SHATTERING WORLD RECORDS
Ravindra Kempaiah was at the University of Maryland in 2013 as a teaching and research assistant, working on his second master’s degree. He needed transportation, but he didn’t want to buy a car to get around, so he started looking at alternative modes of transportation, and just by chance an e-bike caught his eye. There weren’t as many options then as there are now, but those he looked at elicited the same thought: “This is absolutely game-changing technology.”
Impressed that there was already a level of technology that was so evolved and efficient that, most important, could solve the transportation problems of a big segment of the population, it literally changed the course of his career.
MAKING A MOVE
Ravi moved to study battery technology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His work was on electrode materials in lithium-ion batteries to improve the current technology in both energy density and to lower the cost.
Around this time he met Len Mattioli, owner of Crazy Lenny’s E-Bikes, and the two became fast friends with a shared passion for all things e-bike-related.
Not wanting to just limit his interest in e-bikes to school studies, in 2 masters degrees Ravi was inspired by the athletes in the Race Across America (RAAM) and decided to do something that he thought could put a bigger spotlight on e-biking. That something came in the form of breaking the record for the longest distance traveled on an e-bike.
To help make it happen, both Mattioli and Stromer lent their support, with Len setting up a sag wagon and Stromer providing him with a bike. He claimed the Guinness World Record by riding over 5100 miles, going from Crazy Lenny’s bike shop in Madison, Wisconsin, to Stromer’s American headquarters in San Diego, California.
THE NEXT RECORD
Ravi next set his sights on another record—the most miles traveled on an e-bike in 24 hours. If his calculations were correct, he could also break the record for the most miles traveled on an e-bike in 12 hours. He first told us about the plan almost two years ago, so it took him quite a bit of time to get everything organized the right way.
Originally, the plan was for Ravi to make the attempt in the Chicago area, but instead, he wanted to do it closer to where he wanted to attend yet another institution of higher learning to further his work with batteries. That school is Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He wanted to work with Professor Jeff Dahn, who is at the forefront of lithium-ion technology and has formed a partnership with Tesla.
The location Ravi chose was a 1/3-mile oval track at Scotia Speedway. Guinness officials are very stringent on their rules, and Ravi had to hire a survey crew to come out and measure the exact distance he would travel on each lap. The one restriction was that he would have to keep the bike within the oval’s inside lane the entire time.
MAKING THE TURNS
The entire crew consisted of nearly 20 people, including Professor Dahn and Len Mattioli. On the morning of the ride everybody showed up at the track near sunrise, setting up some E-Z Ups and coolers with drinks and the food Ravi would need to keep going.
Two people had to time each lap for redundancy and accuracy, and Ravi had a GPS unit on his bike to provide even more data. A couple of action cameras were used to film the entire event, and the lap times were entered into a spreadsheet.
For his latest attempt at Guinness Book fame, Ravi’s chose a Watt Wagon bike that was the brainchild of Pushkar Phatak. Ravi had heard about the bike and thought there was room for improvement, so he reached out to Pushkar. Ravi helped him refine the bike. The Watt Wagon uses a titanium frame and is powered by Bafang mid-drive motor with a 880-Wh battery. The drive comes courtesy of a Gates carbon belt drive and a Rohloff 14-speed hub. The Class 3 bike was limited to a 45-km/h top speed.
Ravi was shooting to complete 1800 laps in 24 hours and took off at 7 in the morning and began hitting a pace of 36–38 seconds a lap. He had a mirror on his bike, and that started to bug him, so he pitted at 50 laps to have it removed. At only an hour in, he had already completed 100 laps, which was a good start.
“When he awakened an hour later, he looked like a complete zombie.”
To help him get through lap after lap, Ravi listened to music in his headphones and switched directions every few hours. He didn’t stop for drinks; instead, Pushkar would hand him a liter of coconut water when he signaled for it. He only stopped for restroom and food breaks, and to swap the battery. Charging was accomplished using a Cycle Satiator, which can charge a battery at an incredible 8A.
During one of Ravi’s breaks, we took a ride on a matching Watt Wagon. It’s a fun and powerful machine. For Ravi’s modest discussion of his abilities on a bike, we tried several laps at his under-40-seconds-per-lap pace. It was tough to do that for five minutes, let alone the hours he was putting in.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
He stopped to take a couple of naps. The first was a half-hour long, the second one, at about 2:45 a.m., lasted an hour. During this second stop the crew thought he was out for good and started packing everything up. When he awakened an hour later he looked like a complete zombie, but still put his helmet on, and like an automaton, climbed back aboard the bike and started getting more laps in. He kept up his same pace for over three more hours
At the 12-hour mark, Ravi had traveled 236.4 miles, making 919 laps, besting the old record of 180.75 miles set by Chris Ramsey in 2018. In the end he didn’t make 1800 laps, but he made it to 1,518 laps, which worked out to 391.22 miles, easily shattering the previous record of 174.4 miles set in 2016 by Prasad Erande.
With 10 battery swaps to get him through, his cost of electricity to cover all that distance was less than one dollar. What other way can you travel that far for that tiny amount of money?
With all his laps behind him and a place in the record books secured, Ravi is back at work, thinking what is next in terms of battery technology and perhaps his next record.