First Look: 2011 Brammo Empulse - E-Parity

Electric prototype's performance and price-gains on gas bikes

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Brammo

"Electrical resistance" is not just a technical term describing opposition to the flow of a steady electrical current. It also describes the opinion of many motorcyclists regarding electric bikes, which they consider too slow, too short-ranged and/or too expensive to consider buying. Ashland, Oregon's Brammo-makers of the Enertia electric commuter bike tested on page 66-is set to counter those critiques with its all-new Empulse, which promises a 100-mph top speed and a 100-mile cruising range for as little as $9995.

Those figures finally approach parity with current internal-combustion offerings. "This isn't the ultimate goal," says Brammo President Craig Bramscher, "but feedback from potential customers tells us that these are at least numbers where people are saying 'Okay, now this is a real alternative.'"

Brammo plans to offer the Empulse with three battery options that will determine both range and price. The Empulse 6.0, with a 6kWh battery pack, will go 60 miles between charges and sell for $9995. The 8kWh Empulse 8.0 will sell for $11,995 and offer an average range of 80 miles. The top-of-the-line Empulse 10.0, retailing for $13,995, will go approximately 100 miles on a single charge of its 10kWh battery pack. Sharing the same liquid-cooled, AC-synchronous 40kWh motor capable of providing peak torque output of 59 lb.-ft., all three models will offer an ultimate top speed of around 100 mph.

As impressive as the speed and range figures are, it's the price tag that really attracts attention. For context, Brammo's Enertia commuter, with a 40-mile range and 60-mph top speed, sells for $7995. Roehr Motorcycle's eSupersport, which offers performance and range roughly equivalent to the Empulse 6.0, currently sells for $16,965.

"For electric motorcycles to make sense, they need to be economically equal or better than gas offerings," explains Bramscher. "Our hope is, after any federal or state tax credits are applied, it actually moves [the Empulse] into a more enviable position in terms of cost, compared to ICE [internal-combustion engine] bikes."

Exactly how Brammo will meet such aggressive price points, given the high cost of lithium-polymer battery technology, remains unclear. "I can't say much just yet, since we're still negotiating with our suppliers," Bramscher says. "But we've got a 'secret weapon' in our minds that is going to help us get to that cost point." Bramscher does say the Empulse batteries will benefit from proprietary technology developed for the Enertia TTR racer Brammo built for last year's TTXGP race at the Isle of Man.

"The TTR batteries were too expensive for production when we first started racing with them," Bramscher continues, "but we've managed to reduce costs and still keep the energy density and life cycle up. We've got some innovative solutions, and I'm confident we can be profitable at that price."

A dedicated, integrated drivetrain, including the liquid-cooled, permanent-magnet motor and custom digital controller to allow precise battery management, is a key part of this solution.

Brammo will also adopt a more conventional distribution strategy to deliver the Empulse to customers. The company previously avoided traditional motorcycle dealerships entirely in favor of a "disruptive" distribution strategy that sold the Enertia both consumer-direct and via the Geek Squad at a limited number of Best Buy retail outlets. At press time the Enertia was available in just six Best Buy outlets nationwide, most located on the West Coast, and only a handful of bikes had been sold.

"We're confident in the long haul that Best Buy will be a fantastic partner," Bramscher says. "The Enertia is a great fit. But I do believe that a more enthusiast-oriented store will be better for selling the Empulse and any other high-end products we might come out with. We're screening dealers right now."

The Empulse pictured here, revealed to the public during the USGP at Laguna Seca this past July, is a production-intent prototype. Battery chemistry isn't the only aspect influenced by the TTXGP racebike. From the aluminum beam frame that mounts the liquid-cooled motor as a stressed member to the inverted fork and monoshock rear suspension, the Empulse looks virtually identical to the Enertia TTR, save for the streetfighter bodywork and lights.

Bramscher says the model could move into production as soon as spring of 2011, depending on initial consumer response. "Delivery depends on pre-order status, which ties directly to funding," Bramscher explains. "If we can get to 1000 pre-orders on the website fairly quickly, we can probably get there by early spring. If it's less, it will probably be mid-summer. That's the target."

Bramscher reports the company already logged "a few hundred" pre-orders (no deposit required) in the two weeks following the Empulse's debut. Apparently, this promising prototype has reduced electrical resistance by a few ohms already.

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