“Everybody has fast motorcycles these days. Some people go 150 miles an hour on two-lane blacktop roads, but not often. There are too many oncoming trucks and too many radar cops and too many stupid animals in the way. You have to be a little crazy to ride these super-torque high-speed crotch rockets anywhere except a racetrack – and even there, they will scare the whimpering shit out of you… There is, after all, not a pig’s eye worth of difference between going head-on into a Peterbilt or sideways into the bleachers. On some days you get what you want, and on others, you get what you need.”
-Hunter S Thompson, originally published in Cycle World, 1995 (Full “song” and more amazing rare articles here)
Today there truly are legions of us, as my 158hp (electronically optimized) Yamaha R1 is known as the “Me too!” bike because so many people ride them. Brammo’s dealer rep James Richards has one too. We don’t really need all that power, but this is America, and we’re nothing if not obsessed with power.
Yet James told me the most exciting ride of his life was following me through LA traffic on the Brammo Empulses we rode today. (video footage here) And he’s been riding since the tender age of 7. I got a late start at 15. Today was just another day of freedom to me, only more free because I didn’t have to buy gas. To survive LA traffic, motorcyclists have to be fast and sure. “He who hesitates in war is lost.” are words to live by here. But how fast is fast enough? Would the street version of the bike that won the TTXGP World Championship be fast enough to survive LA traffic?
Paradoxically, there’s a clear movement toward slower, smaller vintage bikes. All the cool kids in LA are riding vintage these days, many of whom are new to riding. Thankfully, because crotch rockets are no place for a beginner. It’s about time something sensible for the new riders was also cool, and that has happened with vintage bikes. At the recent LA Moto Film Festival, modern and vintage collided as the vintage-only club East Side Moto Babes put in an appearance on Zeroes, courtesy of Hollywood Electrics.
I often recommend electric motorcycles for new riders because most are single-speed, letting new riders postpone the added stress of shifting until they’re more experienced. Yet Brammo chose not to go that route. They partnered with a transmission supplier to create the first production electric motorcycle with a 6-speed transmission. This was done partly to entice experienced motorcyclists who complained they would miss shifting gears, but mainly to be able to access maximum power from 0-100mph.
I’ve enjoyed the simplicity of the single-speed Zero S’s I’ve ridden (reported here), but I also enjoyed the benefits the Brammo has from having 6 speeds. The Empulse is fast as hell off the line, and can go up to 104 mph, according to James. I didn’t even get above 4th gear or over about 85mph. I just didn’t feel the need, the bike feels plenty fast at lower speeds. As for specs, well, you can read the stats here.
When I got back on my R1 after 80+ miles on the 54hp Empulse, I could see why. The R1 is as addicted to going fast as her rider. Perhaps even more so. The race-ready ergonomics, the deep throaty rumble of the motor beg for speed and more speed. Nothing is ever fast enough. Anything below 80mph feels like standing still, especially after a run up into the triple digits.
I’ve clearly heard her scoff “Is that all you’ve got, bitch?” when I cracked her open on my favorite top-speed testing site and eased off once we reached 180mph, with plenty of road left. On the Zero S I had more fun around town, with less power. But it still wasn’t sporty enough. I don’t like sitting upright on a motorcycle, it feels weird. The Brammo Empulse is more powerful than the Zero S and that power is as accessible off the line as it is on the freeway. Anytime I got annoyed with traffic and wanted to blast around someone, it was as easy as it is on my R1.
My favorite feature (aside from not having to support the oil industry and the destruction of life on Earth) was the fact that you don’t need to use the clutch to launch, just to change gears. No more stressing out over getting just the right clutch release, just gas it as hard as you want and that’s how fast she goes. Totally direct connection, unlike on the Fisker I test drove, and on some gas bikes I’ve ridden where their excessive electronic aids led to a feeling of separation from the bike’s powertrain.
EmpulseBuyer has a TCO you can use to compare costs. It doesn’t include the 10% federal tax credit, though. The R1 is not remotely comparable, so not listed. I picked the R6 (still, double the horsepower, and designed for racing) then entered my actual costs. Granted, it’ll be awhile before the break-even point, but I’ve already got 24,000 miles on the R1, and just don’t want to ride this big, hot, gas-guzzling speed monster every day.
The real competition is from Zero. For 2013, they’ve announced a rather sporty-looking standard claiming a top speed of 95mph and average range of 130+ miles. If Brammo can deliver my Empulse R before Christmas, and I can beat Zero racer Brandon Miller in a drag race, the $3,000 premium will be worth it. Maybe. This $19,000 (before tax credits) bike is not about saving money so much as it is about saving the planet and having fun doing it.
My only complaint (aside from having to work a lot more to be able to pay for this bike) is the ergonomics. It’s certainly not the same bike Steve Atlas and Eric Bostrom took to the top of the TTXGP World Championship. When I buy a race-replica, I want it to at least feel like a race bike, even if the power is only a fraction of what theirs is. The Empulse felt rock-solid lanesplitting through heavy traffic, which is what I’d mainly use it for, and was indeed fun in the canyons. I was slower than usual (tracking courtesy of Cyclemeter, which also tracks “drives”), and James had to slow down to wait for me when I let him lead in the canyons.
Sure, I didn’t want to crash a $19,000 demo bike, but also I just didn’t feel racy lounging in that low seat with those high bars. It felt even lower than the Ducati M750 I suffered 5 years on before buying a motorcycle better suited for a 6’ rider. As I’ve come to expect with Brammo, the build quality was excellent, the components top-notch. I didn’t tweak the fully-adjustable suspension, and may have been a little more comfortable if I had. You can see from the photos (James and me) how much more bent my legs are than James’. Granted, he’s not wearing 3″ heels, but even in flat boots it’s still quite a fold for a 34″ inseam. I’ll be building up the seat just like I did on my R1, only more so.