Category Archives: EV

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.

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.

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?

Office Charging Stations: Breaking Ground

I’ve mentioned before that the facilities manager at my office is a true-blue believer in EVs. He’s had a long career working with industrial electric motors, and understands them to their very core. He’s really supported me and the Enertia from day one. He even putting up with its charging fans blowing right outside of his office inside of our shipping and receiving area. He’s dead set on getting a Nissan Leaf too, because its got the range to suit his commuting needs.

They’re Here

He’s been giving me progress reports on the company’s initiative to install Coulomb Charging Stations at work. There have been some delays with the contractors, but I’m happy to say that they’ve broken ground this week. From the looks of it, we should have five posts serving ten spots with Level 1 and Level 2 charging.

Progress for Day 1

They made a little more progress on day two. There are trenches behind the ledges and some electrical utility boxes installed.The boxes are kind of ugly, so I hope they do something to disguise them. The last thing that I want to hear is people condemning them because they’re ugly. As it is, the location is already taking up exterior spaces where the car worshiping d-bags double park their cars like it’s some sort of Grease era car show.

Progress from day 2

I can’t wait to see them operation. From what I’ve been told, they’ll be open to the public too. So anyone with a ChargePass Card (like me) can use them. I’m not sure if that policy will be permanent, but I can’t imagine that there will be too many non-employees using them. When they go online, hopefully they’ll show up on Coulomb’s Awesome Webapp.

Of course, when they do go online, it means the end of my indoor parking. Oh well. :)

First 2500+ Miles on the Enertia

Finally turned 2500 miles on the Enertia.

I haven’t posted about my Enertia for a while. At first, I feared that the novelty had worn off. I really haven’t been riding it much…until this last weekend. And with that fresh seat time, my enthusiasm for the Enertia picked right back up where it left off. Coincidently, I passed the 2500 mile mark too.

Extra Leg on the Commute

A few changes in my circumstances have led to my lessened use of the Enertia. Firstly, I’m commuting from the office to school two days a week. Parking on campus is a nightmare. You basically have to park in a commuter lot and hop a bus in.

However…when I ride a motorcycle in, I can park right next to my building. This is exactly the time savings I was looking for to reduce my time away from the office, so I’ve been happily riding a motorcycle on those days. Unfortunately I haven’t found a place to charge the Enertia on campus. Furthermore, in the spirit of saving time, I take the interstate. All of this means that I ride my V-Strom gasser instead of the Enertia. :(

Weekend Passenger

I’ve reduced my Enertia riding on the weekend too, which is a shame, because the Enertia is perfect for running errands around home. I’ve got a roommate now, and we do a lot of things together. Unfortunately there’s no room on the Enertia for a passenger.

Empulse?

My changed circumstances have highlighted the Enertia’s range and capacity issues and affected the utility of the Enertia somewhat. At the same time though, riding my bulky, stinky, and loud V-Strom have made me appreciate the Enertia even more. It’s a bit of a conundrum.

Enter the Empulse. This bike could will directly solve two of my three problems. I should easily be able to commute on this, even on days when I’m on campus too. Even though I can’t easily charge on campus, the extended range will mean that I likely won’t need to. Furthermore the liquid cooled motor means that I’ll be able to sustain highway speeds on the Interstate and avoid taking a circuitous route at lower speeds. This will prove to be a huge time saver.

Unfortunately, there still isn’t room for a passenger. But riding two-up is for old folks anyway…except for the time I took too laps at Jennings GP with Jason Pridmore. We definitely didn’t lap like old folks. Although I nearly lost control of my bowels like a grandpa.

First 1500+ Miles on the Enertia

1500+ Miles on the Odometer

Mother Nature has been working against me somewhat lately. Summer’s here, and it’s been raining quite a bit. That means two things: I’ve been riding the Enertia a little less, and I’ve been caught in the rain a few times.

More on the Gulf Spill

I think it’s remarkable that the Gulf Oil Spill was the subject of my last 500 mile installment nearly three weeks ago, and that they’ve just stopped the leak a few days ago it’s still flowing countless barrels of oil. Everyone talks barrels of oil lately, but how does that translate to something more tangible. Media outlets are using square footage comparisons like US states and volume comparisons like gynasiums. Personally, I have a hard time understanding exactly what a barrel of oil means to me. Like any scientifically minded geek, I started researching a crunching some numbers.

So here’s how much diesel I’ve saved by commuting on my Enertia.

1510.7 miles / 14.5 mpg = 101.9 Gallons of Diesel

Now what exactly is a barrel? Hint: it’s not 55 gallons.

1 barrel = 42 US gallons

I originally thought that you could turn crude oil into any type of fuel to suit your needs. But upon reading up more on Oil Refining at HowStuffWorks.com, I discovered that refining oil isn’t as much of a process of transforming crude to a particular fuel as much as it a process of separating the various hydrocarbons and using groups of those different hydrocarbons to make the fuel. Diesel is made primarily of alkanes with 12 or more carbon atoms.

Of the 42 gallons of crude in a barrel, an average of 9.21 gallons of diesel is refined. So here’s the number of barrels of oil that haven’t gone to diesel production for my truck because of my 1500+ miles on the Enertia.

101.9 g diesel * 1 barrel / 9.21 g diesel = 11.06 barrels of oil

This clears up a lot of my misunderstanding of the wildly fluctuating diesel prices. It’s cheaper to refine diesel, but you only get so much of it per barrel of oil. Then when you account for the dramatic increase in demand (partly from the military campaigns in the Middle East), you start to understand why the price would go up more than the price of gasoline.

Barrels of Chain Lube

The next thing to figure out is how many barrels of oil have gone into lube for my chain. OK, that’s mostly a joke, but I am having problems finding a light-weight chain lube that will still last and not sling off. I’ve been getting a lot of chain noise as well as physical knocking. This, of course, is exaggerated by the fact that the Enertia is quiet, low on vibration, and doesn’t have cush drive or rubber mounts on the motor. I can actually feel when the master link goes around the super small front sprocket. I can alleviate this with a heavy application of lube, but it only lasts 1.5 days.

Brammo has been more than accommodating to my compulsion to fix this irritant, and has emailed me advice on proper adjustment and lube. They even sent me a new chain. I should have time to swap it out this weekend, so I’ll comment on this thread if it makes a difference.

Hypermiling: It’s Good for Hybrids Too

Drive it like a Prius, please.

Perhaps a psychologist can help me understand this. Why isn’t everyone hypermiling? I don’t mean the extreme sport aspect of hypermiling. I mean the common sense side of hypermiling during your everyday commute? Is it a persistent sense of urgency? Are they perpetually late? Are they just too selfish to impact their way of life? Well folks, hypermiling doesn’t cost you much time, it saves you money, and it actually helps keep you more calm and relaxed in traffic. Heck, it can even be fun.

Your Prius is Worthless by Itself

OK, I’ve turned into a bit of a BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) biggot purist lately, and the heavy number of Prius hybrids on the road has really started to irritate me. It’s not the cars themselves, but rather their drivers. More specifically, it’s the driving habits of those pilots. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I get the idea that owning a Prius is a way for some people to get their Green Merit Badge and alleviate a little environmental guilt. It’s almost like owning a Prius gives entitles people to keep driving like monsters. I’m going a little overboard here, perhaps, because hybrids draw more attention to drivers that operate them like a 1978 Camaro. To my defense though, I never see Prius drivers even mildly hypermiling.

Prius owners should not stop at ownership in their quest for that Green Merit Badge. They need to understand the embodied energy of that brand new Prius and it’s large battery packs. They need to understand how the drivetrain works. And most importantly, they need to understand how to drive their Prius efficiently.

Understanding a Hybrid’s Benefits

Today’s small hybrids use a drivetrain where the wheels are driven by a combination of the internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric motors. The ICE is designed to turn on and off quickly and efficiently, which enables the most obvious advantage of hybrids.

1. The ICE will usually turn off while coasting to a stop and while at that stop.

Unfortunately, most people don’t commute in stop and go traffic, and so they don’t really spend that much time stopped. Consequently, this advantage really doesn’t pay dividends to a lot of drivers. Luckily there’s another major advantage of hybrids.

2. The ICE will usually stay off if you accelerate slowly until you reach a certain speed.

This is where hybrids really shine. If you accelerate smoothly with only moderate pressure on the accelerator pedal, then you’ll cruise along under battery power until you get up to speed. This is important, because an ICE engine has an optimum operational RPM, and they’re not efficient at all while reving through their powerband and shifting gears. So if you can do that acceleration using the battery, then you’ll be saving a lot of fuel.

3. Most hybrids have regenerative braking, so some of your breaking force is used to charge the batteries.

When you use your brakes, some of that energy is used to charge your batteries back up. Unfortunately, a tremendous amount of kinetic energy is lost while braking simply because today’s batteries cannot be efficiently charged at a high rate. It’s simply too much current to be feeding them at once. Therefore, when you press the brake pedal hard, the electric motors will charge the battery a little, but the cars traditional disc brakes will also engage, turning that kinetic energy to heat.

Hypermiling Your Prius

This is the part where you really earn your Green Merit Badge. You can’t just own a Prius, you have to learn to drive it properly. Here are some common sense hypermiling tips.

DO NOTs

  • DO NOT accelerate away from a stop like you’ve got a HEMI.
  • DO NOT wait until the last minute to stop or slow down and then jam your brake pedal.
  • DO NOT tailgate as it impedes your ability to coast without rear-ending the car in front.

This next set of suggestions is the flip side to the above.

DOs

  • DO accelerate slowly.
  • DO look far ahead for changing lights or traffic that might cause you slow down, and then start coasting.
  • DO try to coast into red lights, giving them a chance to turn green so that you won’t have to stop.
  • DO brake lightly and early if you know you’ll need to stop. This will ensure that you get the optimal impact from your regenerative brakes.

Warning: pay attention to traffic around you and especially behind you when you hypermile. Most people don’t drive like this, and so you could really disrupt their poor driving patterns causing them a little road rage or even causing an accident. For instance, if you’re being tailgated by someone beating their kids in the third row backseat of their Suburban, then you probably don’t want to start coasting early for a light that you just saw turn read a half of a mile down the road.

Your Prius is not a Drag Car

I implore you, follow through with your purchase of your Prius and drive it like a Prius. Don’t make the purchase some sort of empty gesture. For more information on hypermiling your Prius, please check out this article on HybridCars.com. They also promote the pulse and glide technique, which I can only recommend if there’s no traffic around. The pulse and glide method is best employed on highways, but I feel it’s more important to minimize speed differentials on highways for the efficiency, safety, and sanity of the other drivers.