So sometime late last summer or early fall I contacted Brammo and Zero’s race team leads with what I thought was a pretty cool idea for an article. Well Brian got back to me within the week, but I had to wait a while for Kenyon’s response. Turns out he had a lot of positive things going on in his personal life taking up his time. That, however, didn’t stop me from giving him a bit of a hard time. Well here we are months later and I am just now getting this written up. I am not sure but this may qualify Kenyon for a lifetime membership to the “give Richard a hard time” club, and Brian as his tag team partner. But this all started with me thinking to myself about the two teams one day. I always try go back and look at things, be it races, interviews, championship goings ons, PR stuff, etc. And try to use some of that 20/20 hindsight and see if I can gleam some previously undiscovered truths that might shed some more realism to this seemly fanciful world some of us fans inadvertently create. Well, OK. Maybe it’s just me. But I know where I am today is much closer to reality than it was when I started few years ago. So I tried to apply that to these two teams. My perception was that they were very different teams. One, seemingly a full on factory team and the other mostly an employee effort, seemingly despite the company at times. Those were my perceptions. But then I recalled my many conversations with Brian Wismann at Brammo and the few with Kenyon, and I went “wait a tick.” In the beginning Brammo’s team was nothing more than employee’s putting in extra work after hours and on weekends. But they proved themselves (eventually [cough*2010*cough]) and their worth, and the race team became more and more an actual entity within the company. To the point they now have a name, BRT. So if Brammo started off as an employee effort, and MotoZero is currently an employee effort, then maybe the two teams aren’t so different after all. Maybe they are following the same path, just at different rates. That’s what I thought at least, so I decided to contact them and find out. Now, before we get to their responses, remember this was last year and we were looking forward to a US TTXGP eSS series here in the US. Both Brammo and Zero were offering factory support for current and future bikes. Brammo already had the TTX, and I believe rumors of the SR were already swirly around the internet. Also know that I was convinced that the SR was going to be a factory race bike like the TTX, and did not believe that the bigger controller would stay cool enough for street use. I should have listened to Protomech. So I also took the time to ask about customer support from these teams, and help you folks decide if you should buy a race bike from them. At the time I was hoping to get the word out and help those who were thinking about jumping into elmoto racing, make an informed decision. So go the plans of mice and men. Here is what the two had to say last fall: Brian Wismann, Director of Product Development and BRT Grand Poo-Bah [I honestly don't know what his title is in BRT]
The racing program started with a decision to participate in the very first TTXGP race on the Isle of Man in 2009. At the time, Vectrix was the “big player” in the space and Brammo was a complete unknown teeny-tiny little company. We thought Vectrix might enter the race, and it was going to be a historic event, so we thought we should be there if we wanted to be credible in this market space. We learned so much from that initial program in technical terms, but we also saw the race effort work as an annealing force for our engineering team.
We took a break in 2010 to focus on our commercial efforts, but came back to racing by the end of 2010 as we felt we might be losing touch with the “state-of-the-art” on the technology front as teams started pushing pack voltages up to levels previously reserved for automobile sized EVs. Our focus throughout the program has involved these key directives:
1. Involve our production engineering staff as much as possible to design and campaign the bikes. This ensures that what is learned on the track makes it way to our production bikes (or doesn’t if it’s a bad idea!).
2. Develop bikes and technologies that are feasible for production. This is the reason that Brammo has stayed true to our production chassis architecture and even our battery cell format. I believe there is key philosophical difference between this approach and saying “We’re going to build whatever it takes to win!”
3. Involve our customers in our racing effort by sharing stories with them through our social media sites. If we’re going to be at the track, then we should make the effort to connect with those customers that have interest in performance and racing (although we realize that not all of our customers do).
The race “team” has been a collection of production engineers, engineering technicians, and even some outside contractors, since its inception. Up until now, it has been a volunteer team with those engineers choosing to give up nights and weekends to compete in the TTXGP, FIM, eRR, and AFM events that we’ve participated in. Time is made during business hours to get work done, but race dates don’t move – so when long hours are required, these guys step up. I’m grateful for how far we’ve been able to get with such little formal organization, but we need to create a better structure for the team to operate within in the future. This is the genesis of BRT (Brammo Racing Technology), which will stay true to the directives listed above, but also provide some much needed structure for the project to be even more successful. BRT is not a “team” so much as it is a project within the engineering group. It will be resourced and prioritized just like every other engineering project.
In the future, I can envision BRT becoming a semi-independent entity like HRC for Honda, but this will take time.
We give all TTX customers full factory support. They have access to our factory TTX data and we share everything we’ve learned with them and visa-versa. Arthur can attest to this. Arthur has made a number of modifications to his bike, some of which we’ve followed suit on and others which we have not. We have also developed the Brammo RDK (Racing Diagnostics Kit), which is a sub-set of our dealer Service Diagnostics Kit, that allows us to gain remote access to the bike over a Wi-Fi network to provide track-side support even if we’re not physically there. I see the biggest benefit from offering these bikes to customers to race is to create a larger sample size to learn from. With the limited on-track time we have at events plus the limited laps we can run on the battery, we are at a major disadvantage to the pace at which gas bikes can be developed. The way to overcome that is to have more people doing it and sharing information more openly. I hope this is seen as a benefit to getting involved early, as Arthur and others have, in electric racing. We’re at a pivotal moment where the privateers can receive fantastic support from the factories and also contribute significantly to the development of the sport.
For the record, I’m very happy to have Zero and their customers out there to race against. It wouldn’t have been much of a season without them there. I really hope they find a way to continue or increase their support. Brammo can’t grow this nascent sport alone. The Zero provides people with an option to consider and I think that’s a good thing for both of us.
Kenyon Kluge, Head Electric Engineer and MotoZero’s Grand Poo-Bah
Hello Richard, Thanks for contacting us and doing all you do to enlighten the masses about electric racing. I will do my best to answer the questions you asked. First with regards to how the race team started, this could be a very long story as it has changed quite a bit over the last 4 years. The level of support we have received from Zero Motorcycles has also changed over the years and we have at times been a full factory team and other times we are completely on our own racing as my team K Squared racing. Here is the condensed version. Back in 2010 Zero Motorcycles as a company decided they really wanted to win the first US TTXGP race. As a company they organized the team, hired Shawn Higbee, and put a bunch of resources into this effort. I worked as an advisor for this effort. About 2 months before the race I was at an AFM race running my GSXR600 and I had a Zero with me as a pit bike. I realized that there was no reason I should not just run a fairly stock Zero so that I could be a participant in the first ever US all electric race. I did convert a Zero and participated in that race and I did get some support from the company organized race effort to help make my effort happen. After this first race Zero Motorcycles as a company decided to not run a factory team and instead operate as more of a support organization. I wanted to keep racing and many people within the company felt the same way. As race and electric enthusiasts we have continued the racing ever since this first race. When there was equipment that Zero wanted tested then we would be used as a test resource and push innovations to the very limit on the track in order to prove it out. In 2011 we really ran on our own and my first ride in the TTX75 class was really just as a rider and advisor to Eland Eggers who had put together his own bike. Later that year we did run the Zero bike at Laguna with the support of Zero Motorcycles to test some prototype parts. In 2012 I really wanted to make a bigger effort and asked Zero if I could take 4 of the engineering bikes to the track and put riders on them to have the first eSuperStock class. I got permission to borrow these bikes for the 4 TTXGP races and talked TTXGP into promoting this class as a demo class. During this year Zero supported us with gas money, the loan of the bikes and the time to go to the races but this was really a massive amount of donated time by the employees and volunteers that helped us get to all of the races. This last year, 2013, we were only able to get our hands on one engineering bike and spent a great deal of time converting it from a full street bike that was used as a durability test bike, into a race bike and then back after the races. Zero again gave us some travel money and helped ship the bike to Indianapolis, but again the time was all donated after hours and many put in their own funding to help get us the rest of the way. So really we could not have our race effort without Zero Motorcycles but, our effort is very much a labor of love. We love racing, love electric vehicles, and love the challenge of pushing the technology and speed as far as we are able. We started MotoZero as a place that we could freely post all of our activities on the road course, at the cart track, in the dirt, as well as anything else we think is cool and race oriented. As for supporting other riders that are riding Zero’s Zero Motorcycles does not have an official program but, again we love racing and love to see others out there on our bikes. From the very beginning we have supported Brandon Nozak with knowledge and parts as much as we were able. Both Jeremiah Johnson and Brandon Nozak have spent a good amount of time here at our facility getting their bikes ready for the races. . . . When we head out to the track we try to bring spares and tools and help out all the teams as much as we are able. So though there is no official program we do our best to help out as we can and get as many people as we are able out on the track. As to the question about us copying another rider I am not sure what part you are referring to. If you can
As a last point I would like to say that I am really glad to be collaborating with Brammo on making this race series and promoting electric racing. They have really been friendly and genuinely want to work with us to make it a fun friendly environment to race in. It was really outstanding talking to them at all the races and I always felt like they appreciated our efforts and wanted to help were they could. I consider them all friends and look forward to seeing them at the track along with all the other riders, Zero’s, Brammo’s, and other prototype teams. The people are really what make racing a lot of fun and without people we would not be able to put on such a great show for all the fans. On a personal not[e] it really meant a lot to me that Brammo and Parker motors produced the eSuperStock awards this year and when they presented them to me they mentioned that they were aware of how much time and energy my team had put into racing. It was touching that they recognized our efforts and thought highly of us for what we are doing which what we have. I would also like to say how much I appreciate all the efforts that everyone around me has put into this racing effort. Without so much passion and excitement for what we are doing and the extra hours of work none of the incredible things that we have been able to do would have been possible. I get to be in the limelight but the true dedication really goes to everyone that makes it possible. I hope this answers your questions. I have a lot going on so I limited my answers a bit but really could write a book on the subject of racing. If you would like more clarity on anything I have said here please don’t hesitate to ask.
Well, I guess I asked them something about racing against each other too. Oh well. These are both very upstanding guys, as far I can tell. And they both love racing and having someone to race against. It seems both teams started out the same way, only Brammo a year earlier. Both went full on into their first race, and you didn’t hear much the next year. But Brammo’s PR arm is really good, dare I say masterful at pumping up their race team’s image and monopolizing on their efforts. Where Zero’s PR arm just last year, even seemed to recognize the racing efforts happening on their bikes. This isn’t a knock against Zero, they just have focused their efforts elsewhere. And I believe that the actions of the PR folks for both companies are strong indicators of where their leadership is at, and explain why the two teams find themselves in relatively different places despite starting off in almost from the same point. Both teams have great stories and I hope you have found their writings enlightening and helpful. I know I have.