2008 Brammo Enertia First Ride

November 13, 2008
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

Quiet is a relative term, and after a summer of testing screaming sportbikes and rumbling V-Twin cruisers, my current ride certainly fits the quiet bill. It’s so quiet that what I can hear is unusual: Tires on the road underneath as I sweep through a corner, suspension compressing over a pothole, pea gravel shooting out from under my tire… Did I just hear a bird singing!

Squeezing the brakes to a halt from a 45-mph cruising speed, there is simply no sound on my stationary mount. An immediate 37 lb-ft of torque is waiting at the throttle, yet the bike makes no peep.

“I can’t believe how quiet this is!” I cry, way too loud, using that not-quite-shouting voice riders use to communicate on conventional motorcycles. But my current ride is anything but conventional, it’s the pre-production prototype of the all-electric Brammo Enertia.

The Enertia drew plenty of attention during our brief test ride.
Is that the new electric motorcycle? The Enertia drew plenty of attention during our brief test ride.

The Brammo technician accompanying me on my test ride nods. He’s heard that one before – just about every time anyone sees but doesn’t hear the innovative design. Motorcycle USA got a taste of the Enertia’s attention-grabbing silence riding through the downtown of Brammo’s homebase, Ashland, Oregon, where we literally stopped traffic as curious pedestrians ran into the street to get more information.

“Is that the new electric bike?” “How fast does it go?” “How far can you run on one charge?” The same questions at every stop.

The answers are: Yes, 50 mph and 45 miles… Give or take. Let us explain.

The Brammo story begins with company CEO and founder Craig Bramscher. Towering over a six-foot guy like me, Bramscher is a big man with big ideas. Having made a fortune with the tech start-up Dream Media, Bramscher turned his new wealth and long-time enthusiasm for motorsports toward a four-wheeled supercar.

Able to ditch the heft of a conventional transmission  clutch and exhaust system and the Enertia tips the scales at a skinny 280 lbs.
Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher intended to build an electric car, but felt the existing technology was better applied to a two-wheeled design.

The problem, as Bramscher saw it, was all the high-performance supercars out there were too small for a man of his stature. So, naturally, he decided to start up a company from scratch and make his own. The result was Brammo Motorsports, which obtained a license to manufacture the Ariel Atom – a lightweight, high-speed car capable of 0-60 mph in less than three seconds. Track junkies and celebrities, like certified moto-nut Jay Leno, snatched up Atoms. After a couple years, production moved to VIR when the license was sold to TMI AutoTech.

Bramscher had intended to make his original supercar an electric design (like the much-hyped Tesla), but settled with the conventional internal combustion Atom because he didn’t feel the electric technology was quite there yet. A more applicable design for the available battery and motor tech would be in a two-wheeler – thus the Brammo Enertia concept was born.

With an electric motorcycle now the work order, Brammo Lead Designer Brian Wissman dug in. Having design experience in the automotive industry (some of his creations race in the Grand American racing series), as well as the computer (Dell) and medical (Ohmeda Medical) fields, the challenge delivered by Bramscher was to fabricate a bike that maintained a traditional motorcycle look and feel, but relied on electric power.

The electric drivetrain is a simple concept – battery energy transferred to the rear wheel via an electric motor. The Brammo Enertia taps power from six lithium-phosphate batteries manufactured by Austin, Texas-based Valence Technologies. Where an ECU meters out precise fuel and ignition in an internal combustion engine, the Brammo utilizes a BMS (battery management system). The BMS r

The Brammo Enertia taps power from six lithium-phosphate batteries manufactured by Austin  Texas-based Valence Technologies.
Six Lithium Phosphate batteries from Valence Technologies provide the Enertia’s power, with the help of a BMS (Battery Management System).

egulates the battery current and maintains balanced charges, as well as oversees the recharging process – the Enertia requiring nothing more than a standard 120 Volt plug and 2-3 hours to “fill it up.” A brushless DC motor takes the 72 volts and produces mechanical energy, turning the rear wheel of the Enertia via a final chain drive. There is no clutch or gearbox.

Power claims are 24 horsepower and 37 lb-ft of torque measured at crank. And an electric motor produces immediate torque, so the Brammo mill churns right from zero rpm. But performance numbers are not the electric drive highlight, at least for now. Instead, optimum energy efficiency is the primary advantage of an electric powertrain. A typical internal combustion engine is stuck in the 20-25% efficiency range – with most energy transformed into heat, not mechanical power. The Brammo DC motor, however, claims 93% peak efficiency, making the Enertia an extremely ‘green’ ride.

The environmental benefits of the Brammo are two-fold: First, high efficiency means less energy is wasted getting from A to B; second, as a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) the Enertia contributes less CO2 to the atmosphere. Even if the electric energy used by the Enertia is created by a coal-fired powerplant, it produces almost seven times less CO2 than a standard car. Teamed with the increased development of renewable power sources, like solar and wind, and the Enertia approaches true zero emission status.

A 12V plug is located in the top of where a gas tank would be in a conventional bike.
A 120V AC plug and three hours is all the energy-efficient Enertia needs to get a full charge.

A summer of $4.50 gas has also highlighted the potential economic benefits of electric-powered transportation. The Enertia’s $11,995 MSRP is spendy, but its current electrical operating costs hover between one and two cents per mile. That’s 1000 miles for $20 worth of power from the grid. (See how many miles a sawbuck gets you in your current ride…) With such low energy costs, an Enertia buyer essentially purchases all the “fuel” up front with the rechargeable batteries. (For well-to-wheel efficiency comparisons, as well as a calculator to check potential dollar and CO2 savings by switching to an Enertia visit www.enertiabike.com)

But enough with concepts and stats, it’s time to test these electric ideas with a real-world street ride…

Swing a leg over the Enertia and the immediate realization is – this is a motorcycle. Wissman was deliberate in avoiding anything remotely scooterish, following Bramscher’s explicit orders. Upright and with a comfortable reach to the bars, the riding position on the Enertia feels comparable to a small-displacement dual-sport. Wide footpegs are comfortably placed with the rider’s leg cradling a slender monocoque frame (our prototype sourced a carbon fiber frame, with production models utilizing an aluminum unit).

Brammo was successful in designing an electric two-wheeler that retains a traditional motorcycle feel.
Brammo was successful in designing an electric two-wheeler that retains a traditional motorcycle feel.

Perhaps summoning his Dell design experience, Wissman fashioned a very computer-like power button resting on top of the “fuel tank”. Starting the bike, if you can call it that, is anticlimactic without any accompanying sound. Only the LED display, with linear power meter, indicates the Brammo is running. Another button, by the throttle, must be pressed before the action begins, which is fortunate as it is easy for a lackadaisical rider to mistakenly twist a live throttle.

Getting on the ‘gas’ and the immediate electric power is evident. Without any gears the speed is either on or off, with a lot of coasting in between. The on/off feeling is choppy at first, but the tech-friendly Enertia is easy to modify via USB port and laptop. Brammo software allows riders to dial in power delivery and throttle response, including separate throttle engagement and disengagement. Fine-tuning the Enertia is as simple as fixing the settings on your stereo. Riders can also choose between various overall power settings – lower settings maximizing range. We sampled a 60% bike and an Enertia set at full power, with a noticeable difference. And, yes, we liked the extra juice.

With a 24-degree rake, 3.7-in trail and 56-in wheelbase, the riding feel is quite familiar. Able to ditch the heft of a conventional transmission, clutch and exhaust system, the Enertia tips the scales at a skinny 280 lbs. Most of the weight is centralized on the main H-beam of the frame, which holds the heavy batteries (three on top and three below). The motor further centralizes mass, positioned right at the bottom of the frame. The result is a balanced, quick-turning mount that feels even lighter than its claim.

With a 24-degree rake  3.7-in trail and 56-in wheelbase  the riding feel is quite familiar.
The electric power is definitely different, but a rider will feel right at home on the Enertia.

The Enertia sources conventional brakes and suspension components. Brembo stoppers, dual-piston front / single-piston rear, are competent and more than adequate for the Enertia’s commuting duties and tame top 50 mph speed. The same can be said of the suspension, with the 43mm non-adjustable Marzocchi fork and Elka shock (adjustable for compression and rebound) up to the task.

Some complaints we encountered on our ride, like hard-to-read display, stressed chain drive, and stiff seat we will mention only in passing, as Wissman promises remedies are forthcoming in the production version. The biggest limitation of the Enertia is its short range and top speed performance. The power meter on our ride dropped fast with heavy use of the throttle, and range dipped from 45 miles to somewhere in the 30-mile range. The other issue is the 50 mph top speed – good enough for surface streets but not freeways or busy highways.

Electric transportation technology continues to develop, however, and with better batteries the performance possibilities open up. With that in mind Brammo is considering “leasing” batteries to Enertia customers, which could then be upgraded in the future with more powerful replacements. The old batteries would be re-used in other applications, like backups and power sources for medical equipment. With a battery breakthrough, the potential for Brammo is really intriguing. Double the range and add another 30-40 mph to top speed and the Enertia transforms from short-distance commuter to a proper playbike.

Getting on the ‘gas’ and the immediate electric power is evident.
The Brammo Enertia is nearing production, with 200 orders already placed.

Although a 12K commuter motorcycle is a tough sell as America faces uncertain economic times, Brammo is moving forward with production. Already working on a 200-order-long customer waiting list (many for a limited-edition 15K carbon fiber version), Bramscher is waiting on local government assistance in expanding Brammo’s production facilities in Ashland. The potential of the business model is attracting private investment too, with Best Buy committing $10 million to the venture. That’s right, Best Buy. (With the Enertia figuring to attract non-traditional riders, where better to showcase an electric-powered motorcycle than at one of the nation’s largest electronic and appliance retailers.)

As for the big-picture future?

“We want to be bigger than Ducati,” said an ambitious Craig Bramscher when we visited earlier this summer. And the CEO of Brammo Motorsports didn’t say that with any false enthusiasm. He said it with the optimism and confidence of a man who has already made a fortune and is working on fortune number two.

It’s easy for skeptics to bet against start ups like Brammo, but the seemingly endless future of fossil-fuel transportation is now beginning to show some cracks. Who knows? Bramscher’s quiet little Enertia could one day make a whole lot of noise after all.