Electric vehicles are a polarizing subject, rife with environmental, political and technical whoop-de-doos. Advocates insist electricity is the wave of the future for transportation, claiming enhanced performance, reduced emissions and lower maintenance. Opponents argue that EVs are costly, short on range and will require a new refueling infrastructure. To this debate comes the Brammo Enertia.
Statistics published a decade ago by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claimed that nearly 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in “urban” areas with at least 50,000 residents. If many of those same folks inhabit apartments and condos and houses close to their places of work and patronize restaurants, stores and other businesses even nearer to home, one could reason that a user-friendly two-wheeler, such as the plug-in Enertia, would be a runaway hit. A second car? Who needs it?
Craig Bramscher, Brammo’s driving force (and company namesake), used another NHTSA stat for determining the “must-have” range for the Enertia. “If the standard for a round-trip commute in the U.S. is 26 miles, we wanted to have some margin of error greater than that for a round-trip ‘adventure,’” he explained. “Our target was 40 miles.”
Bramscher, a dot-com millionaire, got his start in transportation building a GM Ecotech-powered version of the Ariel Atom sportscar under British license at his small factory in Oregon. Long-term plans called for a full line of four-wheelers, including a hot-rod electric model.”
I’ve always been intrigued by electric power,” admitted Bramscher. “I was surprised how well it worked, how efficient it was; it’s just always been about the batteries. Where battery technology is today, it comes down to power-to-weight: Is there enough power, based on the weight, to propel you from A to B without running into range limitations?”
We kept trying to figure out how to make the Atom even lighter and smaller,” he continued. “Eventually, we realized to produce a vehicle that was viable today for a suburban/urban commuter, we were going to have to go all the way down to two wheels.”
Weight wasn’t the sole concern. Bramscher said that becoming one of the first profitable electric-vehicle companies was going to be difficult when the working capital required to create an electric supercar was between half a billion and a billion and a half dollars. In comparison, bringing the Enertia to market would be relatively inexpensive—”under $50 million.” So, while Brammo’s envisioned four-wheel designs never reached production, the company is turning out as many as a dozen Enertias per day, with the capability of building 10,000 per year.
This “motorcycle for the masses” does not have a clutch or gearbox; drive is direct from the right side of the low-slung motor to the rear wheel via chain. Bramscher acknowledged that simplicity has appeal. He said that when the company went public with a prototype of the Enertia, “we realized we had something different than we originally laid out: a product that might be appropriate for ‘aspirational’ riders—people who have previously said, ‘I’ve always wanted to ride, but…’ And there is a whole list of ‘buts.’”
Component count for this 329-pound machine is low compared to even simple internal-combustion-engined motorcycles and, according to Bramscher, just 10 percent of what’s needed to build a car. Recycled parts are used throughout. “The Enertia has 24 percent recycled soda-bottle content in its main body panels and 100 percent recycled plastic in its fenders and seat pan,” said Brian Wismann, director of product development. “The frame has recycled content, as well, and is recycleable itself.”
The spars for the extruded and fabricated aluminum frame trace a straight path from the steering head to the sealed, brushless, permanent-magnet AC motor—good for 17 peak horsepower and 44 foot-pounds of torque on the CW dynamometer. “Shelves” between said spars hold six, Valence-made, 14-pound lithium-iron-phosphate batteries connected in series. Chassis components were sourced from established vendors: Brembo (brakes), Marzocchi (fork) and Elka (shock). Unable to locate a non-cush-drive-equipped 17 x 3.5-inch rear wheel, in addition to other factors, Brammo spec’d its own six-spoke cast aluminum hoops.
Start-up is a multi-step process. According to the owner’s manual, to be in “Drive Mode,” the following conditions must first be met: 1) headlight switched on; 2) kickstand up; 3) no general fault within the electrical system; 4) On/Off switch in “Off” position; 5) throttle in idle position.
At that point, you “insert your Enertia key into the ignition slot, turn the key to the ‘On’ position, then press and hold down the button on the upper body [the "fuel tank" area] for one second. If the electrical system starts without reporting a critical fault, the LED in the upper body button will illuminate continuously.
“After the Enertia starts, the dash will illuminate, and all lighting and the horn will function. Toggling the handlebar switch from ‘Off’ to ‘On’ will energize the drive train and the ‘Go’ indicator on the dash will illuminate, indicating that the Enertia has successfully entered a safe operational state in Drive Mode.
“When the Enertia is not moving, there are two visual signals sent to the operator, which indicate that the drive train is energized and the throttle is active: Four LEDs blink in the upper dash; and the dash illuminates the ‘Go’ indicator on the speedometer face. Pressing the upper body button anytime after successfully turning on the Enertia will have no effect.”
Why so many steps, plus an “On” tone (vaguely reminiscent of the boot-up process on a personal computer) and blinking LEDs? Unintended acceleration is no laughing matter! To Brammo’s credit, the barrel-type ignition lock and handlebar switchgear are conventional in both their appearance and function. Only the small, circular, light-rimmed “button on the upper body” is unique to the Enertia.
So, there you sit, in complete silence, LEDs winking rapidly. What next? You simply twist the throttle. Response varies with the speed by which the throttle is opened, but there is never a threat of a flip-over. To get the front wheel off the ground, you will physically have to pick it up. Acceleration is smooth, if not rapid, and accompanied by light motor whine and drive-chain whir. The farther you twist the throttle—maximum opening is recorded by a digital tattle-tale on the dash—the faster you go, up to an indicated top speed of 62 mph.
How quick? Not very. Road Test Editor Don Canet recorded a 0–60 mph time of 16.1 seconds, and his best quarter-mile run was 20.19 seconds at 60.78 mph—the Enertia’s actual top speed. The 40–60-mph “top-gear” roll-on test took 10 seconds. This makes the Brammo significantly slower than, say, aKawasaki Ninja 250. Our last Ninja 250 testbike reached 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, covered the quarter-mile in 15.32 seconds at 83.90 mph and posted a 40–60-mph top-gear roll-on of 7.5 seconds. Top speed was 92 mph. All the while returning an average of 44 mpg and currently retailing for $4K.
If you bomb along wide-open on the Enertia for several miles at a stretch, you’ll discharge the batteries in no time. Early on in our testing, we did, in fact, spend “too much time at full throttle,” which flashed a fault code on the dash display; performance, however, was unaffected. When a Brammo tech pulled up our multiple-mile throttle-to-the-stop run on his laptop—Big Brother, indeed—he saw that one of the batteries had “spiked” and failed to return to normal activity. The damaged battery was replaced, and we experienced no further problems.
Go easy, freewheeling to stops—making a game of it, even—and, depending on geography and traffic conditions, you might get Bramscher’s targeted 40 miles from a full charge. The farthest we ever traveled between charges was 31 miles on two occasions, with a 6 percent charge remaining one time and a 20 percent the other. Recharging takes 3-4 hours using the supplied power cord and a 110-volt standard outlet. The LCD dash notifies you when available juice dips below 20 percent. Wismann admitted that a small power “reserve” has been incorporated into the system’s software.
With its wide, mild-rise handlebar, sporty steering geometry and narrow 18-inch-front/17-inch-rear Avon RoadRiders, the Enertia is a light and responsive handler. Pegs are forward, reminiscent of those on a Harley-Davidson Sportster, and the seat is narrow. If you slide back a bit, padding is sufficient—at least for the relatively short hops for which the Enertia is intended.
Ride quality from the inverted, leading-axle cartridge fork and fully adjustable shock (each with a claimed 5 inches of travel) is on the harsh side of firm; potholes deliver bigger whacks than a WWE SmackDown. Future bikes will likely receive a slightly softer setup. The single-disc front brake with its twin-piston, pin-slide caliper has decent feel (the opposed-piston-caliper rear brake is as wooden as a 2 x 4), but stopping distances recorded by Canet were 20-25 percent longer than with most current motorcycles.
Other concerns? Steering lock is as limited as it is on some older Ducatis. This isn’t a problem above parking-lot speeds, but in tight confines, it proved frustrating. New triple-clamps with a different offset are in the works. Further, the Enertia is a solo-only machine; there are no provisions for a passenger. And with the power cord filling all space under the seat, on-bike storage is non-existent. To charge the Enertia, you must unlock the seat, remove the cord, plug it into the bike and, finally, an outlet. A retractable cord would simplify the process but, according to Wismann, that wasn’t a workable solution.About the price: Last November, Brammo lowered suggested retail of the Enertia from $11,995 to $7995. Factor in a 10 percent Federal Tax Credit and the price drops to $7195. Some states offer additional incentives; in California, for example, the final tally would be $5695.
You can purchase an Enertia directly from Brammo or, in increasingly more western states, at Best Buy, better known as a retailer of appliances and electronics gear. Brammo hopes to be in Best Buy stores nationwide within a year. Service—brake pad and tire replacement, chain adjustments and the like—will also be performed at Best Buy stores.
“If you don’t value being green, owning something unique or supporting an effort to get us off oil, then this product won’t pencil out for you, and we’ll make no claim to the contrary,” said Wismann. “On the other hand, if these are things you do care about, then the Enertia provides a much more cost-effective entry into the EV market than nearly anything else out there. At $8K, the Enertia may not be a ‘bargain,’ but it’s also not a rip-off.”
Clearly, the Enertia is not for everyone. But rather than criticize it for what it isn’t, consider instead what it may well be: the tip of the iceberg.