The drive to become the world's top electric motorcycle maker has led Craig Bramscher around the globe — up twisting roads, off-road and face-to-face with corporate heads who share belief in the future of Brammo Motorsports' Enertia and Empulse.
It's also made those closest to him question his sanity at times.
In the days after Bramscher decided to develop and build electric motorcycles in Ashland, Ore., he shared his vision with his wife. Jennifer Bramscher nodded and smiled reassuringly. Much later and millions of dollars down the road, she admitted what she really thought of the venture.
"She recently told some friends that she thought it was insane," Bramscher says.
At that point, Brammo had the American license to manufacture the Ariel Atom, a lightweight, high-speed, gas-powered automobile, and electric automaker Tesla had yet to debut its pricey products.
"Here we were with one of the fastest cars in the world, and we were going to develop a relatively low-speed, battery-powered vehicle," he says. "Like everyone else, she thought motorcycles were supposed to make noise. She didn't tell me what she thought and let me pursue it.
"Once we got going, she told me, 'You actually have a pretty good vision of the future.' I went from heel to hero."
Enertia models are now in production in Hungary, while the Empulse is just beginning production. That should boost the company's Ashland employee count from 55 to 75 by year's end.
The journey has been anything but a straight shot, veering all over the globe as innovations and changing market conditions scrapped incumbent plans.
"We like disruptive ideas," Bramscher says. "They may not all work exactly the way we planned, but we learn so much each time."
Batteries weren't on Bramscher's radar. After all, there were plenty of major players in the field.
"We said we would never build our own batteries. It was too research-intensive and too competitive," Bramscher says. "Clearly, there were billions of dollars invested in battery technology; why would we do that?"
It soon became apparent those billions of research dollars were targeted for automobiles. Promises of batteries with a higher energy density and lower costs failed to materialize. It turned out the battery packs Brammo developed for testing bikes in races on both sides of the Atlantic were a step or two ahead of what anyone else was making.
"We had developed the batteries specifically for racing — never with the intent of bringing them into production," he says. "But once we started, we saw that was what differentiates us from other bikes."
Outside investment has come from equity funds and two major corporations — Best Buy and recreational-vehicle maker Polaris. The first round of funding opened eyes to electric motorcycles, and the second has given it technical and operational advantages.
Four years ago, Brammo made headlines when it signed a deal with Best Buy and other players, infusing the company with $10 million in cash and giving the electronics firm exclusive rights to sell Brammo bikes at its stores. That model didn't last, but it scored marketing points for a tiny company in a small town and spread its brand beyond the biking world.
At the time, Best Buy provided something Brammo didn't have — retail locations. Finding dealers to market electric motorcycles was an arduous prospect only a few years ago. But the ability to market a bike that can hit 100 mph with a range of 100 miles has changed all that.
"We weren't going to go with traditional motorcycle dealers," Bramscher says. "Now that the product is developed so much, that's our primary focus."
All the modifications and breakthroughs made Brammo bikes more appealing to a broader clientele and dealers.
"We wouldn't have been successful trying to do this three years ago with the first Enertia," Bramscher says. "The improvement of our technology, development of the battery, drive train and fast-charging capabilities — with all those things — suddenly it's a great bike that happens to be electric instead of a great bike with compromises."