In July 2010, electric motorcycle maker Brammo enticed us with the unveiling of the Empulse, a high end electric motorcycle that was supposed to go on sale during 2011. In 2011, however, Brammo decided to change the design, delaying introduction until 2012. It's now 2012 and Brammo has announced the official unveiling of the Empulse would take place in Los Angeles on May 8, and in the meantime have posted a video talking about the motorcycle and its amazing heritage. Curiously, Brammo is expected to be racing in the TTXGP on May 4-6 near San Francisco and one wonders what this means about Brammo's participation in that race.
While at the moment the Brammo website still shows spec's dating back to the 2010 initial announcement, up-to-date specs are to be revealed next week on April 18 giving us "every opportunity to become familiar with the Empulse before seeing it for the first time on May 8th". Let's start with those original specs.
The Empulse is a street/race style electric motorcycle and in 2010 Brammo promised a 100+ miles/hr top speed, and a range of 60 miles ($9,9995), 80 miles ($11,995) or 100 miles ($13995). The three range estimates were due to selling the bike in three battery pack sizes, 6, 8 or 10 kilowatt-hours. The 2010 design used an AC Synchronous electric motor rated at 40 kilowatts, with a water cooling system. At that time Brammo had been using Valence LiFePO4 batteries in the Enertia, but promised the Empulse would use a custom designed lithium battery chemistry with higher energy density and higher performance. The Enertia+ also uses this new battery chemistry, enabling an 80 mile range on that bike while the original Enertia had only a 42 mile range.
The design change that led to the delay, was to incorporate a 6 speed transmission licensed from SMRE Engineering. That Italian engineering company developed the IET, or Integrated Electric Transmission. SMRE describes that transmission as "an extremely compact, high performance mechatronic propulsion unit that emulates the feeling and performance of a traditional internal combustion engine, with a specially developed electric motor, clutch and gear shift, and software that enables electric vehicles to accelerate hard from the line up to a high top speed, something that is just not possible to achieve with a single-ratio electric motorcycle."
Electric motorcycles differ from gasoline powered bikes in one specific way: engine braking. Gas powered motorcycles have a manual transmission, and just as drivers of manual transmission cars often use the engine to slow the car, so too do motorcycle riders. Slowing down is often just a matter of rolling back on the throttle, with more rapid deceleration requiring the mechanical brakes. Electric motorcycles tend to not even have a transmission, and unless the bike has regenerative braking in its design rolling back on the throttle just lets the bike coast. This means electric motorcycle riders operate their bikes a little differently than they do a gas bike, instead of relying on engine braking they're hitting the mechanical brake more often.
In some corners Brammo's plan to incorporate the IET 6-speed transmission is controversial. Electric vehicles generally do not require transmissions in the first place, unlike gasoline powered vehicles. This is because electric motors have a much wider usable power band than do gasoline engines, allowing electric vehicles to reach high speeds without requiring a transmission. A transmission can help an electric vehicle stay in its optimum efficiency and make better use of the power, but is a 6 speed transmission necessary? Two or three gear ratios should be sufficient, and 6 gear ratios may be excessive.
What we see in the video below is Brammo's telling of the company history that led to the Empulse.
The company raced an early prototype, then called the Enertia TTR, on the Isle of Man in 2009 at the inaugural TTXGP race, and the video shows many scenes from that race. In 2010 the Empulse prototype bike was to have been raced in the e-Power electric motorcycle race at Laguna Seca in July, but a snafu (Brian Wisman was heard to say "I broke it") converted the bike into a pretty, but inert, statue in the Brammo booth during the race. In 2011, Brammo returned to the track and raced throughout the 2011 TTXGP North American season, and again this is mentioned in the video with many scenes coming from those races.
Brammo won the 2011 TTXGP North American championship, but the reason why is not as cut and dried as saying it was Brammo's technology which won them the championship. In every race where Lightning Motors and/or MotoCzysz participated, the Lightning and MotoCzysz teams beat Brammo, and by a big margin. What allowed Brammo to win the 2011 season championship was the fact that Lightning failed to participate in the 2011 TTXGP season opener race at the Infineon Raceway, meaning that Brammo ended up with more points for the season despite losing two races to Lightning Motors and MotoCzysz. That's not to say Brammo's bike is inferior, because the bike performed excellently in the 2011 races. It's speed and performance simply didn't match the bikes from Lightning Motors and MotoCzysz. However, where Brammo intends to manufacture the Empulse in large quantities, MotoCzysz has no intentions of manufacturing electric motorcycles for sale, and Lightning Motors intends to manufacture its race bikes in small quantities.
In the video Brammo lays claim to the phrase "Fastest Production Electric Motorcycle". As we've seen, the 2011 Empulse was beaten in races by bikes from Lightning Motors and MotoCzysz. Further, Lightning Motors holds the land speed record for electric motorcycles (215 miles/hr) set last summer at the Bonneville Salt Flats. How, then, can Brammo make this claim? It's quite simply because of their intention to produce the Empulse in much bigger quantities than Lightning or MotoCzysz. The key is the word "Production". It's one thing to build a few electric motorcycles in small production runs (as Lightning is doing), and it's quite another to create a design allowing a manufacturer to turn out hundreds of them.
The only competitor Brammo has at this level of electric motorcycle production is Zero Motorcycles. The Zero S ZF9, that company's top end bike, delivers a maximum speed of 88 miles/hr, and a city/street range of 114 miles, or a highway range of 63 miles. Brammo claims the Empulse will deliver over 100 miles/hr speed and a 100 mile range, and if the company can deliver on this claim it will be a leapfrog maneuver jumping a bit beyond the performance level delivered by Zero today.
The video also discusses the battery pack, the Brammo BPM 15/90. It is described as comprising 36 cells and to incorporate an active cooling and heating unit to keep the cells at optimum operating characteristics. In the 2010 announcement the battery pack voltage was specified at 88.8 volts, but 36 cells is most likely to bump the pack to 118.8 volts, depending on the per-cell voltage of the cells used in the BPM 15/90 (note: the '90' may be a hint to the battery pack voltage). In any case the pack looks nicely packaged, and one brief scene shows a technician inserting a rectangular cell into the pack.
The video closes with a brief outline of what must be the actual bike to be unveiled in May. It has the outlines of a race bike, but we cannot tell enough from the brief glimpse.
See Brammo raises bar for electric motorcycles with Empulse R launch for more information