by Victor Wanchena
The year is nearly to a close, and what a year its been. ‘08 has been an interesting year with many obvious political and economic changes shaking up the status quo. The record high fuel prices drew many new riders to the sport and saw many former riders resurrecting their old rides. It also saw the re-emergence of a technology into motorcycling, the all-electric motorcycle. Up until this year, electric motorcycles were either home-brewed engineering projects or machines so obscure, expensive, or unsupported that you needed to be a die-hard enthusiast to even consider owning one. But this month’s test ride, the Vectrix VX-1 Electric Scooter, breaks that mold.
The ironic part of this, is that the electric vehicle is hardly new technology. In fact, the basic concept of the electric vehicle has been around for 170 years! The first patents for electric motorcycles were issued in the late 1860’s. Granted, the electric motorcycle of today bears little in common with the earliest examples, other than the concept, but regardless we are rediscovering the past. Big and small companies including Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Corbin-Gentry all explored or entered the electric motorcycle market. But what makes the Vectrix interesting is it’s the first truly mass-produced electric motorcycle to hit the market in the US. Others have tried and failed; mainly because it was such a foreign concept.
We as motorcyclists tend to be traditionalists when it comes to power plants and new fangled technology. When electric ignition was introduced, it was decried as the work of the devil. The purists claimed they would stick to their points ignition because it was simple and repairable roadside. If it was good enough for their gran-pappy, it was good enough for them. 30 years later, and I have yet to be stranded roadside by a dead, electronic ignition. Then there was fuel injection. You would have thought the end of the world was at hand. Some riders swore that fuel injection on motorcycles was the final sign of a coming apocalypse. It should be noted that bike blessing services and fuel injection became more common at the same time. But we’re all still here and fuel injection has become very common on motorcycles. We fought rear suspension, electric start, ABS brakes; the list goes on. We love our traditions and cling to them. The electric motorcycle will take some getting used to.
The march of time and human ingenuity pushes our technology forward. There was nothing wrong with LP records, but someone came up with the idea for 8-Track tapes. Then someone else thought 8-Tracks were too big and developed the cassette tape. That was replaced with the CD, which is being replaced with the MP3. And on it goes. The same will happen with motorcycles.
The Vectrix is the first real foray into these waters. Did it hit the mark? Only time will tell. It certainly is a well-made machine, and carries the weight of legitimate dealers behind it. Two factors that were not present with earlier electric motorcycles. It will not make all other motorcycles obsolete, but we certainly have an alternative to the traditional gasoline motors.