Meet the Makers: John Petsche and his Biodiesel Land Speed Motorcycle

Maker John Petsche will be traveling up from Long Island to show off his hobby at the Troy Mini Maker Faire on August 27 — building racing motorcycles that run on vegetable oil. In 2011 and 2012, he brought  his first alt-fuel speed motorcycle to World Maker Faire New York. He built the custom drivetrain in his garage workshop, and set multiple land speed records in the Alt Fuel category. Then, in 2014, he retired the bike from racing and set out to build its successor.

For 2016, John will present his second homemade alternate fuel motorcycle. It is a 1979 Harley Davidson Sportster with an 850cc v-twin tractor diesel engine, running on 100% biodiesel. He fabricated and welded every component myself, developed the drivetrain, and raced it at the Ohio Mile 2016 Land Speed Event, where it set its first of what he hopes are many records. John answered some questions for us about his exhibit:

What is your background (Maker and otherwise)?

I graduated from RPI in 2010 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. I currently work as a Controls Engineer for National Grid at the Northport Power Station on Long Island.

I have been tinkering for as long as I can remember, starting with Legos and Erector Sets as a child. I have been involved in robotics, alternate energy, biofuel, automotive, and motorcycle projects since high school. At my job, I am heavily involved with electrical projects, equipment troubleshooting, design upgrades, and environmental compliance.

How did you come to build your first vegetable oil-powered motorcycle? How long does it take to construct one?

My first diesel bike took about 3 years to construct, troubleshoot, test, redesign, and race. I developed the transmission from scratch, and fabricated the mounting brackets, exhaust system, supercharger drive, and controls in my garage machine shop.

I built it because I have always been interested in alternate energy and biofuels, but had an extremely limited project budget. A friend gave me the remains of a junked motorcycle that he had parted out, and I decided to use it as the basis of a biodiesel project. It was an invaluable learning experience, and taught me much about vehicle design.

Tell us about the records you’ve set with your alt-powered bikes.

My first bike holds four records in the Alt-Fuel category at the Loring Timing Association in Limestone, Maine. The second bike, completed this past Spring, holds one Alt-Fuel record at the Ohio Mile in Wilmington, Ohio, with hopefully more to come!

You exhibited earlier models of your vehicles at World Maker Faire New York. What did you enjoy about that experience?

Exhibiting at the NYC World Maker Faire was an amazing experience. I enjoyed meeting an incredibly diverse and talented group of other makers, sharing my experiences with them, and learning about their projects in return.

What are you looking forward to at Troy Mini Maker Faire?

I am looking forward to returning to the city of my alma mater and meeting a different group of makers, all with their own unique stories to tell.

If you would like to have your own Maker exhibit at this year’s Troy Mini Maker Faire, the Call for Makers is open until August 1. After that date, we’ll consider new exhibits as space allows, so get your application in! There’s no charge to be an exhibitor, and we are open to any kind of art/tech/science project you have in mind. Just fill out the online application form and let us know what you’d like to share with the Maker Community. We look forward to hearing from you!