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Old 02-08-2016, 10:10 PM   #1
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Mainstream Electric | Victory Empulse TT Ride Review

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2016 Victory Empulse TT

Electric vehicles are becoming quite common these days, but it’s the automobile that pretty much dominates the consumer electric-transportation market. You see Teslas everywhere now, and all the major auto manufacturers have an electric or hybrid model in their lineups. But how often do you see an electric motorcycle on the road?

The problem is that electric motorcycles are a hard sell, and building an electric bike can be very costly, especially since the range is still very limited compared to a gasoline engine. Although a few eBike manufacturers have been at it for a while, no major existing motorcycle company I know of (i.e., the Big Four Japanese companies or their European counterparts) have produced a road-going eBike, and that gives cause to wonder: Is it worth it?

Still, Victory Motorcycles seems to think it is, and the company feels the time is right to get into the game. Victory’s parent company, Polaris Industries, recently purchased the motorcycle division of Brammo, Inc., and the Ashland, Oregon-based company is one of the few that has produced a road-going eBike with relative success.

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2016 Victory Empulse TT

But perhaps the real reason behind the introduction of the new 2016 Victory Empulse TT is the rebranding of the Victory line of motorcycles. Victory makes great cruisers, but it appears as if the company is looking toward attracting a broader demographic of riders. Ventures such as the Project 156 Pikes Peak runner, or the Victory Pro Stock dragbike team, or the 2015 Isle of Man TT Zero race (where Lee Johnston finished third on one of the team eBikes) are all-new territory for what was not so long ago a cruiser-only bike company. By entering into the eBike market, Victory is hoping to gain more exposure, which is part of its new “Building the Future of American Muscle” plan. You could even reason that inviting Sport Rider to a Victory launch is a real testament to the commitment in the new direction the company is taking.

The 2016 Victory Empulse TT is not that dissimilar to the last Brammo Empulse from which it was derived. Naturally, Victory took what was there and revamped it by adding its own flair to produce the new model. The Empulse TT features a new Brammo Power lithium-ion battery pack with a capacity of 10.4 kilowatt-hours (kWh). The new battery pack is rated at 103.6 volts, with a maximum of 117.6 volts; what that means is that the new battery has a 10-percent increase in capacity over the previous model.

The liquid-cooled, internal permanent magnet AC induction motor produces 54 hp and 61 foot-pounds of torque and is fitted to a six-speed transmission complete with a multi-plate hydraulic wet clutch. A dual power mode option is now standard issue, with Sport mode offering full battery output for maximum power. Another key feature is the 3.6kW onboard charger, which not only allows you to plug in at any current 240-volt charging station but is also the fastest in class. In just 3.5 hours you will be fully charged, with 80 percent in two hours.

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Slightly revamped bodywork makes the Victory Empulse TT look slicker and hides the battery packs and liquid-cooling setup for the internal permanent magnet AC induction motor visible just behind footpeg.

Victory brought the assembled gang of journalists to ride its new Empulse TT at High Plains Raceway, about an hour east of Denver, Colorado. The track has a good mix of fast and slow corners, plenty of elevation changes, and a long enough straight to see what the Empulse TT could really do.

Most of us were skeptical about the need for a transmission on an electric bike. You don't need the clutch to pull away or when you stop, and none of the previous electric bikes I have ridden had transmissions. For my first couple of laps, I left it in third gear as per the Victory technicians’ advice. Once I did find my way around the track, I started to use the transmission, which I found to be rather rough. You have to concentrate to get through the gears, but the more you ride it, the easier it becomes. By downshifting into the corners, you can optimize acceleration coming out—similar to a conventional motorcycle.

Interestingly enough, the transmission really does help with acceleration and even more so with top speed. I was topping out at around 95 mph in third or fourth gear, but when I started using all six gears, I managed to get the Empulse up over 110 mph.

The bike has some good acceleration, and the throttle feel is like any normal motorcycle at speed. But when it comes to getting back on the throttle exiting the corners, it does hesitate a bit. The twist felt somewhat unrefined but still manageable. Interestingly, even the gear-position indicator takes a moment to catch up when you’re on it hard. The regenerative braking system, which is activated by letting off the throttle, mimics the feel of a normal motorcycle while decelerating into a corner and worked well.

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We also got to spin a few laps on the Isle of Man TT Zero racebike that Lee Johnston rode to a third-place finish. Notable differences include a more powerful motor, no transmission, and K-Tech-tuned Öhlins suspension.

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While the regenerative braking system helps with slowing the Empulse TT, the majority of braking is handled by the Brembo four-piston/radial-mount calipers and 310mm discs. Braking power was good but high-effort.

Chassis-wise, the Victory’s 43mm adjustable inverted fork and non-linkage-equipped rear shock felt like they were overworked a bit. There is no real suspension movement once you get going, and the bike feels packed down as if the spring rates weren’t optimized for the bike’s weight (the Empulse TT weighs in at a claimed 470 pounds). As far as turn-in and chassis composure on the exits, the Empulse did fine, but there was a noticeable lack of front-end feel entering the corners. It felt as though the front was already loaded from the weight, and once you activated the Brembo four-piston/radial-mount calipers and 310mm discs, any remaining trail has left the house, giving you a vagueness normally associated with lack of trail. The bike has good stopping power, but it takes some effort due to the lower-spec Brembo master cylinder fitted to the Empulse TT.

Of course the more you ride the Empulse, the more you begin to figure out how to get the most out of it. Despite its 470-pound weight, the Victory boys did a very good job of hiding that heft. The bike feels small, and you will not notice the weight. As far as rolling stock, the Empulse TT comes fitted with a 3.5 x 17-inch front and a 4.5 x 17-inch rear wheel widths. The Continental SportAttack II tires held up well, not moving around too much while providing good grip and feedback.

By the end of the day, everyone was flogging the Empulse TTs pretty hard, and the bike was giving in to excessive heat generated by the electric motor and batteries. When ridden hard on the track, the newly designed instrument cluster featuring a tachometer plus an LCD panel showing speed, gear selection, battery status, estimated range, and system status will let you know the bike’s had enough by suddenly displaying a “Battery Hot” warning. In order to produce that much power, a lot of energy is transformed, which in turn produces a lot of heat. This warning came up on me several times on the track, but I’m sure on the street it will be a different story, and you’ll likely be able to get much more range out of the Empulse.

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Strangely enough, the Empulse TT’s dash includes an analog tachometer along with an LCD info panel showing speed, gear selection, battery status, estimated range, and system status.

In fact, the real limiting factor of the whole equation is still the batteries themselves. More batteries can provide longer range and more power, but that comes at a price. They’re not cheap, and besides the fact that they’re by far the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, they also take up lots of room and are quite heavy. Perhaps new battery technology might turn up in the future, and then Victory’s move into the electric-motorcycle market will make perfect sense. If you have all the infrastructure in place, then you’ll be able to capitalize quicker and more easily when the new technology appears.

I started out the day questioning if this was a good move by Victory, but in the end the new 2016 Empulse TT came good. The track was admittedly a bit hard on the Empulse, challenging the bike in ways you would never do on the street. I can see where this bike could be very beneficial on the street, whether it’s commuting to work or the occasional blast up the canyon. With more and more charging stations coming online and the hope of improved battery technologies in the near future, the Empulse TT will be more inviting for the general public.

Polaris is a big company with plenty of resources that will no doubt be key to the success of Victory’s entry into the electric motorcycle market. The Empulse TT goes for $19,999 and comes with a five-year warranty. So is it worth it? I guess that depends on how green you feel your performance needs to be. But that’s the big question with any electric vehicle, right?

Specifications 2016 Victory Empulse TT MSRP: $19,999Engine Type Liquid-cooled, internal permanent magnet AC induction motorBattery Lithium-ionBattery Capacity 10.5kWhBattery Voltage 103.6V, maximum voltage 117.6VChassis Front Tire 120/70ZR-17 Continental SportAttack IIRear Tire 180/55ZR-17 Continental SportAttack IIRake/trail 24 degrees/3.8 in. (97mm)Wheelbase 58.0 in. (1473mm)Seat height 31.5 in. (800mm)Claimed curb weight 470 lb. (213kg)

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