Vectrix electric scooter: Power to the planet
Susie Mesure swaps her Vespa for a Vectrix, the UK's first credible electric scooter, and has an eco-cool ride
Tuesday 01 August 2006
Model: Vectrix Maxi-Scooter
Engine: 125cc classification
Top speed: 62mph
Travel distance between charges: up to 68 miles
Estimated battery life: 10 years
Recharge: takes two hours from a standard 110/220V power socket
Acceleration: from 0 to 50mph in 7 seconds
Brakes: DAaRT system. Twist throttle forward to slow down Price: £6,900
Green-minded commuters know that they have one real option when it comes to getting somewhere in a hurry: pedal faster. And if that means arriving hot, tired and dressed in an unappealing ensemble of skin-tight Lycra, well, so be it. At least you are saving the environment.
But thanks to a revolution in two-wheel commuting, even the laziest of us can wear our green credentials on our sleeves and still get to work quickly. The challenge to bicycles comes from the UK's first credible electric scooter, which is to be launched this autumn. Unlike its predecessors, it promises not only to match its petrol-glugging rivals, but also to exceed their performance. And have a decent battery life to boot.
The Vectrix electric scooter will open a new door into the world of green motoring. For little more effort than the flick of a wrist, commuters can speed through clogged roads, leaving even cyclists in their wake if they really open the throttle. (The machine claims to have a top speed of 62mph, although I struggled to hit this during my test ride.)
In terms of appearance, even the most ardent petrolhead would have to admit that the Vectrix holds its own. Modelled on its petrol-fuelled counterparts, the Vectrix is aiming to appeal to more than just the worthy lentil-munching crowd that favours push-bikes for their planet-saving qualities. The look and feel of the scooter is just like any other, although the weight of the battery makes it more unwieldy than, say, my Vespa ET4. That extra weight is justified, argues Vectrix's UK managing director Alex Bamberg, because it has the acceleration and top speed of a bike with a 400cc engine.
One of the beauties of the Vectrix is that you do not need a full motorcycle licence to ride it. A Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) certificate will suffice. And yet it accelerates quicker and moves faster than anything that the CBT enables you to drive with a petrol engine. There is ample power and room to cope with a second passenger and, what's more, that person won't need to dismount on encountering a hill. "With the Vectrix, there's nothing to cause you to have to apologise for being green," says Bamberg.
Getting going couldn't be simpler - providing that the battery is charged. A full battery keeps going for five hours on urban roads, or for 70 miles at a stretch if you take the bike out into the country.
Unlike mobile phone or iPod batteries, the Vectrix battery prefers to be charged as it empties rather than when it has completely run out of juice. It plugs into a standard power socket and takes around two hours to charge fully. The battery is designed to cope with 1,700 full discharges before dying completely, which translates into about 50,000 miles. But if you're careful to keep plugging it in, you're more likely to run out of roads than battery life.
Out on the road, riding the bike feels, somewhat bizarrely, like flying in an aeroplane. There is the same quiet hum, and accelerating down a quiet street felt a little like taking off. Or maybe it just reminded me of flying because the electric engine made me think of those buggy-type vehicles that airport staff use to transport the elderly and the infirm along all those miles of corridors.
The steering was a little cumbersome, given that I am used to riding a smaller, lighter bike, but that's certainly something with which I could come to terms.
The Vectrix prototype that I tried had conventional brakes, but these may well disappear before the Vectrix actually hits the shops this autumn. Instead, to slow down, you simply twist the throttle away from you. It feels strange at first, but oddly comforting after a while. To help me cope with the extra weight, the Vectrix actually glides backwards if you twist the throttle away from you when the bike is stationary. The reverse function is particularly handy when it comes to parking the bike.
The only downside of going green on a Vectrix is the hole that buying one will leave in your wallet. The bike will retail at close to £6,900 - around three times the price of a new Vespa ET4. That said, the running costs are vastly lower than for a petrol bike. There is no MOT, no road tax and no charges for parking on car meters or at a pay-and-display bay for those times when the designated scooter bays are full.
And anyway, isn't the thought of saving the planet priceless?
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