Eva Håkansson is a mechanical engineer based in Tokoroa, who chases her passion for building electric motorcycles from scratch and racing them to world-record-breaking speeds.
In 2014, Eva became the world’s fastest female motorcycle rider, reaching 434 km/h with her homebuilt bike, KillaJoule. She has since lost her record, but is determined to take it back and raise the bar to a whopping 600 km/h.
How did you get into racing electric motorcycles?
It’s a genetic disorder! My father was a champion Swedish motorcycle rider and builder in the 1960s. During the first oil crisis in the 1970s, he got into electric vehicles. My interest in low-emission vehicles was sparked at university. My father suggested converting a motorcycle to electric, and I was hooked! It became the first street-legal e-bike in Sweden. When I met my husband, Bill Dubé, he encouraged me to take my interest and skill to the next level. He is a talented electric drag bike builder and racer himself. We moved to New Zealand in 2017, a decision based mainly on Kiwis embracing a move to electric transportation, as well as it being a beautiful country.
You’ve recently returned from racing in Australia with your ‘Green Envy’ e-motorcycle. How was that?
This was the very first race for my new electric motorcycle. Due to heavy rain, the four-and-a-half-day event at Dry Lake Racers Australia’s Annual Speed Week became just two and half days. And for us, that meant just four runs, as we were sharing the track time with 200 other entrants, all itching to make a record attempt.
Because it is a brand-new vehicle, I was required to start at a low speed of 200km/h and increase the speed in steps. Everything went to plan until the last day, when glitches appeared in the throttle, preventing me from giving it full power. We reached 301km/h – about halfway to our goal. But setting world speed records is a marathon, not a sprint. We are delighted with how things went. Our small but very talented team did a fabulous job; the conditions can be very harsh in the Australian outback.
Can you tell us a bit more about Green Envy?
The Green Envy looks like a rocket or an aeroplane without wings. It has almost 1,000 horsepower, and you sit inside it. The concept is simple – battery, motor, and some power electronics – basically a giant cordless drill with wheels. It has four motors and four throttles – all mechanically connected. The battery is 400 volts and 20 kilowatt-hours. The battery weighs about 350kg, and the motors and motor controllers a combined 250kg. The entire vehicle is quite a beast at 1,200kg. Weight doesn’t really matter in land-speed racing – it is all about aerodynamics! The frame is high-strength steel for safety, and the outer shell combines aluminium, composites and 3D printing.
What drives your desire for racing?
It may be hard to believe, but for me, it’s not just about speed. I’m not an adrenaline junkie, but I love building and designing stuff.
Speed is such a simple and beautiful metric that everybody can understand. My racing is the ultimate platform for showing that being eco-friendly is far from boring.
I want to show people about sustainable technology, and speed is a great way to demonstrate the potential of battery power. And, I must admit, setting world records in a vehicle you built and ride yourself is certainly a high!
What’s your ultimate goal with racing?
To be the fastest. I have 16 speed records, some national, some international. The highlight was riding my original homebuilt electric motorcycle, KillaJoule, at 434 km/h in 2014. This gave me the title of the world’s fastest female motorcycle rider. I still think I can reach higher speeds, though. Especially with Green Envy, I have my eye on the overall motorcycle record. The current world record is 605 km/h and is held by an internal combustion motorcycle. To take that with an electric motorcycle would be truly historic!
Why have you chosen land-speed racing?
I sometimes call myself the world’s fastest climate activist; I chose land-speed racing because speed makes headlines. It is a way to reach people that otherwise may not be interested in low-emission vehicles or anything related to the environment. By showing that electric vehicles are fast and sexy, I hope to change people’s minds. Another attractive feature is that land-speed racing is incredibly safe compared to other kinds of world-class-level racing. Because there are no other competitors on the track, there isn’t anything to hit. Also, the organisers encourage innovative engineering. And safety is taken very seriously.
What projects are you working on right now?
Racing is expensive, so Bill and I have been looking for ways to fund our hobby! I used to teach engineering design at the University of Auckland, but the Covid lockdown in 2020 kickstarted our 3D printing business. We bought a large, old machine that used to make plastic drinking straws and we turned it into a fabulous machine for making 3D printing filament. KiwiFil was born! Being tree-huggers at heart, we only make filament from bio-plastic and recycled plastic. Our new challenge is to find an efficient way to recycle discarded 3D prints back into new filament – and to make a profit! It is far easier said than done, but we think we have figured it out.
What have been the keys to your success?
Maybe it’s because I have two older brothers, six and eight years older than me, and I wanted to do whatever they were doing. I am determined, and I’m quite an impatient person, but tenacious at the same time. To be the best at anything, you must work on it daily. I call it the five-minute rule – you have to spend at least five minutes every day on your project. Five minutes will not give world records, of course, but five minutes often turns into 30 minutes, or an hour, or five hours, and that’s how you progress. In addition, you need to want it so badly that you never give up. Bill describes me as a Border Collie. If I am not constantly activated and stimulated, I start to chew on the furniture!
What observations do you have on New Zealand’s thirst for sustainability?
The path that New Zealand is taking with electric vehicles is great. It is a narrow country with a comprehensive charging network, making it an ideal place for electric vehicles. EVs are safe and comfortable, and with most electricity coming from renewable sources, they are a no-brainer. The country is still a high polluter, and we really need to revisit everything from our food production to waste handling, but we can certainly make a difference with electric vehicles. EVs can be fast and exciting. Now we just need people to discover they are also comfortable and economical!
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