Electric motorcycles have shown lots of promise, but lacked the real-world performance craved by gearhead enthusiasts. It only takes a few seconds aboard the Brammo Empulse R to realize this latest EV mount is a different beast – making significant strides toward parity with the internal combustion standard.
At last a 2013 production model, the Empulse has been a long time coming. First revealed in July 2010, it snared headlines with its claims of 100 mph top speed and 100 mile range. Brammo has since retooled the production Empulse with components developed by its TTXGP title-winning race program. A more potent liquid-cooled motor is mated to Brammo’s latest proprietary lithium-ion batteries, which store 9 kWh power. The Empulse also features a novel (for an EV ride) six-speed transmission. The result is road-worthy performance that obliterates Brammo’s previous offerings.
We took a spin on the up-spec Empulse R, featuring adjustable suspension and carbon fiber accoutrements after visiting the company’s Ashland, Oregon HQ. After tallying up a couple charging cycles during a brief test loan, we returned the Empulse R impressed with its performance gains. It represents a true coming-of-age for the electric motorcycle concept.
The Empulse R is more than freeway capable, where it outperforms many small-displacement ICE mounts. In this regard, that 650 Twin analogy is a fair one, and high-speed passes are effortless. It hums along at 80 mph without trouble, and gets up to that speed at a rapid clip. Top speeds saw us able to crest the low 90s, which takes a bit longer to reach – but if we had a barren road ahead, the ton-up seems more than doable on the Brammo.
As befits an electric mount, the powertrain garners the most attention. However, the Empulse’s chassis and handling distinguish it as a legitimate bike. It features top shelf components from European suppliers. Italian firm Accossato fabricates the aluminum frame, as well as the tubular steel swingarm and subframe. The suspension is three-way adjustable, with an inverted 42mm Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock (the standard Empulse utilizes similar components, but with fewer adjustment options). The Marchesini hoops are also a tasty, Ducati-like relish. Special praise is owed to the Brammo’s radial-mount Brembo stoppers, which deliver primo braking performance. All these top-shelf bits raise the performance and lust factor.
In action the Empulse turns and transitions with ease. It feels narrow, though much heavier than the Enertia. The difference on the scales is dramatic, the 470-pound Empulse weighing 190 pounds more. That said, the center of gravity is low and the Brammo doesn’t feel like it needs to be manhandled to turn – quite the opposite.
The Empulse chassis is more than up to the tasks of spirited slash and dash riding. We didn’t feel the need to fiddle with the adjustable suspension, as it’s compliant without being soft. It’s a sporty setup, not too surprising when considering the suspension is nearly identical to the Ducati 848 Streetfighter.
Our only handling gripes are with the Avon AV80 and AV79 tires, which weren’t exceptionally grippy. But that critique is couched by chilly temps and the poor conditions of wintertime roads in Oregon, littered with gravel and debris. The latter fact is exacerbated by the unnatural quiet nature of EV mounts, which transmit an unnerving amount of road noise, so riders can hear those scuffs and slips from the contact patch.
Which isn’t to say that the Empulse is an altogether quiet ride! When that motor engages full throttle, it emits a droning wail, far louder than we recall from previous EV mounts. Disengage the throttle and it’s back to the uncanny ride sounds – like the suspension compressing and the chain drive slapping up its slack.
Power isn’t total silence on decel, as the Empulse motor reverses polarity to recapture a small amount of energy. In standard mode this is almost unnoticeable, but Sport mode features a more pronounced re-gen effect. The result is a sensation of “engine” braking, which combined with Sport mode’s snappier throttle, parlays into more engaging aggressive riding. For commuting duty the smoother standard mode is preferable.
The Empulse looks the part, and thankfully feels like a legit bike behind the controls. We found the ergonomics a natural fit for our 6’1” dimensions. Comfort doesn’t need to be outstanding, considering the limited range, but riders will burn through a charge without complaint. Riding position is upright with a slight forward lean – very similar to the Triumph Street Triple Brammo benchmarked for Empulse development.
Instrumentation and display is familiar from the precursor Brammos, but the Empulse starting procedure has been gracefully simplified from the over-wrought Enertia. The same can be said of the charging process, eliminating the redundant steps to a simple plug-in located at the top of the “tank.” The charging system features a high-speed J1772 port – an important upgrade that can take advantage of the emerging quick-charge EV infrastructure. These go unnoticed, for the most part, but are popping up around the nation – servicing a growing fleet of Nissan Leafs and other electric vehicles. A standard 110 Volt wall plug still works, but takes quite a bit longer to top ‘er off. Finding a quick-charge hookup cuts charge time by more than half, from eight hours to 3.5.
Range remains the limiting factor of the Empulse. But we are reticent to lambast the fact, as it represents such a massive improvement. Company claims of 100 miles seem ambitious, but doable. We zapped through almost a full charge, with 15% remaining after 53 miles. But that stretch included 80 mph stretches on the freeway and a lot of 50 mph divided highways, with some surface streets. Lightweight hypermilers could probably milk out the 122-mile maximum range, but real-world runs of 50-70 mile commutes seem more reasonable. In full freeway mode, 50-mile ranges seem possible, but pushing the limit.
Comparing the Empulse to the Enertia, which we sampled for an extended period of time as a commuter, the range factor is quite impressive. We were lucky to get 20 miles on the Enertia, and with far less performance. It’s not exaggeration to say the Empulse is three times the bike – it’s at least that and more.
Thankfully, the Empulse seems more resilient to a real-world throttling than its predecessor, too. The liquid-cooled motor stayed well within its operating temperature, and the batteries didn’t overheat. In fact, we had the opposite issue, our riding days occurring in brutal 30-degree temps. If we stopped for too long during photo stops, a dash warning indicated slight performance cut-back from the cold batteries – ironic as the Enertia had would regularly display a thermal cutback for overtaxing its air-cooled motor.
Fit and finish is something Brammo pulls off amazingly well for such a small company, and the Empulse only builds on this reputation. The design element has not been neglected, and the production Empulse will draw plenty of compliments. It’s a sharp looking ride, and more conventional than the iconoclastic Enertia. The red colorway hits with the blacked-out frame and aforementioned top-end chassis components. It looks and feels like a solid bike, and a luxury item – which is precisely what it is.
That brings us to the MSRP… The Empulse R we tested will retail for $18,995. The non-R model, which sheds carbon fiber bits and some suspension adjustment, is $16,995. That’s in line with mounts like the Ducati Multistrada ($16,995 stock, $19,995 S model), and is more expensive than the new BMW R1200GS ($15,800). It’s an odd thing about EV rides: they cost more, but are cheaper to operate. With running costs of two cents per mile, the proverbial fuel is cheap, but the batteries are not. Brammo backs up the batteries with a two-year warranty and claims lifecycles of 1500 cycles (which means after 1500 cycles they may recharge to 80%). Brammo reps estimate that a rider will net upwards of 60K miles during a typical lifecycle. If a rider can get that much seat time on the Empulse, they’ll be more than ready to upgrade to whatever battery technology has cooked up between now and then.
And that returns back to the rose-tinted promise of EV transportation. At the present it is emerging from hype and hyperbole, to gritty production reality on real-world roads. The Empulse represents an important, critical step for Brammo. The Oregon start-up has produced an attractive and performance-satisfying motorcycle that happens to be electric. Riders will like it. The real question is: will they like it enough to buy in, literally, to the electric motorcycle concept?