Riding the BRD RedShift SM on The Snake

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“So much power it’ll wheelie off the throttle at any speed.” If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit sick of the hyperbole that makers of electric motorcycles have been slinging for the last few years. There’s talk of instantaneous torque, practical ranges and performance on par with (small) ICE bikes, but the reality has only been overpriced products that are slow, massively overstate their real world ranges and are, well, just plain crappy. So when Marc, BRD’s CEO, started slinging adjectives at this supermoto prototype prior to Sean and I riding it in Malibu, I was pretty skeptical. The thing is, he was absolutely right. The BRD RedShift SM is absolutely terrifying, in all the right ways.

Photos: Ashlee Goodwin

We’ve reviewed the RedShift before, when Sean flew up to Infineon to ride it late last year. The idea with it was to create performance parity with a 250cc ICE equivalent, just with lower running costs. Weighing 250lbs and making 40bhp, it’s absolutely on-par with bikes like a KTM 250 XC-F. The problem is, that bike retails for $7,699 and the BRD should cost $15,499 when it goes on sale later this year. Wait, I said lower costs, right? It’ll achieve that in exponentially lower running costs. That KTM will need an oil change every five hours, valves need adjusting at 20 and a new piston somewhere around 40 hours. The BRD? You need to top up the transmission oil once every 200 hours. Average that out over a couple years and a bunch of hard riding and the BRD will absolutely work out cheaper. But will it work out faster? Well, last year, Sean was a second a lap faster around Infineon’s kart track on the electric than he was on that KTM.

Check out this picture Ashlee shot of me on the BRD, then this shot of Marc, taken by Paul at Rock Store Photos. When I say “terrifying” it’s not hyperbole. This is not a bullshit bike with bullshit components. It’s not a commuter dressed up as a supermoto. And it wasn’t built to save the environment. Instead, the RedShift is the product of a group of supermoto and motocross racers who realized that, using electric power, they could build a superior motorcycle.

The first terrifying thing about the SM wasn’t the power or the handling, but instead the throttle programming. Prepping the bike for our morning run, the BRD guys had accidentally reversed it to a year-old map. That resulted in a delay between any input and action from the motor. Not a big deal when getting on the power — it just came a second later — but rolling off for corners, the surprisingly strong engine braking would kick in a second too late, a second after I’d already gotten on the incredibly strong front brake.

Engine braking on an electric motorcycle? BRD’s not the first to do this. Like other electrics, it’s achieved through regenerative braking, where the motor applies resistance to the rear wheel. Also like other electrics, most notably the Mission R race bike, BRD doesn’t do this to increase range, but instead to deliver a more ICE-like feel to the rider. That Zero DS I lived with a month or two back did the same thing, just to a much lesser, barely noticeable, degree. On the BRD, rolling off the throttle feels like rolling off a big v-twin. It’s all you need to regulate your speed on tight road like this section of Mulholland Highway.

The problem was, that lag in throttle programming combined with the next terrifying thing about the RedShift — its brakes. That Brembo Monobloc front caliper is more commonly found hauling 400lbs superbikes down from 180mph speeds reliably and consistently on race tracks. So bolt one to the front of a 250lbs supermoto and it shouldn’t come as a surprise how sharp and powerful it is.

Know how on most bikes, it takes a little bit of a squeeze before braking power really kicks in? Not with these top-shelf Brembos. A huge amount of power kicks in the second you brush that lever. Good for people needing and expecting that, bad for people riding an unfamiliar bike for the first time. Combine that kind of braking with the throttle lag and corner entry went like this: see corner, decide on appropriate speed, roll off throttle, begin braking, engine braking kicks in, realize you’ve shed way to much speed, let go of brakes, front end rebounds as engine braking continues, swear a couple times, pick up the throttle, wait a second as engine braking continues, get jerked backwards as power kicks in, continue…

All that wouldn’t be a huge problem if the RedShift was a typical, 400lbs-ish performance bike with safe, friendly suspension geometry. But it’s not. It’s a proper competition supermoto that’s light, short and sharp. That exaggerates every input; a little throttle will pull a wheelie, a little brake will pull a stoppie. So, a little something unexpected is enough to cause major problems.

BRD’s Marc Fenigstein is a colorful character.

Should you take these remarks as criticism? I mean them as exactly the opposite. BRD could have dumbed down the bike to make it friendly. They could have relaxed the geometry, fitted a less-powerful caliper and made the same mistake that literally every other maker of electric bikes has made — tamed the power delivery in the name of safety. But they didn’t. They just made the bike as awesome and as fast as they could.

And I do mean fast. 40bhp might not sound like a lot, but with the RedShift, BRD has achieved something no other motorcycle has done, they’ve realized the full potential of electric motivation. Twist the grip on an ICE bike and you’re regulating the volume of gases entering the combustion chamber. Depending on where you are in the rev range, that varies the amount of power the engine produces, which is then varied depending on which gear you’re in. Twist the grip on the BRD and you’re directly and proportionately influencing the amount of power reaching the rear tire. 50 percent throttle is always, consistently 50 percent of power. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going, max throttle equals max power. Don’t overthink it, it’s that simple, but this BRD is the first electric bike I’ve ever ridden ever to actually pull it off. How neat is that?

And that’s what I think the real story with the RedShift is —it’s the first production-destined motorcycle to ever realize the full potential of electric motivation and, in doing so, demonstrate a clear superiority to its ICE predecessors.

That direct correlation between the throttle and power isn’t just some nerdy math, it has real world, real rider benefits to things like feel (which is amazing on the BRD from every component), but also to performance. Sean’s laptimes on the BRD were quicker than the KTM because he wasn’t cutting power every time he had to shift. He didn’t have to chase power in each gear, the amount of power he wanted was always there, no matter what. As you’re riding the RedShift, you’re not thinking about that though, you’re expending all your focus on all the other stuff involved with riding a motorcycle — monitoring grip, correcting slides, nailing corners, planning the next and you’re able to do all that more proficiently because trying to keep an engine on the boil is no longer on that list.

Add to that the ability for customers to create custom maps for their own bikes, dialing in factors like engine braking, throttle response and even outright power to suit their individual needs, wants and riding styles and the potential for this thing just starts to seem amazing. At least that’s what Sean was thinking after this, his second ride…

Sean’s Second Ride on the BRD

Last time I rode BRD’s test mule, it was at Infenion Raceway’s kart track. Traffic, a general unfamiliarity with SuMo body position and electronics gremlins halted a full evaluation, but I did learn a few things: The chassis is razor sharp, easily better than anything from Japan and the power is there, even if it kept cutting out that day. This time we’re on the snake, a road I know well and the motor controller is behaving. Well, mostly. Marc and I are both noticing a slight latency in the throttle (everything you do happens a few mili-seconds later), but it’s just that, slight. And yet, even with that latency it feels like a scalpel. In contrast, the Aprilia is a brute. When I got on the Touno after the shoot, it felt like a tank. I had to use two fingers and squeeze to make the brakes work. I had to slip the clutch and make sure I was in the right gear. The front end felt numb.

Since breaking a bunch of bones in January, Ashlee and I have become a bit jaded with life in LA. Yes, the camping and mountain roads are amazing, and so is the legal fun, vegan indian food, and perfect weather. But if you want to experience true freedom, get outside LA county. If you’re us, you go to Deer Island Oregon.

40 miles NW of Portland and there’s no cell reception, no paved roads, no cops… It’s the kind of place where I can go mountain biking in the clouds right out the front door. There are other people living on our gravel road, but they just want to keep to themselves and clean their guns.

My mountain bike has two problems: First, hills can be a real pain when you’re recovering from knee surgery and second, sliding the rear with a brake is no substitute for actually exploring the limits of traction with a dirtbike.

An XR500 is the practical fix, but the pie-in-the-sky is a BRD Redshift. Sitting in the passenger seat of the Volvo, I imagine what would it be like to blast down those gravel roads sideways with nothing but the sound of straight cut gears and Skrillex coming over the bluetooth. To confidently ride chained off roads with NO TRESPASSING signs, knowing that there’s no sound to give me away. To jump logs and climb muddy hills, eventually popping through the clouds and into the sunlight. To do it all without spending a penny on gas. The BRD is that dream come true. Well, at $15k it could. — Sean Smith

  • Glenngineer

    Awesome to see an aerostich on a supermoto.

  • Restless Lip Syndrome

    What a killer race machine. I wish I had the funds to give this bike a go.

  • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

    Just to get out ahead of this one, we had no intention of letting the HFL guys take the RedShift up the snake. We were down in LA for a photo shoot with Norwegian models in post-apocalyptic wastelands… You know, normal LA stuff. But I couldn’t resist Wes’s deep hazel eyes and we caved. Besides, journalists are expendable. Which meant I took one quick run up the road on the throttle map we gave the model, said “change it… Okay, good enough.” And we sent him off up the road with a half-cocked map and a battery that hadn’t been charged in 3 days of riding. All things considered, I think we proved our point that the RedShift SM might be the fastest thing you can legally take up and down the Snake. And that even I can’t say “no” to Wes. – Marc at BRD (excuse typos from phone typing)

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Norwegian models in post-apocalyptic wastelands is a pretty good description of the day. Thanks for bringing the beer.

      The bike is a prototype, not a production machine. Different subframe, rear wheel size and swingarm in addition to, I’m sure, countless other details. But seriously, it’s fucking impressive prototype or no.

      Bring it to production ASAP and you’re going to completely change the way people think about electric vehicles.

      • snowejob

        Everything Zero could’ve/should’ve been year 2.

    • COD

      Talking seriously about the real cost of the electric bike – What is the predicted lifespan of the battery, and what might the replacement cost be? I imagine this will be the future equivalent of a new piston. – also is the battery easily swappable? (keep one at work, one at home :-) Bike looks amazing BTW!

  • kate

    YES!!!

  • Tim N.

    Quality content! Very exciting. I’m jealous. I will probably never get to experience this bike.

    • Matt

      +1. I love reading HFL bike review articles. Powerfully entertaining and informative.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Thanks.

  • mik lo

    I feel there is way too many articles on electric bikes on this (pay) site. Im not one of those “never goin electric” guys but realistically not for the next 10 yrs. I mean I see the occasion electric at bike nights or dragon meet ups but, cater to the reader!! I think the majority (+50%) of the h4l subscribers ride and like to ride gas powered bikes. I know it’s the future but what about the now? Once again I have no problem with occasional electric bike articles but its seems like its the majority.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      It’s our job to inform you about where the motorcycle is going. It’s going in this direction. The world is changing, we’re going to cover that, not stick our heads in the sand.

      BRD is a young, innovative company run by a really smart group of enthusiasts and they’re cooking up a new way to advance motorcycle performance. I know I want to read about stuff like that.

      • mik lo

        Yeah, I get it! Electric bikes are the future and the future is rite around the corner. I also get that you guys don’t want to be like all the other motorcycle publications. But throw a ninja rider a bone every once in a while. That’s all.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Kawasaki isn’t interested in reaching young riders, sorry.

          But, here’s a little something to keep you going:

          http://hellforleathermagazine.com/2011/06/new-york%E2%80%99s-fastest-zx-10r-review/

          • doublet

            Considering that’s a year old, I see the point being made, and I guess we should consider this a courtesy that he’s not rehashing the same shit in a new article. If we read the same shit about BRD or any of these electric bikes again, then we’ve got a substantiated platform upon which to bitch, then?

          • Adam

            I see both sides, but there are plenty of sites to read about Ninjas and knee pucks. This bike is not some eco-loving sidewalk scooter. I don’t want to speak for HFL, but it seems like they are trying to tell us that this bike’s capabilities belie it’s power source. In other words, it would be in this article getting these accolades even if it was a gasser.

    • snowejob

      Mik lo – I’ll refund your subscription personally if you don’t like it. I cut back on 1/2 a sixer of Budweiser a month to pay for this and I could just as easily cut back the other half. There are loads of traditional content providers cranking out the same old dribble day in and day out that might suit your needs better. I work in the motorcycle industry and I for one feel HFL is quite refreshing and usually on point. Carry on!

  • rvfrules

    Fragging technology means we’ll be swimming in oil for the foreseeable future and those looking to go green will be embracing NGVs, not EVs.

    • M

      sounds like you’re embracing FPSs, actually. try “fracking.” ; )

      • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

        Boom, headshot.

        • CCarey

          Also fracking yields natural gas not oil so no we won’t be “swimming” in oil for years to come because of fracking, if anything we’ll be swimming in natural gas. That too is unlikely since fracking is increasingly being banned around the country due to its damaging effects to water sources.

  • Peter88

    This is not about oil, nat gas, etc. This about a motorcycle that is truly better than an ICE bike through the use of an electric drive train. This is an exciting development.

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

      +1

    • rvfrules

      Truly better for 50 miles, then you’re back to charging while the ICE bike rides on. Sorry, still can’t get excited by electric bikes with extremely limited ranges, especially 250s that cost $15,495. The world clearly won’t be going in this direction.

      • protomech

        Ranges keep going up and prices keep coming down. This costs $4000 more than a Zero DS 5.3 kWh, and it sounds like it’s money well-spent.

        The world doesn’t move in a single direction.

        • http://www.amarokconsultants.com michael uhlarik

          @promotech

          “The world doesn’t move in a single direction.”

          Very well put. Mind if I quote you in my next meeting?

          m

  • contender

    I read this article and the comments prior to logging in. What up?

    Also, does this mean Sean’s out? That’d be a real shame.

    • contender

      Also, someone tell me about how much of a rebate I can get on one of these since moving to Colorado.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      We’ll talk more about what’s going on next week.

      Sean will always be involved with what we do in some capacity.

      • contender

        Very interesting. IIRC motorcycle.com went pay 6-8 years ago, but then went back to free shortly thereafter. My status in their forums says something like platinum since I was one of the paying members way back when.

        Not that their forums are worth wasting time in.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          We try not to think of ourselves in relation to motorcycle media, sets the bar too low.

    • Sean Smith

      What Wes said. Ashlee and I are going to be splitting time between LA and Oregon next year.

      • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

        Good luck with what you are planning/doing, Sean.

        Years ago, I spent a week in the hospital and weeks at home recovering after a bicycling accident — not nearly as traumatic as your episode, but it did change my outlook on life. I ended up with a new career, a new house, and new passions — all for the better.

        Enjoy life! And I’m glad to hear you’ll still be poking around here at HFL.

  • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

    I preordered a BRD a moment after I opened the watch-list email that BRD sent out last year. My wife was all for it — electric being green. I hope she doesn’t read this article. If she does, she’ll realize it’s not the eco thing that excited me, it’s the prospect of having way too much fun — without being heard by folks who might be against that kind of fun.

    • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

      “Yeah. Of course I’m doing this for the environment, honey!”

      *Pops silent wheelies into the hoon-horizon*

  • 10/10ths

    Great stuff, guys. Keep the reports coming. I love ALL of your coverage. I live in the middle of nowhere, rural Louisiana, so electric bikes are not an option for my lifestyle.

    I DO want to keep reading about them, however, and your reporting is fantastic.

    I work in the auto industry as a product trainer and am currently training sales consultants on a new hybrid vehicle that uses Li-ion batteries. I understand why some folks don’t get it, but this technology is advancing faster than most people realize.

    You guys are great, I also love how I get to live the LA scene vicariously through your site.

    All the best!

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    I’m getting very excited…

    It could definitely be a good idea to retire my old XR400 motard sooner rather than later.

  • KLR_Pilot

    Great article. Got any video? I want to not hear the BRD go by.

    • Sean Smith

      It literally sounds just like Darth Vaders tie fighter. Marc says that the production model will use helical rather than straight cut gears though.

    • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

      There’s a few shots in this video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=3robHRHhNHY) when you can catch the sound. Sean pretty much nailed it. We build quiet, not silent, bikes. Sound is too critical a piece of rider feedack – it lets you know both your speed (pitch of the sound) and your throttle position (amplitude of the sound). We worked really hard to make sure you, pedestrians, and other trail users can hear the drivetrain in action while keeping the bikes quiet enough to not annoy folks who don’t appreciate the aesthetic of an unrestricted race bike as much as we do.