressed before the rules are published for the second season. The Wiki is the tool that we hope to use to manage those changes quickly and efficiently. Race fans, teams, engineers, mechanics . . . anyone can register. Will a few crackpots slip in? It is certainly possible. That, however, is where my duties as moderator, and the self-policing qualities of a wiki will come into play. The vandals will be banned, the vandalism flushed out, and, if it all works as we hope: the cream will rise to the top.

We hope that you will join us in this experiment of inclusion. Will your insights into aerodynamics or electricity or occupational safety come into play for the 2011 rules? You will never know until you take the time to be a part of this game-changing project. That is where the “New Game” phrase comes into play for me: This experiment will work if you come and join the new game that has begun.

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