by Gus Breiland
You know that sound that George Jetson’s car makes as it passes on the TV screen. It isn’t really something I can spell; more like a staccato purr. If Vectrix had a bolt-on accessory that gave me that sound, this scooter would be in my garage.
The fun starts by turning the key to “ON”, sitting on the bike, kickstand up and first squeezing the rear brake lever (left hand) then the front brake lever (the right). The dials wake up and a big “GO” shows up on the left hand gauge. The Vectrix is on and ready for take off. But there is no sound? No idle, no choke, no swearing rider because the carb isn’t full of fuel. Nothing. Twist the throttle back and the electric motor powered by batteries comes to life and begins to move you.
It is moving you in ways you have never been moved before. A smooth, electric DC brushless motor distributes crisp, linear power to the back wheel. There is no clutch, there is no shifter, and acceleration is smooth all the way up to its limited 62 mph. All of this, while being as silent as wind flowing over bodywork and the muffled whine of an electric motor.
Now the throttle is something you are used to. Twist your wrist backwards and you accelerate. But Vectrix has a little surprise up its sleeve. Push forward on the throttle while riding through the city and you engage regenerative braking. Regenerative braking is the conversion of your kinetic energy into useful power by redirecting that energy back to the batteries. While you cannot completely recharge the scooter batteries with this braking function, it is actually prolonging your charge and you are gaining some additional range while coming to a stop.
Basically, you want to conserve battery power. And what better way then to recharge a bit while braking. Regenerative braking is as easy as coming to a gentle stop instead of an abrupt stop using the traditional mechanical brakes on the wheels. So, while covering the front and rear brake for safety, you can be gliding to a halt, and earning a mile or two additional range at the same time. Since it is called regenerative braking, the taillight does illuminate. Brembo brakes fore and aft do the lever-braking work.
While at a standstill, if you roll the throttle forward, the bike begins to move backwards out of your garage or up a slight incline that would be difficult to just shoe over. Aren’t electric motor drives cool?
Vectrix hit the ball out of the park with this Maxi scooter and for a first attempt, that is pretty impressive. Two wheels, a comfortable seating position which results in excellent balance at the soon-to-be-green light, storage of your helmet under the seat, and a glove compartment on the leg shield for smaller items. It has excellent headlights and it behaves just like any other scooter as you ride by the queue of cars waiting to turn left.
The biggest difference is its use of current instead of fuel. The Vectrix is rechargeable on any 110v or 220v circuit and requires 3-5 hours to recharge the batteries. There is a power cord in the under seat trunk that plugs into (what Vectrix recommends) a 20amp circuit.
The number one issue with a battery-powered scooter is legs. How far can it run? The Vectrix boasts 30-60 miles on one charge, depending on your use of the throttle. Two wheels have always been an escape for me, but the Vectrix has an imaginary string that can only be let out so far before it needs to be rewound. I understand that this has to be as you can’t just magically pour electrons back into a tank for instant gratification, but as a life-long user of fuel, it will take some getting used to.
Your dashboard has a display giving your the percentage of charge and an estimated range. So today you sit on the scooter and it says you have 50 miles of range on a full charge. The range calculation is adjusting based on your use of the throttle. I was averaging 35-40 miles around town using city streets, freeway sections and roads like Highway 55 and Hiawatha. The varying speed changes the calculation and pretty soon you’re more concerned about getting home than where you are headed.
I made sure to run the batteries down completely once. Once it’s done, it’s finished. Kaput! There is no auxiliary power or pedals to get you home. You either push a 515-pound bike home, call the wife to have her bring the truck, or ask someone if they have 3-5 hours of time and a cold beverage.
The Vectrix is stuck in the middle of groundbreaking transportation and an adult toy. While I would love this scooter in my garage and giggled cruising over the new 35W bridge at midnight doing 62 miles per hour with nary a sound but wind and wheels, I cannot justify a scooter that has a battery limitation and an MSRP of $8790.
The other big hurdle that the Vectrix scooter needs to leap is the over 20-mile one-way commuters limitation on range and available plug-ins. If you commute 20 miles one way, you can get home. If you commute 30 miles one way you may not get home due to your time depleting the batteries. Employers and parking garages are not about to let every scooter rider plug in.
A very cool, yet minor feature on the scooter is the under-seat storage brace to keep the seat up. It is a solid spring that with a bump collapses, and folds in to the compartment. The spring is very simple, yet elegant and easy to operate.
I am sad to say that this generation of Vectrix will never be the inspiration for a cross-country trip like the Heinkel’s in Peter Beagle’s book, “I See By My Outfit”. The Vectrix scooter lacks the endurance to get past Manhattan or St. Paul or Los Angeles and explore the country side.
The adventure would be a logbook similar to this: “Day 1: Rode 40 miles. Stopped to recharge. Getting dark. Getting room. Day 2: Rode for 40 miles today. In the middle of the woods. Hope John Krakauer doesn’t write an “Into The Wild” story about me because none of the trees surrounding me have a 120v plug-in to recharge my scooter. Day 3: Still no plug in and the moose are laughing at me.”
I really, really, really, really want to own one of these scooters. I want to encourage Vectrix to continue making them. Refining them. The only beef with the scoot is its range. Performance is excellent. Riding position and balance, wonderful. It is a functional vehicle that would remove me from the fuel fill-up line and I would appreciate that. Go online to www.vectrix.com and play with their cost-per-mile calculators and read through their literature. My 30 mile commute needs to be changed before I can put one in my garage, but maybe this is just the daily commuter you are looking for.
Thank you to Vectrix for the use of this wonderful scooter. This is an excellent machine and a wonderful addition to the culture and variety of our 2-wheeled world. As battery technology gets better, this bike can only become more valuable and worthwhile to your commuting needs.
by Kevin Kocur
I really couldn’t help myself. It was just too easy. Pulling out of the dealership, I could have easily taken a right onto the main road and been home in a manner of minutes. Instead, I opted to go left—right past two of the local watering holes that are known hangouts for folks who like their bikes to be heard as well as seen. All the chromed steeds were at rest when I silently whizzed by, cupping my hand to the side of my helmet as if to ask, “Can ya hear me now?”
Back up a week and ponder this: what if someone offered you the opportunity to ride for an entire week, and not spend even a penny on gasoline? Well, if you’re me, and gas is pushing $4 a gallon, you take them up on it. So I did. For one week, I would commute, run errands and even make it to a couple of scooter group rides. During that time, the only energy used would come from the wall outlet in my garage.
The scooter in question is the Vectrix VX-1. The VX-1 is a match to many of the maxi-scooters, as far as size and weight go, but with a huge difference—the Vectrix is all electric, baby.
The road to a zero-emissions, electric scooter started back in 1996. Parts were sourced and a plant was built in Poland (hold the jokes, please). By 2007, the 50 million-dollar project was shipping scooters to happy customers.
But it wasn’t an easy road. To achieve performance, you sacrifice range. To gain range, you need to add batteries which adds weight. More weight = less performance. To combat this, the Vectrix features an aluminum frame and injected molded plastic for the bodywork. “Injection molding? You mean like on those crappy Chinese scooters?” Not so fast, Bub—the fit and finish here is top-notch. The paint and chrome on our test scoot would rival that of high-end bikes.
Not impressed yet? Well, the Vectrix folks didn’t skimp when it comes to components either. Brembo brakes front and rear, Marzocchi telescopic forks and Sachs twin shocks in the back. All of this rides on Pirelli tires mounted to Italian rims.
Not enough numbers? Well, how about this: the brushless, DC motor produces over 28 HP and a peak torque of 65m—nearly 48 foot-pounds! While this may not mean much to you, maybe I can explain it better: it’s the two-wheeled equivalent of a bullet train—silent and fast.
Numbers aside, it’s time to ride it. Most of the controls are where you’d expect them to be if you’re used to riding an automatic scooter. There’s an attractive, easy to read display on the dash; including gauges that let you know how much juice you have left and how many miles you can ride. The throttle twists like normal, but you can twist it the operate direction to slow down or stop. It’s called regenerative braking, folks. It’s a good thing, as it not only turns kinetic energy back into electricity, it’ll help save your brakes as well. I used it as often as possible. Even better, from a stop, you can twist the throttle backwards to engage reverse. A nice touch, especially if you need to back out of a parking spot and you’re on a bit of a grade. Try doing that with your MajesticSilverBurg!
The Vectrix weighs in around 515 pounds. With much of that weight coming from the nickel metal hydride (NMH) batteries, the scoot is pushing into 500cc scooter territory as far as weight goes. However, the batteries are carried low in the frame, making the Vectrix feel much lighter than it is. The low center of gravity, combined with the excellent suspension, tires and brakes, means that you can hustle the VX-1 around curves all day long. Well, until you run out of charge anyway.
So, I’ll just say it: I did run out of juice. Twice. Pushing a 515 pound scooter isn’t nearly as much fun as riding one. Not even close. It’s not like it didn’t give me plenty of warning. Upon hearing of the workout I got while pushing the dead Vectrix home, one of my fellow scooterists ribbed, “I mean come on…there are only, like, 3 warning lights/indicators…..what were you paying attention to on the way home? The only response I could muster was “the hot blonde in the Corvette….”
Vectrix tip #1: Pay attention to the gauges and indicators. They’re not just pretty lights, they are there for a reason.
OK, the first time was my fault. After picking up the bike, I should have dipped my toe in the water to see exactly what kind of range the Vectrix was capable of with me on board.
Instead, I cannonballed right in. The second time, I knew I was running low and decided that a one hour charge in my girlfriend’s garage would be plenty to get me home. That is, until an hour later when I absolutely had to get going, and then discovered that the fuse in the garage had blown. I attempted to limp home on the remaining charge….
Vectrix tip #2: The built-in charger requires a dedicated 15 amp circuit. Having the garage door opener on the same circuit is not advised. Also, keep spare fuses around if you live in an older house.
Lessons learned, the Vectrix now becomes a little easier to live with. Now aware of it’s range, I started planning things out a little better, as well as changing my riding style a bit. As tempted as I was to heavy-hand the throttle (which is just so damned much fun), I learned to ride smoother and save the batteries, but still have fun with it. At one point, I even managed to squeeze 60 miles out of a charge. Many will claim to have gotten better mileage than that, but I’m claiming it as a small, personal victory.
Whether commuting or just cruising the parkway, the Vectrix is a total blast to ride. I have a 14 mile commute one-way, and have the option of riding all freeway or taking the back roads. At first, I was afraid of taking the freeway both ways. Expected range at highway speeds is about 30 miles, so for the first couple of days I would commute in on the freeway and return on secondary roads, with a few curves thrown in to keep things from getting boring. On the freeway, the fairing and windshield work beautifully, the seat’s plenty comfy, and there’s enough power to cruise with traffic. Confidence gaining, by the end of the week I was able to commute both ways on the freeway, and still have enough charge left to run errands.
Speaking of running errands, this is where the Vectrix really shines. I went everywhere on it. The under-seat storage area easily swallows a week’s worth of groceries. Bring along a cargo net, and a twelve pack of your favorite beverage can ride along behind you. You just remembered that you want to stop and rent a movie? Not a problem, as the storage compartment below the dash will easily accommodate a small stack of DVD’s.
I became happier with the Vectrix as the week wore on, but not everyone shared my enthusiasm.The guy at the comer gas station was accustomed to me stopping off every couple of days to top off one of my bikes, yet this was the third time in a week that I had stopped in and I still hadn’t bought fuel. Instead, I approached the counter. “Pack of Red Apples.” “Filters?” “None.” That was the extent of our conversation. I pulled my helmet back on, leapt back on the shiny blue scooter parked outside the door, and sped off.
Vectrix tip #3: Be careful not to alienate those with whom you may depend on during the winter months. Unless you own an electric car as well.
My week was over. I managed to put on some pretty decent miles and, even better, was surprised at the outcome. Given the current rate for electricity, I was cruising around at about a penny per mile. Granted, I wasn’t burning up fossil fuel, but electricity has to come from somewhere—be it coal, splitting of atoms or wind—it’s still energy. But, for a week, I managed to reduce my carbon footprint a bit and had a lot of fun doing it.
So, bottom line, the Vectrix is well-built and a blast to ride. There’s little to maintain on it, so that leaves more time for riding—which is always a good thing! And there’s neat touches like the oh-so-simple device that holds the seat open—nothing more than a spring that collapses when you close the seat. Or the turn signal reminder that chirps the horn to remind you that “you’ve already made the corner but have yet to cancel the blinker, dummy”. Brilliant.
City dwellers will absolutely love this thing, and even us suburban folk can use it for commuting as well as running errands. Did I mention PENNIES PER MILE!
It’s not for everyone, but it just might be for you. The only way to find out is to ride one for yourself, if for nothing else then the grin factor. Plus, there’s always the added benefit of showing up your Prius-driving neighbor, or smiling at the driver putting a hundred bucks in the gas tank of his mammoth SUV. Just make sure to wave as you glide by. Sometimes it’s better to be seen than heard.