Three years ago, Brammo made headlines with one of the first consumer electric motorcycles to hit the U.S. market – the US$12,000 Enertia. Capable of 60 mph and a range of around 40 miles, the Enertia was a lightweight and fun commuter … but what a difference three years can make! Meet the Enertia's big brother, the Empulse 10.0 – a slick-looking, hard-hitting fully electric streetfighter with a sustainable top speed over 100mph and a range in excess of 100 miles on a single 2-hour charge. Available to order now, the Empulse more than doubles the Enertia's practicality, while adding a huge whack of fun to the equation. Pricing is a pleasant surprise – the top-spec model will go for US$13,995, but the final cost may be as little as US$7,000 in certain states once federal and state incentives are taken into account. We spoke to Craig Bramscher, Brammo's founder and CEO, about the Empulse, the dawn of electric motorcycle racing and the very exciting future of electric motorsport.
The 2007 Brammo Enertia
Electric motorcycles are well and truly working their way into the mainstream. The first-generation Brammo Enertia demonstrated the practicality of the electric platform in an urban commute setting, but still left many potential customers feeling nervous about whether they'd end up pushing it home.
"The whole range anxiety thing," says Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher, "We thought, well, the average commute is 26 miles, so a 42 mile range should give you comfort. Well it turns out that when it gets to half full, people fill it up. Some people like me take it all the way down to the end. We're finding with electric vehicles that people are more conservative."
Despite range concerns, the bike became a modest success – but Brammo never expected it to find an audience among the petrolhead community. "We kinda thought the Harley guys and the Ducati guys would not be that crazy about it," says Bramscher, "Turns out they loved the Enertia, they just want a little more."
The 2011 Brammo Empulse
And more they will get. "The driving force around this vehicle was some new technology we've developed in the powertrain," says Bramscher, "which is an all-around system that includes a more efficient battery and a more efficient controller, a more efficient motor and then our own vehicle control unit. So it's really a full Brammo drivetrain. And that, in combination with the battery technology, gets us all the way up to a 100-mile average range. One hundred isn't the absolute best case scenario, it's a good average case scenario."
The first vehicle to take advantage of the new Brammo Power platform will be the Empulse streetfighter, and it looks like an absolute ripper – a stylish, affordable, high performance streetbike with attitude to spare.
From its tough LSL headlight and bar-end mirrors over the steeply angled faux fuel tank to the stubby single seat unit, the bodywork is a modern take on a tough retro cafe racer. The forks are quality USD units with radial mounts for the Brembo brake callipers.
The frame looks somewhat like a twin-spar GP-style sort of thing, but the belly of the beast is dominated by the yellow battery packs slung underneath in a purposeful and downright threatening display of power. And is that a radiator? Yep, in fact the Empulse is the first production electric bike to come with a water-cooled motor.
Three models will be available, their different price points reflecting the range restrictions imposed by their battery packs. Retail for the Empulse 6.0 (with a 60-mile average range) will be US$9,995, the Impulse 8.0 will be US$11,995 and the top flight Empulse 10.0 with the full 100-mile range will go for US$13,995. All those prices are subject to significant government rebates and incentives depending on which state they're registered in – the Empulse 10.0 could cost as little as US$7000 in some states.
One thing Bramscher made sure he did with his second-generation electric motorcycle was to keep it as compact as possible: "You put a Ducati next to it and it looks pretty bulbous. Put a BMW next to it and it looks quite massive. So it still ends up being this very nimble and lightweight bike. In my history, I really like the 250 race bikes and the more nimble stuff, and if you see the Enertia, it's super slender and it's probably closer to a trials bike than most streetbikes, so we're trying to still keep [The Empulse] as real easy to ride, really fun, a 'steer this thing with the footpegs' kinda bike. I'm just so excited about the product, we had it out on the racetrack yesterday kinda testing the limits of it and it's just stunning. It feels much lighter than it is."
Beyond range and top speed figures, we don't have any indication of what the final weight of the Empulse will be, or what its power figures will be like. But it's safe to say it'll be streets ahead of its little brother, and will offer a serious fun factor to take it well beyond the designation of a commuter machine, even if it will fulfill that role with considerable flair.
You can put down an order right now to be one of the first to receive an Empulse when the first bikes start coming off the production line next year. Laying down $100 down gets you on the list, and bikes will be built on a first come, first served basis.
Deliveries will start next year, but exactly when? "We're gonna try for Q1," says Bramscher, "and it kinda depends a bit on how big the backorder volume is, because if we get enough people ordering, then we can accelerate that process pretty dramatically. But if it's just kind of medium interest, it'll probably be by Q2."
Expanding on the Brammo Power platform
The Empulse is just the first bike to take advantage of the new drivetrain technology – sorting out all the electronics is the difficult bit, and Bramscher is convinced that now that's under control, building a range of bikes around it will be the easy part.
"We can deploy this drivetrain into multiple platforms very quickly - it's just integration," says Bramscher, "Now that we've got all the electronics completely sorted and well in hand, we can develop vehicles very quickly.
"We can't even talk about how quickly we've developed a couple of iterations of this. We're quite excited about the process. We don't do anything in clay, we do everything in digital and then go directly to tooling and so that saves months and months in the development cycle. And because the electronics are so configurable and the powerband is so forgiving, you can really have some fun with these things. It's very exciting.
"Somebody asked me when we first did the Enertia, what's the product roadmap, and I kinda just said, you know that ten-fold brochure Honda has that has from little kids' bikes all the way up to the VFR1600 or whatever it is… I can definitely see 20, 30 bikes in the range. And after this product came together so nicely, it might not be ten years out, it might just be a few years."
Electric racing and the future of electric motorcycles
Bramscher is very clear on how fast he expects electric bikes to get in the not-too-distant future: "Faster than humans can ride 'em."
The way you get to that kind of ridiculous performance potential, of course, is to go racing – and Bramscher believes the pioneer electric motorcycle racing series like the TTXGP and the FIM's eGrandPrix series are going to show a jaw-dropping rate of development through the next decade or so.
"At some level," he says, "it's like racing back in 1910, with the early development of the gas motor, because nobody's worrying about stifling the engines, there's no restrictors, it's do all you can – but fairly quickly. I can't see it taking 100 years to get to the point where we get super performance. I think it's going to take 5 or 10 years and we're gonna get some pretty amazing performance out of it. We already have the next two [Brammo] race bikes mapped out, and we're really excited about where it's going."
Furthermore, extreme performance is going to be much cheaper with electric machines: "If you get MotoGP level performance in the next year or two, it's not going to cost as much as a MotoGP bike to get the same performance out of it. You don't have to squeeze another 2% out of a gas motor by spending half a million dollars on it."
Racing might seem like an odd sort of a focus for a company that considers itself so 'green' – but Bramscher sees racing as a vital path towards efficiency: "Turns out that the faster we can go on the racetrack, the cheaper we can go from point A to point B for a civilian in terms of energy."
With that in mind, Brammo is quietly beginning to explore a whole bunch of technologies that should flourish in a post-petrol motorcycle. From advanced engine management and incredibly tuneable traction control to the possibility of two-wheel-drive, the electric motorcycle offers a flexibility of design and control options that could bring a whole range of old ideas and all sorts of new ones to the table. Personally, I'm looking forward to the gyro-stabilized auto-wheelie button.
An emissions-free motoring pioneer, Bramscher looks forward to the day when machines like the Empulse rule the road: "We look ahead 30, 40 years. We'd like to be one of those brands that survives and everybody says 'did you know they used to put gas in cars?' We want people to look at people that drive gas cars the way that people look at people in a restaurant in California for smoking."
It's hard to imagine - the gasoline-powered automobile has been an incredibly integral part of our lives for more than 100 years. But just think of all that's happened in the electric auto industry in the last five years. And just think what Obama's US$2.4 billion investment in the battery-electric vehicle industry might end up achieving… 40 years is a long way away and the future is looking bright.
Bramscher is putting his money where his mouth is, and working to make his vision happen. And we're loving the look of the Empulse. As performance figures and that all-important range between charges continue to improve, and prices keep coming down, there's no question in my mind: one day the petrolhead fraternity is gonna run out of excuses. And I say that as a card-carrying member.
More about the Brammo Empulse at the Brammo website.