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Brammo Enertia Commuter Update

Thursday, January 27, 2011
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.
2010 Brammo Enertia Photo Gallery
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Comments
Fred M. -Back on subject: Cost vs. Benefit  January 31, 2011 06:47 AM
Bart rightly points out that the four grand difference between the Brammo and a Ninja 250 pays for a lot of gas. But electric vehicles are not about cost savings; they are about conserving our limited petroleum resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Less fuel demand means lower fuel prices for everyone and importation of oil from countries that hate America and fund terrorism. I'm not saying that we should all give up our conventional motorcycles and go electric, but let's encourage the guys who buy Brammos, or commute to work on bicycles, or take mass transit rather than driving.
Fred M. -Bart: Understood  January 31, 2011 06:27 AM
Bart, I knew what you meant about the almost-silent Brammo vs. normal exhaust noise. But there is always someone who will "pipe up" and hijack a comment section to claim that his ultra-loud exhaust makes him safer. "Mr. Safety" is usually some guy who wears a beanie helmet, rides an all black bike dressed in all black riding gear with no reflective trim. He would never consider a headlight or brake light modulator. One of his top criteria when choosing a bike is getting an ultra-low seat height, minimizing his ability to see or be seen in traffic. Sure, he only has straight pipes for safety -- and he only eats at Hooters because of their world-class cuisine.
Zero X and S in the garage -So make more noise if you want, already.  January 30, 2011 10:22 PM
@ Bart - In addition to actually using the horn, you have at least a couple more options if you are really that personally bothered by not making your own ears bleed: 1. Put a small portable boom box in your backack or saddle bag(s). Play Ride of The Valkyries, Cheech and Chong's "Earache My Eye", or sound effects of Harley pipes, sonar pings, whale noises, an ice cream truck, horse hoofs, whatever floats your boat, while you ride. 2. Zip tie a wireless mike next to the electric motor and use a portable PA system in your backpack or sadde bag(s). Play with any sound effects like reverb or echo. Crank it up to just shy of feedback. Turn on the system whenever you ride. 3. Eat lots of beans before each ride. If you do any of the above, please report back to us the reactions you get from cagers and other motorcyclists. I'm not going to do either because I like my electric motorcycle noises exactly as they already are and appreciate being able to hear that the third car up in the other lane has one tire that's slightly bald and a slightly loose lug nut on the other side. You can always easily make an electric louder, exactly as they are already manufactured and as an aftermarket preference, completely under your control. You can never make a gasser quiet.
Andrew -Mr  January 30, 2011 12:33 PM
Bicycle riders manage without loud pipes to announce their presence - I'm sure motorcycle riders can manage as well. Silent running is not a 'problem', just a matter of slight adjustment of mentality and riding technique.
earplugs - loud pipes suck!!!  January 30, 2011 04:46 AM
Sorry Bart, but I think the comments section has been hijacked by the loud pipes crowd. I've been riding for close to thirty years and I hate loud pipes. When I'm not In my car or on my Motorcycle, (KLR650 with stock exhaust) I'm often peddling my mountain bike on the edge of the roads. I will tell you when a motorcycle goes by me with modified (read LOUD) exhaust and it actually hurts my ears, THAT sucks! The interesting thing is, that it is the noise being projected from the REAR of bike that is obnoxious not so much coming from the front. With that being said I can understand why cagers still don't hear or see bikes until it maybe to late, because once you have gone by all that left is...loud exhaust! I would gladly ride an electric bike because I am quite confident in my abilities to deal with other traffic. Unfortunately my commute is 32 miles one way, so unless there is a major upgrade in battery life an electric bike wouldn't work for me. FWIW the load pipes safety arguement may hold some merit, but I'd be willing to bet that its 80% image...
PC -Typical  January 28, 2011 04:24 PM
Great article Bart. I really appreciate that you cover all forms of 2-wheel transportation. Unfortunately discussion has to devolve into a debate about loud pipes as people look for any justification for their "I'm too sexy for my muffler" mentality. The sad thing is that their inhospitable tastes translate into illconceived legislative measures like the anti-tampering law already mentioned.

But to turn the tide towards more substantative issues, I only have two problems with the Enertia: 1) It costs so much compared to a scooter (ie. urban transport) and 2) It has no storage (aside from the additional cost bags). It really seems like an electric scooter with this range that included some storage capacity (and perhaps an Electrolux-style retractable cord) would be a much better package for the desired market. I know there are some in the works, but I'm having trouble understanding why "big wheel" electric bikes are so far ahead of the little run-arounds, when they aren't quite ready for the big wheel league. That said, if you want me to test your Enertia for a while, I'm game.
Bart MCUSA -Exhaust  January 28, 2011 08:30 AM
Just to clarify, I am definitely 100% against loud pipes. Think they're detrimental to motorcycling. My observation on the Enertia is that it's a level of quiet way beyond standard/quiet pipes on a traditional motorcycle.
Duffey Wolvin -Good debate  January 28, 2011 07:57 AM
Tom; I'm with Fred. I used to ride with the motorcycle riders on my last ship, everything from straight pipe HD V-Rods and Stunter streetbikes to quiet cruisers (I'm in the middle- K100rs w/ SuperTrapps). Some of the bikes were painfully loud, and the cagers still don't notice until after they werer past. The car companies have been busy for years isolating and insulating, and now the average driver can not hear sirens. Us riders need to watch for our own well being, you cannot be loud or visible enough to jar a zombie awake. My thoughts are that we need to keep us alive, and it is an active skill. Nothing passive (bright color/loud exaust) will really give much safety.
Fred M. -Loud is just annoying...  January 27, 2011 11:42 PM
I'm 49 and have been riding motorcycles since I started with dirt bikes at age 12. I've had loud ones and factory-stock ones. The loud ones just lead to fatigue and kept me from hearing other traffic around me. If I'm near a car that is being driven too close to my back wheel, I rely on my skills to get away from that vehicle, whether through changing lanes, passing, flicking the brake lights on, or riding in such a way as to make them back off. When you look at the massive number of miles safely ridden by guys on quiet touring bikes like Gold Wings and Beemers, you've got to start looking inward if you're feeling that you can't be safe with a quiet exhaust. If Tom (and others) won't ride quiet bikes, then they'll have to stop riding, because laws like the anti-tampering law passed in California will sweep across the country and his ultra-loud motorcycle will end up in an impound lot. You don't have a right to disturb the peace just because it makes you feel safer. Hell, I could get noticed with a siren and flashing blue lights on my bike, but that doesn't mean I have a right to ride it like that.
Tom Brooks -Loud is safer!!!  January 27, 2011 05:34 PM
At first I was constantly annoyed and petrified with cars just inches from my rear wheel. After I back drilled my pipes and made them as loud as they could be, it stopped. Now I have at least a car’s length between me and the car behind me. You have to realize that car drivers do not know how fast you can stop and they also have blind spots. Loud sound is the only thing that keeps them at bay since they cannot hear their music, mobile phone, GPS or talking passengers and informs that you are right next to them. I will never drive a quiet bike, not because I like loud noise, but because it is much safer. Cruising on the road in perfect silence is a wonderful thing, but the reality is that you are a ghost on the road and you will get run over. It is just a matter of time.