Eva Hakansson on eco-warriors and setting records

Eva Håkansson:
“eco-warriors can do 300mph”  

Words: Matt Youson

Eva Håkansson isn’t a speed freak, and she isn’t a mad scientist – though convention would categorise her as such. The world’s fastest female motorcyclist is breaking barriers of all kinds

The 35-year-old Swede is officially the world’s fastest female motorcyclist, with a recorded speed of 434.9km/h (270.224mph).

She rides her own creation, an electric sidecar machine named KillaJoule built while studying for an engineering PhD at the University of Denver.

She recently improved on KillaJoule’s landspeed world record, setting a benchmark of 400.2km/h (248.746mph) for the flying mile during the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials on the Bonneville Salt Flats – but it’s environmentalism rather than adrenaline that pushes Eva to go faster…

Read more

THE RED BULLETIN: Your motorbike is named KillaJoule and yet you call yourself an eco-warrior. What motivates you?

EVA HÅKANSSON: I enjoy racing, but really I’m a tree-hugger. Some of my old friends from college decided to be Greenpeace activists, climbing power plant cooling towers and such things. I decided that wasn’t the way to go: you just make people mad and then get arrested. I thought there must be a better way to be an eco-activist without breaking the law. Electric racing is a way to show people – people who would never be interested in electric vehicles or anything eco-friendly – that speed and power doesn’t have to be polluting. 

Are electric vehicles the future?

They’re the present! The problem is they’re perceived as boring and nerdy, particularly in the US. I’m doing my part to change that by building something powerful, cool and insanely fast.

“Engineering is Arts & Crafts for grown-ups. For me, building a motorcycle is no different to making gingerbread cookies or assembling a doll house“

Why a bike and not a car? 

I love motorcycles [Eva grew up riding motorcycles, her father is a Swedish racing champion] but the decision to build a streamlined electric motorcycle was based purely on budget. Being a hobbyist and working from my garage, there really wasn’t the budget for a car. A motorcycle is easier, cheaper and smaller but you can reach the same speeds – probably.

Which is the more satisfying: the engineering or taking the bike out?

It’s a difficult question to answer because they appeal to different parts of my brain. My ego really likes setting records – but my heart loves engineering. That’s where the deep satisfaction is. I love building stuff: engineering is Arts & Crafts for grown-ups. For me, building a motorcycle is no different to making gingerbread cookies or assembling a doll house. There’s the same sense of satisfaction from making something – the difference is that you use advanced materials and more expensive tools. Also, more mathematics! 

Can you describe the sensations of racing at Bonneville?

Bonneville is so special because of the people. The Bonneville racers tend to think of their fellows as a family that meets once a year. It’s called “Old Man’s Racing” because some of them have been going for twenty, thirty, forty years. While the people at Bonneville are wonderful, attempting records is still stressful, and racing at Bonneville can be quite brutal. You’ve poured years of work into this and you have five days to prove yourself. Everybody is watching and, on the start line, I’d prefer to run away and go home. It’s different once I’m on the track. 

Your record stands at 248.746mph [400.2kph] for a flying mile. How exciting is firing up for a record attempt?

I wish I could say it’s a big rush, but it’s not. It’s a two-minute mix of horror, boredom and magic. I find myself having trouble staying focused. Hit 250mph, then it feels fast. Obviously setting a record entails going into unchartered territory. You have no clue what’s going to happen. Problems could occur really quickly but the feeling when everything works flawlessly is like magic. The work finally pays off, and it is like time stops. When I finish a run and set a new record, the nervousness and discomfort vanishes and is replaced by a huge grin. I say, “Well, that was easy, let’s do it again”.

What next for you and KillaJoule?

I’m certain we can do 300mph [483kph]. We don’t need good luck for that, just an absence of bad luck.

Read more
02 2017 The Red Bulletin

Next story