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Brammo Electric Motorcycles

The reality of "cost of ownership" is here

The Electric Motorcycle. Everyone takes a step back with a wait and see attitude. To date Rider magazine has vowed not to cover the subject until longer range is accomplished on production bikes. That day is coming faster than one might think.

I made an appointment to get a first-hand look at what Brammo was up to in southern Oregon.

Pulling up to a newer building in South Ashland Oregon on my fuel sucking Yamaha FZ6, I see two subdued entries on the building and walk in through the one with the open door. Wrong. I've just entered R&D central at Brammo inc. Inside there are low walled open cubicles, schematics and illustrations for prototypes, fully-built not-yet-released models near the walls and a half dozen engineers and techie types having conversations I'm probably not supposed to hear. "Front desk?" I ask. A finger rises and points me out of this hot bed of the future. The cutting edge of making electric motorcycles a reality is happening right here in this room and the future looks very interesting.

From Hot Rods to Electric Motorcycles - Founder Craig Bramscher began a custom hot rod business out of his garage in Ashland, Oregon in 2002. After three years the company morphed away from fuel and took the green road, beginning development on the first Brammo electric motorcycle. The first model is the Enertia. Two more models will follow shortly, the Empulse, an electric sportbike; and the Engage, an electric dirt bike. A forth model is planned which will be a super moto built on the Engage platform.

Learning through racing - Brammo has followed the tracks of so many motor companies who have learned the most about a machine's durability by pushing it at the track. With the development of the upcoming Empulse sportbike, the prototypes have been getting their time in at the track racing in the TTXGP electric class at The Isle of Man since 2009. More recently the bikes dominated the TTXGP class at Infineon Raceway in California. Brammo ended the season as North American Champions of the TTXGP series.

Six speeds are better than - Other electric motorcycles on the market feature one speed. Not very efficient when you're trying to improve range and performance. A single speed is always a compromise between top speed and acceleration off the line. The design team at Brammo is hard at work running a prototype six speed transmission through its paces with plans to debut it on the Empulse and Engage models when they ship in 2012.

Regeneration - When people see electric vehicles, one of their first inklings is - "Can it recharge itself when coasting?" In large electric vehicles and hybrids this ability exists, but for a 400 pound motorcycle there's not enough weight to make it feasible. The other issue is with an AC motor; the technical aspects of switching the system back and forth from acceleration to recharging are still undeveloped. Brammo is working with the idea of capturing regeneration on the front wheel hub. If successful, they will be one more step ahead of the competition.

Time for a test ride - Adrian Stewart, who heads up channel development/Marketing & Sales, preps his personal Enertia model and instructs me how to start it. Rather than flipping a switch, you flip four. "Is it OK if I take up Dead Indian Memorial Road?" I ask. "You can go anywhere you want" he replies. The reality is, at this point anywhere I want to go is in about a 40 mile radius due to the bikes limited battery capacity. Still, that's four times the distance of my electric bicycle back in Seattle.

Photo: Founder Craig Bramscher takes a break along SR 66
just east of their Ashland headquarters.

I take off, and although I expected it, riding with no compression is decidedly different, especially when you get into the twisties. It's all throttle and brakes. The Enertia has about 17 horsepower, equivalent to riding an older Kawasaki or Honda 250. Not bad on acceleration and pretty responsive overall. As a commuter bike this is starting to make a lot of sense.

The Tao of Design -I pull the bike out and review the components. Brembo brakes, Marzocchi suspension and a super simple dashboard. In fact, the whole bike is a prime example of taoism in motorcycle engineering. It's almost too simple. The more simple, the better in my book. Stewart later tells me the bike has less than 200 components altogether. The quality of the components, the construction and fit & finish are all top of the line.

Hungry for manufacturing - Brammo ran its initial production of Enertias out of its Ashland headquarters. However, production has now moved to Hungary, of all places, where they have partnered with a logistics contract manufacturing company there to handle the assembly. This will simplify delivery of components to build the bikes up from and allow easier distribution into Europe and Asia, two markets the company is banking for out of the box sales ahead of the US.

Cost of ownership - With so few components, maintenance is virtually nil in comparison to a fuel burning motorcycle. No fuel, no oil changes, no air filters, no level three service pocket book nightmares. So although the Enertia ($7,995) is double the price of a motorcycle with similar horsepower, the cost of the bike over a lifetime is significantly less beginning at day one. Electricity and tires are going to be the two biggest expenses. And with all the tax breaks offered by the US government and many states, the initial price can drop by about $2,000 when all is said and done.

So just how much will it cost to charge? Utility rates vary by state and county, but a page has been setup at www.brammo.com/money-saver/ where you can plug in where you live and it will calculate the costs. An average charge runs about .48 cents. That's about a penny per mile. 20 times less than a motorcycle that gets 50 mpg based on current fuel prices. It adds up quickly, and all of a sudden you have money in the bank!

Plateable in all 50 states - When Mike Corbin experimented with the Sparrow three wheel electric motorcycle back in 2000, the company worked hard to set the USDOT standards for electric motorcycles. As a result, companies like Brammo have experienced an easy path getting their models certified through the USDOT; you can now get them plated in all 50 states.

Dealer Network - 2012 will be a big year for Brammo. Stateside the company is wading through 800 dealer applications and will select the first group of 30 to become OEM outlets. With Best Buy as a large investor, we won't be surprised if they hit their stores as well, but service for those units will likely be handled within the OEM network.

A similar effort is underway for Europe. In Hong Kong and Singapore a most unlikely Jackie Chan has stepped up with his Advanced Mobility company to handle sales and distribution which will open up the Asian market.

Conclusions - When it's all said and done, the electric motorcycle market is coming into its own within the commuter class. There's still some work to be done before we see these bikes climb into the 500 miles per day range, but the curve is going upward sharply with each passing day.

For a rider who likes to pack in 500 miles a day on the weekend or trip, but also commutes in town on work days, it makes sense to have an electric bike as an addition in the garage. The maneuverability of the small Enertia is much easier to deal with than horsing 1 liter of bigger bike through downtown traffic every day, and the cost of ownership factor simply can't be passed up.

More information is available at www.brammo.com.

TM/Fall 11


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