2016 Victory Empulse TT Electric Motorcycle - FIRST RIDE

Victory’s electric surprise makes us want to know when the “Charger” is coming.

2016 Victory Empulse electric motorcycle track action

The story of this 2016 electric motorcycle isn't really about 2016 and it's really not that much about the actual motorcycle. It's about long-term positioning for 2020 and beyond. And Victory's parent company Polaris being prepared to place strong bets on transportation segments it believes will pay off. Electric motorcycles will have a place in many mass markets and this bike says, "We will be there. We are there."

The bike is the 2016 Victory Empulse TT, and if it looks familiar, that's because it's a lightly modified Brammo. Cosmetics are polished, a new instrument unit is used, paint and bodywork are redone, and battery capacity is boosted 10 percent with new "pouch" cells and more efficient packaging. But beyond that, this is a Brammo as it was. It's even initially being manufactured by Brammo in Oregon before production is later moved to the Midwest.

And the Empulse name is Victory's full acknowledgement of this bike's technical origin. What the Empulse TT accomplishes is this: It gets Victory entry into the electric market before any major OE—particularly Harley-Davidson—and it helps reposition Victory as a forward-looking, performance-oriented brand. It also allowed the company to race the ex-Brammo electric superbike in the 2015 Isle of Man TT (where it finished third in the hands of Lee Johnston), while fitting in nicely with the "prove American performance" efforts represented by the Project 156 Pikes Peak racer, and the Gunner Pro Stock drag bike. Through these efforts, Victory's name has been put in front of an entirely new worldwide audience for a variety of compelling reasons.

The Empulse TT is nicely improved visually. The seat is also much more comfortable, which is a somewhat odd comment to make since our day of testing the bike happened at the High Plains Raceway road course east of Denver, where we had a succession of 20-minute stints on the bike. But such was the discomfort of the old Brammo seat that this clearly was an improvement.

2016 Victory Empulse track action

Given the small number of technical changes from the Brammo version of this bike, it’s no surprise the riding experience of the 2016 Victory Empulse TT is almost exactly the same. The biggest functional improvement is a result of the narrower rear tire on these new Victory-sourced rims, which has made steering lighter and more neutral.

Riding a street pace on this racetrack demonstrated this is a reasonably comfortable, small-feeling bike with acceleration performance not quite in the Suzuki SV650 range from its electric motor and six-speed gearbox. The last Empulse we tested made 52.4 horsepower and 62.6 pound-feet of torque (at an ultra low 1,360 rpm). Measured top speed was 103 mph, which was backed up here by an indicated 108 on the longest straight of this Colorado track.

The 10.4-kw/h lithium-ion battery is better packaged and offers 10 percent more capacity, according to Victory. In our last test, we found the practical average range to be 45 miles in normal suburban riding, so we’d expect that to be perhaps 50 with the added capacity. Full charge time on 110-volt household current is 7-8 hours but at 240 volts on a public charging station or with accessory charger this is reduced to 3.5 hours.

The gearbox, clutch, and chain final drive didn't make sense before, and still don't now. It makes the bike noisier than it need be, adds significant driveline lash, and complicates the riding experience for no real benefit. The clutch also messes with your brain a bit since you only need to pull the lever for shifts, not to leave from a stop. Picking third or fourth gear and running laps allowed for what felt like similar speed and acceleration on track and removed the clunky shifting experience. Why not drop the extra weight and complication and pick a good all around ratio? Works for the Isle of Man TT race bike we also rode at the track during this test day, and Zero's electric streetbikes are quite quick and quiet on a single ratio with belt final drive.

2016 Victory Empulse electric motorcycle cornering action

ON THE TRACK

High Plains Raceway is a really fun track, and once I was up to speed there was great entertainment in trying to maintain momentum and run clean laps. The faster I went the more it showed that the suspension is unchanged from Brammo spec in the general lack of damping control. Given Victory’s success with damping settings and chassis behavior in its gasoline motorcycles, leaving this stuff unimproved is a disappointment. There was an Empulse TT there, with an adjustable accessory fork, slicks, and rearsets. It handled significantly better than the standard Empulse TT, and it was much less prone to drag its shift and brake levers, the first things that touch while cornering on the stocker with its lower, more forward-mounted pegs.

So? Polaris gets credit for being the first big bike maker to offer an electric streetbike. And while it has the backing of a good national dealer network, it will be interesting to see what the company earns from this $19,995 offering. The Empulse TT certainly is the fast track into the electric-motorcycle market, and it will help Victory see if its supposed customer—a “status-driven, tech-savvy, thrill-seeking ‘toy’ collector, a Tony Stark type guy”—is actually out there and willing to spend money on a bike like this.

What we are far more interested to see is the next electric motorcycle from Victory. Earlier this year, around the same time it acquired Brammo’s electric motorcycle business, Polaris registered the name “Charger.” What does this prove? That Polaris is serious about bringing its formidable industrial design capability and decade-and-a-half of motorcycling building experience into the electric market.

SPECIFICATIONS
PRICE|$19,995
POWERTRAIN
BATTERY|Lithium-ion
BATTERY CAPACITY|10,400 Watt-hours
BATTERY VOLTAGE|103.6 volts / 117.6 volt (max)
TRANSMISSION TYPE|Six-speed gearbox
MOTOR TYPE|Internal, permanent-magnet AC
SUSPENSION
FRONT SUSPENSION|Adjustable 43mm inverted fork
REAR SUSPENSION|Adjustable shock
CLAIMED PERFORMANCE
PEAK POWER|54 hp
PEAK TORQUE|61 lb.-ft.
MAX SPEED|100-plus mph
BRAKES
FRONT BRAKES|Dual 310mm Brembos, 4-piston radial calipers
REAR BRAKES|Single Brembo disc, 2-piston caliper
BRAKE SYSTEM TYPE|Regenerative. No ABS
TIRES / WHEELS
FRONT TIRE|Continental Sport Attack II, 120-70ZR-17, 58W
REAR TIRE|Continental Sport Attack II, 160/60ZR-17 69W
FRONT WHEEL|17 x 3.5 in.
REAR WHEEL|17 x 4.5 in.
DIMENSIONS
GROUND CLEARANCE|7.3 in.
RAKE / TRAIL|24° / 3.8 in.
SEAT HEIGHT|31.5 in.
WHEELBASE|58.0 in.
CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT|470 lb.
CARRYING CAPACITY|368 lb.

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