2011 Brammo Empulse

The motorcycle press is touting the newly announced 20100 Brammo Empulse, and electric motorcycle that is “revolutionary”, in that it has a 100-mile range and can exceed 100 MPH. Using a liquid-cooled, brushless AC motor, with an estimated output of50 hp and 59 ft-lbs torque, the power comes from three different battery pack options, although only the top of the line Empulse 10, with a 10KW battery pack will get you the 100/100 combination.  There is also an 8KW and 6KW option, with 80- and 60-mile ranges respectively. Pricing starts at $10k for the 6KW, up to 15K for the 10KW.

*shrug*

For the price of an FJR1300, next year you can own a 60HP bike that travels 100 miles, then sits around recharging for several hours.

2010 Brammo Empulse
2010 Brammo Empulse

Electric Motorcycles Are Not Practical

Paul Crowe, over at the Kneeslider, addresses one of my personal hobby horses: electric motorcycles, and makes a key point.

The engineering expertise available today made short work of the obvious, designs began to make the bikes look good, powerful electric motors were built, the suspension is just adapted from standard models, nothing unusual there, it’s those pesky batteries. We need a small, light, fast charging, long lasting battery with big capacity. That, definitely, is not one of those easy parts, that’s a real head scratcher and, though there is a huge reward waiting for anyone who can design one, we’re just not there yet, which, itself, tells us a lot. Anyone who takes a cursory look at electric vehicles quickly sees the potential and monetary windfall waiting and still, no battery that takes the performance leap has been developed.

That last phrase is the key point.  No matter how much we might want or need electric vehicles–or some other zero-emissions technology–it will not magically appear simply because we want it…or because politicians mandate it by fiat.

Back in the 90’s, when I was hosting The Business Day on KMNY in Los Angeles, the state of California approved a mandate that required something like 40% of all vehicles be zero-emissions by 2006.  I spent an entire week talking to the big electric and alternate fuels execs at GM, Chrysler and Ford, and they all told me the same thing.  The technology to make electric vehicles with range and performance similar to internal combustion engined vehicles does not exist.

It didn’t exist in 1995.  It doesn’t exist today.  And despite the Olympian pronouncements of politicians in Sacramento, the zero-emissions mandate was superseded by that reality. And even if you get the range and power, there’s still the inconvenient 8-hour wait for the battery to recharge.

Somewhere, there’s a breakthrough in zero-emissions technology waiting to be found.  Until it is, though, all this electric motorcycle stuff is pure, feelgood, hype

More Greenery

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This weekend, the news and technology media outlets have been writing  about the really cool custom electric chopper that OCC built for Siemens.  And they all have the same picture of Paul Sr. riding the bike.  The same one, actually, that I have, come to think of it.

Anyway, everyone seems giddy with delight about the whole deal.

Yes, it’s a chopper that can keep up with a Harley-Davidson “hog” at 100 miles per hour without even waking up a baby. And, because the machine is electric, it has zero emissions compared with most cycles, which pollute the air at about the same level as a car built in the 1980s.

As Paul Teutul Sr., the driving force behind the bike shop, steered it around New York’s Columbus Circle on Wednesday, the only noise was the sound of truck drivers honking their horns in admiration of the sleek futuristic bike. Mr. Teutul, wearing his trademark red sleeveless T-shirt, says that driving the machine is “awesome.”

Known as “Senior” on the show, Teutul built the machine over the past month for Siemens, the German engineering company. It wanted an “ecobike” that looked “real cool,” in the words of a Siemens company official.

Wow.  Sounds cool huh?  But, as with most things, the devil’s in the details.

Both Siemens and OCC were reluctant to reveal how much the bike cost. Jim Quinn, an engineer at OCC, says a “normal” chopper built by the company costs between $70,000 and $150,000, depending on the amount of work.

OK.  So, let’s say north of 150,000, then.  What a bargain.  Oh, and did you read the bit above where it said the bike “can keep up with a Harley-Davidson “hog” at 100 miles per hour”?  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I mean the top speed is an indicated 100 miles an hour.  Unfortunately, the actual speed in real world use averages out to slightly above 10 MPH.

Siemens claims the bike has a 60-mile range and a 100 mph top speed. An onboard charging unit can be plugged into any 110-volt socket to charge the bike in five hours…

OCC Custom Electric Chopper for Siemens
OCC Custom Electric Chopper for Siemens

Ah, so being generous, that means you can go 100 miles an hour for about 40 minutes, until you hit the 60-miles range limit.  Then, you sit around for five hours recharging.  So, 60 miles in 5 hours and 40 minutes is an actual travel speed of 10.6 MPH. Heck, I work 26 miles away from my home.  And considering that a good part of my drive is mountainous, twisty roads, I’m not sure it would get me to work and back with a 60-mile range, which I assume is under optimal conditions.

And that’s the kind of performance that $150k+ buys you with “Green Technology”.  A bike you can out-walk.

Look, whatever urgency you may feel about saving the planet or whatever, “Green Technology” is, at the current time, almost completely useless in terms of building a usable vehicle.  We keep seeing these zero-emissions bikes, and when you look at the details, it’s always a sub-100-mile range, and then hours of recharge time.  No matter what hoopla surrounds the announcement, at the end of the day, its hoopla about a useless vehicle, that no one can afford to buy anyway, and if they can afford it, they can’t even leave town on it.

Someday, I’m sure we’ll all have vehicles with reactionless drives. And flying cars. And personal jet packs powered with dilithium crystals.  But today isn’t that day.

Get back to me when you’ve got a clean motorcycle technology that gets me 200 miles on a charge, with a 5-minute recharge time.

Zero-Emissions Dual Sport

Zero Motorcycles DS Electric Dual Sport
Zero Motorcycles DS Electric Dual Sport

Zero Motorcycle is just giddy with excitement, because they’ve released the DS, an all-electric, zero-emissions, dual-sport motorcycle.  They Claim that it’s not only emissions free, but almost completely recycleable as well.

Powered by the most advanced drive train in the industry, the Zero DS is a fully electric motorcycle that can handle any surface you can throw at it. Navigating obstacles and maintaining control is accomplished using a specially developed suspension system and a rugged wheel set. During technical maneuvers an optimized direct drive gear system delivers astonishing responsiveness with the twist of your wrist.

Well, that sounds like it’s just chock full of motorcycle goodness…except for one, tiny little thing.  When you look at the specifications, you see this:

Top Speed: 55 MPH
Range: Up to 50 Miles
Recharge Time: Less than 4 hours

So, let’s see, it’s too slow to actually commute on any freeway with.  The range is “up to 50 miles” depending on your riding style.  Then it takes about 4 hours to recharge.  So, essentially, you can ride it for less than an hour at speed, then you’re stuck at an electrical socket for “less than 4 hours”.  So, let’s say 3.75 hours.

Great.

And it’s a trail bike, too.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I can think of no better vehicle for riding trails in the middle of nowhere than one with an unpredictable range, because its power usage increases with hard riding.  and, of course, you can’t carry any extra fuel with you for emergencies.

On the upside, It won’t strand you more than 50 miles away from your last known location.  You can walk that in two or three days, depending on the terrain.  Five days, max.

So, take it out into the boonies.  You’ll be fine.

Doesn’t everybody want a motorcycle that can’t be ridden more than 25 miles away from an electrical socket without stranding you?

Note to “Green” Motorcycle Designers

Trying to design and build “green”, zero-emissions motorcycles is becoming sort of a big deal.  There’s even an eGrandPrix going on at Vintage Motorcycle Days at Mid-Ohio this year.  I don’t particularly have anything against the idea of zero-emissions, environmentally friendly motorcycles.  Sooner or later, that’ll be the only type of vehicle–of any type–you can buy.

Luca Bar Electric Concept Racer
Luca Bar Electric Concept Racer

But, if you’re a motorcycle designer, do us all a favor.  when you hit the drawing board, try and come up with a design that at least looks like a real motorcycle, and not some odd concept creation that not only looks ugly, but as this Luca bar design shows, is actively dangerous.

Granted, this design is for a racing bike, so maybe having the rider drawn up into a fetal position isn’t a show-stopper.  But, I’m pretty sure that even professional motorcycle racers don’t want to have a foot ripped off by the rear wheel if they make a little mistake in their foot placement.

Oh, and, granted, nice Buell front wheel, but are mismatched wheel sizes really the direction you want to go in in terms of precise handling?  Or should we just ride directly into the hay bales now, and save everyone a lot of time?

Yes, you designers are no doubt a talented lot, and are just chock full of neat ideas for how cool stuff can look.  But it’d be nice if the final product was one that wouldn’t actively try to, you know, kill you.

Let’s concentrate on getting a few simple things right first, especially for motorcycles that people micht actually want to ride somewhere other than a race circuit.  A 250 mile range might be nice. Some sort of wind protection would be appreciated, too. Oh, and let’s just ditch the idea of rechargeable electrics as a valid platform for…well…anything.  If I have to go see my family in Albuquerque, it’d be nice not to have to stop and recharge for eight hours every 200 miles.

The eight day round trip would be kind of inconvenient.