It is a rare opportunity when a journalist gets to swing a leg over a prototype motorcycle. Virtually assured by definition to have perceivable flaws, effectively all the companies in the motorcycle industry prefer to keep the public and media at arm’s length until they have massaged their work into something that is ready for primetime consumption. Testing the BRD RedShift SM electric supermoto at Infineon Raceway today, we could attribute our good fortune to the fact that BRD Motorcycles (faster-faster.com) does not subscribe to the motorcycle industry’s status quo.
Conversely, we could also just as easily say that the boys at BRD are easily crazy enough to let a couple moto-journalists test the only existing example of what nearly a million dollars in motorcycle technology builds you, and the fact that those journalists are online blogger internet nerd types, well that just proves BRD’s insanity, right?
That notion of craziness comes almost without question though, as you would have to be crazy to think that you can take on the major OEMs in their own backyard. You would have to be crazy to give up the security of your day job to start a new venture in the worst recession since the 1930’s, crazy to convert your successful existing business into a risky startup, crazy to spend your accumulated life savings so every dollar raised goes into the company’s shared vision.
There is something crazy about what is going on with a small motorcycle startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, and as I not-so-prudently signed my life away on the test ride disclaimer today, Asphalt & Rubber got to see what manifestations BRD’s farce had produced since we last saw the BRD RedShift SM in August of this year.
What has been intriguing about BRD Motorcycles to-date isn’t the fact that the company is the newest entrant into the electric motorcycle scene, but instead the fact that BRD isn’t defining itself against the Brammos and Zeros of this budding industry segment. Taking ICE bikes head-on in the supermoto and off-road categories, the BRD RedShift doesn’t want to be the best electric for the job, it wants to be the best motorcycle of any kind for your needs. And in this regard, we are very excited to see the progress that BRD has already made with the RedShift thus far.
The format for the test today was fairly simple: a session on a KTM 250 XCF-W supermoto and a session on the BRD RedShift SM prototype. It is worth saying up-front that our time on each machine was limited to one 20 minute session each (BRD test rider Drew Dickson was out earning his paycheck the rest of the sessions), that BRD provided the KTM we used in our comparison, and that the San Francisco startup held the stopwatch for out time comparisons.
Since this review is more about an inside peek at the company’s progress with the BRD RedShift SM, rather than an absolute opinion on the machine, we feel that these constraints are acceptable for the purpose of getting a feel for the RedShift SM in its natural tire-shredding environment. Disclaimers aside, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the BRD RedShift prototype by looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly.
As A&R‘s resident Nikon swinger can attest to, I am not a supermoto hero in the making. Before today, my sole supermoto experience consisted of riding a CR500 named “Bruiser” down the back streets of Santa Barbara. With a front wheel filled with helium, and throttle that had a direct line to the space shuttle, a quick lap around the block was all I needed to tell Bruiser “let’s just be friends” before I returned him back to his owner. The tight and short go-kart track at Infineon (the venue of today’s experiment), is true to its name: a short, tight, and purpose-built karting course. I’ve been on tracks with over a dozen turns before, but never on one that mated those turns together over the course of a quarter mile or so. What could go wrong, right?
Riding the KTM around Infineon’s karting track is a workout in its own right. By the time you’ve downshifted, made your corner entry, hit the apex, and twisted the throttle for your exit, you are already ready to repeat the process for the very next turn. Better than an all fen-phen diet, I lost 5 lbs from this process, was finally able to button a pair of jeans I used to wear in college, and emptied over two liters of water out of my sweat-filled helmet (AGV AX-8 Dual Sport, for those who are interested). Relying heavily on my extensive track time on “proper” road circuits, it took the full first session to decipher exactly what I was doing with the bike…let alone what nonsense I was doing with my foot off the peg.
Coming back into the pits after the checkered flag was waived, I processed what had just occurred out on the track. Catching my breath, it was a bit daunting to consider I would repeat the process on another entirely “new to me” machine — a machine with a completely different drivetrain no less. Naturally, I was primed and ready for the BRD RedShift SM to surprise me, just not in the way that it did. Getting a quick tutorial on the bike’s operation, and again reminded that countless of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars were straddling between my legs, I once again took to Infineon’s go-kart track in anger.
Where riding the KTM (you can insert virtually any ICE supermoto here by the way) was a workout both mentally and physically, the BRD RedShift SM prototype was utterly effortless. Of course it helps that BRD’s proprietary electric motor comes with more power than the KTM’s four-stroke 250cc thumper, but really it is how the power is delivered that makes the electric so much more potent between the two-wheeled weapons. Without the need to shift, the electric drivetrain allows a rider to enter each turn more effortlessly and smoothly than he or she traditionally would, and the less time you spend fighting the machine, the more time you spend riding for speed.
Getting on the throttle is a seamless act now, and blasting down the straightaway is a singular motion, rather than the dance we traditionally make with the clutch lever, throttle position, and gear-shifter. Thanks to the progressive throttle map installed by BRD’s engineers (something RedShift owners will be able to tune themselves), it was just as easy to make mid-corner adjustments as it was to get WOT down the front straight.
Braking, thanks to the Brembo monoblock caliper and radial master cylinder, is crisp, strong, and precise. The upright supermoto bars make it easy to brace while under hard braking and going into a corner, and of course the wide hand positions help create subtle steering adjustments. Overall the riding positions is comfortable, though I imagine the rigors of track riding help one forget the MX-style Corbin seat, which surely would make its presence known on longer around-town rides.
Timed at over three seconds quicker on the BRD than the KTM (1:08-1:09 range for a personal Best Lap Time figure), the performance component certainly exists for the RedShift. Despite my disclaimer above, I have no reason to doubt these numbers told to me by BRD. I felt noticeably faster on the BRD RedShift supermoto prototype than I did on the production KTM. While this is the selling point that BRD will surely be driving home when the RedShift is on dealer showroom floors, I’ll offer a more important metric: the grin factor.
I will be the first to admit that suggesting that “fun” be the new yard stick by which we measure motorcycles sounds a bit trite. Speaking as someone who has never met a motorcycle he didn’t like (I just like some bikes more than others, that’s all), fun is of course a natural element of riding a motorcycle (if you’re not having fun on a bike, you’re probably doing it wrong, FYI). Instead the fun I suggest here goes more along the vein of how well rider and machine mesh together, rather than overall enjoyment, though that certainly is tied-in here as well.
Almost every time I have a conversation about electric motorcycles, a comment is made about how electrics have no soul. It reminds of the old debate that audiophiles used to have when compact discs came onto the scene. There, the same digital vs. analog debate expressed how soulless and cold CDs sounded, when compared to the warm and rich tones of LPs and tube amps. Like those who say that electric motorcycles should have speakers that add back in the sound lost from internal combustion engines, so too did the audiophiles overlay scratch and distortion effects to early CDs — trying to emulate the “character” lost in the move from turntables.
Now we laugh at this notion of course, just as I chuckle every time someone makes the “baseball cards in the spokes” joke when referring to electrics. Trust me, I’m laughing at you, not with you good sirs, because I have actually ridden the future of motorcycling…and I like it. For those not yet convinced that electrics can have a soul, I’ll offer the notion that like the LPs of yore, the imperfections of the internal combustion motor, which we have misguidedly attributed to personality or character, are in fact keeping us further away from a better, truer, richer riding experience. When you remove these barriers, as an electric like the BRD RedShift does, you come closer to a more purposeful and fulfilling riding experience that isn’t dilute by other elements. It is, quiet simply, more fun.
Popping off my helmet at the end of the session on the RedShift, I was noticeably less fatigued than before on the KTM. And perhaps more importantly, I had just finished a considerably “more fun” session on Infineon’s tight road course. Where I fought the KTM through each corner entry and exit, the electric drivetrain of the BRD made the turns trivial to my overall riding experience. I spent less time thinking about how I was going to ride the motorcycle, and more time actually riding “in the moment” with the motorcycle (that’s some Zen & Motorcycles right there people). If the KTM and its dauntless full-body shifting regime represented the harsh back-and-forth motion of a serrated blade, the BRD was the razor-sharp saber that made cornering an effortless motion that was regulated by my right hand.
With less reciprocating mass on the RedShift SM, turning was noticeably easier as well, despite BRD admitting they had missed their weight goals with the prototype machine. While a bit heavier than the KTM on a scale, going through the tight chicane on the track showcased how “light” the BRD was while under locomotion. With only the wheelset, chain, and tiny electric motor acting as the rotating mass on the supermoto, a very flickable and light-feeling motorcycle has been created. It would be hard to judge how much of a difference was between the two bikes, but one thing is clear: a direct weight comparison between the two betrays what the rider feels on the track. And, if both weights are equal, the BRD wins the handling debate any day of the week, and in our case, twice on Sunday.
Point, shoot, lean, feather, throttle, exit. Before today, I’ve ridden a lot of motorcycles through race track corners. However after today, I’ve just begun to truly take a corner with a motorcycle. That feeling perhaps is not a characteristic directly attributable to the BRD RedShift, but instead to electrics in general. However, because BRD’s package on the RedShift is so well-polished with its engineering and components, what you are left riding is a machine that when refined will satisfy your every craving, while opening up a whole new experience for riders.
Needless to say, the BRD RedShift is shaping up to be a very potent motorcycle — though, the prototype is not without its flaws. BRD was fairly straight-forward with some of the design and technical issues the startup has already found with its Mk. I machine, and the San Franciscan company is already working on its next revision of the RedShift SM. Aside from the RedShift prototype being over its 250 lbs race weight goal, the most notable difference between BRD prototype and its production counterpart is the use of a standard metal sub-frame for the tail section, which replaces the plastic monocoque piece that we’ve shown before here on Asphalt & Rubber.
The reason for the difference is two-fold, as the original plastic tail piece was made from a brittle rapid-prototype plastic, and thus wasn’t up to the performance specs that BRD wanted for the RedShift. Second, with the final ergonomics of the RedShift still in flux, the metal sub-frame design allows BRD to adjust the tail to various dimensions, and also try different tail plastic designs while in the prototype phase. BRD says the plastic monocoque tail will come on the production bike as planned, but only after the team has settled on its final design parameters.
On the performance end of things, the prototype BRD RedShift SM we tested had a 10,000 rpm rev limit, which created a 56 mph top speed. The production version will come with a 12,000 rpm limit, which will be good for 67 mph on the track gearing we used, or 85 mph with the gearing expected to come on the stock production model. This rev limit reared its head more than once at Infineon, as the top speed was easily achieved on the longer straight sections of the go-kart track.
One of the major things we will be interested to see with the production model is how the extra 2,000 rpm from the motor affects the performance in a straight line. With the BRD RedShift easily spooling up to 56 mph for us, it already blows away the other electric competition, but of course BRD is setting its sights higher than the other electric manufacturers.
I found the engine braking to be far too soft for my liking. Coming off a large-displacement four-stroke v-twin, I prefer more drag on the back wheel when I let out the clutch, whereas the RedShift SM as tested had virtually no engine braking in my book. Tunable to a rider’s preference via the software, it was interesting comparing notes with BRD CEO Marc Fenigstein, who thought the bike had too much engine braking for his taste. Had we had more time and more sessions to devote to our test, this is something that could easily have been tuned at the track, which brings up an interesting point on how important the end-user software package will be in the overall purchasing process, as it will be the rider/owner who makes these adjustments in the future (bonus trivia: the BRD RedShift SM prototype has its own wifi system).
Other technical changes include a revised swingarm that will allow a 160mm tire, instead of the 140/70-17 rear tire we tested. This should also open up the BRD to some better tire choices, though we have nothing too disagreeable to say about the Bridgestone Battlax BT-003 we used. Perhaps the thing we will miss the most is the Brembo monoblock caliper system that was mated to the prototype’s single-front rotor, which BRD says will be replaced by a “less aggressive” unit.
We’d prefer to see the ultra-precise brakes retain their aggressiveness on the production version, as the feel under braking only helps to compliment the improved rider feedback the electric drivetrain provides. We are indifferent about the prospect of a left-hand actuated rear brake as an option, though this may intrigue other riders.
Not everything is roses and revisions with the BRD RedShift supermoto though, as the word prototype is most necessarily still attached to the machine’s nomenclature. Just as I waxed poetic about the inherent craziness it takes to undertake such an endeavor, there is respectfully a bit of crazy involved when getting on a machine that has not passed any sort of underwriting, certification, or safety standard. While the BRD team updated and refined the RedShift’s firmware throughout the day (get used to that concept folks), it was clear that there were some ghosts still in the machine.
Perhaps the most prevalent was a shuttering from the drivetrain while on the brakes and headed into a corner. Feeling like the rear wheel was traveling over a washboard, the smooth tarmac below me betrayed one of the RedShift’s few flaws. A bug the team had been tracking down all day, the regenerative braking on the RedShift was not coming online as smoothly and linearly as one would obviously prefer while riding. However, while the light shuttering caused by the re-gen happened throughout the testing session, the RedShift prototype would leave its biggest fault until the end of my ride.
Momentarily cutting out while hard on the electrons, a strong lurch progressively made its presence known as I pushed down the faster sections of the circuit. A bit disconcerting, the motion was entirely rideable while upright, but surely would have been a session-ender had it occurred while leaned over in a turn. More than certain to be another software issue, it is at least intriguing to think such an important issue will be resolved at home on a couch with a pint of beer, rather than in a cold garage with dirt under the fingernails.
Not wanting to be the journalist that set the company back a month(s) on its development schedule, I raised my hand in defeat to signal I was cutting my sessions short as the lurch continued to occur with more frequency each lap.
While I ended my session a few minutes early, it was hard not to come away being thoroughly impressed by where the BRD RedShift supermoto prototype was already. No one expected the bike to be perfect out of the box, and for the company’s first attempt at making a motorcycle, BRD has gotten very little wrong with the RedShift’s design (the steering lock needs to be adjusted, as well as the spacers on the rear wheel, which rub the chain in true supermoto fashion). BRD’s unique interlocking chassis is superb to ride, the motor packs plenty of power for its format, and the battery pack lasted the whole day without a recharge.
Veteran thumper riders are going to be very impressed with how the BRD RedShift stacks up to the its 250cc equivalents, and by the time BRD is delivering units in late 2012, we wouldn’t be surprised if comparisons were being drawn to machines with even larger displacements. At $15,495 in supermoto trim, the BRD RedShift is going to be a tough sell on paper against this otherwise affordable market sector, however one test ride may change that for riders.
For me, at the end of the day it all comes down to this quirky fun factor. Knowing that the total cost of ownership on an electric will help bring down the cost of the machine over the long-term, I’d justify the extra expense of the BRD on the fact I enjoyed the experience on the RedShift so much more so than on an ICE machine. Words don’t do justice to the difference between the two types of motorcycles, but as someone who is actually in the market for dirt bike/supermoto for his personal garage, I can tell you that a number of ICE bikes are in danger of being crossed off my list. It will surely take some time before this sector heats up to the fervor that will make large volume productions possible, but after today I am evermore confident that the question is no longer of “if”, but instead one of a “when”.
Officially the first journalist to ride the BRD RedShift SM, I’m very intrigued by what’s going on across the Bay from A&R HQ. With the BRD RedShift MX set to hit testing a few months’ time, it will be interesting to see how much further the RedShift platform has progressed. One thing is for certain though, BRD is a company everyone should keep on their radar. Gasoline parity is no longer a tag line, it is a reality.
Photos: © 2011 Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved