First Ride: 2016 Victory Empulse TT

We test Victory Motorcycle's new electric Empulse TT... Watch out LiveWire!

Harley-Davidson got lots of play out of releasing its LiveWire eBike prototype last year (click HERE for our First Look at Project LiveWire)—reportedly the biggest story in the history of The Motor Company in terms of pure consumer reach. Without a production component, however, it was largely a story without substance. It just put a gloss of futuristic innovation on what many consider an anachronistic company. Some leveled the same criticism at Victory earlier this year when it entered a one-off electric race bike in the Isle of Man TT Zero, but it turns out this wasn't just greenwashing now that Victory Motorcycles has revealed the Empulse TT, its first production eBike.

If this bike looks familiar—you might even recognize the Empulse name—that's because it's based on the Empulse eBike sold by Oregon manufacturer Brammo before Polaris acquired all of Brammo's motorcycle assets earlier this year. Victory did make some improvements in creating the TT, however, including an upgraded lithium-ion battery system with 10-percent more capacity, mildly restyled bodywork, a new dash, and lighter wheels.

Aside from a larger, 10.4 kWh battery capacity, the TT powertrain is unchanged from Brammo spec, with the same liquid-cooled, permanent-magnet AC induction motor and a six-speed transmission. It’s the only eBike on the market equipped with a gearbox, which Victory says improves both range and acceleration, as well as making the bike more engaging for experienced motorcyclists to ride.

Because the bike hadn’t been publicly announced yet we rode the Empulse TT under embargo at Colorado’s High Plains Raceway, 60 miles from nowhere east of Denver, and found it—not surprisingly—very similar to the Empulse we were already familiar with. The bike fits and handles like an aggressive streetfighter (Triumph’s Street Triple was Brammo’s benchmark), the only departure being footrests that feel lower and further apart to make room for the electric motor mounted below the swingarm pivot. (Yes, the pegs drag early during aggressive cornering.)

Victory posts outputs at 54 horsepower and 61 pound-feet of torque and that feels about right, delivering acceptably brisk acceleration up to a 110 mph (indicated) top speed. Manipulating the notchy gearbox only provides a slight increase in acceleration compared to parking it in any upper gear. Shifting is entirely optional—you can also take advantage of the eBike ability to provide max torque at any rpm and operate it in twist-and-go mode for maximum convenience. The clutch is only necessary to change gears, not to start or stop the bike.

Dual, radial-mount Brembo brakes deliver strong, confident braking, appreciated because, at a claimed 460 pounds, the Empulse TT isn’t exactly light. You notice that mass on the racetrack, where the bike tends to fall into corners and overwhelm the adjustable (but undersprung) 43mm inverted fork, inspiring some reluctant steering under hard braking. Handling seems better at non-racetrack speeds, staying light and acceptably neutral around the paddock.

The racetrack is not necessarily the best context to assess range and any improvements thereof, either. Fifteen-minute track sessions in the more aggressive (of two available) power mode consumed almost 50 percent of the battery charge, so even if the range is improved with the new battery it’s likely not significantly improved over what we know from past Brammo experience, which was about 75 miles in combined mixed urban/highway use. (Victory claims “up to 140 miles of range per charge,” presumably under extremely conservative operation.) There is a regenerative charging feature, but during later sessions on an 80-degree day test units occasionally displayed an “REGEN OFF, BATTERY HOT” message. The 3.6 kW on-board charger can completely replenish the battery in 3.5 hours using a Level 2 supply, but it takes 8 hours with a (household) Level 1 power supply.

Even if the Empulse TT doesn’t break any new technological ground compared to the old Brammo bike, it still offers class-leading performance. And it’s certainly not cheap at $19,999. Still, this is the first electric effort we’ve seen backed by a major manufacturer—not a start-up—with the financial and engineering strength that Polaris brings to the table. This is just the beginning of eBike development for Victory, and it already puts Harley-Davidson—and every other major OEM, for that matter—in the position of playing catch-up.

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION  
Victory’s revamped version of the Brammo Empulse, with slightly more battery capacity and other detail changes.
RIVALS  
[Zero S][]
TECH  
PRICE $19,999
MOTOR Liquid-cooled permanent-magnet AC
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 54 hp
CLAIMED TORQUE 61 lb-ft
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION Marzocchi 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7 in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 310mm disc
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 210mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 24.0º/3.8 in.
WHEELBASE 58.0 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 31.5 in.
BATTERY CAPACITY 10.4 kWh
CLAIMED WEIGHT 460 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Fall 2015
CONTACT [victorymotorcycles.com][]
VERDICT  
The apex of eBike performance, but still very expensive and range-limited compared to any similar internal combustion bike.