We thought it was a canny purchase when Polaris Industries — parent to both the Victory and Indian brands — acquired the motorcycle business of Brammo, a company that was designing and selling electric bikes made in Hungary.Brammo had an odd start in the motorcycle business – selling appliance-like commuter bikes at Best Buy stores back in early 2009. Brammo quickly expanded into high performance with racebikes that competed at the 2009 Time Trial Xtreme Grand Prix at the Isle of Man. As the utilitarian Enertia continued its development, so too did the performance bikes, and the Empulse series was born. By 2011, Polaris was investing in Brammo, and took possession of its motorcycle business early this year.
Rather than develop the Brammo marque — with its unfortunate toy-like name — Polaris decided to brand the Empulse RR superbike as a Victory motorcycle and raced it to victory at the Isle of Man. This was quickly followed by what has turned out to be the first electric motorcycle sold by a major manufacturer — the 2016 Victory Empulse TT.There seems to be a disconnect between Victory’s website presentation of the Empulse TT as a “street legal electric race motorcycle,” and their press representative’s suggestion that the bike was aimed at the “sport-minded commuter” and shooed us away from the track.Victory Electric Product Manager Joshua Katt endeavored to break the gridlock, saying, “The Empulse TT was developed primarily as an electric motorcycle delivering a sporty ride. But, with dual ride modes — Eco and Sport — to choose from, and the addition of a gearbox, the Empulse TT is a versatile motorcycle that can be used for impressively sporty riding or as a casual commuter.”Yes, yes, I rode it to work one day during our short test, and it did a nice job of splitting lanes and delivering me on time. Still, this sharp-looking bike with its horizontal red shock and Isle of Man heritage is not bred for donkey work — not that there’s anything wrong with a practical bike, including one that eschews California’s $4 a gallon gasoline.The Empulse TT is a breeze to ride. Oddly, you can start from any of the six gears once the bike has powered up and there is no need to use the hydraulic wet clutch or click through gears. Should you need to push the bike around, neutral can be found between second and third gears. There is no parking brake, so hillside parking is challenging.The two ride modes can be easily selected on the fly by holding down the starter switch. Sport mode puts the full power of the battery at your disposal, delivering maximum performance, but at a price: more power = less range. Eco will keep you going longer, but torque and top end is reduced, and you certainly feel this during acceleration. Not surprisingly, Sport is much more fun.Acceleration is immediate and seems fast, until you’re lined up next to your buddy on a Suzuki GSX-S750, at which point you will immediately be waxed and reminded what you are riding—a 460-pound bike that puts out a claimed 54 horsepower.Top speed is quoted at 100+ mph, but because the high-speed acceleration builds slowly, I only managed 94 mph in fifth gear before my straight stretch of road came to an end. The TT felt like it had more to give if it had more time to get there. In the Eco mode, the top speed seemed to be 73 mph, so be careful about selecting it on the freeway.Ergonomically, the chassis is super-slim, and the riding position feels akin to a supermoto bike. The upright seating and wide bars provide great leverage in turns, and the Continental ContiSportAttack 2 tires stick to the pavement like glue.I am not a knee dragger, but it wasn’t hard to scuff the toes of my Sidi racing boots in some tight turns, and the TT clearly has the athleticism and cornering clearance to lean way over without causing concern. It takes high-speed sweepers in style, once up to speed.While the Empulse TT is slow on faster road portions, I found I could ride an ultra-tight twisty section of road faster on the TT than on the aforementioned S750. With 24 degrees of rake and a non-nervous front end, the bike can change direction immediately with- out feeling unsettled. The process is easy—brake aggressively, fly through switchbacks quickly, and accelerate, all without shifting. The lack of gyroscopic momentum compared to familiar internal combustion engines gives the bike a completely different feel, and is much easier in transitions.I should mention that superb cornering performance came on a very nicely paved road. However, on less-than-perfect roads, stiction in the inverted front forks gives a rough feel, even with the compression damping backed off. On beat-up roads, I could still hold my line fairly well, but the rugged ride was distracting.This is not the level of suspension we expect on a $20,000 motorcycle, but like the Zero SR, the money is going into the battery technology, and the suspension ends up being a cost-cutting point. Electric bikes with excellent suspension, like the Energica Ego, come at nearly twice the price. It’s sobering when you consider you can get a Honda CBR1000RR SP with Öhlins suspension for $17,299.Braking is not an area where Victory comprised, equipping the Empulse TT with dual radially mounted Brembo calipers grasping twin 310mm discs up front. Predictably, the Brembo brakes have excellent feel and power to spare. Fantastic brakes definitely helped me make time in the twisties.Speaking of slowing, rolling off the throttle gives back a teaspoon of power. The regenerative braking is quite robust, allowing you to scrub off a decent amount of speed without using the Brembos, but it’s also unexpectedly noisy. There’s less of the wheezing whine when accelerating, but for an electric bike, it does not have the quiet whir I have come to expect.While you have the option to manually upshift and downshift for a “more aggressive ride like a conventional motor- cycle,” according to Victory, the transmission is clunky. In the very short time we had to test it, I couldn’t discern enough difference in performance, so surrendered myself to the simplicity of leaving the bike in third gear, which Victory recommended to me for “all-day” no-shift riding. All- day, however, may be a bit shorter than sunrise-to-sunset.We have devised a course that we think sets a reasonable range-performance standard for an electric sportbike. It should last for a spirited run for the length of Mulholland Highway from the San Fernando Valley suburbs to the Malibu beach, and back. That’s a 62-mile round trip that includes the infamous Snake section near the Rock Store, a little ribbon of road the Empulse TT loves.Sadly, 23 miles in, about 40-percent of the power was used up, and I was faced with a long downhill to the Pacific Ocean that would require a battery-draining 1600-foot climb back. Sure, there’s some power regeneration on the way down, but not enough for a net gain. There was no way the Empulse TT was going to make it, so we returned to the starting point.In a fast section on the way back, the electric motor overheated momentarily — even with liquid-cooling there was a “Regen off battery hot” message on the dash — so that was a disappointment. By the time the TT made it back to the start, it was at less than 10-percent charge after covering just 46 miles.Victory touts the Empulse TT as having the fastest charging battery on the mar- ket—a full recharge takes just under four hours—but that is with the optional Stage 2 charger and a 240-volt power source. We had the standard charger, and that stretches the charging period to nearly nine hours.The bottom line is that there is simply not enough range for a decent-length aggressive ride that includes significant elevation changes. Of course, this is rider dependent, and some will find an hour’s romp to be sufficient. For me, I am nicely warmed up at this point and looking forward to at least another hour before taking anything other than a short leg- stretching break.My commute to work is 34 miles, round trip, mostly on flat freeway, with lane splitting. Now, I’m a fairly aggressive commuter—that’s the fun of doing it on a motorcycle — and I managed to use up half the charge in a single round-trip, using Sport mode so I could keep up on the freeway. In comparison, the Zero SR (with the accessory Power Tank) used up one-third of its charge per commute.When working through traffic, the dash can be a bit distracting, though it looks impressively active with the green lights pulsing as you move in and out of the ‘green zone,’ where peak efficiency lies between 4500 and 6500 rpm. I found I was much more likely to forget to cancel my turn signal as my eyes eventually tuned out the incessant flashing lights.Speaking of which, I’m able to avoid unwanted f lashing lights behind me thanks to vibration-free mirrors that provide a sharp view of approaching vehicles. A minor annoyance is the plastic shroud over the frame — I found myself catching my riding jeans on a thin piece of it when I moved my legs, though this was slightly less of a problem with leather pants.Various accessories are available, including frame sliders, $2300 Victory performance forks, and short and tall windscreens, the latter humorously described as helping “a rider stay fresh longer during a day of riding.” A day? I wish!The twist and go rush of an electric bike is a completely different feel than from an internal combustion machine, and it definitely has its own appeal. The 2016 Victory Empulse TT has the user-friendliness of a scooter with handling like a mid-sized sportbike, so will appeal to a wide swath of rider experience. The $20,000 price tag, however, will only appeal to a select few, especially given the mediocre suspension and short riding range for those aggressive with the throttle.Electric motorcycles continue to be a niche product despite the enthusiastic energy put into battery technology—the Achilles’ heel to delivering on the promise — thus leaving electric bikes still feeling like a tease. Ah, but it feels so good.Photography by Don WilliamsRiding Style:
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!