Talking Electric Motorcycles with Brammo's Craig Bramscher - First Look

There’s more to the Brammo Enertia than just batteries.

Talking Electric Motorcycles with Brammo

If you want to learn more about the latest Honda motorcycle, who do you call? Mr. Honda? Not unless you have a direct line to the afterworld. If you want to learn more about the Brammo Enertia, however, as I did this past month, you dial the Brammo switchboard in Ashland, Oregon, and ask for Craig Bramscher, company namesake and driving force behind this all-electric, no-shifting-required, commuter-oriented motorcycle. Bramscher spoke candidly about the development of the Enertia, shortcomings of current batteries and future Brammo products.

Creating the Enertia: "I'd love to say that I had this great vision of saving the world, but it just didn't start that way. When we were building the Ariel Atom sportscar, we started exploring alternative drivetrains. We were looking at everything. I had always been intrigued with electric power; I was surprised how well it worked, how efficient it was.

"We actually designed an electric version of the Ariel Atom. Our belief—even today, a couple years later—is that a pure electric car is still a tough call because of the energy density of today's batteries. We kept trying to figure out how to make the Atom lighter and smaller. Eventually, we realized that to produce a vehicle that was viable today as a suburban commuter, we were going to have to go all the way down to two wheels.

"That was exciting for a number of reasons. I've probably had 40 motorcycles in my life. I love motorcycles as a mode of transportation. But once we figured out what a big impact electric vehicles could have on the planet and what kind of an opportunity we had ahead of us, we realized that becoming one of the first profitable electric-vehicle companies was something that we could do. And we could do it without billions of dollars in capital. Also, the Enertia fills an unmet need for first-time riders. In Europe, introductory bikes are readily available, and there's a pretty good stream of used ones. In the U.S., we go with either 600 or 1000cc."

Battery technology: "I don't think we are going to see the quantum leap that everybody would love to see in the electric-vehicle industry. But I do think we're going to see continuous gradual improvement. And I think, eventually, that tipping point will happen so that it really makes sense to have electric cars—and not just for the rich.

"As for motorcycles, the battery pack from the TTXGP racebike, which will fit in the Enertia, will give you a 100–120-mile range. That battery pack in the racebike, because it was experimental, hand-built and all that stuff, is probably $10K. The battery pack that is in the Enertia testbike you have is around $3K. So, in terms of cost versus energy density, you can see there is a path to get there. It's just a question of affordability."

Emissions: "Even if you burn the dirtiest coal, emissions are still lower than, for instance, a Piaggio scooter. It's dramatically less, like 22 grams of CO2 per kilometer; most motorcycles are 100–150 grams per kilometer, and a Harley is something like 180. That's with factory pipes; straight pipes are a whole different thing. In terms of energy purchased, you can go 7000 miles on $50. A motorcycle is already terribly efficient, but the Enertia is five to six times more efficient in terms of the cost of energy to get you from A to B."

Range: "It depends on the usage and geography. I think the guy who needs a 100-mile range and wants to go 75 or 80 miles per hour wants a different bike than what we've produced. That bike is on our radar and, without going into too much detail, we know that it's possible to do, just not for $7995. We think there is a pretty nice-size market for that, as well."

Look for a full test of the Brammo Enertia in the April, 2010, issue. Newsstand on-sale date is March 2.