Silence is golden ... but risky

Can you make a boom without making a sound?

Ashland electric motorcycle manufacturer Brammo Powercycles is earning praise in advance of its commercial debut this month. The zero-emissions motorbike plugs into the wall like a household appliance, and is as quiet as a hybrid. But for safety's sake, it can't get on the road without making a little bit of noise.

For this reason, Brammo's powerbikes, called Enertias, are specially equipped to generate their own noise.

"It's something we had designed all along," said Brammo marketing director John Farris. He said federal legislation may soon require motor vehicles to meet sound standards. Since electric and hybrid vehicles make far less noise than their combustion engine counterparts, making sure other drivers can hear them coming is paramount to their safety.

A microchip generates the vehicle's start-up sound, to let the driver know it is operational. It also makes a generated noise similar to a vehicle's acceleration when it runs at 10 mph or slower. Faster than that, the driver is limited only by his or her imagination.

"It has the capabilities of a fully functioning speaker system. You can hook it up to your iPod and play songs," Farris said. "It's a way for customers to personalize their vehicle."

The company's success would be a victory for the city, which is already leading the way toward more energy-efficient transportation. Ashland's CarShare program utilizes hybrid vehicles as a daily rent-a-car service.

Brammo received $10 million in support last fall from private investors, including Best Buy Co. Inc.'s venture capital fund. The money allowed the company to speed up production of the Enertia bike. The Brammo team competed in the Isle of Man zero-emissions motorcycle race this past June in Europe.

Farris said the Enertias will hit the market some time in August, starting at the Portland Best Buy retailer. He is pleased with the rate of production, and the rapid pace at which the company has grown.

"We had 12 employees six months ago," he said. "Now we have 50."

The powercycles have a range of 45 to 50 miles, and can run at an excess of 55 mph. In addition to Best Buy stores, they can also be ordered online at The starting price for an Enertia is listed at $11,995.

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