By David Soderholm
Timing. It’s a thing. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. If you’re playing baseball and you have good timing, you hit the homerun, or you make the Kirby Puckett catch on the wall in extra innings. In life, maybe you buy the lottery ticket on the right day or show up in the right place at the right time to meet your lifelong Love. Like I said – timing is a thing.
If you’re the review wrangler (yours truly!) timing has been a thing. Making the right contacts and calls at the right times to bring the readers good motorcycle models and stories. For me, timing has been a thing. A really GOOD thing……until it wasn’t…..and I received a text from Ben Goebel…..
“(January 9, 2017) — Polaris Industries Inc. (NYSE: PII) today announced it will immediately begin winding down its Victory Motorcycles brand and related operations. Polaris will assist dealers in liquidating existing inventories while continuing to supply parts for a period of 10 years, along with providing service and warranty coverage to Victory dealers and owners.”
DAMN! Bad timing to be sure, as we had already ridden and written the articles you are now reading. Then another text, “Are we still running the Empulse review??” I do some more digging and find this. Polaris will “continue the electric part of the business…“and “Future products and markets will develop, both on-road and off-road”. “Hell yes!” is my reply to Mr. Goebel. So we are rewriting, still including things about the 2016 Empulse, but with a bend toward the electric experience. With that out of the way – read on.
Many things are different when one decides to go electric. On the top of the list is something that has been termed “Range Anxiety” – the fear of being left stranded somewhere without power in the system. Range Anxiety sets you up to believe you had better have your roadside assistance # on speed dial just in case. It turns out that most of those fears are largely unfounded and overblown according to a new study published in Nature Energy by researchers from MIT and the Santa Fe Institute. Based on a vast data analysis of second-by-second U.S. driving patterns and other evidence they concluded, “That 87 percent of vehicles on the road could be replaced by a low cost electric vehicle available today, even if there’s no possibility to recharge during the day”.
I can largely back up much of this claim in my day to day use of the 2016 Victory Empulse. Stated range on the Empulse was 140 miles on a full charge. Realistically, you’re looking closer to 100 miles on a full charge. That’s obviously highly dependent upon how much you whack the thing and also city vs highway (read freeway) commuting. As with many electrics, there is a re-capture of energy anytime you are off throttle. This leads to city cycle riding being more “efficient” mileage wise than constant running.
My commute to work is about 27 miles. It didn’t matter whether I took the freeway or the backroads to get to work. I had plenty of range available for both to complete my ride home. If I took backroads I had much more range available to play with than if I just bombed the freeway. I could have easily plugged in at work also, but didn’t, just to have a good range baseline to work from.
What this ultimately means is that as long as the weather allowed it, I could commute to work on my motorcycle and NEVER have to worry about a gas station. I thought that was really cool. Just plug in with the included charger when I arrived home and a “full tank” was available the next morning. From empty to full took about 4 hours in a type 2 charger or 7-8 hours with the included type 1. So – daily commute to work and back – check, with room to spare.
What about doing a trip on it?? Check again…only with caveats. This thing has roughly a 100 mile range, give or take a few. Obviously that would seem insurmountable, and I thought it was, until I came across this website – https://na.chargepoint.com/charge_point. On it I discovered that there are literally thousands of charging sites for electrics that I never knew existed. Your trip will definitely take more time to plan, when having to include electric fills, but it’s entirely possible to travel with. You’ll be happy with the “fuel” savings too!
What’s the Empulse like to ride anyways? It’s a rush unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. You “start” it by turning on the key and pushing a button. Then a light comes on the dashboard telling you it’s “on”, while being totally silent. Choose Sport or Eco. Either is a blast but there is noticeably more punch in Sport mode. It has a clutch and a transmission. Feel free to use them or not. Shifting smoothness could use some work. It’s notchy. When you’re running around anything but freeway, you can literally put it in third and never touch anything but brakes and throttle. That’s an eerily cool feeling.
Punching the throttle makes you feel like the rock being shot out of the slingshot. It’s a mostly silent and forceful push up to speed that is thrilling. Torque is available instantly, although it is metered by the control unit to keep you from spinning out or high-siding yourself in a corner. Running at speed produces nothing but wind, tire and some driveline whine. Coming to a stop at a light, you have to look down at the dash to remind yourself it is still “running”. You hear….nothing.
Seating position is sporty standard. You are moderately tilted into the wind with nice leg positioning and a reasonable reach to the bars. The dashboard has a lot of digital information; Things like speed, tach, odometer, gear position, energy consumption, battery status, estimated range and system status are included.
Running gear is sport-bike quality. A multi adjustable, upside down fork and remote reservoir shock do a nice job soaking up the bumps. Not the absolute best out there, but totally livable and adaptable. The brakes are radially mounted Brembos up front and do an excellent job of slowing the bike down. Combine that with the regenerative braking in the rear and you have a nice stopping package. Handling feels very “dense”. You can tell there is a lot of mass centered between your knees. It all works with a pilot who counter steers well and holds that counter steering through corners. Overall, it’s a very pleasing package.
Riding this Victory has me hopeful for the electric future. If Polaris’s PR copy holds true, then we have a lot to look forward to! The Empulse is a great first step for this homegrown giant in powersports. If you are at all interested, go get one. There are SCREAMING deals on them right now. MMM thanks Polaris for our use of the Empulse! We can’t wait to see what the future holds!
By B.P. Goebel
When most people think of electric motorcycles, they think of quirky, hand built science projects in the form factor of a motorcycle rather than a refined, ready for mass production product, produced by a major motorcycle manufacturer. Victory Motorcycle Company has leveled up on the electric motorcycle game with the Empulse TT. The TT is definitely a real motorcycle. It’s not an adapted scooter or a toy. It feels like a motorcycle, acts like a motorcycle, it’s spec’ed with motorcycle parts and it’s from a motorcycle company.
Too big to be called diminutive, the TT feels like a 300-400cc class bike in physical size. The riding position is compact, folded and uptight, not unlike a sport bike. All the controls in the spartan layout feel like real motorcycle controls.
At the risk of invoking scooter images, the TT can be twist and go too. But hey, scooters are fun. And twist and go is easy. Forget all the shifting stuff, twist and go is super easy. One and done. First gear does 60 miles an hour, so if you are just driving around, what gear you are in is relatively moot. You can ride around in first all day, but you don’t have to. You can split the difference between super acceleration and throttle sensitivity by using second gear all day instead.
When you need to be in more of a performance mode, the gears allow you to spread the power around where you want, when you want to. The gears can also allow the “revs” to drop, helping to conserve battery.
Dichotomous to the performance aspirations of the rest of the bike, there is a decent amount of driveline slack and the transmission is balky at best, feeling more agricultural/cruiser-like than sportbike like.
In cold and windy conditions at the drag strip, the Empulse did 73 MPH in second gear and did and 88 MPH in third. Like on a ICE bike, when starting out in third gear the acceleration is less aggressive and the throttle is less touchy. Unlike an ICE bike, it doesn’t kill on you when you start out in third. It just goes.
The resistance to downshifting from speed is much less than you would get from an ICE motorcycle. Even abruptly downshifting to first. To make you feel at home, when you roll off hard, there is quite a bit of resistance from the regenerative braking system. Sound on roll-off is like the sound of a jet starting to descend.
There are two riding modes, Sport and Eco. Sport mode lets it punch much harder, especially when you use the gears. It loves to have you dump it into a higher gear at large throttle openings. The electric motor isn’t phased and just heaps more on-it will pull it. This is where the gears really come into play, leveraging the motor.
Power comes on in a really greasy, super smooth way. They aren’t giving it all to you at part throttle, you can tell the motor controller software is holding some back. The future is one hack or updated software release from being able to light off the rear tire at will. Ludicrous mode anyone? Launch control? No problem.
The TT makes more torque than HP. How hard does it accelerate? Hard enough that in any kind of traffic it leaves little mental energy for anything but the task at hand. When I first got the Empulse I headed straight to the highway. Reveling in the disorientation of the silent, pulse quickening acceleration and fighting back allusions to TRON, I merged with the rapid traffic stream. How fast was I moving? I have no idea, I was instantly, electrically, just flowing with fast traffic. Discerning speed is made harder by lack of vibration/sound feedback. The loudest thing on the bike is the final drive and tire noise.
While you may think Eco mode is just planet saving conservation, battery extending, unfun, dry motoring best left for when you start to get range anxiety, Eco mode is really not that much of an albatross. It doesn’t rip off the line as fast, but as soon as it’s spooled up (almost instantly) you are already doing 40 mph with just the slightest movement of your wrist.
With that said, Sport mode is much more fun. Having the proverbial, invisible (and silent) giant hand pushing you hard from behind is pretty cool. Putting it in second and just point and shooting is really fun especially since you can go the other way just as hard with the premium brake system.
Closer to race spec than not, two Brembo radial calipers and big discs adorn the front. They have to be good because of the weight they need to check and because of how quickly the bike can get up to speed.
The Empulse seems to carry its weight up higher, rather than lower. It takes a firm press to initiate lean and once initiated, it needs a continued firm press to hold the line.
The thankfully adjustable suspension holds the stout TT pretty tautly. The suspension must deal with a bunch of weight and with some of the weight in not the usual places. You don’t want that weight flailing around. It can do bumps in the corner, but it doesn’t really like them.
To charge/fill up, you have two options. A Level II charger will get the job done in just short of 4 hours. The Level I charger does it in just less than 8 hours. So, get home, plug it in just like you do with your cell phone, and the next morning you are set to go. Assuming an average daily commute, range is not that big deal. As an electric motorcycle should, the display gives you data and lots of it. Like your iPhone, it has a battery icon and displays remaining battery percentage so that you can play range anxiety games with yourself. If you can charge at work, you can pound sport mode all the way home without any energy worries.
Also, to keep you from other kinds of worrying, the TT comes with a 5 year/100,000 mile warranty (AppleCare isn’t even that long!)
They should put on auto-canceling signals because you will be having so much fun you will forget to turn them off. In many ways, riding an electric motorcycle makes it feel even more like you are getting away with something, than with normal motorcycle riding.