Brammo Empulse R: A Motorcycle That Just Happens to be Electric
Do electric vehicles need gearboxes? It remains an open question, with Zero and electric-car-leader Tesla staking out the “No” end of the argument and even Brammo forgoing one on its latest racebike. But there’s no doubt when you ride the Empulse R that the gearbox works in this application. Shift the Empulse R like a normal motorcycle and it accelerates well, with performance that feels similar to that of (but smoother than), say, a modern 650 Twin. There’s little need, however, to use the clutch except for quick upshifts. At stops, contrary to all conventional motorcycle reflexes, there’s no need to pull in the clutch because the electric motor simply stops and smoothly restarts from zero rpm when you twist the “throttle.” Perhaps a different word is now needed for the control that no longer has anything to do with regulating airflow into an engine. From that stop, you can accelerate away smoothly in first or sixth gear; the difference is that one pulls a lot harder than the other.
Where the Empulse R feels most motorcycle-like, though, is on a curvy road, like the many around Ashland. There, the Empulse R belies its dimensions, feeling smaller and lighter than its 58-inch wheelbase or 470 pounds suggest. Some of that deception is because the Empulse is truly skinny and some the result of weight distribution and chassis geometry. High-quality suspension components and good brakes come into play here; the Empulse feels balanced, sporty and fast. The gearbox proves useful, as well, as the best acceleration is achieved by keeping the motor whirring between 6000 and 9000 rpm.
Of course, there are some limitations to the Empulse R. Even though battery capacity has been stretched to more than 9 kilowatt-hours, it only gives the Brammo a range of 75 miles or so of backroad riding at relatively moderate speeds. High freeway speeds (80-plus mph) can bring that down to just over 50, while slow-speed city riding can extend it to more than 100 miles. Superior battery capacity and new technology costs money—Ducati 1199 Panigale-type money. The standard Empulse is suggested to sell at $16,995 before any electric-vehicle rebates or tax breaks that may be available, while the Empulse R with carbon-fiber bits (fenders, headlight and taillight assemblies) and upgraded suspension (fully adjustable Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock) is $18,995. That’s expensive, but with just 300 Empulses scheduled for production in 2012, this best current electric motorcycle may still be in short supply.
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