Advancements in technology mean battery weight is dropping while power is rising.
Fresh off their third place in the Isle of Man TT Zero class (in their first try, no less), with Lee Johnston in the saddle, Victory was on their way to Pikes Peak to support their race effort with Roland Sands and Project 156. They invited me out to Colorado for the week to cover the race and, before that, test a motorcycle which they wouldn’t tell me anything about. I tried guessing what it was and, given a Victory-stamped V-Twin race bike would be heading up the hill, I was confident I’d be thrashing a road-going version around High Plains Raceway. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The unveiled bike was the Victory Empulse TT ($19,999), the brand’s first electric motorcycle and their first sport-standard. The bike highlights the beginning of a new, forward-thinking era for the American motorcycle company.
In 2013, Polaris partnered with Brammo, and in 2015 officially bought Brammo’s motorcycle technology to build on the existing platform. Which is also a quick explanation for why the Victory looks near identical to the ’14 Brammo Empulse R. But that’s not a mark against it. The naked-sportbike style and angular body work is more than enough to draw you in and dare you to throw a leg over the seat. But it’s the instant torque from the 10.4 kW-hr battery and internal-magnet AC motor that’ll keep you there. The range isn’t far off from a gas bike of similar size at about 115 to 120 miles, depending on how you ride it. Charging speed from 0-100 percent is 3.5 hours on a supercharger, but 8 hours on a standard 120v charger. Once charged, the 61 lb-ft of torque come on instantly, and the power remains constant, all the way up to the 6,500 redline. And even when you hit that limiter and shift to the next gear, you’ll never have to worry about falling out of the power band. The only time the bike drops power is if you land below the 20 percent battery mark, when the bike reverts to a limp home mode to save juice.
Turning the key and thumbing the starter, the Empulse TT starts up like any other bike — just a few decibels quieter. Oddly, neutral lives between second and third gear, and a transmission, at all, on an electric bike seems out of place, but it bridges the classic motorcycle experience and the new and unfamiliar one, key for any electric bike’s success. I check the dash; it’s on. I ratchet the shifter down; it’s in gear. I let go of the clutch but give it no throttle. It’s impossible to stall, but at this point I’m seriously doubting whether or not the bike is actually on. It’s not until I roll on the juice, that the bike starts to quietly glide forward.
Even Guy Martin couldn’t help but say, in his almost indiscernible Lincolnshire accent, “It’s the future!”
Out of pit lane, sweeping on to the back straight and through the first few turns, I get to know the bike. At 460 pounds, I expect the TT to fight back in the turns, but instead it tips into corners so quickly I have to stand the bike back up so I don’t shortcut across the grass. Most of the bike’s weight is in the battery, so with nothing directly under the “tank” except wiring looms and a small charger, most of the heft is down low, anchoring this pendulum. Even double-dipping the bike in through turns, scraping a knee (and the occasional footpeg), hopping on the power way before the apex, the TT seemed to revel in the ride. You couldn’t thrash a gas bike like this.
After taking the electric Victory Isle of Man TT race bike for a spin around Snaefell, even Guy Martin couldn’t help but say, in his almost indiscernible Lincolnshire accent, “It’s the future!” Is electric the future? It most certainly is. Now that companies are pouring R&D into battery technology, advancements have been exponential, which means power is continuing to climb while weight figures tumble — a formula any motorcyclist can get behind. But will it be the only bike on the road, in a decade or two? I wouldn’t count on it. While the Victory Empulse TT and other electric bikes offer a unique riding experience, they don’t offer the same riding experience as their gas-powered equivalents. After a day at the track, I was still left wanting to get back out there with a proper sport bike and clock a few laps. But the Empulse TT isn’t trying to compete with sport bikes, just like it’s not looking to competing with cruisers, adventure touring bikes or any other internal combustion bike. It offers its own kind of experience, its own kind of fun. The TT isn’t looking to replace anything in your garage; it just wants to add to your collection.