Here at MO, we like to shake things up every now and then with our motorcycle reviews. You know – think outside the box, not get complacent, keep things fresh, etc. It inspires our creative juices, plus it just makes for a fun motorcycle ride. On occasion, the usual method for a single-bike evaluation can be a bit predictable. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a nice romp in the hills on a fast motorcycle, but we’re often asking ourselves, “What can we do that’s different?” This time, I think we have an answer.
It was just over a month ago that Editor-in-Chief Duke brought us a review of the Victory Empulse TT, the new and improved version of the former Brammo Empulse R electric motorcycle with a six-speed transmission. Polaris’ purchase of Brammo’s motorcycle assets is a strategic move that helps redefine Victory’s corporate direction, while giving Victory an entry into the e-bike market. It also means Victory has beat Harley’s Project LiveWire to the production e-bike scene. A refreshed version of the former Brammo Empulse R, Victory has added updates in the form of a higher capacity battery (10.4 kWh nominal), revised rubber cush-drive setup, and a switch from the 180-series rear tire in favor of a 160. A controversial move, but one Duke says results in a more agile motorcycle.
He should know, as he rode the Empulse TT at High Plains Raceway, outside of Denver, Colorado. While there he also noted the bike’s fluid handling thanks to the narrower-profile tire, its splendid Brembo stopping power, impressive Marzocchi/Sachs suspension and a well of power that didn’t leave him bored. However, as fun as racetrack testing can be, it’s not a very good representation of real-world riding.
So, when Victory offered us an Empulse TT to test at home, our interest piqued. The catch, though, was that we would only have the bike for a few days. Sure, we could have done the usual and taken it to the local hills and had ourselves a good time, but after living with a Zero SR, we wanted a small taste of what it would be like to live with the Victory Empulse TT. We didn’t have two months with the Victory like we did with the Zero but, instead, had only two days. The plan, then, was to dyno and weigh the bike on the first day – nearly 100 miles roundtrip. Day 2, however, would be the kicker.
Playing off the stereotype of your typical EV owner being a tree-hugging vegetarian, we decided to run a laundry list of errands aboard our Victory all through Los Angeles. Except, instead of errands in our case, we decided to look for the best veggie burritos in all of LA. This was great news for me, since I love burritos, but agonizing, as well, since my tastes are more carnivorous. Our route would start and finish from my home and encompass five different veggie burrito joints recommended to us by word of mouth and/or Google. In total, we covered 83 miles of real-world riding in one charge.
The trip to the MotoGP Werks dyno proved very informative, as it’s a 92-mile round trip from my house, according to Google Maps, with about 95% of it on the freeway. Getting there took exactly 50% of battery life, but there was a catch – I rode in ECO mode, cruised in sixth gear, and kept speeds to a maximum of 65 mph the entire trip. The bike’s onboard range meter can cause anxiety as the range number drops dramatically each time you open the e-throttle. Making dyno pulls in each gear dropped the battery down to 36%, so there was no way I’d make it back home without recharging.
After weighing the bike (475 lbs), a quick look at the PlugShare app (Chargepoint works well also) showed the nearest charging station was conveniently located at a burger joint. Unlike with Zeros, the Empulse comes standard with a J1772 plug, meaning you can charge at one of the many charging stations around the country without a special adapter. Charging back to 63% cost me $1.73, took about an hour (which I used to eat my lunch and check emails), then I was back on the road. The original plan was to recharge to 50% battery, but it’s a good thing I didn’t, as the return route featured steady uphill grades I’d never noticed before on other bikes, using up a fair amount of electrons. As luck would have it, I rolled into my driveway with exactly 0% showing on the gauge. A full recharge from my 110-volt wall plug took roughly nine hours.
The first stop on our veggie burrito tour was a tip from our own Evans Brasfield. Leonor’s Vegetarian Restaurant specializes in “Unique Vegetarian Creations” and Brasfield has been coming here for over 25 years. Getting there took 21 miles, dropping the battery down to 79% from a full charge.
Our commute was a mixture of flowing highway mixed with relatively open side streets. Immediately, I noticed the smoother power engagement from the newrubber cush drive, as it was far less harsh than what I remember on the Brammos of yore. Cruising along, third gear was really all that was needed around town, first and second giving great acceleration, but needing a shift early on. Third strikes a nice balance. Continuing that theme, there’s plenty of power to move around slower highway traffic in sixth, which raises a point we’ve mentioned before with the Brammo: There are three or four gears too many. A high and low gear (and maybe a middle one) are all you really need, plus would reduce the weight of the transmission.
Anyway, onto the burrito. Called the Forever-Young Buffalo Bill, Leonor stuffs a whole wheat tortilla with brown rice, steamed pinto beans, avocado, soy cheese, chopped tomatoes and red onions. We went ahead and added cilantro and soy chicken. Available in small ($6) or large ($7.50) sizes (come hungry for the large one), biting into the FYBB felt… healthy. No one flavor overpowers the other (hard to do when you’re dealing with cilantro), yet you can still recognize each one. Soy chicken tastes similar to the real thing, but with a slightly softer texture. Cap it off with a refreshing flax seed ice tea.
Another 20 miles southeast of Leonor’s, in the Boyle Heights region of East LA, finds us at Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Cafe. Established in 1955 by Manuel Rojas, the cafe has been serving authentic Mexican food to diners from all over the world. The third generation of the Rojas family continues to carry the torch.
Just as the next generation of Rojas is moving the restaurant forward, the Victory Empulse TT is moving transportation ahead, too. It’s an easy motorcycle to ride, though there is an adjustment period to get used to the clutch and shifter. The clutch is only needed to change gears, and even then it can be avoided with a well-timed blip from the right wrist and left toe. Another difference between the Victory and an ICE motorcycle is neutral being located between second and third gear. Despite the change, the bike will still roll when turned off, whether the bike is in gear (any gear) or not.
It was another 20 miles to get to El Tepeyac, dropping the battery to 56% charge. Open highways meant higher speeds and the charge was dropping at a steady pace. Entering and exiting freeway onramps highlights the increased agility from the 160-profile rear tire, a departure from the 180 seen on yesteryear’s Brammo. It’s more willing to turn in, does so quicker, and holds its line nicely. Handling is the main area where the Victory has an advantage over the Zero SR, the Victory feeling confidence-inspiring whereas the Zero is able but doesn’t inspire its rider to push to their limit. Like the Zero though, the Vic has no problem getting up to speed and blending in with traffic, especially in Sport mode.
As for the burrito, El Tepeyac delivered a huge flour tortilla stuffed with rice, beans and guacamole, topped with ranchera sauce and both cheddar and jack cheese. When I say huge, I’m not kidding. The burrito could easily feed two people. That said, the taste of rice, beans, guacamole and ranchera sauce was… average. The peppers in the sauce added a nice kick, but El Tepeyac makes up for the lack of bold flavor with sheer size. However, if you’re a meat eater, don’t overlook this place – some of the other dishes I saw the chefs cooking up looked delicious and equally as big!
When it comes to unique eats, Worldwide Tacos is hard to beat. Boasting over 150 different tacos and burritos, available with real meat or vegetarian substitutes, the menu offers items like a Grilled Lemon/Lime Steak and Shrimp, Piña Colada Shrimp, and Tequila Chili Lime Chicken, all available in either taco or burrito form. We opted to go bold and try the Vegetarian Raspberry Chicken.
Despite the weird combination of flavors in the name, the result was spectacular. The soy chicken carried a subtle hint of raspberry and barbecue sauce, the mixture of ingredients complementing each other nicely. The rice and cilantro added additional texture and flavor. Sometimes, they say simple is better, but in the case of the Vegetarian Raspberry Chicken Burrito (also available with real chicken) from Worldwide Tacos, that’s not the case.
It was another 11 miles from El Tepeyac to Worldwide Tacos, the battery level down to 39%. By now the seat was starting to bother me. Its padding is sufficient nearest the faux fuel tank, but the shape of the seat holds the rider in place, making it difficult to move around. Scooting back on the seat places the butt on a hard plank, as the seat tray between the operator and passenger is very thinly padded. From there, the rearsets are placed in a more aggressive position than the Zero SR I recently sampled. For a commuter, the SR’s rider triangle is more favorable.
If you’re like me, any establishment endorsed by Anthony Bourdain is a must-visit. Tacos Villa Corona is one such place. Unfortunately, we arrived much later than the 2pm closing time listed on the front door. By now we’d covered about 65 miles, the last 11 or so leading to Tacos Villa Corona involving bumper-to-bumper traffic, which hardly drained the battery. Being stuck in traffic is no fun in any vehicle, but typically on an ICE motorcycle, the heat radiating from the engine can be punishing. No such thing on the Victory (or any electric, for that matter), as hardly any detectable heat makes it to the rider. Something to keep in mind for the 49 states in the union barred from splitting lanes. One annoyance was the plastic cover over the faux fuel tank, which dug into my legs when trying to squeeze the tank.
With six locations in the SoCal area, Señor Fish could be considered the most chain-like of the establishments we visited. Its veggie burrito is also large, with rice, beans, mushrooms, cheese, and zucchini among the flavors wrapped inside the flour tortilla. Each bite reveals a grilled flavor from each ingredient that I didn’t notice on the other burritos, but like El Tepeyac, Señor Fish relies on size.
Riding back to my casa after dinner, the roads were finally free from traffic, meaning the blast back could be ridden at a spirited pace. As mentioned earlier, the completed loop took 83 miles, with 5% charge remaining when I pulled into my driveway. Clearly, had the roads been light the entire trip, the Empulse wouldn’t have finished the loop. However, real-world riding involves bouts with traffic. So, like we always say regarding e-bike range, yours will greatly depend on conditions and riding style.
For the sportier e-bike fans out there, the $20k Victory is worth a look. Its chassis and handling dynamics are a cut above the $16k Zero SR, as is its fit and finish. However, rideability still favors the Zero, as its twist-n-go nature makes it supremely easy to ride compared to the Victory’s 6-speed transmission.
Which one you should pick is a personal decision. All we know is we want another Vegetarian Raspberry Chicken burrito.