When Worlds Collide: Electric vs. Gas Motorcycles

Electric motorcycles are eligible for lightweight and middleweight sportbike classes in AFM roadracing.

Eric Bostrom rides a Brammo Empulse TTX at Thunderhill Raceway

Eric Bostrom rides a Brammo Empulse TTX at Thunderhill Raceway.

In an unprecedented move, the American Federation of Motorcyclists (AFM) is allowing electric motorcycles to compete head-to-head on track with conventional internal-combustion-powered machinery.

According to AFM President Berto Wooldridge, Oregon-based Brammo was looking for a way to showcase

its new Empulse sportbike. "They wanted to compete within the existing class structure against gas-powered bikes with similar power-to-weight ratios and performance," he said. "We believe this is a historic moment in motorcycle racing, and we are happy to have made it possible."

Wooldridge says the Empulse R and Empulse TTX are eligible for select lightweight classes. Empulse RRs qualify as middleweights. Brammo is offering contingency prize money.

Staging nearly silent electric motorcycles alongside screaming 600s is going to cause a ruckus. Having raced both types of machines, I am well aware of the rush of adrenalin that comes from the sound emitted by a high-rpm four-stroke. Electric-bike racers, however, may view that ear-splitting noise as an annoying distraction.

Electric bikes lack the traditional aural response of internal-combustion engines, such as the change in rpm that occurs with on-throttle wheelspin. I had to overcome this when pushing to the edge of traction on the Brammos that I've raced. On the other hand, feel for the road is unparalleled. Also, the controls deliver more direct feedback; even the jangling of floating brake rotors can be heard. Overall, the effect is greatly enhanced concentration on lines, braking points and the like, which means ICE racers may have to develop eyes in the back of their heads.

Still, the top 600s are going to be difficult to beat. Brammo’s Director of Product Development, Brian Wismann, was candid about the job ahead. “It’s going to be a challenge to be competitive,” he said. “Gas bikes have many years of development time. But we’re excited to pit our Empulse against the best efforts from Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha.”

So, will an army of ICEs prevail? Or will the victor be a foreign invader, diving, unannounced, up the inside of an established inline-Four? Battle lines are drawn for a merging of these very different worlds.

2013 AFM Race Schedule (subject to change)

Date Track
March 2-3 Buttonwillow Raceway Park
May 4-5 Infineon Raceway
June 1-2 Thunderhill Park
July 6-7 Thunderhill Park
August 3-4 Thunderhill Park
August 31/September 1 Infineon Raceway
October 5-6 Thunderhill Park
Brammo supported Shelina Moreda poses with AFM racers

Brammo supported Shelina Moreda poses with AFM racers Alan Cunningham, Jonathan Forman and Mark McKinney.

Brammo's Brian Wismann, speaks with Bostrom

Brammo's Brian Wismann, speaks with Bostrom.

Moreda and Bostrom discuss bike setup

Moreda and Bostrom discuss bike setup.

Empulse TTX charging in the pits at Thunderhill

Empulse TTX charging in the pits at Thunderhill.

Moreda aboard an Empulse TTX at Thunderhill.

Moreda aboard an Empulse TTX at Thunderhill.

Eric Bostrom rides a Brammo Empulse TTX at Thunderhill Raceway

Eric Bostrom rides a Brammo Empulse TTX at Thunderhill Raceway.