Narrowing The Gas-Electric Motorcycle Gap: Brammo

Electric?

In a further sign that electric motorcycles are catching up to their gas-powered counterparts, and aren’t just a short-lived, unrealistic fad, another maker has announced the impending release of new models that narrow the gas-electric gap.

Brammo, builder of the Enertia powercycle, announced July 15 it will release the Empulse line of electric sport bikes next year. There will be three models in the line. Each will reach and sustain speeds of 100 miles per hour, Brammo says, and go farther without a recharge. The Empulse 6.0 will get 60 miles per charge, the 8.0 will get 80 miles and the 10.0 will go 100 miles. They will also be the first production electric motorcycles with water-cooled engines. Brammo touts the technology not just for its power and range capabilities, but also for its production economy, making all-electric technology competitive in price as well as performance.

The electric motorcycles are expected to sell from $9,995 for the 6.0 to $11,995 for the 8.0 to $13,995 for the 10.0. They will also be eligible for tax incentives that, according to a Brammo press release, could make the final 10.0 price as low as $7,000 depending on the state. The electric bikes will be sold at authorized dealers, including Best Buy stores.

Motorcycle Deaths Down For First Time In 11 Years

Sign of the times

After 11 consecutive years of dramatically increasing motorcycle fatalities, U.S. biker deaths dropped by more than 10 percent in 2009. While it probably seems like some of the best motorcycle safety news in more than a decade, the surprising drop may not be all that much about safety.

According to the Governors’ Highway Safety Association, a couple likely reasons for the welcome decline include less motorcycles due to the economy and weather, and fewer new riders than we’ve seen in a long time buying motorcycles to join the pack. The association’s chairman says the group would like to see three to five years of declining deaths before claiming any kind of trend happening. The GHSA says more training and enforcement could do the trick, since more than half of motorcycle crashes don’t involve another vehicle.

This kind of improvement has happened before on a grand scale, it just didn’t last. From 1980 to 1997 motorcycle deaths dropped about 60 percent, but the consistently huge fatality increases after that more than wiped out those gains.

A GHSA report highlights a few things that could make this latest swing a positive trend. They include: increasing helmet use, reducing alcohol impairment, reducing speeding, increasing training for more riders.

Weak Motorcycle Market? Not in Vietnam

Bikes bikes bikes

The weak economy apparently hasn’t dampened the buying power of the Vietnamese, at least not when it comes to their purchases of a popular mode of travel there – motorcycles. Honda announced last week that surging demand in the southeast Asian nation is leading the manufacturer to increase production by half a million units per year. That will bump up the overall Vietnamese production capacity to 2 million bikes annually.

Through a joint venture, Honda has a motorcycle plant in Vietnam and the bump in production will come from a $70 million investment in that facility. The capacity upgrade is expected to come online sometime in late 2011. About 2.26 million bikes were sold in Vietnam last year, making it the fourth largest motorcycle market in the world behind China, Indonesia and India. It is also one of the most popular nations for automatic transmission bikes, with about three quarters of a million of those sold in 2009. Honda holds 63 percent of the Vietnamese motorcycle market share and its sales have increased every year since the joint venture’s 1996 establishment.

For some perspective on the motorcycle market’s growth in Vietnam, consider that Honda’s global sales actually fell slightly last year. In North America, they fell by nearly half.

A Harley-Davidson Cafe Racer?

Race you to the cafe

When one thinks of a café racer, it’s generally not a Harley-Davidson that comes to mind. A Yamaha? Sure. A Honda? Definetly. Heck, even a Triumph. But a Harley? Not really. I mean, it’s been done but still, the two terms have always seemed kind of the antitheses of one another. But not anymore.

Harley has announced it is about to put out its sportiest new bike, modeled after the café racers of yore, in the United States. If a large segment of Harley riders already deride the Sportster, I can’t wait to see their take on the XR1200X, with its slim, higher-riding and uber-sporty design.

To oversimplify, café racers are bikes, generally 70’s Japanese models, cut down in every possible way to maximize speed, comfort be damned. Though there seems to be more and more of these modified motorcycles out there every day, they first became hip decades ago, and now that retro aspect is part their draw. But these are exactly the kind lightweight bikes that the U.S. hog crowd has always guffawed at. The XR1200X, in fact, was only made for export markets initially. But the Harley-Davidson brass, likely seeing modified café racers all over the place, pronounced them a good fit for American buyers. Café racer with modern technology, no modification necessary. They’re set to come out later this year as 2011 models.

It’s Not Easy Being An Outlaw; Feds Unseal Indictment

It’s not easy for the more notorious motorcycle gangs these days. They not only have to look sufficiently badass, they have to be badass. Then they have to curb their badassery in the presence of police. As if that weren’t enough, they have to battle rival gangs for badass rankings and territory. To top it all off, the feds are busting them for their battles of badass supremacy.

According to a June 15 press release, a federal grand jury in Virginia has indicted 27 members of the American Outlaw Association gang (commonly known as the Outlaws) on numerous felonies. One of those indicted include Outlaws National President Jack Rosga, aka Milwaukee Jack. The indictment charges participation in a criminal enterprise with a wide array of alleged crimes ranging from attempted murder to drug dealing and witness intimidation.

In a quote that summarizes the charges, US Attorney Neil MacBride says the gang’s “entire environment revolves around violence.”

According to the 12-count indictment, the Outlaws have been waging a violent and intimidating effort to expand the territory where it allegedly controls criminal enterprises like drug trafficking, largely against biker gangs such as the Hell’s Angels. The defendants — from Wisconsin, Main, Montana, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia — are all in custody.

Ride Them All; French Company Has New Motorcycle Rental Model

Taking a ride

Can’t decide between any number of Ducati models? Maybe a triumph? Hell, have ‘em all. A motorcycle rental and tour company based in Cannes, France, is rolling out a new way to ride: fractional ownership.

For 2,000 Euros (about $2,400 US), a rider becomes a member in the Columbus Club, and gets credits for 2,300 Euros ($2,780 US) he or she can spend on Columbus bike rentals. Columbus International’s motorcycles are generally less than a year old, fully insured and always maintained. They carry a full lineup of Ducati’s (soon to including the new Multistrada 1200) as well as a smattering of other makes such as BMW and Triumph. Rental rates range from 155 Euros to 195 Euros per day, although there will soon be a Hollister model going for 345 a day.

Columbus International touts the riding conditions in the south of France: scenery, 300 annual days of sun and a moderate climate.

The business model brings to mind U.S. companies like Zipcar and makes one wonder whether motorcycle dreams can’t be realized in this fashion the world over. Of course, most riders would like to see a pricing scheme a little more in line with car rentals at least. Columbus International says it’s “better than buying,” but with their plan, a rider would get 10-15 riding days in a year for a price that could finance outright ownership of any of their bikes.

Still, Columbus International’s “Columbus Club” idea is a way for riders to stop dreaming about all the bikes they’ll never get to straddle, and start riding.

Sorry ‘Bout Those Eardrums, Eh; Edmonton To Fine Loud Motorcycles

Ear protection

The city of Edmonton, Alberta, is set to join many others in North America in trying to curb the boom and roar of excessive motorcycle noise. The bylaw targets bikes that exceed 92 decibels at idle and 96 decibels over idle. Fines would be $250 if the law is passed, with repeat offenders facing up to $10,000 charges.

A lot of riders consider noise to be one of their motorcycles’ most important and effective safety features. Bikes aren’t visible enough in a lot of road scenarios, but if an engine could compete with a jet plane on the noise factor, car drivers couldn’t help but be aware of it. And certainly, some loud riders just like the sound, or enjoy forcing people to give them some attention, but mostly it’s a matter of safety.

It’s a matter of safety for those who want to regulate it too, however. Hearing damage is often permanent and a lot of these riders don’t realize or don’t believe that they cause it every time they drive by a pedestrian or child playing in a yard. But they do, and while rider safety is important, no safety measure can be made at the price of permanent damage to others.

26 Miles? Please. Motomarathon aims for 1,600

Touring for sport

On foot, a marathon is just over 26 miles. On a motorcycle, it’s bit longer.

Apparently, a “motomarathon” reaches 1,600 miles. At least, that’s how far riders participating in next month’s Centopassi Motomarathon will be asked to ride, no matter how numb their butts may get.

The Centopassi (Italian for 100 passes, although there are not really 100 involved here), is the inaugural event in the Rocky Mountain region’s long-distance sport-touring motorbike season. Organized by the Motomarathon Association, the series consists of several four-day rides in and around the Rockies.

This first event, held June 25 thru 28 at a pace of about 400 daily miles, will begin and end at the Peleton Community in Boulder, Colo. The routes to be ridden are kept sealed, to be distributed to riders the night before each leg. At the end of the day, participants must submit digital pictures as proof of having been at each set checkpoint along the way.

Event sponsors include Ducati North America, Aerostitch and Wolfman; representing bikes, motorcycle clothing and bike luggage, respectively. Ducati North America CEO Michael Lock says these kinds of long distance sport-touring events are perfectly aligned with the spirit of Ducati’s new Multistrada 1200, a four-riding-mode motorcycle the company is now rolling out to rave reviews.

Electric Dominates Gas At AMA Motorcycle First

The Zero MX

Suspend your thoughts about the roar-and-vibration riding experience for a minute and consider a near silent hum instead, because electric bikes just kicked the caboodle out of gas powered motorcycles at the May 7 Minimoto Energy Crisiscross (ECX) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It was the inaugural American Motocross Association sanctioned electricity vs. gas race, and electricity nabbed the first six spots, seven out of the top ten. Drew Gosselaar, riding a Quantya Track, took first place and riders on Zero MX bikes landed the next six at this AMA first.

The event matched these electric dirt bikes with comparable 150cc gas-powered cycles and while gas vehicles maintain many advantages over electric, the Energy Crisiscross results show that electric manufacturers are making strides.

The Quantya track boasts a top speed of about 43 mph, with a 30-90 minute run time and two-hour charge time. The Zero MX provides up to 23 horsepower, has a range of up to 40 miles and fully charges in about two hours.

If a person had a job less than 20 miles away, one could do worse than commuting on an electric street model motorcycle, some of which have top speeds up to and exceeding 65 mph and ranges closer to 50 miles.

Of course, they probably don’t produce much roar and vibrato.

Look Out! It’s Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

True vulnerability

Motorcycle awareness is critical this time of year, when the warming weather draws riders out onto roads they haven’t been seen on in months. That’s why May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness month.

Motorcycle organizations all over the U.S. are joining with local, state and federal agencies to remind motorists they need to be vigilant for the smallest automobiles on the road, which are harder to see and more vulnerable than a four-wheeled ride. The effort includes ads with lines like: “Bikers: Tough on the outside. Soft and squishy on the inside.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers several tips to keep motorcyclists safe.

  • Give motorcycles the full lane —never try to share
  • Check mirrors and blind spots at intersections and before changing lanes
  • Signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging
  • Don’t rely on mo­torcycle turn signals. Most don’t self-cancel and riders can forget
  • Give a motorcycle three or four sec­onds of following distance so it has room to maneuver in an emer­gency
  • Don’t tailgate. They can stop quicker than you
  • Don’t drive distracted

Unlike ever-improving car safety stats, motorcycle deaths have been on the upswing for several years now. Riding enthusiasts and government safety agencies are hoping riders and drivers will help reverse that trend.