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Brammo Empulse R A motorcycle that just happens to be electric.

Switch on the Brammo Empulse R and push what appears to be a start button, and no starter grinds an engine to life, no ignition ignites a volatile mixture and no exhaust barks as it purges burnt gases. Instead, the dashboard blinks ever so silently as the Empulse boots up. Twist the throttle a few seconds later and the 470-pound machine whirs and pulls away briskly.

Acceleration is quick and extremely smooth as the tach soars toward 9000 rpm. A quick pull on the clutch and a toe-up of the shift lever brings a solid click to second, then third, then fourth. In just a few short seconds, the Empulse R is traveling an indicated 85 mph. This machine is a motorcycle first and only then an electric vehicle. Impressive.

Path to the Empulse’s current design, however, was long for Brammo: The Ashland, Oregon-based company first showed the bike in the summer of 2010—a racier, higher-performance and longer-range electric bike than its Enertia city bike, which was based on the racebikes that it ran in the TTXGP and other electric races. The configuration was straightforward: Two aluminum beams bent outward and reached straight back and down to the swingarm pivot. Cradled between the beams were Brammo-designed lithium-ion battery packs. Below the packs was the electric motor controller and above were the vehicle control computer and recharging circuitry, covered with something that looked much like a gas tank; it even had a cap, which covered not a filler to put gasoline in but the socket for a level-2 electric recharging plug. This original pre-production Empulse had a 50-plus-horsepower electric motor cradled down near the swingarm pivot driving a chain directly from its output shaft.

Compared to prior electric motorcycles, the Brammo spoke a design language that could be heard by experienced motorcyclists: It simply looked right. The initial press coverage brought a wave of potential buyers requesting to be added to Brammo’s waiting list.

As Brammo listened to those buyers, explained Brian Wismann, Director of Product Development, the more it became convinced that the original Empulse wouldn’t satisfy them. “We were worried about the performance,” said Wismann. With a relatively low-voltage electric system (just over 100 volts, compared to the 400-plus volts of electric roadrace bikes), the Empulse’s motor couldn’t deliver the exceptional low-speed torque required to feel vigorous acceleration away from a stop with a single gear ratio.

So, Brammo delayed production and went back to the drawing board, working with Italian company SMRE to package a new, water-cooled, permanent-magnet AC (PMAC) motor with a six-speed gearbox. Then it redesigned the Empulse around that new drivetrain.


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