Engadget cruises with the Brammo Enertia electric motorcycle (with videos!)

Little more than a month after getting our sweaty, gloveless mitts on the Zero Motorcycles Zero S we received an offer to ride yet another high-tech wunderbike: the Brammo Enertia. Naturally our first reaction was excitement -- excitement only slightly dampened by news that we'd again be using the gridlocked NYC streets as our test track. But, we risked life, limb, and the ire of many a taxi driver to get some impressions of the latest electric motorcycle to hit the streets, and grabbed some video action of it all too. Read on for the lot.

Design and aesthetics

First impressions of the Brammo are good; really good. Sure it looks a bit scrawny from a distance, but get close and the details come out. The seat is covered by what looks to be suede-like Alcantra, which is still super-trendy on the custom scene. Bodywork is fit tight and shapely, and the whole bike has a very cool aura about it, not unlike a Vespa. Sure, it's ultimately a tiny little economy cruiser that won't top 50 on a downhill with a tailwind, but with its single headlight, tapered seat, and chopped tail it looks more cafe than commuter. It's rather more aesthetically-minded than the Zero S, too, and considering the price premium you'll pay for one (an Enertia is $11,995 to start), it had better.

It's also got comprehensively better feeling brakes, with a tiny two-pot Brembo setup on the front wheel that, despite a slightly squishy lever feel, hauled the bike down to a stop in a hurry -- reassuring when you're dodging as many pedestrians as we were. The other end of the equation, however, was a bit less thrilling. Horsepower is rated at just 13.7, with torque a meatier, but still underwhelming, 31 ft/lbs. That's about half the output of the Zero S, and it feels it. Slower to get away from a stop, it accelerates smoothly but lacks the modest urgency of its similarly clutch-free and single-geared competitor, a situation that's also partly due to carrying around 55 more pounds -- 280 total.

Brammo don't even quote a 0 - 60 time for the bike, probably because with its 50mph limiter it'll never get there, but suffice it to say you shouldn't expect to win many races at the lights whilst straddling one. Don't expect to hit the highway, either, or make a daily commute of more than 45 miles. That's the conservative maximum range if you maintain an average speed of just 25 mph. It's not far, but it's a good bit more than your average commuter covers in a day, and would certainly do us just fine. The bike's six lithium phosphate batteries take three hours to charge and are rated for 35,000 miles before going to wherever heavy metals go when they die. Brammo figures they'll survive about 10 years of average use. Currently the set would cost about $3,000 to replace, but should be much, much less by the time it comes to that.

The ride

It's a bit of a shame that the range is so limited, as the bike is a far more welcoming chariot than the Zero S. That great looking seat isn't particularly wide, but it is plush and comfy, and the large pegs are in a forward position that leaves you upright and your knees extended. We were a little worried about them getting caught on a cobblestone when we were doing a little carving on the rough alley streets, but their comfort makes up for any lack of cornering clearance. It's a little bit cruiser compared to the competition's little bit moto.

Sadly our test ride was again in the throes of NYC traffic, but we found a few back streets and alleys and even corners to explore, and were happy with what we experienced. The suspension soaked up the roughest of bumps without launching us out of the seat, as mentioned above the brakes kept us safe, and a quick twist of the throttle left every other bike in our wake -- so long as it was pedal-powered, of course.

The lack of power and torque makes the bike a much smoother experience than the slight jerkyness we experienced on the Zero. Here you're gently whisked away from a stop with no hesitation or lurching, and keeping up with traffic is no problem at all. Throttle response is good at any speed -- any speed under 50.


So, the natural question is: how does it compare to the Zero S? The answer depends on your priorities. At $11,995 to start ($14,995 if you want the limited edition, carbon fiber-clad model), there's a heftier premium to pay, and with half the power, a lower top speed, and a shorter range, the Enertia is not much of a value proposition.

But, if you're just looking at the numbers, neither of these two come out on top when compared to something like a Kawasaki Ninja 250R, which can be had for about a third the price, easily best 60mpg, and run circles around the pair of them on a track. If you're buying an electric motorcycle you're looking for something different, something special, and the Enertia certainly feels special. From that almost tacky but still cool power button on the tank, down over the minimalist fairing, and back to the chopped seat, it all fits together and fits well.

Despite the lack of oomph we like the bike a lot, and while we can't say we relish the idea of letting a Geek Squad member diagnose potentially life-threatening technical issues, with any luck more reassuring service opportunities will present themselves in the near future. Bikes should finally start showing up at select Best Buy stores on the West Coast in early July, while those who've already pre-ordered will be receiving shipments about the same time. So, you'd better get that deposit deposited if you want one before the riding season is over -- assuming of course you live somewhere that has a riding season.

Update: We heard from Craig Bramscher at Brammo who indicated that the carbon-clad limited edition is actually no longer available. So, that's one less choice to make.

Many thanks to Chad Mumm from Switched for the great footage and stills.