Remember the mega splash Harley-Davidson made last summer with its electric LiveWire? No one expected the usually stodgy Motor Company to veer so sharply into the future, and the stylish e-bike was prominently featured across mainstream media outlets. Never before had electric motorcycles made such a huge impression on the general public.
The LiveWire is indeed cool, but what it isn’t is a motorcycle anyone can buy – for now, it’s only a prototype, an indicator of what could one day become reality.
Conversely, the bike you see here – Victory’s new Empulse TT – is getting geared up for production and will be available in dealers sometime in the fourth quarter of 2015. Although Victory Motorcycles has skewed to a future-forward direction more than its rivals over in Milwaukee, Victory had never truly leap-frogged Harley-Davidson during its 17-year history. However, this time – at least in terms of electric motorcycle production – it’s Victory taking the lead.
Victory was able to strike first thanks to parent company, Polaris, which has had a business relationship with Brammo for several years, culminating this past January with Polaris acquiring Brammo’s electric motorcycle assets. Brammo will continue to operate as an electric powertrain company independent of Victory.
The Empulse TT seen here will look familiar to e-bike aficionados, as it’s basically a mildly updated version of the Brammo Empulse R with fresh Victory graphics. The most notable changes are a lithium-ion battery pack with 10% greater capacity (now rated nominally at 10.4 kilowatt hours), a narrower rear tire, new seat material and a cush-drive setup using rubber dampers in the sprocket to ease the abrupt throttle transitions we noted in our previous testing.
The TT is otherwise a Brammo Empulse R, which includes good stuff like an aluminum frame, Brembo brakes and a fully adjustable Marzocchi/Sachs suspension. Powering the machine is a liquid-cooled AC induction motor said to produce 54 horsepower (at 4500 rpm) and 61 lb-ft of peak torque. Its price jumps one grand to $19,999.
The Empulse TT is part of Victory’s new corporate philosophy that highlights American performance and muscle, and the performance angle was on display at Colorado’s High Plains Raceway, a new track about an hour east of Denver, where Victory invited us for a day of spinning laps. The 2.55-mile track is set on natural hills that give the circuit more than 300 feet of elevation change per lap, with the steepest incline a 10% grade. (Interestingly, the facility was entirely financed by the collaboration of local car and motorcycle clubs.) Yes, it was the first Victory launch held at a racetrack.
“We define the brand now as performance and American muscle,” said Alex Hultgren, Victory’s new director of marketing, at the launch. Hultgren came over to Victory following 14 years at Ford. The performance bent was supported by Victory’s participation in the Isle of Man TT last June, and that effort begat the TT portion of the Empulse’s name.
Josh Katt, the product manager of Victory’s electric business, realizes that selling a $20k electric motorcycle has many challenges. He told us Victory is looking for Tony Stark-type figures as rider candidates, Iron Man types representing a tech-savvy, status-driven, thrill-seeker who enjoys collecting interesting toys. Katt notes there are 25,000 charging stations in the USA, and some 336,000 electric vehicles have been sold in America over the past 7 or 8 years, indicating a maturing EV market and infrastructure.
Part of that maturation process is, I suppose, riding e-bikes on a racetrack, which was a first for me. The Empulse TT is unique in that it has a six-speed transmission instead of the single-ratio drive of practically every other EV. We’ve previously harped about the notchy action of the Italian-sourced IET gearbox and postulated that, for street use, it has three or four gears too many for the bottomless well of power produced from an electric motor. The gearbox also requires oil changes at 6k miles, which kinda goes against the low-maintenance appeal of EVs.
On the track, however, having to shift the transmission added to the engagement felt by a rider. Peak efficiency from the motor is delivered between 4500 and 6500 rpm, according to Jon Luschen, project engineer on the TT, and it was fun trying to keep an electric motor inside a specific rev range, although it’s a target unnecessary to hit precisely because the powerplant always has grunt to give.
And there’s enough power on tap to entertain even seasoned riders. Most of the track could be circulated in third gear, but an upshift to fifth was required to dig out a respectable 113 mph by the end of the track’s 2,800-foot straightaway. Initial power delivery is on the soft side, as the motor controller doesn’t transmit full power at the first twist of the twistgrip (it’s technically not a throttle). This level of response is close to ideal for street use, but experienced riders might desire a more aggressive map.
Sometimes the simplest things have major effects, and that’s the case with the switch from the Brammo’s 180/55-17 rear tire to the Victory’s 160/60 rear bun. What’s given up in terms of visual butchness is gained back in spades by dramatically more agile steering responses. The Empulse still weighs about 460 lbs, but it feels almost 70 lbs lighter just from the change in wheel/tire sizes. The only downside is that the rear hugger fender now looks overgrown for the skinnier tire.
The dual-disc front brakes are more than up to the task of slowing the Empulse, feeling really solid through braided lines and Brembo radial-mount 4-piston calipers. In fact, for street use, I’d be tempted to swap one of its 310mm rotors for a 330-mil disc and remove the second unit altogether. Doing so would drop several pounds from the front-wheel assembly and create an even nimbler sports roadster.
The twin-beam aluminum frame and stout 43mm inverted fork are beefy enough to put up with racetrack abuse, but the TT’s street intentions are put into focus when its footpegs are scraping around most of High Plain’s corners. Keep in mind that ground clearance issues on the street aren’t as prevalent, and it allows much greater lean angles than a Zero S or SR.
Victory says the Empulse’s instrumentation was updated, but it’s still basically the same set of gauges. Its large gear-position indicator is handy. However, it would’ve been nice to see the TT with some additional tuning options like the smartphone app on Zero Motorcycles that allow customizable torque output and levels of regenerative braking.
As with every electric vehicle ever made, the TT’s range is an issue. Victory claims up to 140 miles of range from its 10.4 kW/h lithium-ion battery pack, but that number would be impossible if ridden all at highway speeds. Two years ago, we ran an Empulse R (with its smaller, 9.3 kWh battery) “dry” in just 50 really, really hard miles. Running around on a racetrack is a worst-case scenario: the TT’s battery dropped from 87% to 39% after one long session (about 9 laps). Impressively, the Empulses were flogged all day on the track, and none had any issues with thermal cutback – an issue that afflicts Zero’s air-cooled motors used on a racetrack.
The Empulse TT marks a turning point in electric motorcycles, as one is finally being brought to market by a major OEM. If you recall, Brammos were once sold by Best Buy, the electronics store. Meanwhile, Harley is still figuring out what to do with its LiveWire. There are some faster e-bikes out there. However, all are significantly significantly more expensive than the Empulse, and most reside somewhere between proof-of-concept and attainability.
More significant than the current Empulse is what might lie ahead now that a well-capitalized company like Polaris/Victory and its engineering and design depth are behind its successor. We’ll bet it won’t have a six-speed transmission and will be called the Victory Charger.
|2016 Victory Empulse TT Specifications|
|Engine Type||Internal permanent magnet AC|
|Maximum power||54 hp (Claimed)|
|Maximum torque||61 lb-ft. (Claimed)|
|Max speed||100+ mph (Claimed)|
|Clutch||Multi-plate hydraulic-activated wet clutch/td>|
|Final transmission||O-ring sealed chain|
|Type Gearbox / Transmission||6-speed|
|Battery||Brammo Power lithium-ion|
|Battery Capacity||10.4 kW-hr|
|Battery Voltage||103.6V/117.6V (max.)|
|Charge Time||2.0 hrs. (Level I: 20-80% SOC)
3.5 hrs. (Level II: 0-100% SOC)
8.0 hrs. (Level I: 0-100% SOC)
|Front Suspension||Adjustable 43mm inverted fork|
|Rear Suspension||Adjustable direct-acting shock|
|Front Brakes||Dual 310mm floating discs with four-piston radial-mount calipers from Brembo|
|Rear brakes||Single disc with dual-piston hydraulic Brembo caliper|
|Dry weight||460 lb|
|Front wheel||17” x 3.5”|
|Rear wheel||17” x 4.5”|
|Front tire||Continental Sport Attack II 120-70ZR17, 58W|
|Rear Tire||Continental Sport Attack II 160-60ZR17, 69W|