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Trip Report: Adirondacks 2013

Earlier in the year I started reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. It sparked a strong interest in the famous expedition, and so I started planning a motorcycle ride that traveled along sections of the Historic Lewis and Clark Trail. The mileage ended up being a little “daunting” for my schedule, so I started to scale back the plans. I put together a rudimentary itinerary that included the more famous sections near Montana, but I couldn’t get any friends excited about the idea. Oh well, maybe next Summer.

Plan B was hatched. I decided to do a trip to the Adirondacks and take in a couple of sites relevant to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

New Gear

I’ve got good number of 2-3 day moto-camping trips under my belt, and so I decided to address a couple of nagging gear issues before this big trip. The first piece of gear was my tent. I recently spent a rainy evening in the Shenandoah National Forest without a tarp and so I cooked, ate, and drank beer in the rain that night. I’m a little too minimalist (read lazy) to pack a tarp, so instead I stepped up my plans to hammock camp. In one package, I’d have a bed, kitchen, and lounge.

Camping in the Adirondacks in a hammock

Camping in the Adirondacks in a hammock

Camping: I took the plunge with my REI dividend and picked up a Hennessy Hammock Ultralight Backpacker. I added their Super Shelter for use as three-season bottom insulation, and I added a Summer top quilt from Wilderness Logic. I also replaced the stock rainfly with the Tadpole also from Wilderness Logic. I used some titanium odds and ends from Dutchware Gear for my tree straps and rainfly. The hammock is an asymmetric design and it’s really easy to get a good lie. Initially I was lying on too strong of an angle and it was a bit of a strain. Once I reduced that, it was perfect. The Hennessy has a structural ridgeline that makes is really easy to get the perfect amount of sag. I changed out the suspension with whoopie slings to make it near brainless to hang and adjust. I opted for a separate continuous ridgeline (CLR) for the rain fly which gave me more flexibility when hanging the rainfly. I did something mildly novel so that I could use the CLR with snakeskins making it a snap to put up the rainfly first and then hang the hammock underneath.

Everything fits in a compression stuff sack that’s smaller than my 20 degree synthetic sleeping bag, and this replaces my tent, sleeping bag, and pad. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to ground sleeping. Once I sorted a few things out (like a pillow), I really took to sleeping in a hammock. It’s seriously some of the best sleep that I’ve had.

Rider Gear: On my longer rides earlier in the Summer, I came to the conclusion that I’m sick and tired of bulky jackets and pants with multiple zip-in liners. I’m always way too lazy to pull over and put in my waterproof liners so I end up getting soaked in showers that I predict will last only a few minutes. I ended up getting the Klim Badlands Pro Jacket and Pants.

The price of the Klim gear has always scared me off. I finally came around after suffering through four different jackets in the past two years alone. The Klim gear forms a functional shell. They don’t have zip-in liners, and instead you simply add your thermal layer underneath. The fit was phenomenal. I measured myself and used the fit chart to determine that I was a medium jacket and size 32 pant. I have a bit of a gut, so I was really worried that a medium would be too snug. With jackets from other manufacturers, I end up going with a large and then suffering because they’re too long in the torso and arms. The Klim jacket fit perfectly, event with a full 2L water bladder.

The fit and finish of the Klim gear is second to none. The zippers were really easy pull with gloves and, which is crucial when opening and closing the vents during a ride. I was able to close them up quickly for rain and I stayed completely dry. Once open, the ventilation system was amazing for a non-mesh jacket. I was riding in 103 degree heat at one point and it was survivable. Sure it wasn’t nice, but I just kept sucking down fluids. Now stopping in the Klim gear on a hot day is a different story. It is bitterly hot when you’re not moving. I had one guy at a gas station comment on how stupid I was for wearing that gear…I’m assuming he mistook it for a ski suit. And sure I was hot as hell after suiting up, but I cooled quickly once moving. I added some wicking base layers from Go Athletic Apparel and it made all the difference. They’re an American company and their gear rivals Under Armor for a fraction of the cost.

I also finally added legitimate boots and gloves with a pair of Sidi Adventure Boots and a new set of Alpinestar SP-X short cuff gloves. I haven’t ridden in proper boots since my last time on a track. My race boots were always too much for street use, so instead I’d wear street-style boots with poor protection. Or worse, I’d just wear shoes. The Sidi Adventure boots are reasonable to walk in, albeit a little narrow. They have a thick sole, so it took me a little while to adjust to shifting with them. They were great when standing up for long periods. Some people complain that they’re loud, but I found them on par with race boots, and to me, that’s just the sound of protection.

The gloves were great in the hot weather. I’ve had a real nice pair of gauntlets for years that I keep crashing and repairing. They have great palm and pinky protection and are armored well in the heel and side of the hand. I just toss them out, because few gloves can really compare. The heat of gauntlets and their uncanny ability to collect runoff water had me looking for some short gloves. This pair rivals a good set of gauntlets in terms of protection. I’m particularly impressed with the extra length along the side of the hand that extends over the wrist.

Enough gear talk, on to the ride…

Day One: Locust Hill and a Redneck Motel

I pulled out of Raleigh, NC early on a Saturday and headed up towards Charlottesville, VA. My first waypoint was the University of Virginia. I wanted to tour the original section designed by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was an accomplished amateur architect, and UVA’s campus was one of his favorite projects.

The Rotunda

The Rotunda

One of the hallways flanking the yard

One of the hallways flanking the yard

One of the many columns

One of the many columns

Somehow I don't think Jefferson sat much

I doubt someone as busy as Jefferson sits much

After leaving UVA, I headed to Ivy, VA to look for the site of Meriwether Lewis’ family plantation, Locust Hill. The original brick sign posts are still along the street, but there’s not much else. The foundation of the home where Meriwether was born still exists but it’s on private property and the neighbors have all made a pact to keep it a secret. I actually knew where it was, but they directed me elsewhere in a friendly way. The family graveyard is now a historic site thanks to private donations, so the neighbors gave me directions on how to find that. I was appreciative of their help despite the deception.

The graveyard is surrounded by a low wall

The graveyard is surrounded by a low wall

There are several graves, most notably Lewis' mother

There are several graves, most notably Lewis’ mother

After visiting the remains of Locust Hill I headed over to a spot that I’ve been meaning to visit, Starr Hill Brewery.

Looks like my kind of brewery

Looks like my kind of brewery

After leaving there, I headed into the George Washington National Forest. While do my planning, I found the Brandywine Motor Court on this great little mountain road. I looked up the motel and found some good reviews. Perfect. Well when I got to the turn off for that great little road, it was a forest service road. I was really excited at this point, because I figured I was taking the back way in. I figured I was in for a little adventure on the way to the hotel. Along the way, I even crossed a pair of rocky creeks and flooded an auxiliary light. When I finally got to the waypoint, it was nothing but a redneck campsite. Looks like I was had. I didn’t have enough water to camp, so I pressed on crossing three more creeks and a black bear. It was getting dark, but I wasn’t too worried. Sure enough, I popped out of the forest into some old cattle ranch roads and eventually made it to a state road. It was a long day, but I eventually found a hotel and grabbed some horrible barbecue from a “Blues Bar”.

Day Two: Harper’s Ferry and the Beautiful State of Pennsylvania

Early the next morning, I headed over to Harper’s Ferry, WV. Harpers Ferry was the site of the second national armory. It was strategically important, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. I was primarily interested in stopping here because it was the site where the final preparations were made for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The picked up several rifles, cannons, and ammunition in addition to the famous keelboat that Lewis designed.

Lewis and Clark Expedition Museum

Lewis and Clark Expedition Museum

Description of the Keelboat

Description of the Keelboat

When I pulled into Harper’s Ferry, I went straight to the entrance of the park. The line to pay was long, so I rode through and parked with the intention of walking back to pay. I stopped by the information desk first and realized that I had just missed a tour. Oh well, I decided to skip out of there and head across to the town side. I drove around for a short bit before I ended up in the historic center, exactly where the tour would have taken me by bus. I parked my motorcycle for free, grabbed my camera, and gave myself a self-guided tour. It pays to snoop around. I know that I would have been miserable trapped in a tour group and away from my motorcycle on the other side of the highway.

Ate lunch here and parked the bike just behind where I'm standing

Ate lunch here and parked the bike just behind where I’m standing

This sign really gave me some appreciation for the stairs

This sign really gave me some appreciation for the stairs

The stairs were amazingly well preserved

The stairs were amazing well preserved

The stairs led to the Catholic Church

The stairs led to the Catholic Church

Remains of a different church

Remains of a different church

Harper’s Ferry is also a popular stop along the Appalachian Trail. They have a small outfitter there where through-hikers pick up supply packages sent ahead of time. The AT heads through town and then across the Potomac alongside the railway.

Crossing the Potamac

Crossing the Potamac

Closeup of the railway bridge

Closeup of the railway bridge

The railway tunnel

The railway tunnel

The relatively clean Potomac was mixing with the silty Shenandoah

The relatively clean Potomac was mixing with the silty Shenandoah

I spent a little more time walking around and snapping pictures before departing. Just past the churches was Jefferson Rock. It seems as though he hiked up there once too and liked the view as much as I did.

I don't think Jefferson built it, but those columns are suspicious

I don’t think Jefferson built it, but those columns are suspicious

Jefferson was right, it was a nice view

Jefferson was right, it was a nice view

Old armory railway

Old armory railway

An original home

An original home

A park ranger

A park ranger

Harper’s Ferry was definitely a treat. I had no idea that it was so rich in history. It played an important role in the Civil War as the site of the spark of the war itself. The spark was a raid by John Brown, an abolitionist. During the war, it was plundered by both sides for its armaments.

The rest of the day is largely undocumented. I rode through some great Amish country and through Pennsylvania. I knew it was Amish country, because the local church had a grass parking lots with hitching posts instead of parking blocks. The day’s ride was really nice and full of scenery, despite being on the Interstate for nearly half of it. That night I camped in the Allegheny National Forest. I definitely need to get back up to Pennsylvania.

Day Three: Niagara Falls and Adirondack Bugs

The next morning, I hauled ass up to Buffalo, NY. Well, I made good time until I got popped with a speeding ticket for doing 13 mph over the speed limit. Garbage. My goal in Buffalo was to visit Niagara Falls. First I stopped for some lunch along Lake Erie. Then I headed to Niagara Falls, snapped my picture, and left.

My lunch stop on Lake Erie

My lunch stop on Lake Erie

Lake Erie was definitely a highlight

Lake Erie was definitely a highlight

Niagara Falls, check

Niagara Falls, check

Parking at Niagara Falls was a piece of cake on the motorcycle. The parking attendants let me park for free and kept an eye on my bike. Still I didn’t want to leave my jacket there, so I carried it. If I would have changed out of my pants and boots, then I might have enjoyed it more. The heat and tourists really got to me, so I just bugged out. Perhaps another time I’ll cross over into Canada and view the falls from their side. I hate to be a checklist kind of guy, but really there was nothing for me there.

After departing from Niagara Falls, I headed Northeast through the state riding through farm country. Quite frankly it wasn’t very spectacular. I should have taken more Interstate and just burned through it. I ended up towards Fort Drum and I camped just past that on the edge of the Adirondacks. I stayed at a KOA for the shower. It wasn’t bad, but the bugs were furious. The mosquitoes were swarming and the yellow flies were tagging me pretty good. I ended up building a fire just to smoke them out. I can’t imagine how bad black fly season is up there.

Day Four: Lake Placid, NY

After another wonderful night of sleep in my hammock, I packed up and headed to Lake Placid along the scenic Highway 3. Lake Placid was one of the big destinations for the trip, but I didn’t really know what I was going to do there. I had a few ideas on what to do in the area, but nothing concrete. On the way there I saw Lake Saranac, and knew that I wanted to check it out. I had lunch and afterwards I stumbled upon a neat little museum. Apparently, there was some significant tuberculosis research there.

Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau's Labratory

Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau’s Labratory

Period wheelchair

Period wheelchair

Original scale and an X-Ray

Original scale and an X-Ray

Special bed to help TB patients rest next to the radio

Special bed to help TB patients rest next to the radio

One thing that really interested me was the early radio next to the bed. It was basically a HAM radio of its day and allowed patients in their cottages to communicate despite being quarantined.

A view of the back side of the radio

A view of the back side of the radio

Lake Saranac wasn’t the huge stop that I had hoped, so I decided to head on to Lake Placid thinking that there was more stuff along the way. There wasn’t. When I got to Lake Placid, I happened to take a turn that brought me near the Olympic Skip Jump Center. A little snooping around pays of again.

View of the skip jumps from the road

View of the skip jumps from the road

I knew that Lake Placid was the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, but I didn’t realize that it was such a huge deal. Lake Placid is also the East Coast Olympic Training center. I saw some cross country skiers training on skates along the road. I even heard a little gossip about Lolo Jones punching out the daughter of the some important official at the center. I decided to stick around that day and to visit as much as I could…and there was plenty. I started with the skip jump center.

Training pool for freestyle jumping

Training pool for freestyle jumping

The lift runs to the top of the landing hill

The lift runs to the top of the landing hill

A view from the lift showing the marking

A view from the lift showing the marking

After the lift, it's an elevator ride up the tower

After the lift, it’s an elevator ride up the tower

This is likely what a jumper sees, straight to the bottom

This is likely what a jumper sees, straight to the bottom

An average person sees everything else, then wets himself

An average person sees everything else, then wets himself

Art Devlin was an early pioneer

Art Devlin was an early pioneer

I looked over my newly acquired tourist map and venue pass. Then I headed over to the bobsled center. There I was able to tour the new course, including a walk down the middle of it. I didn’t realize that the course is open for competition every year and is the site of world cup events and several smaller events. I figured that specialty Olympic infrastructure like this just rotted after it was built.

The earliest bobsled that they had on display

The earliest bobsled that they had on display

A refined package, but still rudimentary

A refined package, but still rudimentary

The new course dumps into the original course for the end

The new course dumps into the original course for the end

The new course is built primarily of gunite, like a pool. It’s refrigerated and covered in most parts so that they can really extend their sliding season.

The refrigeration system can be seen along the bottom

The refrigeration system can be seen along the bottom

Shows the covering and a few repairs

Shows the covering and a few repairs

They have several start houses for the different skill levels and types of sliding that they do. The bobsled starts are wider and the luge and skeleton starts are smaller since they don’t take a running start.

The top bobsled start is wide and flat

The top bobsled start is wide and flat

The top skeleton and luge start merges in with the bobsled start

The top skeleton and luge start merges in with the bobsled start

The walking tour really puts a strong perspective on things. The turns are enormously tall and consequently wide. However, when the track goes to flat it gets really narrow. This means that drivers have to steer from up high on the huge corners through an incredibly narrow flat section and often immediately into another corner. I know how hard it is to hit marks on a motorcycle race track lap after lap. And that’s with brakes! Sledding has got to be scary.

Turn 10 is the tallest corner. They run right between the lines

Turn 10 is the tallest corner. They run right between the lines

The open corners have lights and retractable covers

The open corners have lights and retractable covers

Next I went over to Whiteface Mountain to visit the downhill venue. I rode the gondola up and took in the scenery and cooler temperatures. They offer downhill mountain biking there, but their bikes looked pretty dogged and so I didn’t really trust that their trails would be in great shape either. Still it might have been nice to squeeze in a little lift-assisted riding even if I had to ride a rental.

Fact sheet for the mountain

Fact sheet for the mountain

The view from the top of little Whiteface Mountain was stunning

The view from the top of little Whiteface Mountain was stunning

While I was at the summit, I met a couple that told me about another attraction, which was big Whiteface Mountain. We could see it clearly from where we were. This sister peak has a scenic tollway that leads up to a small castle-like building. My pass covered the toll, and it was open late enough for me to make it over there. The highway and castle were a public works project from Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was governor of New York. This was pre-New Deal but the trend was already established with projects such as Pike’s Peak. Not wanting to be outdone, they developed the road, built the castle, created a rocky hike to the top, and placed a weather observatory up there. FDR showed up to tour the project later once he was president and the lack of handicap accessibility was immediately evident. So later, they bored a tunnel into the mountain and then an elevator shaft to the top. It was nearly 90 degrees outside, but it dropped to the 40′s (IIRC) as soon as I walked into the tunnel. Definitely an amazing project that would never be done today.

The road to the top was paved, but really lumpy. There were huge ridges and holes, even though the pavement wasn’t broken. I ended up following a couple of French Canadians. The first guy was on a KTM 990 Adventure and the second guy was on a Goldwing. I ended up standing most of the way, which made it bearable. The guy on the Goldwing tried it out too, but the ergonomics of the Goldwing really got in the way. Hopefully his buddy gets him on an adventure bike soon.

The view of the old peak from this new vantage point

The view of the old peak from this new vantage point

The view from the taller peak was obviously better

The view from the taller peak was obviously better

The weather observatory was pretty neat

The weather observatory was pretty neat

Another perspective on the observatory

Another perspective on the observatory

That was a busy day. I rode back into town, grabbed a hotel and shower, and then headed to a local brew pub. On my way out, I noticed the French Canadian guys had pulled into the same hotel. I ended up saying hello, but we never crossed paths again. I hope they enjoyed their ride.

Day Five: A Tour of New York State

I still had several miscellaneous waypoints for my last day in New York. I wasn’t too sure how close they were or whether I would be able to make them all. I suppose I could have planned better, but where’s the fun in that. I hit the road early that morning. My first goal was to make it to Fort Ticonderoga. On my way there, I blew my headlight when I double-flashed my brights to warn someone of a hazard. I figured this was due to my flooded auxiliary light since the controller is tied into the high beam signal. So now I was looking at a flooded light, blown controller, and broken headlight. At least the brights still worked, so that was a good sign. I did what I should have done earlier and pulled the fuse for the auxiliary lights instead of just turning the handlebar switch off.

Fort Ticonderoga was the first American fort, even though the French built it. The English captured it before the revolutionary war and then we took it during the war. We lost it back to the British two weeks before they surrendered. I never realized how important the Northern lands up near the Great Lakes were until I learned a little more about the fur trade. Makes sense that these exotic furs would demand steep prices in Europe since most of Europe’s game was long decimated.

There were three large buildings inside of the walls

There were three large buildings inside of the walls

A view from inside the largest building

A view from inside the largest building

A view from the inner battlements

A view from the inner battlements

There were cannons and mortars everywhere

There were cannons and mortars everywhere

A closeup of a mortar

A closeup of a mortar

The have a flag raising ceremony in the morning when they open

The have a flag raising ceremony in the morning when they open

My next stop was Adirondack Ural in Chestertown, NY. Unfortunately they were closed. I found a great restaurant with a sandwich and milkshake selection though. The milkshake filled my glass and so he have me the mixing tumbler as well. It had an entire other milkshake in there. Awesome.

Adirondack Ural in Chestertown, NY

Adirondack Ural in Chestertown, NY

Main St. Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant in Chestertown, NY

Main St. Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant in Chestertown, NY

Back of the Main St. Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant

Back of the Main St. Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant

My next planned stop was Max BMW. I order stuff from them all the time, and so I wanted to see where all of the M&M’s come from. Maybe I could even talk them out of a bag. Besides, I actually needed a part since I blew out my headlight. It’s a great shop, and they were super helpful. Of course, they were backed up and couldn’t look at my bike. I pulled my headlight bulb and it was obviously blown. I figured a new one was all that I needed, and luckily I was right.

Parked in front of Max BMW

Parked in front of Max BMW

What a great dealership

What a great dealership

Burned out H7 bulb

Burned out H7 bulb

Replacement headlamp bulb

Replacement headlamp bulb

Old AIrhead in Max BMW

Old AIrhead in Max BMW

These beauties were in Max BMW

These beauties were in Max BMW

My next stop was Orange County Choppers. I’ve always been a fan of Paul Jr.’s work, and so I wanted to drop by their international headquarters and check out a few bikes. It was pretty cheesy, but they bikes were awesome. I lived in South Florida for some time, and so I’ve seen a ton of customs. The stuff that OCC does is pretty over the top. It’s definitely something that’s more impressive in person than it is on the television. I sure as shit wouldn’t own one, but I love them nonetheless.

Orange County Choppers Headquarters

Orange County Choppers Headquarters

I actually drove around the nearby towns looking for their first two shops and Paul Jr.’s shop, but I didn’t find anything. Oh well. From there I decided to head West to avoid the Eastern seaboard. I was sick and tired of I-87 and I really didn’t want to take I-95 home. So instead I took I-84 to Scranton, PA and then hopped I-81 South. I made it as far as Harrisburg, PA before I stopped for the night. I considered camping at a place that I found while planning, but the heat really got to me so I found a hotel with a pool. Solid!

Day Six: Searching for Air Conditioning on the Way Home

The slab was killing me. At Max BMW on the previous day, I saw temps of 103 degrees. I got off to an early start the final day, but the heat picked up quickly. I decided to head to the mountains and I picked up Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park. It added a couple of hours to my trip, but I certainly didn’t mind. I stopped for lunch at Big Meadows and ran into another GS rider that was just riding through the park for the afternoon.

We had a good lunch and conversation. After parting ways I headed through the park and then onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. I hopped off and headed towards Amherst, NC before picking up Highway 29. I find myself on Highway 29 six or so times a year since I’m always up this way. The rest of the trip was pretty mundane. Yet again I didn’t stop at the Tank Museum near Danville. Oh well, one of these days.

Wrap-Up

It was a great trip. I really liked the approach that I took to planning. I selected an ambitious set of waypoints that I used as a go-to list but not a check-off list. I didn’t have any serious deadlines, and so I just found nice routes between the waypoints. I should, however, start carrying more water so that I can just pull of and camp wherever next time. Perhaps if I get some metal luggage, then I’ll stick a rotopax water container on of them.

I ended up logging 2300 miles in 6 days. That’s nearly 400 miles a day and it really wasn’t too bad. If it was cooler, then adding another 100 miles or so would be no problem. I had no mechanicals and didn’t really burn too much oil this trip. I had the one electrical which was a cinch to fix. And I did flood a light. Luckily ADVMonster warrantied the light really fast. I sent both lights in because neither were working since I likely burned up my controller. The lights worked when they received them after drying in transit, and so they replaced the flooded one and sent the set back with all of my parts. I plugged them up and amazingly my controller is working perfectly. Stoked!

Being home took me a few days to adjust as usual. I’m an introvert, and a trip like this is exactly what I crave. Sure it’d be fun the share it with a friend, but I can never seem to talk anyone into it. So it usually works out that these trips are time for me to clear my head, simplify my outlook, and to recharge. Luckily when I rolled back into town it was the eve of my birthday weekend. So I didn’t go right back to the grind. I headed to the beach for lots of drinking, bicycle riding, and relaxing with friends at their beach house. Great week for sure.

Review: Brammo Empulse R

Given today’s battery technology, motorcycles and light-weight vehicles are the perfect candidates for electric drivetrains. This is largely because these vehicles do not need to transport the operator in a climate-controlled safety cage. And in the case of motorcycles, this limits the pool of potential operators to motorcyclists alone. However, it wasn’t until the Brammo released the Empulse R that a serious motorcyclist would even consider an electric bike.

2013 Brammo Empulse R

2013 Brammo Empulse R

I owned a Brammo Enertia and at the time it was the best electric motorcycle in production. It didn’t use bicycle parts or a motorcross-inspired chassis. Despite its serious motorcycle looks, I really couldn’t call it a serious motorcycle due to its limit range, speed, handling, etc.

With the Empulse R, Brammo did something very brave. They decided that current battery technology and production cost was close enough to launch a product that was indeed a very serious motorcycle. While it is fast, it still won’t win a drag race against even a middleweight sportbike. It will, however, smoke that middleweight through the twisties. It’s a phenomenally well-handling bike and is a blast to ride.

Styling

The Empulse is a stunner. The original prototype looked great with its clip-ons and 1098 inspired (albiet flat) tail section. I think the refinements to the design really came through in the production model. I’m not a fan of the slope of the seat on the way to the pillion or of the extended light bracket. The Empulse is definitely a head turner. It really makes it hard to get through traffic unnoticed. Luckily I just get a lot of looks and not invitations for traffic light conversations.

The Enertia drew clues for its styling from several different source. Motorcross, boardtrack racers, flat-track Harley’s, and even bicycles to some degree. The Empulse’s design influences tend to lean more towards traditional motorcycle looks. Its stance resembles a modern Ducati Monster and to a lesser degree a Triumph Speed/Street Triple. The lines and body work are far more modern though, like a porous KTM RC8 where the large, angular openings reveal the technical underpinnings.

Ergonomics

I’ve been riding a BMW R1200 GS for a while, and so I didn’t react that positively to the cockpit of the Empulse at first. I immediately thought that I’d be throwing clip-ons on there within a month. I just couldn’t seem to get my weight over the front end in the corners. I’m happy to say that I’m going to be sticking with the standard bars for quite some time. Now that I’ve adjusted my mindset a little, I find it’s trivial to get my head down and low for the corners. The seat, however, is a different story.

The seat on the Empulse is a little tight. It doesn’t give me a lot of fore and aft movement, and I when I’m low over the bike in corners, I feel like I can’t get low enough. There’s actually room to move aft, but it’s up a slope. It wasn’t until a recent evening ride that I realized that upward slope is actually pretty brilliant. You see, the front part of the seat is pretty low. It make for a wonderful low position for cruising around down, but it’s a little too low for corners. Here’s the catch; when you slide aft, it pushes your butt up just a little and actually makes for a really comfortable position in the corners. It feels a little awkward, but it seems to allow for a body position in the corners. And lastly, the firm sides of the seat give a really positive indicator when you’ve got exactly one cheek off…because the corner’s right up your crack.

The foot pegs on the Empulse are respectably high. I thought I’d want to change them our for spirited street riding, but they’re actually really good. I haven’t dragged a peg yet, and I’ve scuffed my chicken strips up a few times. The pegs will need to be replaced with rearsets for the track, but they’re working perfectly for the street. I do wish that they were a little narrower. I feel like they could each be 3mm to 8mm shorter, which would help with clearance. And lastly, they are incredibly slick when wet. I don’t like rubber, but if metal footpegs aren’t sharp and grippy, then I’ll take rubber.

One last little observation, the spring in the throttle is a little too light. It could be a little tighter, or the throttle tube could use a little friction to make it easier to hold maintenance throttle well. I find myself floating around a lot when trying to hold a constant speed. I do love the grips that they chose though.

All in all, I’m really happy with the ergonomics of the Empulse. It’s comfortable around town, allows for a good position and visibility in traffic, and is easy to move into an aggressive cornering positon. Granted, I’m only 5’7″, so it might be a struggle for a larger rider.

Handling

After working out the ergonomics, I was finally able to get to really get down to business with this machine. The Empulse R is all about the cornering. This bike’s geometry is so dialed, and I haven’t even setup the tire pressure and suspension. For my review, I purposely decided to leave everything as it came from the factory.

Despite the fact that the Empulse R is heavier than similarly sized ICE bikes, it uses that weight as a benefit when it comes to handling. But really, there are three factors that work together in perfect harmony to provide a stellar ride:

  • Low center of gravity
  • Low rotational mass
  • Low vibration

With the exceptionally low center of gravity, I find that I cannot get this bike to drift once set into a corner. It’s hard for me to carry enough speed on the street to even get the bike to hold me up when hanging off, and so I find myself with too much pressure on the inside peg. I know this will be rectified once I get the suspension set up, because the firm suspension is working against me in the bumpy corners that I encounter on the the street around here.

I never put much thought into rotation mass, because I’ve never been the kind of guy that would fork over gobs of cash for magnesium wheels. Granted, light-weight wheels are a big advantage because they lighten up your unsprung weight helping your suspension track better. They also help reduce the gyroscopic effects when flipping the bike from one side to the other. Well, the Empulse lightens up the rotation mass where it matters, the engine. So often, engines are left out when considering gyroscopic forces. When you consider that some inline four cylinder engines rev to 17.5k rpms, then start to realize that there is a considerable amount of rotation mass in the engine. The Empulse reduces that engine mass to one little motor, and the effect is a very flickable bike. It also means that it’s easy to make mid-corner adjustments even without using the throttle. I’m still trying to decide if I like this, because it works against that comfort that you get on an ICE of knowing that you’ve set it in a corner and that it’s going to finish that corner on the exact same arc unless you give some throttle input. I do know that I really like the following: with the low rotation mass, there is not the strong gyroscopic penalty of going through corners at 90 mph+. You feel like you have just as much control as you would going 60 mph, and that is a very confidence-inspring attribute.

I usually ride v-twins, and so this last point about the Empulse’s handling is perhaps the most significant for me. The Empulse’s low vibration allows the rider to get very intimate with the road surface. You get amazing feedback from the road, and consequently I don’t think I’ll ever push the front end on this bike. The downside of this, is that you feel every bump and that can make you feel a little nervous. I’m going to see if I can mute that feedback a little when I setup the suspension.

For me, handling is all about the corners. Any bike with standard bars will handle fine in a parking lot or in traffic, but the real test is when you’re flopped over and wringing out the throttle to finish a corner. Any review will be incomplete without some track time, and so I promise a follow-up after my first track day on the Empulse.

Suspension Follow-Up

When I finally measured the sag, I realized that there was way to much sag in the rear. I added some preload to the front and a lot of preload to the rear and it completely transformed the bike. The harshness in the rear has been replaced with firm but compliant travel. Now the bike feels even more planted once it’s set on its line. Heck, even the seat feels comfortable now.

Two Bikes in One

When I wrapped up my break-in period and was finally able to use Sport mode, I was amazed. Sport mode transforms the bike into a completely separate machine. The two settings provide two different power curves and two different regenerative braking maps. A similar thing is done with fuel-injected sportbikes nowadays, but it’s a pretty complicated affair and they don’t have the same amount of precise control as you can get with software and an electric drivetrain. Sure ICE bikes can even provide dynamic engine braking as found in the Buell 1190 and the EBR 1190rs, but it can’t be nearly as adjustable as an electric drivetrain.

When it comes to tuning, electric drivetrains may just be a sea change for software-controlled vehicle dynamics. I’m certainly not the first to be awed by the possibility. Chris Harris has similarly amazed when reviewing Mercedes new electric SLS. I could almost the light bulb going off in his head.

Power and Performance

The Empulse R has really deceptive power in the form of really good torque and a broad powerband. After spending several months away from my ICE bike, I was shocked at how often I needed to shift. In all actuality, I shift just as often on my Empulse. The key difference is that an ICE has a very steep torque. Forgive me if the following line of reasoning is non-Science… If torque helps you to accelerate, then the slope of the torque curve defines the jerk or change in acceleration. The Empulse accelerates just fine but when you’re running in sport mode, you tend to stay in the flat part of the torque curve most of the time (above 5k) and you just don’t get that same jerk. A really nice side effect of this is that the chassis is way more stable during acceleration.

I haven’t done any head-to-head comparisons through the twisties with a comparable bike (Monster 696 or Street Triple), but I do feel like the Empulse will own them. That is until you hit about 90 mph. The Empulse really stalls out when accelerating towards the top of it’s speed range of 105 mph. Again, sorry for my pseudo-Science but it’s almost like the motor is using all of its energy to make horsepower to punch through the wind.

There are plenty of thrills to be had in the corners with the Empulse R. You’re not going to get any excitement drag racing it to the next stop light. If that’s exclusively what you’re into then buy a literbike, slap an exhaust on, remap it, slam it, and throw on a new swingarm.

6-Speed Transmission

The addition of a transmission to the Empulse has been a lightning rod for criticism. Firstly, there are the Internet nerds (myself included) who realize that there’s enough torque in an electric motor to not need a transmission. So why bother? Heck, even seasoned motorcycle journalists say a one or two speed transmission is all you need. I’m going to make an argument that the use of a 6-speed transmission makes this a true and complete sportbike.

  1. Regenerative braking on a motorcycle is hard when you’re thinking of using the levers as inputs. Most braking is on the front wheel which would require a front hub motor. Most riders don’t have very fine control over the rear brake and that makes using the rear brake as a controller for the main motor a tricky affair. However, if the rider controls the regenerative braking in the exact same way that he controls traditional engine braking, then this is a no brainer.
  2. Rear braking is crucial for corner entry to keep the rear end settled and the front compliant for trailbraking. The Empulse’s regenerative engine braking is perfectly up to the task of providing that rear braking for corner entry especially since so many mortal riders and racers can’t use the rear brake to save their life without breaking the rear end loose. But if a rider is going to rely on the Empulse’s engine braking, then you sure as hell have to give him more than two or three “settings”. In fact, you really should give him all six engine braking “settings”.

I think any agressive rider will pick up on this. It’s just a hard thing to get your head around, because most of us are accustomed to thinking that we need the transmission solely for accelerating on an ICE bike with a narrow powerband. And in the far off future, maybe 2-speed transmission coupled with really advanced regenerative braking software will do the trick. I’m an embedded software engineer by trade and I just don’t believe it’ll happen for a long while.

And as for convincing my nerdy brethren that a transmission is needed…that one’s beyond me. You really have to get into a corner hot and drop three gears before tipping it in to really understand. Who knows…maybe Zero will own everyone in the TTX class this year. Maybe shifting gears is a waste of time. If that’s the case, then I will definitely need to issue a public apology…and maybe dedicate some time to an open source motor controller project.

One thing that is beyond argument, is that the transmission is an important tool for any motorcycle rider. It gives the rider 6 options for how they want to bike to accelerate and 6 options for how they want to bike to decelerate; just like an ICE motorcycle. Controlling engine braking is a very important component of motorcycling. With the new Zero DS, they have provided an iPhone application that lets you set the regen. It’s not very practical in the sense that you really can’t make a change as you’re heading into a corner. The Mercedes Electric SLS and the Cadillac ELR use their paddle shifters to engage regen without using the car’s brake pedal. I know that the ELR’s switches are just on/off. I hope that Mercedes use the paddles to climb up and down through regen settings as a way of simulating downshifting as you go into a corner. Regardless, Brammo’s decision to put in a transmission makes a lot of sense in this context.

I’m sure it must have been a difficult engineering task to develop the power maps and the regen maps for each gear and for both modes, but I think the transmission was a huge win. The folks over at BrammoForum.com posted a poll to figure out people’s preferred shifting habits in the city. I’m one of those guys that shifts all the time just like an ICE. The beautiful thing is that the Empulse accommodates the rider that just want to stick it on one gear and go…like me when I’m carrying a cup of coffee on my way into office.

Review: Arai Signet-Q

I dropped my favorite street lid the other day. A helmet is only designed to take one impact, so I used this event as an excuse to buy a new lid. In the past I always seemed to smack my helmet while crashing about once every two seasons. I was of the opinion that a cheap helmet that met Snell or ECE would do the trick since I didn’t need creature comforts. I rode 20 minutes races/sessions and I wore ear plugs. Well I don’t crash anymore (knock on wood) and things like wind noise, drag, and ventilation are much more important to me as a commuter and tourer. I decided to step up and finally treat myself to an Arai street helmet.

Image from RevZilla.com

Image from RevZilla.com

To Each His Own…Head Shape

In the past, I’ve always just tried on helmets and picked one that fit reasonably well. Then I’d just order the same one crash after crash. Unfortunately, I probably placed too much emphasis on the fit for the face and ignored the fit for the head. Consequently, I always ended up riding something that was too big. If I actually knew what my head shape was, then I could have at least narrowed it down to models and/or brands that had an appropriate shell shape.

The cool thing about Arai is that they actually make different shell shapes in their product line to accommodate a few different head shapes. Their two most popular street helmets are basically the same helmet feature-wise, except one’s for oval heads (Signet-Q) and one’s for intermediate oval heads (RX-Q).

Long Oval

Long Oval

Intermediate Oval

Intermediate Oval

Round Oval

Round Oval

I swore my head was rounder than it is, and so I figured that I was a intermediate oval or even a round oval. I tried on a large RX-Q at Cycle Gear and I had a pressure point on the forehead. Weird. I looked around trying to get some help from the staff, but they were leaving me alone. I looked and looked, but they didn’t have a Signet-Q for me to try. Actually their shelves were pretty much packed to the gills with their brands (Bilt, Seven Zero Seven, etc.). I gave up and I ended up leaving more confused than when I walked in.

Internets to the Rescue

I decided to determine what head shape I am. Initially it seemed like a task of simple trial and error. I watched Arai’s fitment video and read their information. I watched RevZilla’s sizing guide too, but the videos did little to help me determine my shape. No one publishes a proper ratio, mostly because even that is imprecise. Well I wasn’t going to take that for an answer, and I finally found something that started to help. Webbikeworld.com posted a few slides from a study by Dr. Jan Beringer of the Hohenstein Institute (full slides). Slide 31 finally had a distribution of the ratios for men (in Germany) that I could use as a guideline.

I used a measuring tape to measure my head circumference from a point just above the eyebrows to the thickest point on the back. Then I used a makeshift caliper to measure my front-to-back length and side-to-side width. They’re basically diameters of that same “circle” that you made with the measuring tape, taking care to make sure you pick the longest and widest parts of the head. Then I calculated the ratio of the width to circumference which is what the study used.

  • Circumference: 59.7 cm
  • Length: 20.6 cm
  • Width: 16.5 cm
  • Width/Circumference: 0.273

According to their distribution, that put me just outside of full oval. I guessed that the median would actually be somewhere between Arai’s intermediate oval and round oval. I opted to try and get a oval helmet and see how well it worked out.

The Signet-Q

In the past, Arai had a model called the Profile which would have probably been perfect for me. The Signet-Q is a little more towards the oval side, but they use the same comfort liner as the RX-Q. Both of these liners have layers of foam that can be pulled away to help with hotspots on the temples and top of the head.

As soon as my Large Signet-Q arrived, I hastily unpacked it on tried it on. Right away the helmet felt great. The cheek pads were a little snug, but I was just wearing the helmet too low. The cheek pads are a nice construction, consisting of styrofoam and comfort foam. The comfort foam has layers that can be pulled off to help with face fitment, or you can opt for new cheek pads if that’s not enough adjustment. I did get a little pressure in the temples which had me second guessing my decision. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the forehead pressure I felt with the RX-Q. I pulled out a single 5mm pad on both sides and it fits like a dream now.

Features

I’ve had a few dozen helmets over the years, but nothing has ever broken the $350 price point. Now I finally know what $500+ gets you. As already discussed, the fit is amazing. The neck roll, comfort liner, and cheek pads are all comfortable and really cool. I haven’t ridden in the extreme heat yet, but they look like they’ll wick sweat well.

Ventilation
The wicking liner combined the ventilation will likely make this a phenomenal helmet for Summer riding. I didn’t feel a huge effect from the top vents, but my hair is usually pretty thick. It’s not that hot here in the Southern US yet, so I simulated a Summer ride by commuting with a wet head of hair. The top vents fill the two channels along the top of the head nicely and the air is drawn back down the back of the head and out the top rear and bottom vents nicely. Closing the top vents reduced the flow to the top of the head, but amazingly the flow along the back was just as strong, indicating that it’s serving as a great exit for the other vents. The mouth vent is generous and it really keeps the fresh air moving over the inside of the visor and the mount/nose. Interestingly enough, even with it closed there is still nice cool air under the nose. Likely I’ll only use the mouth vent in extreme conditions. The brow vents are absolutely amazing. The air is directed straight to the temples where the fresh air really does wonders. Even with the brow vents dumping air on the forehead/temples and the mouth vent blowing on my mount and nose, my eyes never dried out. This is quite a feat considering just how much air was moving around the face.

Noise
The fit and seal of the helmet is stunning. Standing still, this helmet blocks out more of the environment with its visor up than my last helmet (Seven Zero Seven Vendetta 2) did with the visor down. Then when you close the visor on the Arai it’s like shutting the door on an airplane. This led to a pretty high expectation of what it was going to be like to ride in this helmet. Given such a high expectation, I was a little disappointed initially when I took it for a ride on my (naked) Empulse. When in an attack position, there was still a significant amount of noise. However, when I sat more upright, the noise all but disappeared. I was stunned. I’ve never had such a quiet experience on a bike. I went back to the attack position and tried to see if I could reduce the noise. The largest source of noise was the typical under-helmet wind. It was definitely diminished compared to previous helmets of mine. The chin spoiler didn’t make a difference for me, and I found that it would flap against my (2nd) chin when fully deployed. I could use the shoulder shrug to help, but overall this is not a magic bullet for naked sportbike riders.

Visor
While the chin spoiler wasn’t as amazing as I’d hope for removing the under helmet noise, the visor was certainly effective for the direct wind noise. The visor makes an amazing seal; a seal that is aided by the its stiffness. It’s a pinlock compatible visor, and so there’s actually a large extruded portion of the front that forms a cavity. The backside of this cavity is filled by the pinlock visor insert, forming a double-paned visor that reduces interior fogging by creating a sealed air barrier that reduces the rapid temperature variability and thus reduced condensation. Science! The optical quality is good, but I did get some minor double glare from the sunlight. I was really excited about the pinlock visor, because the inserts pack flat. This means it will be much easier for me to ride with a dark smoke insert and just stash the clear one inside a bag. This is a much better option than packing an extra visor and a way better compromise than getting an optically poor and somewhat unsafe helmet with a flip-down sun visor.

Aerodynamics
Arai did a superb job with the aerodynamics of this helmet. This, of course, helps reduce the direct wind noise, but it also makes the helmet extremely stable at high speed. Flipping your head to check a blind spot at 95 mph barely produces any torque on the neck. It also did really well to reduce buffeting when drafting and passing semi-trucks. I think I pissed off a driver behind me because I lingered too long just off the front wheel of a semi-truck. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve got an upcoming day ride on the BMW GS soon, so I’ll report back in the comments on how well the helmet reduces buffeting behind a shield. Maybe the chin spoiler will help in a more upright position.

Value

It’s a rare motorcyclist that can plunk down $500+ for a helmet. Furthermore it’s hard for a rider to understand the significance of Arai’s features and quality until they’ve experienced them. And until more people do experience them, they’ll continue to be swayed by the marketing of flip-down sun visors, modular helmets, and integrated bluetooth. Well I want none of it. Heck, I don’t even think I’m going to mount my bluetooth headset to this helmet. I don’t want to blemish this perfect new lid. Now I sure as hell better not drop this thing.

Toss Your Bic

I recently emptied a Bic pen. For a lot of people, this never happens. Disposable ballpoint pens are so ubiquitous, that we tend to lose them before we run them dry. I’m a bit particular; I almost never lose pens. Consequently, when I empty a pen I’m faced with a decision on how to dispose of it.

I’ve scoured the Internet, and the best course of action is to just toss them. They’re so minuscule that they’re just not worth recycling. On the other hand, being so minuscule makes them the perfect size to poke through a trash bag and escape over the side of a trash barge. Once free, it can makes its way down river and eventually joining the great Pacific Garbage Patch. OK, so that’s just my environmental guilt speaking, but it did get me thinking. Why are all of our pens disposable to some degree or another? They haven’t always been like that.

Fountain Pens

As an alternative to these common disposable pens, I considered using a fountain pen. I started researching them and found out that most inexpensive fountain pens use disposable cartridges. All is not lost though. You can often find converters for these fountain pens. A converter has the proper dimensions of an ink cartridge, but in fact its a small syringe.

Lamy Safari with ink cartridge (installed) and a converter

Lamy Safari with ink cartridge (installed) and a converter

I picked up a Lamy Safari pen, which came with a standard ink cartridge. I then ordered a converter for it. Sure this isn’t the most inexpensive pen out there, but it’s far from the expensive end of the scale.

Fountain pens write amazingly well. It’s a really different experience. I’ve got seriously poor handwriting, but it’s largely the result of being an impatient writer. A fountain pen forces you to slow down as the ink flows steadily and smoothly. If you pick up the habit of writing with fountain pens, you’ll find that the extra $6 to buy the converter will really pay off. Fountain pens lay down a lot more ink than a ball point pen, and so you’ll be going through cartridges pretty often. For me it’s more about reducing that plastic waste, and so saving a little money is just a bonus.

Rollerball Pens

If a ballpoint pen is more your style, then rollerball pens offer a nice compromise. Disposable rollerball pens have been around for a long time, but there are a few models now that actually take fountain pen cartridges. And just like their fountain pen cousins, you can get converters for them as well.

Lyra Calypso with Converter (installed)

Lyra Calypso with Converter (installed)

I picked up a pair of Lyra Calypso pens and converters. I order them from pensations.com, but I’m not linking to their site because it seems that their domain registration may have elapsed recently. The Calypso pen writes incredibly smooth, gliding even better than a fountain pen. The ball makes the ink delivery more even than a fountain pen while not requiring nearly the same kind of pressure as a ballpoint pen. In fact, it’s a little too smooth for me. I find my handwriting is a little better with a fountain pen because the resistance slows me down a little.

What’s old is new again

A while ago, I started carrying a handkerchief as a way of minimizing the napkins and paper towels that I use. Sounds kind of gross, but that’s exactly what our grandparents did when they were young. A little later I started shaving with a safety razor; again just like my grandfathers. I’m not exactly sure what kind of pens they used, but I’m guessing they didn’t have bics when they were kids. I’m starting to think that all of today’s modern (disposable) marvels are inferior versions of their reusable predecessors. I smell the work of marketers.

Suspension Setup for the New Brammo Empulse R

When news that the Empulse R would be available before the Empulse, I was pretty excited. This news was that last justification that I needed in order to spend the extra money on the R version. The R offers up some carbon fiber bodywork, fully adjustable suspsension, and (I think) a different motor. Of that list, it’s primarily the suspension that I was most excited about.

A lot of sportbikes come with fully adjustable suspension, but the Empulse belongs to that weird segment filled by street fighters and sporty standards. It sources Marzocchi forks and a Sachs shock in an OEM variety that is devoid of any kind of identifying marks. I had my concerns about the whether or not the extra adjustability would be of any consequence. Add to that some initial reports from the earlier owners that the suspension on the R was just too firm and would have to be replaced with something aftermarket. My heart definitely sunk a little as I waited for my bike to come in.

When I received my Empulse R, I didn’t know what to think. I was still in the break-in period, but it did seem really harsh. Did I just get suckered? Short answer is No. The Empulse R is undersprung for my weight (180 lbs. with full gear), but is otherwise phenomenal for stock suspension. Hopefully this blog post will help owners get the most out of the suspension on their Empulse R.

Where to Start

I’ve been doing a lot of research into suspension setup. In the past, I’ve taken my racebikes to a chassis/suspension shop. Their work was superb, but I learned next to nothing. The Empulse is my first sportbike since I gave up spirited riding on the street years ago. I do still have gas street bikes, but I’m more of a touring guy now.

I had a lot to learn about motorcycle suspension. As I read more, the more that I realized that suspension tuning information is out there, but it’s never in one complete place. You have to read a bunch of half truths from several different sources. Finally I found once source that really clicked with me:

Sean Onipede put together a great guide that does a few things that I found to be very important:

  1. Provides an order to follow when setting up your suspension.
  2. Details the key responsibility for each setting.

The first point is pretty critical. Just like a race track is a series of corners that must be linked together successfully, your suspension works in related stages to get you through the micro-steps of every corner. It steepens the front-end for turn in, relaxes the front end at the apex, settles the rear end for traction when rolling on the throttle, and it keeps the bike on line while powering out of the corner.

This moves right into the second point. In order to setup the suspension for each of those stages, you have to know which setting affect the bike through each of those stages. Typically people describe symptoms and then offer up one or two adjustments to correct those symptoms. The problem is, the description of these systems with “soft” terms that may have no meaning to most readers.

I can’t compete with the quality of Sean’s guide or even with all of the other random good information on the Internet, and so the rest of this guide is mostly just tips on how to make the adjustments to your Empulse R.

What You’ll Need

Tools needed to measure and adjust suspsension

Tools needed to measure and adjust suspsension

Most of the measuring is for calculating static sag. It’s easier with a helper, but I didn’t have one so I devised a scheme to set the sag myself. The above shows the tools that you need to adjust and measure your suspension without a helper. Here’s a break-down:

  • Wooden Dowel
  • Zip Tie
  • Telescoping Magnetic Retriever or Car Antenna (or a helper)
  • Metric Ruler
  • Bungies (or a helper)
  • Flathead Screwdriver
  • Spanner for 3/8″ Socket Driver
  • 3/8″ Socket Driver with 1″ extension
  • 7/8″ Wrench (22mm might fit best)

Sag Measurements

Sag goes by different terms and there are different ways to measure it. I’m going to stick with the Racetech terms and methods as outlined here:

First you need to measure full extension. Then you measure free sag (bike without rider) and static sag (bike with rider). For the two sag measurements, you’ll want to take two measurements for each. The first measurement is taken when the suspension is allowed to compress and settle to a stop. The second measurement is taken when the suspension is allowed to rise and settle to a stop after you’ve compressed it down and released. You take the average of these two measurements as a way to compensate for “stiction” (sticky friction).

It difficult to take these measurements without help, but the following descriptions illustrate a way to take the measurements by yourself for extension, free sag, and static sag.

Front Sag

The first thing to do is to put a zip tight on your right front lower fork leg.

Illustrates where to place the zip tie.

Illustrates where to place the zip tie.

To measure the extension, put the bike on the side stand with the bar turned all of the way to the left. From the right side of the bike, push up on the right handlebar until the front wheel is barely off of the ground. Then slide the zip tie up and measure from the top of the zip tie to the bottom of the silver fork leg.

Measuring front extension

Measuring front extension

To measure free sag, you’ll balance the bike straight up and down allowing it to settle on the way down or on the way up depending on which of the two measurements you’re taking. Once it settles, carefully reach down and slide the zip tie up. Then carefully put the bike on the side stand and take the measurement from the top of the zip tie to the bottom of the silver fork leg.

To measure the static sag, you’ll balance the bike with you on top of it wearing all of your gear. This is easiest next to a wall on your left side. You’ll want to hold the bars and center your weight over the bike in a natural riding position as it settles. I do this by leaning just slightly with my left elbow against the wall. Then slowly move down with your right hand and push the zip tie up. Stiction is your friend here, because it will prevent the fork from compressing as you slowly lean over the front more. Carefully get off of the bike and measure the zip tie again.

Free sag equals the full extension reading minus the free sag reading. And likewise, static sag is the full extension reading minus the static sag reading. Racetech recommends 30-35mm of static sag for street applications and 25-30mm of static sag for race applications. I run my Empulse R at 33mm of front static sag.

Now that you can measure static sag on the front, we’ll discuss setting it. You set sag by changing front preload. Preload is set by using a 7/8″ wrench on the red adjusters on top of each fork. I didn’t have a large enough metric wrench, but I suspect a 22mm is the perfect size. The imperial wrench did just fine since it doesn’t take much torque. My static sag was originally 38mm, and three full revolutions (tightening) added enough preload to bring me to 33mm of static sag.

Adjust front preload by turning red adjusters on top of each fork leg

Adjust front preload by turning red adjusters on top of each fork leg

What Does Preload Do?

Adding preload to a spring compresses it slightly, making it stiffer. Springs have a spring contant k. The force a spring exerts is determined by Hooke’s law where F = kx. Force equals the spring constant times the displacement of the spring which is a distance measurement. The more you compress a spring, the more force it exerts. By adding some preload, you change that displacement making it exert more force. If it exerts more force, then it will sag less. This is because the bike has a certain amount of weight that the springs must counteract with spring force. The system is balanced when the springs exert the proper amount of force. If the springs have a low spring constant, then the springs will compress (sag) until the force is right.

Why is sag important then? Keith Code explains static sag really well in his Twist of the Wrist book. Suspension is really designed to work well in that middle third of travel. In the initial third of travel, the spring force is too low. The middle third is just right. The last third is too stiff. Sounds a little Goldilocksian at first, but it makes sense on some level. So by setting your static sag to just less than 1/3 of the shocks travel means that when you’re cranked over in a corner, the cornering forces will compress the suspension right into the magical middle third of travel. Of course, if you go through corners fast, there’s going to be more compression. This is when you have to ask yourself how fast you want to go through corners. If you set you bike up with less static sag, it’s going to feel like crap if you pull into a parking lot through that dip in the concrete too slowly. If you pull through there going 35mph, it’s going to feel like magic.

How much preload is too much then? I can’t really answer that, but I do know that by adding preload you’re reducing the amount of travel available to the spring. If the fork or shock is designed to utilize all of a spring’s travel then this is bad news. Regardless, it’s best to start with the correct spring rate and use a small amount of preload. The rationale behind this is that by adding preload to your spring, it’s like placing a shorter, stiffer spring in there that will get stiffer sooner as the wheel moves through its travel. You really want a spring that changes its force more slowly.

I’m not sure about the dimensions of the fork and shock on the Empulse R, but I plan to at least pull my shock and get some detailed measurements of the spring and the shock without the spring.

Rear Sag

Rear static sag is probably more crucial than front static sag for most riders, because you’re going to feel it right in your spine. If you’re the kind of rider that trailbrakes really hard into corners, then I’d say the the front end is as important or more. When I first received my Empulse R, I was astonished at how firm the rear-end was…or so I thought. I would run over bumps in the road that would chatter my teeth. This is the point where I was really doing some soul searching about my decision to get the R.

Luckily I sorted out this method for measuring sag without a helper and I got some measurements. My rear static sag was a whopping 51.5mm. I was basically riding so far down in the travel that I was getting into that nasty last third of travel.

To measure my rear extension without a helper, I devised a scheme that provided the same benefit of using the zip tie. I bungied a telescoping magnetic retriever to the swingarm right over the rear axle.

Mounting the retriever to the swingarm

Mounting the retriever to the swingarm

Then I bungied a wooden down under the seat just above and slightly forward of the rear axle.

Dowel mounted under the seat

Dowel mounted under the seat

Then with the bike on the side stand, I pull up until the rear wheel was just off of the ground, and with one hand I extended the magnetic retriever until it hit the wooden dowel and then I move the retriever to the side just slightly so that I could lower the rear wheel without fear of compressing the retriever. Lastly I take the measurement from the top of the retriever to the middle of the rear axle.

Measuring magnetic retriever extension

Measuring magnetic retriever extension

Measuring free sag and static sag is much the same as before with the front, with the only real difficulty coming when you are on the bike and trying to reach back to extend the retriever carefully for the static sag measurements. There’s not as much stiction in the rear shock, so you’ll be doing a bit of a balancing act here.

Adding rear preload is a little more complicated. It’s done by loosening the lock collar and then tightening the newly released adjusting collar. The collars are two large nuts with notches. They’re located on the shock body at the top/front of the spring.

Rear preload is added with the collars

Rear preload is added with the collars

To measure how much preload you’re adding, people typically measure the length of threads showing above the collars. For my Empulse R, there was 8mm of threads showing from the factory. To loosen the lock collar and then to adjust the preload collar, you’ll want to use the spanner with the 3/8″ driver and 1″ extension. They sell normal flat spanner wrenches for this, but the collars are right behind the subframe on the Empulse and so it’s hard to get to.

Spanner on driver setup for loosening lock collar

Spanner on driver setup for loosening lock collar

You can also use a hammer and punch to loosen the lock collar, but I highly recommend against using it to tighten the adjusting collar since the numerous revolutions will bugger up the notches. Using the spanner to add preload can get difficult, and I found it best to attack it from the left side making sure that the spanner tooth is a notch correctly and that the spanner body is lined up and resting squarely on the collar. Lastly avoid any twisting motions when twisting the 3/8″ driver. The spring and lower collar will likely rotate too. That’s OK.

Adjusting rear preload from the left side of the bike

Adjusting rear preload from the left side of the bike

The whole process of adding preload will be much simpler if you can remove as much spring force as possible. I do this by keeping the bike on the side stand and then placing a scissor jack under the frame so that the rear wheel barely comes off the ground.

A scissor jack can help get the rear wheel off of the ground

A scissor jack can help get the rear wheel off of the ground

The procedure for setting rear sag is to add/remove some preload and then measure again. Once you hit your target then tighten the lock collar against the adjusting collar. Racetech recommends 28-37mm of rear static sag for street use and 23-32mm for the track. I ended up adding 10mm of preload for a total of 18mm in order to get my rear sag to 35mm. It feels phenomenal! I’m really impressed with how planted it is in nearly any corner I’ve encountered on the street. It’s a bit harsh for the low speed corners, but that was to be expected. I did end up adding a lot of preload, and so I’m in the middle of trying to determine what spring rate to choose for my new spring.

Damping Adjustments

The good news is that you’ve now finished the most critical adjustments to your bike’s suspension. The bad news is that the remaining settings are much less of a science than they are an exercise of personal preference. That preference is determined through lots of trial and error experiments as you ride through a chosen set of roads/corners the same way…again and again.

I’ve made several attempts to tweak my damping, but it’s really hard to come up with repeatable experiments on the street. For instance, in order to set your front compression dampening correctly for a corner, you need to hit a very late brake marker. I tend to brake early on the street and so it really doesn’t matter how quickly my front compresses. And as for setting up front rebound, the Empulse doesn’t have the bite in the corners that a V-Twin does and so you’re not likely to jack the front end up when rolling on the throttle. That leaves suspension packing as the likely only factor that you can use to judge your front damping setting and I don’t really know what suspension packing feels like. The rear is just about as difficult on the street with the exception of rear rebound. That’s usually easier to set up because it’s easy to get the rear end to chatter in corner exits under power.

Anyhow, I’m going to leave this up to you as a very long-term project. The critical thing you you need to know is the following:

  • How to adjust all four damping settings.
  • The range of each setting.
  • The original factory settings.

Three of the adjusters are free spinning (measured in degrees) and one has detents (measured in clicks). 0° and 0 clicks means fully open (fully counter clockwise).

Front compression damping is a flathead screw adjustment at the bottom of each fork leg. It has about 1080° of adjustment and is set from the factory at 360° or 33.3%.

Front compression adjustment is a small flathead screw at bottom of each fork leg.

Front rebound adjustment is a small flathead screw at bottom of each fork leg.

Front rebound damping is a flathead screw adjustment on top of each fork leg. It has about 1260° of adjustment and it is set fromt he factory with 495° or 39.39%.

Adjust front rebound with flathead screwdriver on top of each fork leg

Adjust front compression with flathead screwdriver on top of each fork leg

Rear compression damping is a black knob on top of the remote reservoir for the rear shock. It has 45 clicks of adjustment and is set from the factory with 28 clicks or 62.22%.

Rear compression damping is a black knob on top of remote reservoir

Rear compression damping is a black knob on top of remote reservoir

Rear rebound damping is a flathead screw adjuster on the lower clevis of the rear shock. It has 990° of adjustment and is set from the factory with 450° or 45.45%.

Rear rebound adjustment is a flathead screw on bottom clevis

Rear rebound adjustment is a flathead screw on bottom clevis

What’s Next

I still haven’t dialed in my damping settings, but I don’t know if I will move far from stock until I get a trackday under my belt. As for static sag, I feel like I’m there. I might add a little static sag to the front since the bike has a more upright riding position due to the standard bars. I am getting a new rear spring, but I still need to get some critical measurements of my shock and rear spring (including stock spring rate) before I can order one. Stay tuned (pun intended).

First Impression: Empulse R

My long wait is finally over. I picked up my Empulse R this weekend. The dealer network has slowly been expanding on the East coast. My deal with my most local dealer fell through, and so I ended up buying the bike from Euro Cycles in Tampa Florida. It was a 10 hour drive each way, but its a drive I make often since I’m in Florida a few times a year. Here’s a shot of the front of Euro Cycles.

Euro Cycles of Tampa Bay, FL

Euro Cycles of Tampa Bay, FL

I lived all over Florida for over 20 years, and I still get nostalgic when I head back. Visiting places like Euro Cycles always reminds me that there are a lot of great people in Florida. I had a great time shooting the breeze with the staff. I had to get back on the road, but I kind of wanted to ride the Empulse in their balmy 80 degree weather considering the fact that I left home in the very low 40′s. I opted to load up anyhow and just get on the road. Heck, I didn’t actually even take a good look at the bike until I made my first fuel stop.

Loaded up on the trip back

Loaded up on the trip back

I’ve followed the Empulse’s development for years. I’ve seen tons of photos and videos. Nothing prepared me for how amazing it looks in person. And folks, I don’t usually gush about motorcycles.

What does the R bring?

Brammo released the Empulse R before the regular Empulse. You can either look at this as a way of rewarded in the early adopters with a limited edition, or charging an few extra thousand dollars for parts that cost you much less in a way of recouping cost. I can’t imagine that there’s much volume for the R models, so I’m going to guess that they didn’t make much extra money by selling the R models first. What exactly did I get though? IIRC the Empulse R has only these additions:

  • Fully Adjustable Suspension with “Gold” Fork Valves
  • Carbon Fiber Panels (Tail Light, Rear Hugger, Front Fender, Tank Panel, Headlight Cowling)
  • Extra Badging
  • An Early Delivery Date

Initially, I thought that the R had lighter wheels too, but I can’t find any information to support this. If the wheels are a set of lighter Marchesini’s then it’s not a bad deal. For me, I really just wanted some level of adjustability for the dampening of the suspension. Could I have done better picking up some Ohlins Road and Track forks and a Penske Triple? No way. I’m looking at $5k-$6k there. So even if I’ve got basic compression and rebound control only, that’s not too bad…especially if the forks have “gold” valves then I’m doing OK. Regardless, I’ll try and dig up some details on the wheels and do a much more detailed writeup on adjusting the suspension in the weeks to come.

The Ride

I put over fifty miles on it today. Initially, I was thinking that it is a pretty harsh ride and I might need to speed up the dampening a little. Well, what I didn’t realize is that I was riding it like a sissy. This is the Empulse R after all. Once I got done with my range testing, I ripped back home along some fun roads. This bike is begging to be flogged. Sure the bike is rough at low speeds, but when cornering under acceleration, it really livens up and sucks up the irregularities. And oh my, you can get on the throttle early.

There’s an interesting dynamic about this bike that actually seems to encourage aggressive cornering. Firstly, the seating position is nice and low. Secondly, the pegs are high enough that it is easy to take your weight out of the saddle when hanging off. Thirdly, it has a significant and very low center of gravity. Finally, it has amazing road feel. So how does this all work together? Let’s start with a little (pseudo-)science.

Mass centralization has been the industry buzz word for the last 5-10 years and it’s finally starting to come to fruition with electric vehicles like the Empulse and the Tesla Model S. It’s even more critical with electric vehicles because they’ve got some considerable mass. Granted, we’re not talking about lead acid batteries here, but the Empulse is not light-weight. Which is really fascinating, because even pushing it around the garage you actually think it’s pretty light, that is until you push it up am incline.

Low ride height works together with the mass centralization to create a feeling that the bike is being sucked into the ground through the corners. It helps to prevent the rider from feeling like he’s being flung off like a ride at the state fair. This is what you want as a rider, because you want to feel like you’ve got a strong enough normal force to maintain that coefficient of static friction between your tires and the road And when your center of gravity is nice and low, the torque arm created between those tires and the reactive centrifugal force is reduced. The mass centralization in the motorcycle is then aided by rider position. The high(-ish) foot pegs give you the ability to get your weight out of the saddle and instead engage your calves and quads as a very effective dampener complete with very accurate deflection sensors. And lastly the incredible low vibration of the Empulse means that you feel the road surface in your legs and hands so you know exactly when the backend slides a tiny bit.

All of this is mostly just a means to build rider confidence which is the single biggest factor is getting through corners fast. Once someone has experienced a pucker moment or a get off, it works to deteriorate their confidence. The Empulse instead gives you very precise input about the surface and dynamics of the chassis that I can only liken it to an Tsunami early warning system that gives island residents 30 minutes to get to safety. Normally sportbikes give you a split second before you’ve pushed the front or lost the rear.

My final comments about handling will be a comparison to a buddies really well built supersport R6 racebike. I’ve mostly ridden twins on the street and track. The first day I rode his bike on the track, I was amazed at how user-friendly it was. It was so well set up, that I could get into any corner on any crappy line and get through it perfectly with just a little speed adjustment. It had a low level of vibrations and I had incredible surface feel. My only beef with his bike is that I had to have it above 8k on corner exits just to get it to finish corners with any kind of a bang, and getting a bike above 8k on its sidewall is a daunting thought for a v-twin guy. Well the Empulse has the handling of that inline four middleweight with the finishing torque of the smoothest lightweight twin I’ve ever ridden.

Performance

I can’t write much here, because I’m still in my break-in period. This means I have to keep the bike under 3500 RPMs and out of Sport Mode for the first 600 miles. Consequently, I’ve been avoiding the brakes and getting into corners as fast as I can. From what I’ve felt this far of the acceleration and the brakes, I know this is going to be a hot-performing bike. Will it smoke a 600 middleweight? No, not down a straight, but who cares? All the fun is to be had in the corners. Going 170+ mph is only fun the first time. Ripping through your favorite corners is fun every time. Besides…all that high speed stuff just eats up your charge anyhow.

Range

Speaking of range…how’s the Empulse’s range? Screw it. Who cares? I’m so over range anxiety. Like I just said, going 170+ mph is fun the first time. And by that same logic, running low on a charge or even running out only sucks the first time. After that, you very quickly calibrate your routes, riding style, and habits to adapt. Once you know your bike’s limits you’re happy. If you really like to take longer rides, get an ICE bike and ride it once a month on that long ride. Then take your Empulse out every other day. Seriously, lets stop talking about range anxiety.

Drivetrain Quirks

My BMW R1200 GS has some serious driveline lash. Most bikes do, but it’s never a big problem off of the line because you’re slipping your clutch as you bring up the RPMs. You don’t slip the clutch on the Empulse because you can’t stall an electric motor. Furthermore, you don’t need to rev match an electic motor when shifting up or down in an attempt to avoid that undesired lurching you get with an ICE bike. This is because electric motors have very low rotational mass and therefore very little inertia. It takes no effort to spin the motor up from 0 RPMs when you dump the clutch going down the road. As a matter of fact, then back torque that you get when letting the clutch out while under way is almost all regen created with the motor controller anyhow.

All of this means that you feel driveline lash more significantly when A) starting off, B) upshifting, and C) in slow on-off throttle traffic. Is it a big deal? Not for me so far. It’s just a new experience. Through help from other Empulse riders, I’ve learned how to eliminate it when starting off and lessen it quite a bit in other scenarios.

What’s Next

Once I get through break-in, I’ll start using sport mode. By then, the suspension should be loosened up enough to really start experimenting. I’m going to do some chassis and suspension benchmarking on a fun route home from the office and see what I can do for a setup on this bike. I’m going to set the preload, experiment with tire pressure, and then start messing with the dampening.

Shaving Like Your Grandfather

Ever get the feeling that with all of our “progress”, we’ve actually lost track of many of life’s more subtle innovations? A few years ago I got interested in roasting my own coffee, which is something that early Americans did all of the time. Processed green coffee beans last a really long time, but as soon as you roast them you’re in a race to use them before they oxidize and go stale. Modern “marvels” such as batch roasting, advanced packaging, and efficient transport means that no one needs to roast their coffee any more. But are we better off?

The Gillette Fat Boy (1958-1961) is still used by fans today.

The Gillette Fat Boy (1958-1961) is still used by fans today.

I had this déjà vu moment last month as I was looking into safety razors. I wet shave because I have a soft and stubborn beard that refuses to work its way into an electric razor’s guides. I’ve bought into all of the marketing hype and I always uses gels and the latest 12-blade cartridge razor systems out there. All the while I never realized that shaving was perfected generations ago and that all of these modern innovations are garbage.

The Safety Razor

Safety Razors were invented in the 19th century as a means to allow the common man to safely shave at home. Seems that wielding a straight razor on one’s own face is a bit dangerous. Straight razors also required a considerable amount of upkeep. For generations, men used safety razors with disposable, double-edged blades. Then came the disposable razor…garbage.

My dad uses disposable razors, and so that’s what I started with. I hated throwing away those plastic razors back then, and I didn’t even know about the floating island of plastic in the Pacific. When the Gillette Sensor came out, I started using cartridge razors. I figured that they’re a lot more environmentally friendly. I also liked the weight of them more, although I didn’t realize why. When the Gillette Mach 3 came out, I switched over and I’ve been using it for damned near 15 years.

I’ve seen other razors come and go, and I’ve stuck to my Mach 3. I even remember reading the lore about how the little gel strip was invented in order to get people to replace their cartridges sooner than needed since the blades lasted so long. What a load of crap.

Safety razors, with their single blade, provide a far closer shave with way less irritation. It can be scary shaving with only one blade, but that’s where the weight of the razor comes in. If you let the weight help drag the razor across your skin, it’s far less likely to irritate. And they’re way cheaper to use since the blades are so inexpensive. You can get them in bulk from Amazon for just under a dime a piece. The best price I can find on Mach 3 cartridges is about two dollars a piece. Granted, they last a little longer, but they sure as hell don’t list 20x longer. The cartridge refill business is about as shady as the printer ink business.

Shave Soap

A simple brush, mug, and soap is all you need.

A simple brush, mug, and soap is all you need.

After years, I’d finally settled on gel shaving creams. I never quite know what to do with the spent cans. Are they recyclable? Do I need to depressurize them? Now that I’ve picked up a safety razor, I’ve decided to use regular shave soap, lathered up in a mug with a badger hair brush. I was a little skeptical. How could I possibly get a lather as thick as a gel shaving cream? Because that is what works best, right?

Come to find out, the lather from a soap isn’t as dry and thick as a gel shaving cream. I may be able to come closer with a different kind of soap and technique, but I’m not sure if that’s the best rought. The lather from a shave soap is much smoother and more slippery. With a gel shaving cream, I felt like I had to use to use too much pressure to get through the shaving gel and then through the beard. I ended up taking multiple, irritating passes.

I’m excited to try out different soaps, but it might be a while. The stuff lasts forever.

Environmental Impact

Not only does a safety razor and shave soap give me a much better shave; it also has a much lower impact on the environment. I’m not throwing out cans, plastic cartridges, and packaging for those cartridges. I don’t have to worry about what kind of propellant my can uses to foam up the gel either. My lather is built with my arm, simple as that. You might argue that I use a little more fresh water while shaving, but my counter argument is that far less water was used to make my soap and safety razor blades.

As we’ve become more of a disposable nation driven by convenience, it’s hard to fathom just how little our grandparents used to throw away. Back then waste equated to money. But with the rise in cheap plastics, disposable items are typically cheaper…thus encouraging use to buy cheap crap that we end up tossing. Frustrating to say the least.

Update: Here’s a clever idea on how to recycle those blades safely from the Badger and Blade forum.

The Brammo Empulse Arrives…Finally

If you’ve read any of my posts on my Enertia, you know I love the bike. Of the few electric motorcycles out there, it was the absolute best bike for me. However, I knew it was far from my dream electric motorcycle. Brammo had to compromise too much in their quest to make it reasonably affordable and viable for urban transportation. To that end, it was a great success. But for the enthusiast that wants to carve some corners on their commute, there were a few shortcomings.

Specifically, the Enertia didn’t meet my needs as a rider because:

  • Cannot maintain highway speeds due to overheating.
  • 40 mile range means I can’t make extra stops on the commute.
  • Non-adjustable and over-sprung suspension.
  • Body position is poor for aggressive riding.

Some of those shortcomings could have been mitigated through some inspired modding, but deep down I knew I wouldn’t be on the bike forever. Consequently, mine’s still bone stock.

An [almost] No Compromises Electric Motorcycle

Brammo has touted the Empulse as a no-compromises electric motorcycle for the enthusiast. They’re absolutely right…almost. You have to compromise somewhere, and in this case it was price. But that couldn’t be avoided. Bicyclists have a truism that sums this up perfectly.

“Cheap, light, and strong. Pick two.” – Wise Bicyclist

With the Empulse, Brammo went all in. They addressed all of the shortcomings with the Enertia and delivered a very serious motorcycle. Sure it’s not going to out-handle or out-perform an ICE motorcycle that costs less than 50% of the Empulse, but that’s not really the point of riding an electric motorcycle is it? The point is: It’s an electric motorcycle that should be about as fun as an SV 650 with the brakes and suspension of a serious middleweight sportbike.

Liquid-Cooled Motor

Even though there are no little explosions going off inside the motor, it still gets hot. This one surprised me when I got my Enertia, because I thought it was a low-friction, brushless motor. Well electric drivetrains are still lossy systems and that loss manifests itself through heat. The Enertia has an electric fan that helps, but it’s no match for highways speeds. The Enertia goes into a thermal cutback mode well before its battery is depleted when driven at a sustained 70 mph.

The Empulse tackles this problem by water-cooling the motor. There are plenty of high-end EV motors doing this now, but I never suspected to see one on a production electric motorcycle any time soon. They put a pretty large radiator on there too.

Notice the coolant lines running into and out of the motor? I wonder if there’s a separate electric water pump or if they somehow use the power from the motor?

A Proper Transmission

If you look at the motor in the picture above, you can also see another great feature: there’s a shifter! When Brammo delayed the launch of the Empulse, they stated that they wanted to include some critical new technology. They were already working with a 6-speed transmission with the Engage, and so the folks over at http://brammoforum.com knew straightaway that the new IET (integrated electronic transmission) was going into the Empulse. The transmission is a multiplate transmission complete with oil just like a standard motorcycle transmission. I’m sure the similarities stop there.

I, for one, applaud Brammo on this move. Stunning. As Brian Wismann so perfectly stated in this video, Brammo has put a critical tool back into the hands of the rider. While I’m no expert on electric drivetrains, I think this will be critical for efficiency. It’s common knowledge that 100% of the torque of an electric motor is available at 0 RPM and that it drops off a cliff at the top end. Going to a two or three speed transmission would have solved the top-end problem, and so I was a little perplexed. I now suspect that they went a 6-speed to help the bottom end without relying solely on battery-destroying torque. Sure that torque’s available, but using it in an inefficient gear means that the motor is going to draw a tremendous amount of current. But like I said, I’m no electrical/automotive engineer.

And in a dramatic turn of events, they offer regenerative braking! Well, sort off. On a motorcycle, a huge percentage of your braking power comes from the front wheel. On a v-twin race bike, I don’t even use the rear brake because the engine braking alone is about all the rear end can handle without losing traction. Realizing this, Brammo has added a sort of regen-engine braking. I can only speculate about their motor control algorithm, but conceivable it might be sophisticated enough to deliver just the proper amount of regenerative resistance based on wheel speed, gear, and throttle position.

Level 2 Charging: 3.5 hrs from Zero to Full

Craig Bramscher and Brian Wismann have both explained several times thats they abandoned the lower-capacity battery packs and decided on one single option due to overwhelming pre-order demand for the 10 kWH packs. They settled in on a 9.3 kWH pack in the final configuration of the Empulse. It’s what happened next that really surprised me. They included support for level two charging, and not with some supplementary part that you keep at home. They put the Level 2 charger on the bike.

Now the only downside of this is that they don’t have a Level 1 cord on the bike. If this is anything like the Volt, then a Level 1 charge will likely be done with a separate adapter. That’s going to be a bit of a problem for me. I plan to steal 120 V power while at school and charge at home overnight on 120 V. Where to I keep the adapter? I’ll probably be fine at work since we have five Level 2 chargers…but I have to beat three out of the seven Nissan Leafs into the office. Great. There’s gonna be a geek slap fight in the parking lot.

They Added Proper Motorcycle Parts

The Empulse R comes with fully adjustable suspension via a Marzocchi fork and a Sachs shock. While I doubt that fully adjustable includes all four “knobs” for high/low-speed compression/rebound dampening, I’m sure that it’s got at least preload, compression, and rebound adjustments. And that’s plenty good for the most agressive street riding. Heck, most expert amateur racers and a lot of privateers can get away with a simple Penke 3-way on the rear and a re-valved stock fork.

They’ve also included some proper sportbike wheels on the Empulse R. The Enertia has really narrow, custom wheels with a direct mount sprocket in the rear. The Empulse R has a 17″ wheelset from Marchesini with a very respectable 5.5″ rear wheel. And, I’m not certain, but that rear hub looks pretty large. I suspect they’ve moved to a cush drive which will really help smooth out some of the drivetrain noise and vibration that you get on the Enertia.

You can really tell that they’ve been doing some racing too. They’ve included mounts for rearstand spools on the swingarm as well as perfectly placed threads for frame sliders on the frame. Even the big Japanese manufacturers tend to screw up mounting points for frame sliders. And the poor street riders end up getting kits that relocate the frame sliders awkwardly so that they fit through vents on the bodywork without cutting. There’s also plenty of room around the tank to put clip-ons under the top triple clamp, which was pretty much impossible on the Enertia. They also have proper foldable footpegs that I plan to promptly replace with some rearsets. I hope I can fab something to work out easily. Maybe they have some Empulse RR parts to spare. O_o

Anyone for a Two-Up Ride?

Finally, you can offer friends the experience of riding an electric motorcycle without having to trust your bike in their grubby little hands. I’ve already offered a ride to a buddy at work, and he promptly rejected me. I don’t know what his problem was. Two of my fastest laps around Jennings GP were on the back of Jason Pridmore’s GSXR. It was definitely special…and not that way.

In all seriousness though, this is one really nice looking tail section. The subframe is so thin and minimal. Razor edge tails have been trendy with sportbikes lately, but they tend too come out looking like sectioned serrated knives. The Empulse’s tail looks like a katana (the sword, not your grandma’s Suzuki). The original Empulse prototype had a misplaced tail that didn’t fit in too well. Plus it still had that long, flat design found in the Enertia. That seat style is perfect for the Enertia, because it helps to accommodate differently sized riders. The Empulse has a proper, low seat at an angle that is going to feel much better when the bike is slung over in a corner. I can’t wait!

The only thing I’m a little apprehensive about is the swingarm. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but it looks a little flimsy. Part of that is probably an optical illusion since it’s tubular. However, the pivot looks a little narrow and might suffer from some twisting. It’s also interesting that the shock is direct mount and doesn’t use a dogbone linkage to control the rate. At least the pivot seems to be pretty close to the chainline which should help with squat coming out of corners. The lower arm in the swingarm looks like it will probably be close to flat when under power too, which is apparently critical for traction when driving out of a corner. Not sure that traction’s going to be a big issues with the R though. Maybe the RR. Anyhow, the comments on the swingarm are really pretty superfluous and shouldn’t affect street riding in the least.

About that Compromise

Similar to the Enertia’s release, they’re producing the first thousand or so Empulses as the R model only. I get the impression that it’s a limited edition model, but I’m not 100% certain.

Empulse Base Model – $17k
Empulse R Model – $19k

The Empulse R has the following advantages over the regular Empulse:

  • Marchessini wheels
  • Fully Adjustable Suspension
  • Carbon fiber bodywork parts
  • And a 2012 delivery date

Personally I’m excited about all of the above R extras, save for the pretty carbon fiber parts. Hopefully the wheels are nice and light, since losing unsprung weight it critical for handling, acceleration, and braking.

Overall the R package seems like a good deal. High-end sportbikes like Aprilia, Ducati, and MV Augusta do the same thing with their racier models and often charge way more. However, you have to consider that those other manufacturers also tend to offer better brakes, exhausts, racing ECUs, etc. Personally, I like the Japanese model of just offering one version and making it as nice as possible. The Japanese can get away with that due to their economy of scale.

$19k was a bit of a shocker for me, but the way I look at it, I’ve been saving for this motorcycle since October 2010 when I pre-ordered mine. The only sad part is that I plan on owning it until it depreciates to near zero. I typically buy used bikes and only lose about 20% of their value to depreciation when I sell them. Who know what the secondhand market for electric motorcycles is going to look like. Anyone interested in a well-kept Brammo Enertia?

Murdoch Might Just Break Into My Daily Routine

I’m a typical Gen X geek when it comes to news consumption. I get my news through online outlets only. Easily 3/4 of that news is through what I refer to as semi-pro blogs and the rest is through sites of traditional media companies. I don’t read local newspapers, at all. I don’t watch the news on television. I even eschew local radio for satellite radio (save for our local NPR affiliate on occasion). I subscribe to one magazine (Roadracing World)…and I’m riddled with guilt over the paper it’s printed on.

Longing for the Old Days?

However, like many other Gen X’ers, I still fondly remember getting the comic section from my parents’ Sunday paper and hiding away with it. I’ve spend many mornings sharing coffee and a doughnut with my grandmother over the morning paper. I’m pretty sure she still watches the local news too, and then promptly switches back to Fox News. :(

I have a morning routine myself, it just involves flying through my myriad RSS feeds and trying to consume as much as I can. I feel I have to stay on top of them to make sure I’m staying relevant amongst my geek cohorts. And even though these articles are merely byte-sized, I can’t even seem to retain them. I’m constantly half quoting articles, that themselves only half cite their sources. How many times have you read an article that is effectively a layperson’s weak attempt at drawing a popular conclusion from a scientific study that the scientists themselves refuse to reach conclusions about? It’s sloppy, pseudo-journalism.

Micro-Attention Spans

The Internet and mobile computing have made us more plugged-in than ever. This leads to a barrage of interruptions that has wrecked our attention spans; though you might argue that MTV started it. Or was it the remote control that allowed us to channel surf during commercials?

The constant connection and micro-attention spans ultimately mean one thing to publishers: There is no time that’s more important than this very instant. They have to deliver their content quickly, and make that content just as quickly consumable.

Semi-pro blogs have mastered this. They publish numerous articles every hour of every day. They are short and often devoid of much human interpretation. A screenshot and a short quip is often all that’s needed…oh and of course there’s the requisite “[via JoesBlog via TechMunchismo via SomeGuysAss]“.

I’m Not Saying Blogs Are Evil

In the defense of semi-pro blogs, the larger players are often staffed by journalists with traditional publishing experience. This has led to a great improvement in their practices and credibility. These blogs provide an undeniably great service too. Their light-weight style of journalism is efficient and somewhat reckless, but they’re breaking stories and scooping the old guard. I think it’s pretty amazing every time I see an article on a traditional news outlet that is reporting on stories that broke in blogs, and they’re citing the blogs.

While I am being critical of semi-pro blogs, I’m not trying to paint them as some sort of scourge on civilization. What I am saying, is that I’m looking for deeper, slower, and slightly more responsible news reporting. I don’t need to stay up-to-the-minute. Sometimes, I want a few more details, maybe some backstory. And I don’t mean I want to search myself for all of the past blog posts on a topic. This is where I’m starting to miss a daily newspaper. They publish daily, and spend days, even weeks on articles. They go out and hit the streets, not just the tubes.

Enter The Daily

The Daily could be just the crutch that helps keep traditional, quality journalism alive. I read RSS feeds on my iPad every morning. I’ve tried a fews news apps, but none held my attention. So far, The Daily has good, deep writing, while still being a little brief to ensure that the issues holds your attention. The longer articles still hold your attention, because they mix in enough distractions such as slide-shows, in-page video, animated panoramic photos, and audio clips.

Their mixed-media approach works well to provide those said breaks, but they also enrich the experience. For instance, Friday’s (Feb. 4, 2011) edition had an article on Egypt that talked about the surprising organization of the protesters. It talked about the how they maintained a central office, patrolled looking for Mubarak supporters (“thugs”), and were seemingly humanely interrogating them to gain intelligence on their movements. They even have a doctor on site to take care of their detainees. I’m sure that their interrogation practices are far from simple Q&A, but I was surprised at how well the protesters are focused on the public relations aspect of their efforts. They’re quire careful to ensure that they’re viewed as the good guys, not falling back on the harsh tactics that the secret police have reportedly used to subjugate suck unrest previously.

While that level of reporting was certainly deep, the thing that set this article apart was the embedded audio commentary from the reporter himself. The tone of his voice was enough to instantly discern the tone of his article and to remove any chance of misinterpreting the article. Furthermore, it provided an insight to the emotion of the situation and to the humanity of the protesters that was then reinforced through details in the article, such as their practice of protecting the detainees in the central office by using a human chain to shield against less civilized elements of the protests.

But Will I Subscribe

The first two weeks are free. I think I’ll subscribe for another month or two after that, but the verdict is out whether or not I’ll make the $40 yearly commitment. As much as I’m pulling for professional newspaper journalism to survive and morph into something more current, I’m a little worried about getting so much of my news from one source. I mean, Rupert’s the same guy that owns Fox News after all. :)

What I really hope, is that The Daily’s format is duplicated by other news outlets. Actually, I’d love to have a single, standards-based, newspaper reader app which can download issues from a variety of papers.