Brammo Enertia (© Bruce Whitaker)Click to enlarge picture

MSN Autos takes an exclusive ride on the all-new Brammo Enertia electric motorcycle through the streets around Portland, Oregon. Photo: Bruce Whitaker

Brammo Motorsports

The Ashland, Oregon-based manufacturer—the same collection of motorheads responsible for bringing the road-rocket Ariel Atom to U.S. shores—have decided to confront the global-warming frenzy with an actual product.

A fun and efficient product. One that makes the similarly two-wheeled and battery-powered Segway look like an environmental pocket protector. It's called the Enertia, an electric motorcycle so slick it couldn't be cooler if it were frozen.

On the green front, according to Brammo, this urban transportation tool can reduce a commuter's carbon footprint by 92 percent. But you'd have to get out of that fossil-powered sled and commute every day on the Enertia to see that large of a reduction. But depending on where you live, any reduction to environmental impact couldn't be easier, with perhaps the friendliest motorcycle yet.

The Enertia's appeal should spread widely since it lacks many of the traits that traditionally steer people away from a two-wheeled, mechanized ride. It requires no gas or oil, and thus smells like neither. It is nearly silent, has no exhaust and doesn't get hot. It has no clutch or gearbox. It is light and narrow, and practically maintenance-free. If you'd consider riding a bicycle to work or school, you'll have no issues wrapping your head around this transport option.

Designing the Enertia

To create the Enertia, Brammo harnessed its enthusiast heart and material-science expertise to a global sensibility. By approaching carbon emissions from the perspective of true driving enthusiasts, the goal was to provide a practical product that hits on multiple levels: environmentally sound, sharply engineered, cutting-edge materials, fun to own and look at.

The Enertia is a clean-sheet design, conceived from day-one as a two-wheeled, zero-emission, fully electric conveyance (it is not a "hybrid"). Its central structure is a carbon fiber monocoque, which serves as both the motorcycle's chassis and its battery tray. Machined 6061-T6 aluminum bits for the bike's threaded hard-points (footpegs, swingarm, etc.), are bonded to the carbon fiber structure—a race-bred building technique. Though exceptionally stiff, the entire chassis weighs a mere 16 pounds.

Photo Gallery: The Enertia Electric Motorcycle

Unlike your typical motorbike, the Enertia flops the engine/fuel-storage ratio. A typical motorcycle is dominated by its centrally mounted engine, and capped with a small gas tank. With the Enertia, the engine is an alternator-sized electric motor mounted at the bottom of the chassis just ahead of the rear wheel. The motor is directly coupled to the rear tire via a chain and sprocket.

Fuel storage for the Enertia consists of six 12-volt lithium-phosphate battery packs. These modules (about half the size of a traditional car battery), are mounted inside the upper and lower channels of the H-shaped carbon fiber chassis—three on top, three below. Brammo worked closely with Texas-based Valence Technologies on the application of the lithium-phosphate cells, which unlike lithium-ion or lithium-cobalt, are exceptionally resistant to combusting, even if the batteries are impacted or punctured (anyone who's had a laptop catch fire can appreciate this).

Message Board: Is the Enertia a bigger breakthrough in green commuting than the Toyota Prius? Voice your opinion!

Beneath a small lid where you'd normally fill up a motorcycle with gas is a connection to recharge the bike from any regular 110-volt electrical outlet. The Enertia will reach an 80-percent charge in two hours, and be fully recharged in three. Most cell phones don't even charge that fast.

The 86-pound battery package forms the majority of the Enertia's mass, and at 275 pounds it is extremely light for a street-going motorcycle. It feels even lighter, thanks to an exceptionally narrow profile—only 12.5 inches between your knees—and a low "moment of inertia." This is the effort required to flick the bike back and forth, which in the case of the Enertia is reduced because the main heft of the bike (the batteries) is concentrated along the bike's centerline.

We got to experience this for ourselves recently, during an exclusive ride of a pre-production Enertia just before Independence Day. Setting off from the rejuvenated Pearl District in Portland, Oregon, this dense, urban environment was a perfect venue for the Enertia, and one that closely matches its intended sales market.

Riding the Enertia

At first encounter, the bike seems impossibly slim, and feels far lighter than its stated weight. A "Start" button just below the recharging lid boots the bike up (this takes about 2 seconds), and the slick instrument cluster begins to glow. Thumb the bar-mounted switch to "on" and you are ready to go.

Twist the throttle and the bike rolls away smoothly. The noise, or lack thereof, is what hits you first. The Enertia is so quiet at in-town speeds you can sneak up on bicycle messengers. You are also much more aware of your surroundings—a huge safety advantage in the city. With wind noise replacing the sound of the machine, the result is a seraphic feeling of sailboarding down the street. I had to stop at one point to greet excited footfalls from a guy who chased me and yelled out emphatically, "Is that electric?"

The power level of the Enertia is user-selectable from 40 to 100 percent. This determines how fast you draw current from (i.e. discharge) the batteries. This adjustability allows you to trade more power for decreased range (if you have a shorter commute), or to make the machine more docile for beginners.

The Enertia's power ratings (12-25 horsepower, 17-34 lb-ft of torque) make it comparable to a Kawasaki Ninja 250 in terms of horsepower, but the electric drivetrain provides double the amount of torque (the force that gets you moving), in a package 30 pounds lighter. At the 100-percent power setting, Brammo claims a 0-30 mph time of 3.8 seconds—plenty of power for the urban jungle.

For our ride, the power level was set to the 40% minimum, for which Brammo claims a realistic range of 40 to 50 miles between charges (far exceeding the 29-mile average U.S. commute).

The Enertia's instant torque makes the bike a breeze to ride in traffic. Its 19-inch front wheel and meaty rear tire, combined with full-spec front telescopic fork and single-shock rear swingarm suspension shrugged off the Pearl District's rail-lined streets, soaking up potholes that might have swallowed a scooter.

A small Enertia logo in the gauge cluster glows red, yellow or green depending on the power draw, to help maximize efficiency. I kept it mostly in the red—which had me outpacing traffic and running near the Enertia's 50-mph top speed (easily exceeded on any downgrade)—in hopes of gaining a realistic feel for its operating range.

After a completely uneventful, serenely quiet and emission-free 30-mile loop around Portland, (where it truly felt as if I were driving in the future), we returned the bike to Brammo with the gauges still showing 30 percent battery range available.

For urban sun-belters with reasonable commutes or errands to run, the Enertia's downsides are few. It's not designed for a passenger, but Brammo plans both a larger, two-up machine, and an even more slimmed down single-seat version for the inner-city or campus crawler. Obviously the Enertia is not intended for those with longer commutes, and its low, 50-mph top speed should deter anyone from braving SUV-laden interstates. If 50 mph seems slow, however, try 12.5 on a Segway.

Taking Orders

So at what price can you be cool and globally responsible? Brammo has just begun taking online orders in the U.S. for a limited edition "Carbon" model ($14,995), set for delivery in the first quarter of 2008. You can also reserve the standard model ($11,995) which is expected to reach full-scale production by the third quarter of next year. Figure less than $300 for delivery to your door. Check out www.enertiabike.com for more details.

For those looking to make a lifestyle change, or for a cool "green" machine to get around town on, few options exist that can compete on so many levels. Unless you're rollin' with a crew who can't leave the house without a pocket protector, what says lust for life and love for the big, blue marble better than an electric motorcycle?

A Boston native covering motorsports and consumer electronics for the past 17 years, Paul Seredynski has been the Editor of Sportbike magazine, press officer for Kawasaki’s World Superbike Team, Senior Editor at VIDEO magazine, and Leader of Automotive Media Relations for Porsche Cars North America.

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