Some of you may remember my previous blogs on Electric Bikes… The first one I wrote was 4 years ago and I had some not nice things to say about the electric bike market. I mean, who the hell cares, right?
Holy crap, times have changed in 4 years. Pure electric vehicles are coming out of the woodwork for consumers left and right these days. The Nissan Leaf. The Chevy Spark. The TESLA (insert dramatic theme music).
It IS a damned good looking car… Images credit: Tesla Motors
Some of my opinions haven’t changed…much…
I’d said before that EVs are for the wealthy. Lower class, and even a lot of middle class denizens would be hard pressed to have a second vehicle, let alone a second vehicle so particularly focused on a single task; commute, and commute locally. And it’s not like EVs are cheap either! I think the Tesla Model S costs somewhere in the vicinity of 100 grand. I could buy a decent house for that much money here in Reno (don’t judge me because I live in Reno, I already judge myself), let alone a car that may or may not make it over Donner Pass into Sacramento—the nearest city to me, only ~130 miles away!
But this blog isn’t about cars. This is about electric BIKES. And Brammo certainly appears to be doing SOMETHING right. Afterall, they DID contact me to take some pictures for them. ;)
So, I get a call from Brammo, stating that they need some media shots and the likes for their new 2014 Empulse R. “Of course!” I say. I was actually genuinely intruigued for more than simply making a few bucks: I’d not yet ridden one. I’ve been following along with the developement of them. My good friend and riding mentor Shane Turpin races one!
Shane casually rides around Thunderhill Raceway on his Brammo Empulse RR. Like a BAWS. photo credit Oxymoron Photography
Mostly, I wanted to ride one. :D
With the help of my good friend Todd Grice, we headed down to Los Angeles. I wanted to be there a day early so that I could scope out the scene. Put down some ideas on what and when I wanted to shoot. I even made a MAP!
Joe gets organized and pretends to be professional…
We walked LA for a solid 6-7 hours. Up and down every alley, nook, and cranny, looking for rad, urban, derelict, places to shoot the Empulse R. Little Tokyo? Check. Financial District? Check. Skidrow? Check.
I’ve seen people take naps in worse places.
The next day, Todd and I started bright and early and got to work. We had 2 bikes at our disposal. The 2013 Empulse R and the 2014 Empulse R. The 2013 was used mostly as a 2 up bike for getting Todd and I around in the most epic gay-bear-like fashion—giggling like little girls on a near-silent bike–you’ve ever seen. Todd and I are not small dudes. I’m 6’4 and a solid 225lbs. I’d venture to say that Todd is almost exactly the same. Nearly 500 pounds of man-meat atop our steed. Ha!
First impression? “HOLY SHIT! THIS THING IS FAST!” No joke. It’s diabolically fast, even. Riding it solo, riding on the back, or riding with a passenger…none of it made any difference to the Brammo. It took off like it was slung from a trebuchet. Like, one of those world-record holding, pumpkin flinging trebuchets no less.
The riding position is super comfortable as well. It took me a few miles to get used to the rear-sets…they’re placed somewhere between a sportbike and a dirtbike. Comfortable, not at all agressive, yet high enough to allow me the ground clearance I needed to drag a knee in the Safeway Parking lot. ;)
Poseriffic squidletons on the beach
It wasn’t until the second day that I STARTED getting used to not needing the clutch. Yeah, for reals. Since the motor spins at exactly ZERO RPMs at idle, you don’t even need to pull the clutch in when you come to a stop light. Leave it in 1st…or 2nd…or hell, even in 6th gear if you wanted (yes, the Empulse R has far more than enough torque to leave from a dead stop, in 6th gear, with ZERO use of the clutch) and stop on red, go on green with just a twist of the throttle. I feel like words won’t even begin to describe how odd of a sensation it is…you just have to test ride one yourself to see what I’m talking about. Needless to say, out of habit, I kept trying to use it. Not that you can’t. You simply don’t need to. It was weird. Equally weird is the 6 speed sequential gear box derived from SMRE…neutral is between 2nd and 3rd gear. //me scratches head
I’ll be honest…I started off the 2 day shoot a bit apprehensive about the bikes. For those of you that know me well, I’m pretty OCD about some stuff. Charging my gadgets is one of them. I start freaking out when my phone drops below 70% charge. And we were RIDING the bikes to locations…guerilla style, with the possibility of killing the battery and being left, stranded, with no food, water, or rescources to stay alive in downtown Los Angeles… This wasn’t just a shoot, this was SURVIVAL as far as I was concerned. :D
We rode a solid 25 miles on day 1. All surface street, light to light, traffic, lane splitting, the usual Southern California kinda riding/commuting. Through LA, Venice beach, etc. Charge dropped from 100% down to about 70%. Two-up, with man-apes on the back.
“Fill’er up on #4, please!” I left the bike on the charger for about 30 minutes while taking some shots on the Santa Monica Pier…by then, it juiced up the Brammo an extra 15% or so.
By the end of day 1’s shoot, I was honestly completely sold. The bike is freggin fun. Plain and simple. It doesn’t get hot while sitting at lights. It’s quiet and stealthy. It’s quick and nimble. It’s Marchesini wheels and Brembo Brakes fire it off the line and get it stopped ridiculously quick. You can defintely outrun the police. If you’re riding two up, you can actually hold a conversation back and forth, even at freeway speeds, without having to scream to one another about how scared your passenger is during your little poilce evasion. ;)
Having a quiet conversation, pondering the nuances of electric motors vs traditional combustion engines and what to expect in jail if the Rozzers catch us.
And I can’t even begin to explain how many “oohs and ahhs” we received over the 2 days. Everyone. EVERYONE. From young kids to staunch business men, to geriatrics, to crackheads, baseheads, and “working girls” all would approach us about the bikes. Not at all what we were doing, but purely about the bikes. Even when we were surrounded by 4 of LA’s finest, the conversation quickly turned from our antics on our motorcycles to the motorcycles themselves. No joke. That happened.
The chick in the background…her look explains it all
The #1 top rated conversation we got?
Random person, “Are those electric motorcycles?”
Our reply, “Yes. 100% electric.”
Random person pauses, not knowing what to say, follows up with “Then where do you put the gas in?”
Questions most asked were stuff like:
-How many mpg does it get?
-Is it a Ducati/Kawasaki 750 HP2?
-How far will it go on a charge?
-Where are the solar panels?
-How fast does it go?
-Are you from the future?
“Does it look like I’m from the future? …well…yeah, I guess it kinda does…”
Day 2 of the shoot was even better. Overnight, we charged the bikes at the hotel. It was like filling up at a gas station, except it was free. And we weren’t staying the night at a gas station. We woke up bright and early hoping to get a start when the traffic was heaviest. :) No, seriously…we did.
We took the long way from Inglewood to Rodeo Dr in Beverly Hills. In fact, it was the longest way we could take; south down the 405 to the 105 east to the 110 north before finally taking the 10 back west. About a 25 mile ride on the freeway. Traffic ended up being pretty light, and we averaged a comfortable 75mph the whole time. This is where I started to doubt exactly how sold I was on the Brammo. As we rode (Todd at the helm, myself riding in the La-La position on back), I watched the “fuel gauge” pretty closely, the battery percentages ticking off far more quickly than I was comfortable with.
25 miles of freeway later, with 42% of our starting 100% now gone, I was quietly panicking to myself. We were in Beverly Hills, and the last thing I wanted was to be stranded there amongst the Versace Wolves, Jimmy Choo Ligers, or the Giorgio Armani Sausage Creatures.
Despite our fears, the show had to go on
Our shoot went without a hitch. We didn’t encounter a single 90210 Chupacabra that day. Troves upon troves of elated onlookers, both foreign and domestic (it was easy to tell who the natives were by their recent botox injections), had dozens of questions and most asked to take pictures with the Brammos. Visually, the bikes are quite stunning. I’ve not met the person responsible for the looks and design of the Empulse, but kudos to him/her!
As we were leaving Beverly Hills, that’s when I discovered “Sport Mode” on the Empulse. WHY THE HELL HAD NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT IT SOONER?! Wait… I think I know why… ;)
I asked if our stuntman, Jake, would mind riding on the back with Todd so I could get a good feel for the bike myself. He agreed, and off we went.
I mentioned earlier that my first impression was that the bike was fast…well, in Sport Mode, multiply that by 17, subtract 1, and add 194, and that’s what you get when you switch to Sport Mode. Holy baby jebuz. It transforms from guided missle into a Light Cycle from Tron.
I won’t go into great detail, but during the ride back, I learned that you can actually BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) an Empulse R. Sort of. It’s not as bad as a Red Ring of Death à la xBox or a full on Windows BSOD…it’s more like an annoying pop up when you open your favorite *ahem* “website.”
In my hooliganism on the Brammo in sport mode, while backing it into corners, doing wheelies, and possibly catching a bit of air… it doesn’t like to spin up the rear while the front tire is in the air. ;) The bike put itself into limp mode and I casually rode it onto the sidewalk as the screen flashed at me saying something to the effect of “are you dead?” A quick toggle of the kill switch and the bike was ready to rock and roll again.
I effortlessly hit squidlike speeds of 100+ mph. At every stop and go, I twisted the throttle to the stops. I rode that bike as hard as it would let me for the next 15 miles or so. We got back to the hotel and it still had 32% life left in the battery. Plenty of juice for a stunt session with Todd.
“You forgot to strap your lid, you hooligan squid!!!”
All in all…wow. Just wow. I had my doubts going in, but I have them no more. It’s got some drawbacks of course…like, it’s NOT a freeway machine. Though it rides every bit as fast and [even more] comfortable as your GSXR-600-750-1000-yut-uuuhhh on the freeway, it drains battery life something fierce. On the surface streets tho? Unstoppable. If you live and work in an urban environment like LA, Sacramento, the Bay Area, you NEED this motorcycle. In the city, you’re looking at about 120 miles of riding before needing a recharge. On the freeway, about 70 miles. There’s an app for your smartphone too that tells you the location of every charging station known to man as well. It’s far more convenient than I thought it was going to be.
The quality and craftmanship of the Empulse R is superb. There is nothing cheap or flimsy about the bike. It’s smart, fun as hell, absolutely gorgeous, green, and made with love, no doubt. I felt like a movie star riding that thing around LA. Or at least an astronaut. I kinda wish I’d have bumped into Jay Leno and kicked tires with him about bikes, cause I would have fit right in.