July 7, 2007 The era of the electric roadgoing motorcycle is upon us and it’s ironic that it should come from a company that looked set to make its mark in automotive history in the supercar stakes with the Brammo GT, an American-designed and built V12 Supercar. That Craig Bramscher has since become one of the foremost evangelists of light weight performance motoring via the Ariel Atom might have foretold the direction, but the Enertia is a perfect commuter machine built with the same philosophy as the Atom. Using a rigid light weight carbon fibre chassis to contain the battery pack (and most of the weight), a small electric motor is all that’s required to see the Enertia accelerate harder than any automobile to its 50 mph top speed – all that’s needed around town. Most significantly in terms of its credibility as a motorcycle, the Enertia could best be described as an electric motard, and comes with impeccable handling credentials - fat tyres, disk brakes front and rear, quality suspension and a very compact centre of gravity – a trait that we’ve seen before in bikes with exceptional flickability and precise handling such as the Aprilia 250 and Buell. The Enertia’s secret is its weight -at just 275 pounds ready to roll, it’s 100 pounds lighter than the featherweight Aprilia Grand Prix Replica . With the carbon footprint of a few lightglobes, and sports motorcycling capabilities to medium speeds this looks like the first viable electric motorcycle to us –the US$15,000 limited edition "carbon" model will be snapped up as collectors items no doubt because it is a landmark machine in personal transportation. At US$12,000, the standard machine is only pricey until you consider how much it costs to run. You plug this sucker into any powerpoint and it'll be ready to go a few hours later for another 45 miles. If the transport authorities encourage responsible road usage as seems likely, ownership costs could be minimal. The Enertia is a landmark motorcycle and its coming heralds the dawn of a new era of electric motorcycles.
Brammo, best known for bringing the ultra-high-performance Arial Atom to the United States, has taken the Atom philosophy and applied it to a motorcycle with his latest creation. Where the Atom is a road legal race car that had Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson maniacally yelling "there is nothing on four wheels as fast as this!," the Enertia bike is a mild-mannered electric motorcycle with a distinctive and modern look, easy, nimble ergonomics and a silent but punchy electric motor tuned for extremely cheap, emission-free commuting.
It’s cutting-edge green technology with a big smile factor and exceptional practicality, the Enertia is pre-selling now for a release in early 2008 and the technology is sound enough to warrant immediate investment in our books.
Brammo's Enertia has all the boxes ticked; performance, light weight, practicality, green cred, style and it’ll charge at any power socket.
It all translates to the perfect commuter – when you’re not lugging two tons of car around, you don’t need as much power, which means everything can be lighter. Light, flickable, quick and nimble, the Enertia carves through traffic like a cross between a pushbike and a motorcycle. Its top speed of around 50mph puts it squarely in scooter territory, and its 45-mile range is more than adequate for the average American daily round-trip commute of 29 miles. It's zippy enough to shoot clear of the traffic when the light turns green - the electric engine has 100% of its torque available from a standstill, and it'll pull to 30mph in 3.8 seconds, which is in the range of a semi-sporty 250cc motorcycle.
In terms of environmental credibility, the bike itself has no emissions to speak of - so you can ride it around indoors if you like. That doesn't mean it has no environmental footprint - after all, it's charged from a wall socket, which means that in all likelihood, brown coal is being burnt to produce the bike's power. But even taking that power generation into account, the Enertia is responsible for only one seventh of the CO2 emissions of the average motorcycle. In the fuel economy stakes, it travels nearly four and a half times further on a MegaJoule of energy than a Toyota Prius.
Impressive figures, surely, but perhaps the most important factor that will shift these handy little bikes is their great looks and retro cool. The Enertia is a real head-turner that fascinates onlookers and will appeal as much to non-motorcyclists as much as it will to those of us who've already seen the light. And it caters to non-bikers as well - the electric motor hooks straight up to the front sprocket without the need for a transmission or clutch. It's a simple, friendly twist-and-go that's not much heavier or more complicated to ride than a pushbike.
A closer look at the chassis reveals that the Enertia's six batteries are mounted directly to the lightweight carbon-fibre monocoque frame beneath the "tank" cover. The narrow, compact motor sits right in line with the front sprocket, and the swingarm pivots pretty much right off the engine bay. With its clothes off, the bike's frame and engine look incredibly simple and compact - and the frame itself weighs in at only 16 pounds. Brembo brakes and a simple suspension setup look fine for a commuter, and the wheels are sized to take good rubber, coming with Pirelli Sport Demons as OEM.
Brammo sourced the batteries from Texan innovators Valence Technology. Six identical U-Charge XP units feed the motor using a Lithium Phosphate formula that makes them non-flammable as well as giving them an exceptional life cycle. Over a testing period of 600 charge cycles, or nearly 2 years assuming a daily charge routine, they displayed an almost imperceptible loss of performance when kept at 23 degrees celsius. Hotter conditions did see a performance decrease, with 600 recharge cycles at 45 degrees celsius resulting in a drop to around 80% capacity. Clearly, in the average urban area, battery lifespan won't be a problem for some time.
Aiding the rider in getting the most out of the available power is the dash, which has an accurate gauge showing remaining charge, a simple economy meter that glows green, yellow or red if you're really reefing on the throttle - and the facility to set the engine output power between 40% and 100% of available power to help you maximise your mileage or give you more stomp when you need it - which might not be that often, as full throttle on the 40% setting is still enough to outpace traffic around the city.
You flip up a hatch in the "tank" section and plug in a standard power lead to charge the Enertia, a process which takes up to 2.5 hours - pretty similar to a mobile phone really. Charge it overnight or top up at the office and it won't be a major inconvenience. The battery doesn't need to be deep-cycled, and doesn't suffer any ill-effects from "overcharging."
The purchase price of US$15K for the limited edition "carbon" model or US$12K for the standard still puts it at a premium price point for a commuting motorcycle, but this is balanced somewhat by the extreme economy of running costs. It's also a high-end product - cutting-edge technology, a serene, silent, comfortable ride, very snappy looks and an exclusive "first on the block" mystique will make it well worth the price for some buyers. And that's not to mention the incredibly small carbon footprint it leaves, which will be a very important factor for many buyers as well.
Brammo apparently has plans for a 2-seater version in the pipeline, as well as a smaller, lighter version that's even closer to a pushbike for shorter-distance commutes. What an exciting product! We can't imagine the Japanese manufacturers will be far behind Brammo now that he has produced a viable commuter machine, as they have their turf to protect - a commuter than can run for mere cents is viable in emerging markets too, albeit at a much cheaper price. Brammo has essentially created an elite commuter class machine, and grabbed a significant slice of recognition into the bargain. We look forward to the fall-out and in particular, to see who'll be first with a performance bike for the road.