Brammo Enertia Commuter Update

January 27, 2011
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.

Motorcycle USA held onto its Brammo Enertia test unit for some commuting miles at our Medford  Oregon HQ.
Motorcycle USA held onto its Brammo Enertia for some longer term evaluation at our Medford, Oregon headquarters, testing the electric design as a commuter mount.

Electric motorcycles are an intriguing development in the two-wheeled world. Small start-ups like Brammo and Zero Motorcycles are leading the electric charge, with the larger OEMs stirring up gradual interest in EV rides as well. We’ve tossed a leg over some of the first electric production wave, but our runs have all been short stints. Even our recent Electric Motorcycle Comparison, between the Brammo Enertia and Zero DS, was limited to a handful of recharge cycles due to test unit time limitations.

Since that comparison review, however, we’ve kept our hands on the Enertia up here in our Southern Oregon headquarters, with the folks at Brammo just down the road a piece in Ashland. Poor winter weather and holiday vacations have still hindered seat time, but we’ve had two months to get to know the Enertia better as a commuter ride.

URBAN STREET PERFORMANCE

Top speed and range limitations dominate the discussion on electric motorcycles, but the Brammo doesn’t lack for practical road-worthy performance. The Enertia’s electric powertrain, a 3.1 kWh battery pack and AC motor from Perm, tackle its urban commuting tasks without drama. No, the Enertia can’t take on the freeway, or divided highways. Yes, it’s 60 mph top speed is limiting. But the Brammo’s proved the more than adequate in stoplight-to-stoplight performance during our commute, made up primarily of 45-mph surface streets. The Enertia spools up to 50 mph in short order, far faster than its four-wheeled neighbors on the road. It also provides enough zing for quick maneuvers, like darting out of the way of an oblivious lane-changing cager (more on that later…).

The Enertia excelled in its comparison with the Zero in the riding intangibles. The bike features easy-to-ride neutral handling, solid brakes and relatively plush suspension. There are no major complaints to be found, and the overall “motorcycle-ness” of the Brammo is commendable. Dashing through traffic, riders don’t feel like they’re stuck on a strange prototype – if feels like a regular bike.

SILENT RUNNING

Make yourself seen on the Brammo  as chances are riders wont be heard without tapping the horn.
It’s easy to blend into traffic on the Enertia, as the bike is very quiet even at full power, making visibility a concern.

Well, almost a regular bike, as the Enertia makes hardly any noise… The quiet nature of electric motorcycles are perhaps their oddest trait. At idle, there is no sound at all – total silence. At speed the hum from the motor teams with ancillary road noise from the chain and other moving parts, but the bike is remarkably quiet even at full power. This has real safety implications.

Visibility is a serious concern, and during our long-term evaluation we gave more than a few drivers a shock with our seeming appearance out of thin air. I hate to give fuel to the loud-pipes-save-lives crew and do not advocate loud exhausts in any way, but there’s an essential kernel of truth to the argument. If drivers don’t see you on an electric ride, they will certainly not hear you on the Enertia. Silent running may be good for submarines and kitchen appliances, but with motorcycles we’re not so sure. What solution there is to this issue, we can’t say, except riders should get good at tooting the horn.

RANGE

How far does it go? The most common question levied at us during our time with the Brammo. Our answer, 20 miles, needs some qualification. My one-way commute to MCUSA’s Medford office is five miles. The 10-mile round trip eats up almost exactly 50% of the battery. So quick lunch runs home and back require a partial recharge between lunch and quitting time (the electricity of which I happily steal from work!). Not aiding the range factor is my 205-pound weight and I’m certain a lighter rider would net more efficient results. The terrain I cover is also not the best match, hardly the urban stop-and-go of a Portland or San Francisco – our nearest large cities and the Enertia’s ideal home turf.

Need some juice for the Enertia... Find an untended wall plug!
Run out of gas on the Enertia? Find an untended wall plug!

Brammo claims a possible 40-mile range from the battery capacity. It’s a figure that may hold true in the right conditions, but nowhere near our observed range – or the observed range of other journalists we’ve spoken with who have tested the bike.

CHARGING

In terms of convenience, the biggest drawback on the Enertia is recharge time. Plugging into a standard wall outlet takes three hours, or more, to refill batteries from empty. The Brammo instrument display delivers a lot of information on the status of the recharge process, but the steps to get the bike in actual recharge mode are convoluted (particularly when compared to the Zero, a simple one-step plug-in). The starting process is also needlessly complex. Well intentioned fail safes meant to prevent inadvertent throttle application take far too long to enable the forward drive. We’re happy to report the next generation of Brammo’s models, the Empulse and Enertia Plus, will have at least one of these starting steps cut.

Another quirk with the charging process is that once plugged in the Brammo draws a little too much attention – a complete reversal of its quiet nature on the road. The cooling fan dissipating heat generated by the on-board charger makes a fair amount of noise, which nixed our plans for indoor recharges at work – the sound too distracting for the office. Unattended charging at other locations proved problematic as well, as the lighted dash and plugged in cord proved disquieting for the casual passerby. On one occasion the Enertia was unplugged by a fellow editor at our garage, ruining a planned commute.

Stowing away the longer accessory charging cord.
Stowing away the longer accessory charging cord in the Enertia’s optional saddlebags.

Riders must carry a charging cord around too, which isn’t terribly convenient and a big problem should, oh, an absent-minded rider forget to pack the cord along… The standard cord fits snugly under the seat and works fine for conveniently-placed wall outlets, however, the longer accessory cord is better at finding those hard to reach plugs. The longer cord does require more storage capacity, however, and we tucked ours away in the accessory saddlebags adorning our test unit. (The bags proving quite practical, even necessary, for a commuting bike.)

All told we’d prefer a more low-key charging approach. Even better would be a faster charging option. There is some promise in this regard, with Honda claiming the quick-charger for its new EV-neo electric scooter can recharge the Toshiba-developed batteries in only 30 minutes.

COSTS

Once plugged in, it doesn’t cost much to keep the Enertia running. Electricity rates here in Oregon are some of the lowest in the nation, with the Department of Energy listing the national average last year at 11.54 cents/kWh (don’t worry, Oregon makes up for low electric costs with some of the most expensive gas prices…). My residential rate is just below 9 cents per kWh, so recharging the full battery pack cost somewhere between 30 to 40 cents. There is an inherent energy loss when transferring power from plug to bike, with the inefficiency manifest in the aforementioned charging heat. Still, even with our low 20-mile observed range and factoring in the national kWh rate – we reckon Brammo’s energy cost claims of one to two cents per mile to be accurate.

There are, of course, other costs of ownership. Lacking many of the drivetrain components of an ICE motorcycle, electric manufacturers tout maintenance requirements amount to mainly replacements of tires and brake pads, etc. No costly valve adjustments to be had here.

2010 Brammo Enertia
At $7995 the Brammo Enertia is a relative bargain compared to its competition, most electric rides ringing in at 10K mark.

The Enertia’s $7995 MSRP cost is a relative value compared with its electric competitors – though its low price only came after an eyebrow-raising $4000 price cut in 2009. Comparing the Enertia with a traditional motorcycle and the value comes more into question. A Ninja 250, which provides far more road performance than the Enertia, costs only $3999. Accounting for even $5/gallon gas prices, the four grand difference in price would buy enough fuel to get the Ninja almost 50,000 miles down the road.

All told our longer-term evaluation reveals the Brammo Enertia to be an effective urban commuter. While that may not be the sexiest endorsement ever, the bike performs its stated function well. The still-unanswered question is whether functional urban transport is enough to win over the American rider. For long lasting success, Brammo and other electric companies must attract new riders from a wider, non-traditional base.

The electric firms have set before themselves a daunting task, competing on the road with what’s already an efficient and pleasingly visceral form of transportation. For most riders, motorcycles remain luxury items and weekend leisure toys. Yet the electric startups are closing the sizable performance gaps, with the major OEMs hinting at a possible entry into the brave new electronic world. Development in this niche market will be an industry trend to watch in the coming years.

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