MILWAUKEE — Polaris Industries, the maker of Indian and Victory motorcycles, has introduced an electric street bike that puts the company ahead of Harley-Davidson Inc. in a new category of two-wheel machines.
Named the Empulse TT, it looks like a high-performance sport bike without the gasoline engine.
"We wanted to get in early, and so we are," said Gary Gray, product director for Victory motorcycles, a division of Minneapolis-based Polaris. "At Polaris, we are pretty proud of our speed to market. We think it gives us a big competitive advantage."
The Empulse is a sequel to an electric bike developed by Brammo Inc., of Talent, Ore. It has a top speed of about 110 miles per hour, and the company says on its website that it can travel up to 140 miles before the battery has to be recharged.
Polaris is a $4.5 billion-a-year firm with off-road vehicles and snowmobiles in its product portfolio, in addition to Indian and Victory motorcycles. In January, Polaris acquired Brammo in a move aimed at giving the company an advantage in the electric bike market.
The new Empulse is based on Brammo's design and technology, but Victory put its own engineering into the motorcycle, too, Gray said.
"There are some fairly significant differences" from the Brammo Empulse, he said, including an all-new battery and a narrower rear tire that improves the bike's handling.
"We did a fair amount with the body work to give it a different look," Gray said.
The bike, with a $19,999 suggested retail price, will be at Victory dealerships by the end of the year, according to Gray.
Brammo continues to develop the electric technology, while Victory builds the bikes.
"The day is coming when you will be able to ride 300 miles" on a single battery charge, said Mike Cornell, an energy technology consultant who's done work for Brammo.
Meanwhile, Harley-Davidson continues to develop its electric motorcycle, currently known as Project LiveWire. The company, however, has said it won't bring the bike to market until battery technology has improved to allow for longer driving distances.
"A Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle has to deliver on our customers' expectations … not just meet a set of technical specifications," said Harley spokesman Tony Macrito.
Another electric bike manufacturer, Zero Motorcycles, has already claimed a large piece of the market — although it's a tiny market in the overall motorcycle industry.
The bikes appeal to eco-minded folks who probably also like electric cars and hybrid vehicles.
"There's a bit of a 'green awareness' thing going on here," said Bob Wojcik, owner of a motorcycle dealership.
Some of the interest is fueled when gasoline prices rise. But if someone just wanted to save money on gas, they wouldn't have to spend $20,000 for an electric motorcycle.
The bike prices will come down as batteries improve and get cheaper.
"What most people want to know is how far they can go on a battery charge, because it's not like they can just pull into a gas station and fill up," Wojcik said.
Some of the technology is impressive, such as a cellphone app that allows a rider to adjust an electric bike's power settings.
The bikes, once considered an oddity, are becoming more mainstream, said Maggie McNally, an electric motorcycle rider and chair of the American Motorcyclist Association board of directors.
Ten years from now, she said, "I think we will have a mix of electrics and internal-combustion-engine motorcycles. The electrics are not Tinker Toys or a fad."
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