'Shocking Barack'

Brian Wismann and David Schiff weren't exactly out for a joyride, taking a pair of their electric motorcycles on a two-week sprint through the country's Eastern states.

Instead, the representatives from Brammo, Inc. were making a point, introducing their Enertia powercycles to Washington, D.C., with the hope of personally delivering one to President Obama.

Brammo released its Enertia powercycle to the public in August. Brammo bikes contain six lithium batteries, which charge by connecting into any 115-volt electrical outlet.

The Ashland business has drawn praise from political leaders in the few months it has been on the market. Gov. Kulongoski visited Brammo's facilities late in August, rewarding the company a $100,000 state grant to promote clean energy.

But in traveling from Detroit on Oct. 13 to the nation's capital, weathering the elements atop their electric motorcycles, Wismann and Schiff were harboring loftier political ambitions. They wanted to show off their wheels to the president.

"We wanted to raise awareness for all electric vehicles, not necessarily just Brammo bikes," said Wismann, who is in charge of product development for Brammo.

He and Schiff returned to Ashland on Thursday, after a 12-day promotional journey from Detroit to Washington, D.C. The pair called the adventure "Shocking Barack," and set up a Web site, ShockingBarack.com, to chronicle their ride.

"We had our goal of getting the bike to the president, but we made sure we were enjoying ourselves along the way," Wismann said. "It was a fun experience, not something I'll soon forget."

Their wheels were shown off to the public at each stop, with the trip serving as a joint opportunity to promote their bikes in industrial-rich cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Akron, Ohio. They wanted to show the residents of those cities that an affordable alternative to conventional transportation was within their reach.

"Overall, everybody was very impressed with the bikes," Wismann said. "A lot of people were very interested in hearing that it was an American-made product. Just saying it was built with parts and assembled in America made a big impact."

But in departing from Detroit, the route Wismann and Schiff traveled had an added significance. In the wake of last year's collapse of the U.S. auto industry, the CEOs of Detroit's General Motors Corp, Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Co. traveled to the national's capital — each on private jets — to make their pitch for an automotive bailout from Congress.

In covering the same 700-mile stretch on their electric motorcycles, Wismann and Schiff were out to prove that innovation, rather than deep pockets or government bailouts, was key to bringing clean energy and economic prosperity into alignment.

Their success was beyond doubt. What cost the Detroit executives tens of thousands of dollars each in jet rentals and fuel cost Wismann and Schiff $4.67 in electricity, per bike, according to their estimates.

"I think what it does is raise awareness about the basic electric vehicle and show how economical it is," Wismann said. He said that, while current models may be limited in range, his company and other similar ones are constantly at work on the innovations fueling a boom in clean energy transportation.

"If you believe those limitations can be overcome, with such a low cost of operating, people will start to understand why electric makes so much sense," Wismann said.

While Wismann and Schiff were riding to the capital, company retailers were opening new locations in Southern California and Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher met with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and other alternative energy leaders.

The trip's sole downside was that the electric motorcycle duo was unable to meet with Obama. But that did not stop them from making good on their promise. At a street corner the duo is keeping secret, they locked up the bike they had hoped to deliver to him personally, then sent the key, along with a hand-written letter, to the White House.

Their hope is that the president will able to step away from his busy schedule long enough to take the Enertia powercycle for a ride.

Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at eglucklich@gmail.com.

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