It’s not rocket science, but it’s not trivial either.

Monday, July 11, 2014 was a sad day for me. For the first time ever, and after almost 12 k miles of excellent service, my Empulse R failed to start, and refused to start in spite of all my efforts. Happily the bike was still under warranty so the repairs didn’t cost me any money. But there was still a price to pay: 70 day passed from the initial problem to when I finally had a working bike in my hands.

Early signs

There had been some early signs of problems.

  • B9 error was showing up regularly whenever I would ride the Empulse in heavy rain.
  • V58 error was showing intermittently.
  • Pressing the start button was occasionally fail to start the bike. The remedy was to press the start button again, or to power cycle (turn key off, turn key on). After a few tries, the bike would turn on and work fine.
  • After one ride trough some particularly heavy rain about a year ago, the start switch appeared to be stuck “on” because when I was stopped, mode switched between “Sport” and “Eco” (which happens when you press the start button while stopped). This issue cleared up after the bike dried up a bit.

However, in spite of those signs, the bike seemed to be running fine. Once the bike started up, it performed perfectly. It had great acceleration, and regenerative breaking worked as expected. When I contacted Brammo about these issues, they said that those issues were not critical, especially since the performance of the bike didn’t suffer, but advised that I take the bike to the dealership to have it checked out.

The dealership is all the way over in Tampa (100 miles away), I wasn’t in any hurry to take it over there unless I really had to.

A bad day at the office

As usual, I rode the bike into work, plugged it in, and spent the day at the office. That evening, I returned to a full battery, but the bike failed to start up.

I tried a number of things to get around the problem:

  • Pressing the start button for a long time.
  • Pressing it harder (a futile and desperate act).
  • Cycling the power using the key.
  • Cycling the power with the cut off switch.
  • Plugging the bike in for a minute.
  • Moving the bike forward (to realign the motor).

Nothing worked. The power of the bike came on, but it refused to start up and run.

I would have been stranded at work, but as luck would have it, I had parked a van at the office a few days earlier, so I was able to return home with that.

Suspecting a possible issue with humidity, I returned the next day to see if the bike would start after being in a dry parking garage over night. It didn’t. So I contacted Brammo and the dealership to let them know about the problem. I gave them a detailed description of the issue, my attempts to resolve it, and a copy of the last few days of logs. I suggested that, given the behavior I had seen in the past, the issue may be some problem with the starter switch. Brammo replied that the switch seemed like a probable culprit, but advised me to get the bike over to the dealership as soon as possible.

Hauling bike

The first challenge was to get over to Tampa. I couldn’t ride it over there, and would have preferred not to have to tow the bike myself, so I considered using the towing service that was provided along with the bike.

After a few phone calls with the dealership, they instructed me to use phone number on the towing service card directly, as the towing company would not tow on behalf of the dealership (seemed a bit odd to me, but whatever). After a few phone calls with the towing service, it became apparent that the service only covered the first $200 worth of towing, and that their cost for taking the bike the 100 miles from my office to Tampa would be $800, which means that they were asking me to pay $600 to get the bike over there.

I said that there was no way that I was going to pay that, and remarked that I could rent a trailer from U-Haul for under $50. The towing service said that they would gladly reimburse up to $200 of trailer rental and gas if I could provide all of the receipts.

When I sent an email about all of this to the dealership, they graciously counter offered to pick up the bike themselves since they had a delivery scheduled for a customer that was half way to my place. Making a detour to pick up my bike would work out best for everybody.

The pick up

On July 23, almost two weeks since the initial failure, I helped to push my poor bike into the dealership’s delivery van. It took a bit of time to get to this point, but at least I wasn’t spending $600 or a weekend hauling the bike over there.

Waiting

Sadly, communications from the dealership were not stellar. After a couple of weeks of silence, I finally sent them an email to ask how things were going (August 11). Their response was fairly quick. They were waiting from some modules to arrive to complete the needed repairs. Finding out what was being replaced took another few days.

Apparently there was quite a lot of things going wrong because they were changing two batteries, two fans, the charging harness and charging module. I had no idea my poor Empulse was so sick – it seemed to be running fine!

Then more silence until I sent another email a couple of weeks later (August 28). They said that they had received all of the parts, but they were now discovering that the starter was only working intermittently. One the one hand, I appreciate their thoroughness. On the other (large) hand (planted on the forehead), I’m a stunned by the irony – my initial suspicions were with the starter switch, but only after fixing everything else were they seeing that as an issue.

To be fair, it’s quite possible that the real cause of the failure to start were the things that they changed, and that the starter switch was a secondary problem. I’ll probably never find out though.

I was pleasantly surprised by a phone call from the dealership on September 2 with an update of where things were at that time. Up to that point their communications had been rather lacking, and this was the first time that they had called me with an update.

All fixed!

Finally, I get a phone call on September 11 from the dealership. The bike repairs are complete, and they said that they would be happy to deliver the bike back to me on Friday (the 12th). That’s a bit of a relief, as I would have preferred to avoid spending the weekend to get the bike myself.

It’s not rocket science, but…

Then on Friday, I get another call. The dealership was going through one final system check, when they discovered that the turn signals were not working any more. Oops! Looks like they get to hold on to the bike for another week to sort that one out.

All fixed – for reals!!

Finally, I get a call to say that everything is in working order, and that they will be dropping the bike off on Friday, September 19. Yay!

As promised, the delivery van was waiting for me at the pointed time with my bike, all ready and good to go. That was a rather long repair, but the bike is now working fine once again.

Repair list

Here’s the list of all the things on the repair bill (all covered by the warranty) :

  • 1 DCDC, SEVCON, 300W, EMC
  • 2 Module BPM1590
  • 1 Kit, On board charger
  • 1 Separator, port, charger,
  • 1 Contractor, 72 VDC, conn
  • 1 Assy AIM FRU
  • 1 Control right hand
  • 2 Longlife bulb
  • 1 Flasher DOT/SAE 12 VDC

They also replaced the tail section, since I still had the original tail section that had been recalled a few months ago.

Under “resolution” the bill said: Replaced two batteries, cooling fans, charging harness and module, replaced blinker relay.

Horse Blanket

With sincere apologies to Greg, Brian and the rest of the Brammo design team for trashing their beautiful creation, I present my thermal insulation kit.

Empulse Horse Blanket

It’s quite hideous, but I think that it worked. I was able to get through 63 miles going about 40-45 mph, rather than have to crawl along at 30 mph. The temperatures were probably not as low as before, but I never saw the dreaded “Cold Batt. Cutback” message, which showed up for most of my last couple of rides.

Charging at Buffalo Wild Wings

With 14 miles to go, but only 13% SOC, I stopped at Buffalo Wild Wings for about a quarter hour to charge up to 19%. Perhaps I should have stayed a bit longer because I got into work with only 1% SOC, going the last few miles at a meager 30 mph.

Made it to Work50 minutes to travel 14 miles (including the recharge time) is darn slow, and I could have taken less time if I charged less and went at 30 mph all the way rather than only at the end. The problem with going slow on a busy street is that you become a road hazard. It’s safer to stay off the road for longer and then travel at a reasonable speed, even though it will take longer overall.

Oh, and the bike wasn’t the only thing to get more thermal insulation. I threw on my ski jacket over my regular riding jacket. Did I mention I hate being cold?

What? Me, cold? Not with this thing on!

 

 

I hate cold weather (and so does the Empulse)

My trip from Melbourne to Orlando was the worst ever last night, taking more than 3 hours rather than the usual 2.

I left a bit late, and the weather was getting a little cold, it was about 43 F when I left Melbourne. I immediately realized there was a problem when the battery was dropping much faster than about 1 percent per mile while I was only going at 45 mph.

Going slower will always get you farther, so I decided to keep the bike under 40 all the way, but the temperature kept dropping, and so did the battery percentage. I slowed down to 30 mph, keeping the RPMs at about 4k, to try and get the most possible range.

Just before getting to the Beachline intersection on US 520, the Empulse’s recorded air temp got down to 29 F, my fingers were freezing and so I stopped to warm them up (and take a picture). Without the wind chill, the recorded air temperature went up a bit.

2013Freezing1On520

I need to go at least 77 miles, to get to the office charger, or 80 miles to get home. With the cold weather, I wasn’t going to make it.

New Objective

Since I knew that there was no way I could get all the way home or even to the office with my battery, I decided to head to Buffalo Wild Wings, which was 17 miles closer and where they have a free level 2 charger.

2013Freezing2WingsHooray! I made it with some battery to spare. I still had 17 miles to go, but I was using 1.4 % battery per mile. 11 % would take me less than 8 miles. Thankfully, Buffalo Wild Wings were still open until 2 am, so I was able to warm up a bit with some food while the bike was charging. I decided to stay until they closed to get the most charge before I left. Also, if I was running out of battery too fast, I could still try to get to the office charger.

The last leg

I left the charging station with barely 38 % battery, and made my way home, slow and steady. Happily, I had plenty to charge to get back, even with the very poor battery performance, provided I didn’t drive like a hooligan.

2013Freezing3Home

Conclusions

If the weather had been warm, I would have been back at home at about 1 am. Between having to go very slow, and stop for a charge along the way, it look an hour and a half longer.

On the Brammo Forum, Brian Wismann said:

This is also the unfortunate side-effect of a very good thermal path from the cells to the aluminum battery enclosure – it works both ways.  The cell heat can be dissipated very effectively when they get hot, BUT – they are also more easily influenced by ambient air temperature when it’s cold.

Perhaps somebody will come up with a cold weather kit that insulates the batteries for cold weather riding. Heck, I’m going to throw a horse blanket over my Empulse the next time I expect to ride in weather that is that cold.

Works for horses, could work for an Empulse too!

Cutting it Close

0Range

Riding from Melbourne to Maitland, I had about 10% battery left and about 7 miles to get home, so I figured I would have a bit of fun on Maitland Boulevard, where the speed limit is 55 mph. With just over 1 mile to go, I was down to 1% SOC and decided to ease off the throttle a bit rather than have to push the bike. While waiting for my garage door to open, the display changed from “Batteries Low” to “Recharge Req’d B33″. Yikes! I don’t know how much further I could get the bike to go, but it made the few feet it needed to get to the charger even after that message came up.

Note that my actual distance traveled was 80.4 miles — I was already 5.3 miles into my trip before I remembered to reset the trip counter.

Sunny Florida

It’s another beautiful day in Florida, and I have a bike that will cost me all of $1 to ride 100 miles, and is a blast to ride, so why not enjoy the day?

My ride started by heading over the causeway along US-192 to the beach.

The east of US-192

If you ride west long enough on US-192, you’ll get to Disney World.

Disney World is at the other end of this road.

No twisties on A1A, but the weather is perfect for riding.

A1ASouth

My original plan was to ride south until I got to 60% SOC, but I still had 70% battery by the time I got to Sebastian Inlet and decided that I had gone far enough.

Sebastian Inlet State Park

Yes, the weather felt as good as it looks.Blue Florida Skies

I stopped at the Juan Ponce de Leon Landing beach on the way back to take a few pictures of the surf.

Juan Ponce de Leon Landing

While I was there, a couple  of people who were on vacation from California asked about the bike.

I still had plenty of juice in the battery when I got back to US-192, but I figured I would see which companies supported EV adoption, and which ones still had their heads in the sand. PlugShare marked out three stations in the area, so I checked them all out.

Nissan

A cool guy on a cool bike.

Over at Nissan I met Paul who said that he had helped to build an electric bike for 50 Cent for a TV show. It seems kind of a waste of his talents to be selling cars in Melbourne, but that’s life. He was all for letting me use the an unused level 2 charger, but his boss said that company policy is to tell non Nissan people to get lost.

Chevrolet

Chevrolet

The guys at Chevrolet seemed to be more amenable to letting EVs use their chargers, except that this dealership only had chargers in their service department, and nobody is allowed in there except employees. If they ever do install a publicly accessible charger, it will be interesting to see who they let use it.

Kohl’s

Charging at Kohls

Not only is there a level 2 charger outside of Kohls’, it’s free too! Well, the charger says for customers only, but as long as the charger is available when someone is asking for it, I doubt there will be any problems. I figured that I may as well thank Kohl’s by going shopping while I waited for the charge.

On the way out, I met up with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while. Between the all the new gear and the new bike, she didn’t recognize me at first.

Not quite a scooter...

Having never ridden a motorcycle, the Empulse is probably a bit of a handful, but she said that she could start off with a scooter!

My last stop was the local Harley-Davidson dealership. The place seems pretty empty every time I go there, and since the bike doesn’t make much noise, it doesn’t get much interest.

Harley-Davidson of Melbourne

What a great way to enjoy sunny Florida in February!

Sunny Florida!

Touring the Melbourne

I decided to spend Presidents Day riding around Melbourne showing off the Empulse. Specifically, I wanted to show the bike to a few people who I had talked to about it in the past.

David Hall’s workshop

Hallcraft

David has a workshop called Hallcraft Machining that produces CNC machined parts. He was the original owner of the old Ninja 500R, and also the guy I buy my oil from. Don’t be fooled by the bland interior, his workshop is first class.

We spent a while talking about the bike, and who knows, one day he might get one too.

Victory Motorcycles

Just across the street from David’s place is the Victory Motorcycles bike shop. As you might know, Polaris owns the Victory brand, and they also invested in Brammo, so I thought that they might be interested in seeing the bike and possibly even becoming a dealer. Heck, a dealer in Melbourne would be a lot better for me than having to go all the way to Tampa. I was invited around the back to show it off.

VictoryMc

I met most of their staff, and ended up talking with somebody who I presumed was the owner of the place. He was an older gentleman with a charming Italian accent. (I think his name is Tony.) I don’t think that Tony is ever going to sell an electric bike. First off, some guys from Zero had already been around to demonstrate their bikes a while ago, so the folks at the dealership had plenty of time to think about all the reasons why their gas bikes were much better than anything electric.

Victory Vision

Tony’s opinion was that for $19k you can get an outstanding Victory bike, like the Vision, that can take you 600 miles on a tank of gas. Americans don’t care about gas prices, and want the freedom of being able to drive down to Miami and back without stopping. If he had to tell any customer that they could only make it 50 miles down the highway before having to take a 3 hour break they would drop the bike and walk away.

I don’t think that I did the best job selling the bike, but he’s probably right about customers in Melbourne. There’s not all that much to do here, so people are probably using their bikes to take off to Daytona, Orlando, Miami, or further and they don’t want to be hassled about running out of range. Also, there are only two public chargers in Melbourne right now (not counting Nissan and the FIT charger that’s not online yet). In comparison, Orlando has about 80 stations, and there’s a lot more to do around town.

Richard’s place

RichardsPlace

 

Next stop was Richard’s place. He’s a very cool guy who’s originally from the UK and who’s been riding for a long time. He sold me the Ninja 500R, and I got a lot of good advice about bike maintenance from him. I let him take the Empulse for a spin around the neighborhood to see what he thought about it. He was very impressed.

Honda Powersports

BodinesHonda

My last stop was Geoff Bodine’s Honda of Melbourne. I got a nice reception when I pulled up. A few of the sales staff came out to take a look and ask a bunch of questions about the Empulse.

I asked if there was any possibility of Honda being a Brammo dealer, but since they are a Honda Powersports dealership, they are only allowed to sell new Honda machines. They are allowed to sell second hand anything, so long as it was traded in for a Honda.

Too bad. Looks like for the moment I’m going to be stuck with going all the way to Tampa if I have any problems with the bike.

Wet and wild

I made some interesting discoveries today.

Rain

The Empulse isn’t affected by a good old Florida downpour

I was on my way to check out a charging station at the Altamonte Springs Mall, when the heavens opened up and it started pouring. I’ve been rained on before, and the Empulse is supposed to be a roadworthy machine, so I’m not going to turn around because of that.

Once I got there, it was still raining pretty hard, but those chargers have been designed to work in all weather, so I plugged and the bike started to drink in the free juice. The only concession that I made for the rain was to lean over the socket a bit to avoid getting too much water in there while I was plugging in.

The verdict: The Empulse was complete unaffected by the rain. When I got out of the mall, the bike was fully charged and off we went.

The Overlord Prime suit gets soaked pretty quicklyIconThermal

After about three minutes of heavy rain, the suit was quite waterlogged. When I got back home and got the suit off, I found that my pants were quite wet, my arms were soaked, but the chest leather and the thermal liner had kept my torso pretty dry. That’s important because as long as my core stays warm and dry, I’m not going to be getting dangerously cold.

3rd gear is great for beginners

7racer on the Brammo Forum asked me to try to use the bike in 3rd gear to mitigate the transmission backlash that I’ve been experiencing on the bike when I start in 1st gear. It turns out that keeping the bike in 3rd gear all the time makes it quite a bit easier to ride. If I wanted to let somebody who doesn’t have too much riding experience try the Empulse, I would set it in 3rd and tell them to leave it there.

  • The backlash is reduced
  • Acceleration is toned down
  • Engine braking is toned down
  • Top speed is limited to about 60 mph
  • No need to worry about shifting gears

Of course they wouldn’t get the full experience of the kick in the pants acceleration that you get taking off in 1st gear, but that might be a bit frightening for a beginner rider.

A kick in the pants!