Vectrix: Two wheels green

Vectrix's new Maxi scooter looks good, performs well and is a friend of the earth, writes Tim Luckhurst
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Specifications

Motor: Electric brushless engine.
Power source: 3.7kW, 30Ah, 125-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack, recharged via integrated 1.5kW charger.
Transmission: Single-stage planetary gearbox integrated into rear-wheel hub with DAaRT regenerative throttle system and reverse gear for parking.
Performance: Top speed of 62mph. 0-50mph in 6.8 seconds.
Range: 68 miles at a constant 25mph, dropping to 25 miles at a constant 60mph.
Recharge time: 80 per cent recharge, 2 hours.
Price: £6,930 including 12-month warranty.

'Cool people ride electric" is the slogan adopted by the Vectrix Corporation of Newport, Rhode Island. Its new emissions-free Vectrix Maxi Electric scooter suggests that caring people certainly will - and soon. The machine offers a tantalising insight into how it feels to ride clean, congestion-smashing technology. But even if caring is cool there is work to be done before it becomes universally popular.

This scooter desperately wants to be a proper motorcycle. It has Brembo disc brakes at front and rear. An ultra-lightweight aluminium frame paired with state-of-the-art Marzocchi telescopic forks makes handling agile enough to keep up with the pack - even in the crazy mêlée of central Rome. Exploiting the low centre of gravity afforded by 82 kilograms of nickel hydride battery I soon began to chuck it around. It is nimble and secure, even on slimy cobbles.

A regenerative throttle arrangement whereby the twist grip is turned forward to reverse the polarity of the electric motor provides excellent engine-braking. This patented DAaRT system (decelerating, accelerating and regenerative throttle) gives the Vectrix a reverse gear that it does not need. More usefully it means that energy generated during braking is recovered by the battery, so extending the scooter's range by up to 12 per cent.

As I regenerated vigorously down hills and on approaches to red lights, this innovative facility made electric power feel thrillingly modern. I was just beginning to tell myself "you have to do successive manual downshifts to achieve this on a conventional motorcycle - and you can't do it at all on a twist-and-go scooter", when reality struck. Regeneration is tremendously useful, but it advertises the Vectrix's biggest Achilles' heel. Maximum range is only 68 miles at 25 mph. Flat-out at 62mph the battery is empty after less than 25 miles.

The Vectrix is comfortable and good-looking. It runs smoothly and silently from the moment you squeeze the brake levers to illuminate a bold "Go" sign in a neat instrument panel. The central dial is a speedometer and the right a huge battery-power indicator - and there is that reminder again. Motorway travel is barely conceivable. You will have to plug into the mains every 40 miles or so.

Vectrix claims the performance of a conventional 400cc scooter. But torque is closer to that of a 600cc motorcycle. Size and ride quality compare with the best super-scooters. Yet top speed is slower than a quick 125 and acceleration is similar.

The Vectrix is bigger and faster than any other electric scooter. Load-carrying capacity is good and the lightweight, electric motor and continuously variable "single-stage planetary gearbox" provide velvet-smooth power delivery.

Vectrix has created an emissions-neutral urban vehicle that is fast enough to handle city streets, pretty enough to attract envy and clean enough toclean salve the most sensitive environmental conscience. If your commute is 20 miles or less and restricted to roads where the speed limit does not exceed 60mph, this is a completely practical machine.

The battery can be recharged to 80 per cent of capacity in two hours and running costs are minimal. A charge costs approximately 20 pence, so covering 200 miles per week at average speeds of 35 to 50mph costs about £1. It is also exempt from road tax and qualifies for a 50 per cent saving on insurance premiums.

However, the scooter costs £6,930 and the battery costs £2,000 to replace (after 1,700 charging cycles). If the machine is recharged three times per week that's 10 years and a weekly range of 150 miles. The outlay must be compared with running costs at least 90 per cent below those of a petrol bike. Vectrix claims a lifetime cost 10 per cent lower than a 400cc scooter, but that ignores residual value and battery replacement.

Tempted? I am. If enough of us ride these bikes - and their electricity is generated by nuclear power stations - planet earth will have reason to be grateful. But this is not yet the "revolution in urban transport" Vectrix promised. You have to park the bike by a mains socket to recharge. The spread of charging points in has started, but there are only 117 in Britain - virtually all in London.

The complete solution is coming. Vectrix hasexperimented with a hydrogen fuel-cell version. A fuel cell can be recharged in minutes rather than hours and permits a substantially extended range. Sadly, Britain does not have a network of hydrogen fuel stations.

For now, this scooter is state of the art in electric two-wheelers. And as battery technology improves and hydrogen becomes available it will be increasingly difficult to find an excuse not to make the switch.

www.vectrix.com

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