After spending the majority of its 17 years building cruisers and tourers, Victory has been liberated by its parent company Polaris’s purchase of Indian. With that famous old marque better placed to take on Harley-Davidson at its own game, Victory is being revamped to become the “American performance brand”.
That’s likely to mean big, muscular V-twins plus smaller, sportier models along the lines of the Roland Sands Design Project 156 that competed at Pikes Peak (where it failed to finish following a crash). And in the short term Victory is going electric. Earlier this year, Polaris added to its portfolio by buying electric-bike specialist Brammo and entering the Isle of Man’s TT Zero race, in which Lee Johnston and Guy Martin finished third and fourth. Now comes the first electric roadster: the Victory Empulse TT.
As its name suggests, the Victory Empulse TT owes much to the Brammo Empulse, which briefly went on sale here last year. In fact the TT looks almost identical to the previous Empulse, with a conventional naked-bike shape apart from the large diagonal structures (which hold batteries) beside its frame spars. Along with the styling it has the Brammo’s upside-down forks, cantilever monoshock, tubular steel swingarm, 17in wheels and Brembo brakes.
In the months after buying Brammo in January, Victory’s engineers concentrated on improving range. “We’ve developed a new battery system that fits 10% more power in the same space,” says Josh Katt, product manager of Victory’s electric division.
“Brammo had seven battery modules. We’ve combined those into two modules, one above and one below the frame, which allows us to improve cell density. We’ve also made lots of small improvements like a dash that shows power consumption in a more intuitive way.”
The power train is otherwise unchanged, which means a liquid-cooled AC motor producing a maximum of 54bhp, along with a hefty 61lb-ft of torque delivered from zero rpm. It also means the Victory Empulse TT retains the six-speed gearbox – an unusual feature on an electric bike, due to that flat torque curve and twist-and-go throttle negating its benefit. Victory insists it improves both performance and cruising efficiency.
There’s even a clutch lever, which adds to the familiar feel as you throw a leg over the fairly low seat of a bike whose compact Victory Empulse RR dimensions and raised one-piece handlebar make it feel much like a typical naked-middleweight, albeit a slightly heavier one at 213kg. But the clutch is not needed to pull away because after starting the motor you just twist and go, in any gear.
Victory isn’t claiming an improvement in the Empulse’s performance, but the Victory Empulse TT is quick. That near-flat torque curve means there’s always acceleration on tap, and at the track launch in Colorado the bike felt much like a middleweight twin, running out of steam near its top speed of just over 100mph. It was certainly fast enough to be fun, although slightly confusing because the motor was so smooth and quiet that I had no idea how fast it was spinning unless I looked at the tacho.
Handling was good, at least once the suspension had been firmed up from standard showroom settings. Brammo was one of few electric motorcycle firms to resist the temptation to cut costs with cheap cycle parts, and the Victory Empulse TT maintains the previous Empulse’s level. Both ends were well damped, geometry felt quite sporty, and the wide handlebar helped make the bike flickable through the chicane as well as stable in faster turns.
Conti’s Sport Attack rubber gave plenty of grip, the Victory had enough ground clearance to make good use of it, and with two 310mm discs and Brembo radial four-pot calipers up front there was plenty of reliable stopping power, albeit with no ABS. On track I stuck to the more aggressive Sport riding mode, which provides more regenerative engine braking than the alternative Normal mode, improving range.
Predictably, range was pretty poor on the racetrack. The Victory Empulse TT went from about 70% charged to 30% in half a dozen laps, or 15 miles of mostly flat out running. That suggests a full-to-empty range of over 40 miles on track, which should translate to well over 50 miles on the road at a decent pace. The Brammo Empulse struggled to make that distance sometimes, so Victory’s claims to have boosted range by 10% seem accurate.
The team hasn’t been able to do anything about the need to carry a bulky charger though. A full charge at a normal socket takes eight hours, although getting from 20% to 80% requiresamore practical two hours (and a fast-charger cuts the full time to 3.5 hours). And the price will be high. Victory hasn’t confirmed when the bike will go on sale but when it does it’s likely to cost roughly the £15,350 that the Vctory Empulse TT was listed at last year. At least a recharge will cost less than £2, and servicing costs will be minimal.
Whether that and the Victory name will be enough to make the Empulse TT a success here remains to be seen. Although it’s quick, handles well and is fun to ride, familiar drawbacks of range, transmission and cost remain. Victory’s brave charge into the future has begun but it won’t be an easy ride.