2014 Brammo Empulse R Comparison

Gabe Ets-Hokin | October 14, 2014
Around Town If I was never going to leave the Big City, I’d have to give the nod to the Zeros. They’re lighter, slimmer and easier to use. If they don’t have a tighter turning radius, they feel like they turn tighter, just because of the lighter weight and lively bottom-end throttle response. At lower speeds, the Zeros’ weaker brakes and budget suspension don’t matter so much – they’re more scooter like, and in dense, crowded, slower conditions that’s a good thing.2014-Electric-Moto-Group-01.jpg

Sporting

I like being able to quickly and confidently answer questions, so I give you permission to ask “which is a better sportbike?” multiple times. The Brammo has the clear edge in terms of brakes, suspension, power delivery and riding position.

The Brammo’s four-piston Brembo brakes aren’t as good as what you’d find on a high-end sportbike, but they are worlds better than the Zero’s Nissin and J.Juan calipers and petal-style discs. The suspension is compliant, tuned acceptably and offers adjustment (the Empulse R has adjustable compression damping as well as rebound and preload). The suspension, combined with the burly-looking twin-spar chassis gives the rider confidence and makes the Empulse feel like a real sportbike on twisty roads. The six-speed gearbox lets you accelerate faster, but it also lets you select the perfect gear ratio for whatever road – or racetrack – you’re working with.

Another benefit is to give riders used to rowing through a gearbox a gasoline engine’s feeling of involvement and control, an illusion snarled by the clutch. Squeeze the clutch in and the bike freewheels, ease out the lever and there’s virtually no engagement zone. But there’s also no abruptness, regardless of how quickly you engage the clutch, and you can come to a stop with the clutch engaged without the engine stalling. You don’t need to use the clutch at all, really, but the transmission is surprisingly notchy and clunky. I’ll never complain about a Moto Guzzi again.

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Another feature that gives the edge to the Brammo in the sporting department is how quickly it charges. If you go on a sport ride to somewhere with a 220 outlet or DC fast charger, you can juice up to 50% or more while you’re eating lunch (or waiting in between track sessions). The Zero’s single onboard charger makes waiting for a charge a tedious affair. You’ll have to pack an extra charger or two in a saddlebag – otherwise charging is pretty much an overnight affair for the Zero.

Both bikes have their sporting issues – the Zero’s suspension, brakes and tires, the Brammo’s drivetrain lash and clunky gearbox – but all the testers loved riding them on our local twisty backroads. The instant torque and elimination of shifting lets you focus on your lines through a corner – or just enjoying the ride. The lack of vibes and sound make it feel like a 70 mph bicycle ride – all you hear is the wind on your helmet and the zzzzzzzzz of your tires or brakes on the Zero. The Brammo is noisier, but not in a bad way – just enough to keep you aware of being on something with a motor. We’re motorcyclists, after all, right?

Commuting

Work to Ride and Ride to Work, right? For those of you lucky enough to commute by motorcycle, I’m starting to think an electric moto like a Zero or a Brammo may be the best commute weapon yet devised by mankind.

Hear me out! Yes, I know they’re expensive. Yes, I know they have limited range. But there may be thousands of riders that fit the following criteria:
• You have more than one motorcycle.
• You commute by motorcycle and live 25 miles or closer to where you work.
• You’re frequently late and your tank is always on reserve.
• You like buying expensive things.

Commuting on an electric means you’ll never have to work a clutch or gearbox again, you can ride past gas stations forever, and your neighbors won’t wish a plague of locusts upon your house for seven generations when you start your bike at 6 a.m. The money you save on gas and maintenance may never be enough to pay for the bike, but after three to five years it will pay the difference between a Brammo and a similar-performing dino-bike. After that, it’s gravy. And don’t worry, both companies warranty their batteries for five years – 50,000 miles for Brammo and 100,000 for the Zero – and the rest of the bike for two years. Zero estimates a 415,000-mile life for its larger battery, which means to 80% capacity, not useless. How many miles will your motorcycle’s engine last? Enough to go to the moon and halfway back? Probably not.

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For around-town commuting, I’d give the edge to one of the Zeros; they are lighter, turn easier and seem to be a little smoother and easier to ride, thanks to the single-speed final drive and lesser drivetrain lash. The Brammo is more fun at higher speeds, as it’s better suspended, and it does have much better brakes (but thumbs down to both companies for the lack of ABS on the 2014 models). The downside is it’s limited to around 40 miles of high-speed travel. Zero’s ZF11.9 with PowerTank can double that.

The Zero offers much better battery range, even with the smaller ZF9 version. But the Brammo’s onboard charging just plain crushes the Zero’s single charger. Not only will it charge twice as fast as the Zero (3.5 hours from dead if you find a level II charger), it’s also wired for a standard J-1772 charger so you can use public charging infrastructure. If you use a 110 outlet, it’ll take 8 hours.

The Zero plugs easily into any old three-prong 110 outlet, and will charge to about 60% or more from discharged during your average 8-hour workday (does anybody still work only eight hours a day?) – more than enough to get you home, no? But do you need the Zero’s extra capacity? There’s no performance difference between a full or half-full battery, so why pay for more battery than you’ll need? If you don’t have any unplanned stops, range anxiety isn’t an issue once you have a good idea how all this works, so the Brammo’s 10.2 kWh pack shouldn’t be an issue if you know how far you’re going each ride.

Gabe Ets-Hokin

Contributing Editor | Articles | Gabe likes to ride scooters, true, but he also spent nine years of his life as a club-level roadracer and has been a professional motorcycle tester and journalist for over a decade. His favorite part of helicopter rides is the morphine.