2014 Brammo Empulse R Review + Video

Several minor tweaks add to significant improvement

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2014 Brammo Empulse R

Editor Score: 77.0%
Engine 18.0/20
Suspension/Handling 13.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 7.5/10
Brakes 8.5/10
Instruments/Controls4.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.0/10
Appearance/Quality 8.0/10
Desirability 7.0/10
Value 3.0/10
Overall Score77/100

Brammo is in a unique position, being a small company in the ever-advancing electric motorcycle world. It has the ability to adapt quickly to change. Case in point? The 2014 Brammo Empulse R. We’ve ridden the mighty Brammo a few times over the past 18 months, and while the bike you see in these pictures might appear identical to the ones we’ve ridden before, a peek under its skin will reveal several updates.

What’s New?

Funny enough, the highest-profile update to Brammo occurred about two years ago when it acquired the talents of AMA roadracing legend, Eric Bostrom, to help with development. His impact is already being felt in the 2014 Empulse R. In fact, it was Bostrom himself who met up with us to sample the ’14 model for a day in the canyons.

The nuts and bolts of the Empulse R haven’t changed much since we first rode it at the end of 2012 and again against the Zero S last year. If you’ve forgotten about the Empulse, read those two stories to catch yourself up. To sum, the Empulse R features a battery with 10.2 kWh max capacity (9.3 kWh nominal). This power is fed to a Sevcon gen 4 motor controller, unique in that it is liquid-cooled, something Brammo’s main competition – Zero – can’t claim. The benefit here is its ability to consistently put down 54 horses and 66 ft-lbs without experiencing thermal cutback due to an overheating motor. Also returning is the industry-first six-speed gearbox Brammo says maximizes efficiency.

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The first subtle change over last year’s model is a slightly more upright seating position. E-Boz says there was more emphasis placed on the commuter, so the new models have tapered aluminum bars that put the rider in a more forgiving stance. From there, the differences are a little harder to see. Brammo engineers tweaked power output by actually reducing torque at low rpm and instead spread that power throughout the rev range – all in an effort to help improve rider feel. A direct improvement based on Bostrom’s feedback.

This cutaway model of the Brammo Empulse R reveals several key features. Eyes are naturally drawn to the batteries in the center of the bike, but look down and you’ll find the heat exchanger and the liquid-cooled motor behind the battery pack.

This cutaway model of the Brammo Empulse R reveals several key features. Eyes are naturally drawn to the batteries in the center of the bike, but look down and you’ll find the heat exchanger and the liquid-cooled motor behind the battery pack.

Brammo also put the Empulse on a diet, shedding 10 lbs from the bike through a redesign of many of the small sheetmetal components, says Brian Wismann, Brammo’s Director of Product Development. He also notes a change in parts suppliers also contributed to the weight loss.

The most significant change to the 2014 Empulse R is updated firmware and tweaks to the motor. You can’t see either of those. Instead, take a look at the tapered aluminum bars that position a rider sit slightly more upright.

The most significant change to the 2014 Empulse R is updated firmware and tweaks to the motor. You can’t see either of those. Instead, take a look at the tapered aluminum bars that position a rider to sit slightly more upright.

The other big change Bostrom had a part in was improving the smoothness of the regenerative braking effect when letting off the e-throttle. Achieved via a firmware update, Bostrom says this new tuning also prevents any software faults that could disable the motor controller. All told, the diet plan and improved software are said to improve range by five percent. Not much, but every bit counts.

Ride Impressions

Steering the Empulse away from our meeting destination felt peculiar, as the bike was surprisingly heavy to maneuver at slow-speeds. Interestingly, its 24-degree rake and 3.8 inches of trail are exactly identical to the nimble Yamaha R6.

Once up to speed and riding through the twists and turns of Southern California’s Malibu mountains, the Empulse R really impresses. Despite its 460 lbs, it carries its weight well. Yes, the bars require a strong nudge to initiate turns and transitions, but a fully adjustable 43mm Marzocchi fork and equally adjustable Sachs shock handle bumps well and provide good feedback from the road below. The switch to Continental ContiAttack 2 tires (from the Avon AV80) give it sure-footed feel when slicing through one of E-Boz’s favorite roads, Latigo Canyon Road. At 58.0 inches, its wheelbase is 3.9 inches longer than the R6, and although it doesn’t change direction like an R6, it still transitions fairly quickly.

The Empulse R delivers performance very similar to 650cc twins. Now, with its minor updates, that performance lasts a little bit longer.

The Empulse R delivers performance very similar to 650cc twins. Now, with its minor updates, that performance lasts a little bit longer.

Power application from the Empulse feels linear, but this was never an issue with the previous bike. My one gripe is the abrupt deceleration rate from the regenerative braking in Sport mode. I equate it to the feeling one gets when engine braking a big-bore V-Twin sportbike. Unlike the Zeros we’ve ridden, however, the Empulse doesn’t allow the user to tweak this setting via, say, a smartphone app.

The Brammo’s six-speed transmission had previously received our criticism. Apparently Brammo heard our complaints. The six cogs are much easier to row through despite being mechanically unchanged from years past, even allowing for seamless clutchless upshifts. Bostrom says this too is due to the software changes made and some slight modifications to the motor. Downshifts were still a bit clunky, but unlike a gas bike, you won’t lock up the rear on a botched downshift.

Though the Brembo braking components haven’t been changed, kudos are again given to the four-pot radial-mount Brembo calipers and 310mm discs up front. We said it had “monster stopping performance” when we compared the Empulse R to the Zero S last year, and that remains true today. Tons of braking power and superb feel. We’ve come to expect nothing less from Brembo.

Not very many times in my life will I have the opportunity to say I was ahead of Eric Bostrom.

Not very many times in my life will I have the opportunity to say I was ahead of Eric Bostrom.

At the end of our day in the hills, E-Boz and I racked up more than 70 miles of canyon riding in ambient temperatures up to 104 degrees, all of it while riding in Sport mode with utter disregard to power conservation. Through it all, the Empulse R and its liquid-cooled motor never showed signs of reaching its thermal limits. By the time we arrived at one of Malibu’s many free charging stations, the ’14 model I piloted showed 9% charge remaining. Bostrom’s ’13 model consumed more power, with just 4% left in his battery. Plugging in at the J1772 Level 2 charging station was a snap, and with its 3kW onboard charger, according to the display on the slightly more stylized dash, it would take approximately 2.5 hours to completely fill ’er up.

Steady Progress

As an evolution of the 2013 Empulse, the ’14 version is indeed better than before, if only slightly, meaning there’s no need for owners of older Empulses to go trading up to a new bike. The difference isn’t so much felt on the road, but more so at the pump charging station, as the small increase in range could mean the difference between making it home or not.

It’s evolution over revolution when it comes to the 2014 Brammo Empulse R. With Bostrom’s help in development, it’ll be exciting to see what they come out with next.

It’s evolution over revolution when it comes to the 2014 Brammo Empulse R. With Bostrom’s help in development, it’ll be exciting to see what they come out with next.

Then there’s the price, which is unchanged from last year at $18,995. You can also opt for the standard Empulse (non-R) for only $16,995, which uses a different motor and lower-spec Marzocchi/Sachs suspension. Horsepower remains the same, but torque is less at 46.5 ft-lb. For some, the price of the Empulse R will be a tough pill to swallow. EV enthusiasts will get it, ICE diehards will scoff, but those on the fringes should take one for a spin to make their own decisions. Go to www.Brammo.com to find a dealer near you and arrange a test ride.

+ Highs

  • Longer range
  • Composed chassis
  • No thermal cutback!
- Sighs

  • Can’t fine-tune regen
  • Range still a limiting factor
  • Price is still prohibitive

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  • Buzz

    I still wonder why it uses a chain instead of a belt. It seems like a belt drive would be much quieter (adding to the electric feel) and virtually maintenance free.

    • Bill Manewal

      Belts require a more complicated swing arm/idler pulley setup. Changing it is more complex. Chains let the user select final drive ratios more easily by switching out sprockets. Chains can wrap around smaller front sprockets (requiring larger rear sprockets) and are more narrow. Chain drives have 98% power transfer efficiency; belt drive, 95%. With an oiler setup, chain maintenance is greatly minimized.

      • Buzz

        We’re talking about a 50hp motorcycle with a 70 mile range.

        A belt would be way better.

        • ssdajoker

          They should do like BMW and go shaft drive! But belts are advantageous as well.

      • Warren W. Weiss

        The entire Zero line uses belt final drive. So, it’s do-able. I suppose Brammo has somewhat of an investment in the chain drive setup and doesn’t want to spend TOO much on a change, regardless of how positive it is.

  • Nosig

    My Renault Zoe has an on board 43 kW charger. If the Empulse would have a 22 kW on board charger you could charge in thousands of places at regular 11 or 22 kW charge points around Europe within 30 minutes to an hour max. I don’t mind the range so much if I can charge quickly during a small coffee break. You could then easily manage 300km+ days with just two or three coffee / lunch breaks. But 2.5 hours is just way too long for me now. I’m sure it will come, hopefully sooner than later.