First ride: Brammo Empulse R review

Tried and tested around the Top Gear test track

What would you build if you had the battery capacity of 1,706 Apple iPhones? If you work for Brammo, the answer is an Empulse R.

It’s a new-to-the-UK electric motorcycle distributed by London-based electric vehicle (EV) specialist Goingreen, although it’s been on sale in the US for a couple of years now.

Like most other electric bikes it has a battery pack and an electric motor. However, inspect the transmission and that’s where the similarities begin to end. Where most electric bikes are twist-and-go, the Empulse R gets a proper six-speed gearbox and manual clutch.

Brammo has done this for a number of reasons. Firstly, any single-ratio transmission is compromised from the get-go, as one gear has to cover all scenarios of riding. Want acceleration and top speed? You’ll want a multi-speed gearbox with that then, sir.

Secondly, whilst electric motors are renowned for having a completely flat torque curve, there’s still a sweet spot where both power delivery and efficiency are improved. This is between 4,000rpm and 6,000rpm on the R.

And finally, motorcycling is all about the riding experience. An electric vehicle already loses out on the soundtrack of a combustion engine, why dilute the experience any further?

The water-cooled electric motor makes 40kW (54hp) of power at 6,000rpm and 66lb.ft of torque. In a straight line, the performance is akin to a well setup 650cc single-cylinder bike, albeit with an entirely different power delivery.

Where a single will begin to feel breathless in the upper echelons of its rev range, the Empulse R silently but assuredly creeps towards the redline without any noticeable drop in power. It’s only when you pass 60mph that you begin to feel air resistance holding you back.

Whilst the flat torque curve is good for powering out of corners, it can be tricky judging when to change gear without looking down at the dash. Even just below the 8,000rpm redline, there’s no screaming engine or vibration to let you know it’s about time to upshift. It's also a really difficult bike to wheelie, even with the Brammo's abundance of torque on offer. Attempt to clutch it up in first or second gear and the electric motor bogs down.

Another thing that takes some getting used to is the almost complete lack of engine braking. The regenerative braking system - which charges the battery under deceleration - provides some resistance but as soon as you come off the anchors you get the impression of coasting in neutral.

I adjusted myself accordingly, braking later and deeper into the corner which revealed one of the Empulse’s stand-out qualities - handling. With fully adjustable 43mm Marzocchi forks and a fully adjustable Sachs shock, the R was never going to be a pig, but it passed our track test on the Top Gear circuit with flying colours.

Even at higher speeds it remained agile and quick-steering. Plant it into a corner, get the bike onto its side, and all your left with is an overwhelming impression of grip. Push more and there’s even more grip to be had. It’s thrilling to ride, especially through long sweepers where the mid-corner stability and front end feedback fill you with confidence to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

For comparison purposes, a fast-turning bike like Triumph’s Street Triple has a relatively short wheelbase at 1,395mm. The Ducati 1098 series of bikes, which are less agile but kings of stability, have a slightly longer 1,430mm wheelbase. Meanwhile, there’s a 1,473mm gap between the rubber on the Empulse R. That’s 7cm longer than the Triumph, and the Brammo’s 213kg mass means it’s 30kg heavier too, making its handling properties even more impressive.

Other trick components fitted to the bike include 17-inch Marchesini wheels and a twin-disc Brembo setup, that’s progressive, powerful, and provides plenty of feel through the lever. With electric bikes currently making more sense as commuters, an ABS option would be a nice touch from Brammo, even if it would likely increase the £15,350 price tag.

Keeping the electric motor on song is a Lithium-Ion battery pack that holds 9.3kWh of energy. That’s the equivalent of 20 lead acid car batteries, which would weigh over 400kgs alone.

Brammo claim a combined range of 80 miles before your pushing it to the next charging point. We only tested the bike on circuit where 10 miles of track riding saw the battery drop from 24% to 2%. Assuming the batteries depleted at a consistent rate, you would see 45 miles of track riding from a full charge. Which brings me on to my next point.

Charging the battery from 20 to 80% takes a claimed two hours from a regular UK 13A socket, whilst a full charge from 0 to 100% takes only three-and-a-half hours. That means that for every 10 minutes plugged in you get five miles of range - providing you ride like Miss Daisy. That’s 37 miles for each hour on charge.

It quickly becomes apparent that the Empulse R will make the most sense to people who are willing to adapt to the 'green' lifestyle. If you're on the hunt for an electric bike that looks good, performs well, and feels like a premium motorcycle, and you're happy to accept its range limitations, then the R feels like the perfect choice. You can even buy a tail pack from Brammo that fits onto the rear seat and will carry the bike's charger.

Last year, electric bike manufacturer Zero had to pull out of the UK after four years due to bad sales. The Empulse R is an expensive motorcycle, but it's also unique, enjoyable and refined. Consequently, it would be nice to think that Brammo is here to stay.

Watch our video review of the Brammo Empulse R

Model tested: Brammo Empulse R

Price: £15,350

Power: 54hp

Torque: 66lbft

Wet weight: 213kg

Seat height: 800mm

Colours: Red, black, yellow, silver

Availability: Now