World's fastest female motorcyclist Eva Håkansson: 'I'm on a quest for
'It’s not the speed that gives me the thrill - it's the joy of doing
something that no one has ever done before'
Håkansson earned her current title as the world's fastest woman when
the KillaJoule – an electric cycle she designed and built herself –
Eva Håkansson is the world’s fastest female motorcycle rider, but the
34-year-old Swede isn’t resting on her laurels. “My goal is always to
be faster,” she tells The Independent. “I’m on the quest for 300mph,
but many things can go wrong.”
Håkansson earned her current title on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in
September last year, when KillaJoule – an electric cycle she designed
and built herself – reached 241.9mph in the official race on the
densely packed salt pan.
The US-based mechanical engineer was hoping to hit 300mph in
KillaJoule this weekend, but flooding on the flats forced the
cancellation of racing. Her next opportunity to write herself into the
record books will take place between 12 and 16 October at an event
called the Bonneville Shootout.
Eva Håkansson is currently studying for a PhD at University of Denver
The KillaJoule, a bright red, cigar-shaped projectile, has had a
number of modifications since last year’s run. “It’s always a work in
progress so there are some upgrades in horsepower and there is less
drag,” explains the University of Denver PhD student. “All that makes
the computer say that it will go 300mph.”
Håkansson appears to inhabit a glamorous world, an image confirmed by
her appearance in the latest ad campaign for Johnnie Walker, alongside
racing driver Jenson Button and actor Jude Law. But she insists “it’s
not the speed that gives me the thrill”; rather it’s “the joy of doing
something that no one has ever done before”.
The real pleasure comes from the 360 days she spends building
high-speed vehicles in her garage; the five days of racing are “mostly
quite stressful as that is when you prove your work”.
Håkansson has two main reasons for breaking speed records in an
electric vehicle. First, to show that women make as good engineers as
men and, secondly, to change the perceptions of eco-friendly vehicles.
She describes her record attempts as “eco-activism in disguise”.
“The general perception of anything that is eco-friendly and low
emission is that it is really boring and you wouldn’t want an electric
car,” she says. “My mission is to change that perception by showing
that electric vehicles can be insanely fast.”
Electric cars would fulfil the needs of “about 95 per cent” of the
population, she adds. “I don’t think we will see electric long-haul
trucks or electric commercial airplanes in a long time, but for daily
driving electric cars are outstanding”.
Håkansson and her husband, fellow engineer Bill Dube, get around in an
electric car powered by solar panels on the roof. “It costs us
practically nothing to drive and it’s running on sunshine.”
She is due to finish her PhD in about six months, at which point she
hopes to convert her “high-end hobby” into a full-time career.
In the US, and also in the UK, where only 6 per cent of women are
engineers, “many people seem to think that some unknown, unfathomable
force makes us unable to be engineers. I want to change that
perception, because women make excellent engineers and little girls
and older girls and women need to see that the tech sector is an
excellent career choice.”
She believes women may be put off Stem (science, technology,
engineering and math) careers “because they think they can’t do it
because they have been told all their lives that engineering is just
for boys, and people accept that as some kind of undeniable fact”.
Engineering runs in her family. Her father, Sven, was a Swedish road
racing champion in the Sixties, who built and tuned his own machines.
He also took a keen interest in electric-powered vehicles, developing
Sweden’s first electric street-legal motorcycle, the ElectroCat, with
The Killa Joule has a 375-volt, 10kWh battery pack has 56 cells; these
are charged by a bio-diesel generator
Håkansson’s mother was also an engineer – “the only female in her
class” – as are her brothers. “Looking back at my childhood I realized
I never really played with things. I was just always building things.
I thought that was completely normal. I learned how to use a sewing
machine when I was four. It wasn’t until I reached my twenties and
thirties that I realized how unusual that was, and what a great
education I’d had. All the foundation for my technical work comes from
She describes the moment of setting a record as “like a great plan
coming together, a feeling that you pulled it off”.
But the run itself is a “strange mix of boredom, terror and magic”,
she says. “When you surpass your record, suddenly you are in uncharted
territory. You’ve never been this fast. Your bike has never been this
fast and you just don’t know if it’s going to break or list or crash,
and also it’s very claustrophobic. You are inside a little tube, a
straitjacket, and it’s also very hot. You are in the middle of the
desert. I have a speedometer, so I know how fast I am going and it is
almost magic when it works. The world stops and afterwards there’s a