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Electric motorcycles? Company charges ahead

An Oregon company that makes electric motorcycles thinks it has a homegrown solution to the nation's energy woes.
Electric Motorcycles
David Schiff, left, and Brian Wismann of Brammo Inc. ride their electric motorcycles past Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Oregon company that makes electric motorcycles thinks it has a homegrown solution to the nation's energy woes. To prove it, the company sent two riders on a 10-day odyssey from Detroit to Washington, re-creating the 2008 trip of automobile company CEOs looking for billions of dollars in government aid.

While the auto executives rode in corporate jets, the riders from Brammo Inc. had a far less luxurious journey. The chief engineer and an advertising executive for the Ashland, Ore.-based company rode more than 700 miles from Michigan in 45-mile increments — the distance the motorcycles can travel on one charge.

The trip took so long in part because the riders stopped frequently to charge up and meet with the public and news media to draw attention to the all-electric Enertia, which sells for $12,000. The men tailgated with Pittsburgh Steelers fans, spoke to students at Carnegie Mellon University and battled autumn rains that soaked them through much of the journey.

After they arrived in Washington, the riders and Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher met Tuesday with officials from the Energy Department and with lawmakers, including their home state senators. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Brammo, which employs 52 people at its southwestern Oregon plant, was poised to become an economic driver for the state.

A paint design is seen on an electric motorcycle on display, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington. An Oregon company that makes electric motorcycles thinks it has a home-grown solution to the nation's energy woes. To prove it, the company has sent two riders from Detroit to Washington, recreating the trip of auto company chief executive officers looking for government help.Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP

The company is lobbying to extend an Energy Department grant program to include two-wheeled vehicles. It also wants to expand a 10-percent federal tax credit available to electric vehicle buyers under the economic stimulus law.

The visit by the electric motorcycle riders comes as luxury automaker Fisker Automotive said Tuesday it was buying a shuttered General Motors assembly plant in Delaware to produce plug-in hybrid electric cars. Vice President Joe Biden was among those on hand to announce a new lease on life for the GM plant.

On Thursday, Colorado-based Proterra will demonstrate an electric hybrid bus at a Capitol Hill news conference. The zero-emission bus uses lithium titanate batteries.

The electric motorcycle riders documented their trip on a blog called "Shocking Barack" and promoted it through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

"We want to have a little fun," said David Schiff, one of the two riders.

Schiff, creative director a Colorado-based advertising agency that is working with Brammo, dreamed up the trip and the Web site,, which he said is intended to impress Obama with the efficiency of electric motorcycles.

A crew of six has been documenting the journey, with updated videos and diaries on the Web site and even a GPS-aided map showing the exact locations of the bikes being ridden by Schiff and Brian Wismann, Brammo's director of product development.

"People have lost faith in America's ability to innovate and be scrappy and do a lot with a little," Schiff said. "We believe that we are riding two-wheeled evidence to the contrary."

CEO Bramscher calls electric vehicles the wave of the future, and says that if the price of the bike can be brought down to about $9,000, the Enertia could become a popular commuter choice.