Maybe in part it’s the novelty of such a quiet-riding machine. Instead of a tuned exhaust barking a staccato note from a high-compression engine, the Enertia’s whirring 72-volt, brushless DC motor and 428 gauge DID chain and sprockets are practically all you hear other than the wind rushing past your helmet.
It’s a trip in more than one sense of the word. And while the Ashland, Oregon-based startup has been producing the Enertia – thus far its only bike – for less than one year, the bike’s sonic hum seems strangely appropriate to our hearing.
Have we already been prepped for this day? For decades since the Jetsons and Star Trek, innumerable Hollywood sci-fi movies have hammered into our collective unconsciousness the possibility – if not implicit inevitability – of an alternately powered and electrified future.
Although the electric vehicle market is said to be very much “in its infancy,” in another sense, it’s been a long time coming.
As a first step, funded by top-tier venture capital money and dot-com millionaire-inspired gusto from company founder, Craig Bramscher, the Enertia may be the most developed and ready-for-prime-time electric street motorcycle yet.
Does that mean we should all rush out and buy one? Not necessarily, and even Bramscher readily admits as much.
In another ironic twist, while this bike is being touted as transportation for the masses, it remains very much a niche vehicle.
Specifically, the justification for an electric motorcycle that can barely go 40 miles on a charge – and takes as long as four hours to replenish – is that according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, its estimated range should satisfy the daily driving needs of 75% of all Americans.
But at $7,995, even with a 10% federal tax credit plus some states adding to this financial incentive, the Enertia offers significantly less performance than, say, a Kawasaki Ninja 250R that costs half as much and goes almost 200 miles on a tank – and which can be refueled in a couple minutes at any gas station.
So what is Brammo trying to accomplish, and how does this upstart hope to succeed?
Brammo's zero-emission bike is delivering on the promise of being a real motorcycle while offering a deep hue of environmentally-friendly greenness that makes up for any apparent performance shortcomings. Even if its juice comes from coal-fired power grids, its pollution footprint is but a fraction of catalytic-converter-equipped motorcycles.
Further, its normal maintenance requirements are for wear items such as tires, brakes, chain, sprockets, etc., and its operating cost are negligible. The Enertia has been estimated to be able to go 15,000 miles on $85 worth of electricity, and could pay for its price discrepancy in the long run.
At 324 lbs, the battery-powered machine feels, handles and rides like a well-constructed bike – built to accommodate just one rider weighing up to 276 lbs.
From its cleanly-welded alloy perimeter frame and braced tubular steel swingarm, to its comparatively massive inverted Marzocchi fork and Elka nitrogen-charged shock, this bike silently screams “motorcycle.”
The Enertia’s steering geometry is on the sporty side, with 24 degrees of rake, 3.5 inches of trail and a 56-inch wheelbase. Seat height is 32 inches, and tip to tail it's a total of 81.5 inches long.
The light and nimble machine rolls on proprietary (non-cush-drive) six-spoke alloy wheels and relatively burley Avon RoadRider tires – 100/90-18 front, 130/80-17 rear. Stopping is handled by twin-piston Brembo front disc brakes and a single-piston Brembo rear. Brake lines are dark-vinyl-clad, braided-steel-wrapped. Its headlight is a Hella, switch-gear is proprietary, and everything about the Enertia, with its established name-branded parts inside and out, reeks of quality.
Even the overkill grade 8.8 metric fasteners threading into pressed-in inserts to secure lightweight plastic body panels to the alloy frame, and steel-tang nylon zip ties holding its neatly-routed wiring looms make it look as though the Enertia’s Made-In-USA engineering mantra was: cut no corners.
Starting the bike takes a few steps. Turning the coded transponder-type key is the first. Next, a single LED-ringed button in the center of the pseudo tank is pressed for a few seconds, until a sound reminiscent of a computer being powered on is heard, while the speedo needle sweeps, and the dash lights momentarily activate.
The watchword here is failsafe. Since the Enertia is silent when ready to go, Brammo has ensured that making it so is a very deliberate act.
After the system is booted up, before the Enertia will propel itself, one still needs to activate a right-side On switch, a left-side headlight switch, and the kickstand needs to be up.
At that point, assuming there’s no problem with the electrics, the LCD display reads “Drive Enabled” and a series of four green LEDs flash left-to-right across the top of the instrument cluster.
"Even Harley-Davidson riders waved at the Enertia while we were out trolling in a semi-urban area."You are now live and ready to roll.
In operation, the Enertia’s one-speed direct drive is far simpler than even a scooter’s continuously variable transmission.
Unlike a scooter, however, its frontal profile is un-mistakenly moto. Even Harley-Davidson riders waved at the Enertia while we were out trolling in a semi-urban area.
The Enertia’s riding position is kind of Sportster-like, after all, even if its owners will never share a kindred bond with those who like to say “loud pipes save lives.”
A city bike/suburban cruiser only
Its software programming in the motor controller limits grunt off the line. From zero-to-50, it can stay ahead of most traffic, but its 13.4 hp at 49.6 mph, measured on Gene’s Speed Shop’s Super Flow Dyno – and estimated 40 ft-lbs torque available at a much lower pace – can severely tax battery life, and the Enertia lasts much longer when kept below 50 mph.
(Note: Torque is traditionally measured at engine rpm. With no sparkplug lead, ft-lbs are estimated.)
This is not saying the Enertia won’t go faster. We saw an indicated 63 mph (100 kph), but soon learned it was a mistake to use this potential for long, as battery power falls off quickly at those speeds.
For our inaugural ride, we attempted a 30-mile round trip involving about five miles at 55-63 mph. This left the Enertia depleted after just 24 miles in a world where EV charging stations are rare even in most of California, and non-existent in much of the country.
Fortunately a Radio Shack was right where the bike conked out, and we hoped someone there would have pity on us. Sure enough, after a brief explanation, a sympathetic clerk ran an extension cord out the back door while we went for Asian food as the Enertia recharged.
After a 35-minute dinner, the power meter showed 25% charge. Once we’d tipped the clerk, our trip home revealed this was just enough power to travel another seven miles.
"After a 35-minute dinner, the power meter showed 25% charge."
This early-on punishment left us understanding how a deep sea diver feels who must learn to live on the finite capacity his tanks hold, and no more. Being quick learners however, we soon adapted to the range of the Enertia, and otherwise began to like the bike.
Riding well under its max speed substantially increases the Enertia’s efficiency so that distances in the 30-mile-range are feasible. If it can cover a 40-mile range when fully charged, this would have to be at 25 mph or less, and only for a lightweight rider.
The LCD dash can be toggled to display precisely how much current is being discharged and how much is remaining. Thus, in addition to a “fuel” gauge, it can act kind of like an on-board dynamometer if you learn to think in terms of kilowatts instead of horsepower.
Ridden as a lower-speed runabout, the Enertia can be a blast. For experienced riders, its I, Robot-like harmonics and clutchless operation make for effortless fun.
Steering is neutral, and the suspension handles most bumps, patches, and joints in the road acceptably well without making rattles or clunky noises.
Its fork is not adjustable, but riders from 150 to 200 lbs had no complaints. The rear shock can be tuned for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Although – at 6-feet tall, 34-inch inseam – I had no problem whatsoever with the bike’s ergos, Pete noted the Enertia’s fit was not so great for him.
“Although the rider triangle is roomy and mostly comfortable, the forward part of the saddle slopes upward, which caused me to slide backward,” Pete says, “This then put me at a bit of stretch to reach the handlebar. Also, though I like the large platform footpegs they seemed positioned too far forward in relation to where I was on the seat. Perhaps moving the pegs further back would help riders of my height/inseam (5’8”/30”) stay centered on the saddle.”
No one complained about the Enertia’s front brakes, however, which feel substantial, although you’d never think you were on a 600cc supersport. On the other hand, the rear brake, as Pete noted, feels, “Buell-ish,” or in other words quite numb and weak.
On the potentially positive side – and while we’re referring to what you’ll miss from gas-powered toys – if you start to get mopey because you can’t wheelie the Enertia, you might be consoled to know standing the Enertia on its nose while coming to a stop is still a possibility.
And while the foreword-set footpegs are low, they are not prone to scraping because the machine is so narrow, but will if you are determined. The Avon rubber offers sufficient grip and is confidence inspiring considering they’re made from a high-mileage compound. Maybe it’s in part because you never feel like rear wheel power will induce a slide mid-corner, and the bike is otherwise quite willing to lean.
But as a further restriction on hooliganism, burnouts are not recommended. The electrics limit the motor’s otherwise prodigious torque from a standstill, and if you do manage to get one started, be careful, or you could have the bike shut off at a traffic light or blow an electrical fault that will leave you stranded.
According to the owner’s manual, this thoroughly computer-controlled machine’s diagnostic circuitry monitors for around 55 possible failure codes that could warrant a service call by a technician, and overwhelming the drive wheel could be one. Don’t ask how we know this.
You won’t find Brammos at your local multi-brand dealership.
Enertias are being sold by an as of yet limited number of Best Buy stores. Best Buy Capital contributed about $11.5 million to get Brammo started, is supporting the company ongoing, and has been a key partner in its sales strategy.
Several Best Buy stores in the UK have also agreed to start selling them, and in Asia, where the economy is stronger, there is reportedly solid demand for the bikes.
For example, the Hong Kong-based JCAM Advanced Mobility Company Ltd., an electric vehicle distribution company co-founded by Hollywood star Jackie Chan, is importing them, and Chan intends to do a stunt on one in an upcoming movie.
Stateside, they are also available online direct, http://www.brammo.com/your-powercycle/, and will ship from a Best Buy in Portland, Ore. for about $450-550 to a consumer’s door.
In areas where Best Buys are selling Brammos – plans to roll-out national distribution are said to be in the works – service and repairs are to be handled by its Geek Squad service department. A phone call to an L.A.-based Geek Squad lead tech revealed he’d been trained by Brammo in Oregon, but his team only handles some routine electrical repairs.
More involved repairs are done by a roving Brammo-employed tech who comes to repair bikes on site, or take them off site for repairs if needed. This tech can also replace tires, brakes, chains, and the like out of his van. Or, if owners wish, they can have routine repairs done by local dealers or independent motorcycle repair shops.
A Brammo in your future?
Enertias are filling a between-the-cracks transportation need in a world of mainstream gasoline-powered bikes, but are also attracting some real riders, not least of which is the unabashed motorhead, Jay Leno.
Other early adopters include economy-minded people with short daily commutes – particularly those with access to recharging away from home – as well as the ardent faithful among the environmentalist fold.
If you would like a great conversation starter, and otherwise like the Enertia, maybe you might want one, too. We were amazed at how many people knew the bike was electrically powered and wanted to talk about it.
Particularly in areas of California where electric cars, hybrids, bicycles, and other alternatives are touted – and people are overwhelmingly green-thinking – we felt a warm glow being projected to us by passersby, who smiled and made approving comments.
According to Bramscher, nearly everywhere Brammo stages a demo, the Enertia attracts interest and is even making new riders out of people who’d been on the fence about motorcycle ownership. It is seen as trendy, cute and unintimidating, and Bramscher says anything that brings new riders to motorcycling – with checkbooks in hand, and possibility that they’ll trade up – is good for all.
"...we felt a warm glow being projected to us by passersby..."
From what we’ve seen, he could be right. Even dyed-in-the-wool traditional riders expressed curiosity about the Enertia and said they are watching with interest even if the bikes are not yet powerful enough to make converts among some.
We enjoyed riding the Enertia and look forward to seeing where Brammo is going, and what new machines it has in the works. We detailed some of the Enertia’s shortcomings up front to say that as riders, we have many of the same concerns and know the jury is out.
But despite known criticism by naysayers, new buyers are coming out of the woodwork. Depending on their situation, they may be doing alright too, as it appears Enertias will be cheaper to own – although with hundreds of electrical connections and complex electronics, we are waiting to see on this score as well.
In all, we applaud Brammo for its chutzpah in getting this project rolling. It has already attracted a strong fan base http://brammofan.wordpress.com/, and Brammo's marketers seem to be doing all the right stuff in creating publicity and buzz http://www.brammo.com/follow/, and playing to a ready and willing public.
Although we are not quite prepared to give up our internal-combustion bikes just yet, we do count ourselves among those watching with interest as to whether these bikes will really push toward a future we have all been waiting for.
Electric Motorcycles Primer
2010 Zero S and DS Review
Brammo's Enertia Electric Bike Off to Washington D.C. [video]
Brammo Enertia on NBC [video]
First US TTXGP at Infineon Raceway
Enertia Electric Motorcycle Available at Best Buy
The Enertia Electric Motorcycle, Now $7,795