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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

2008 Vectrix All-Electric Maxi-Scooter Road Test

This is a review of the 2008 Vectrix All-Electric Maxi-Scooter. It's based on a demo ride I recently took at Americade 2008. The Vectrix is made by Vectrix Corp. a company started in Europe in 1996 and now expanded into the USA.

If you remember the futuristic vehicles on the Jetson's TV show, you'll feel right at home on the Vectrix. This is a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV). It uses no gas and no oil.

It looks like a regular size motor scooter. It's designed with safety in mind. To start the machine, you raise the kickstand, turn on the ignition, squeeze the left hand brake and the right hand brake and then you notice that the instrument panel comes alive as it performs an initial system check. Finally, you see a big GO appear on the panel and a number indicator that counts down the miles before the battery needs to be recharged. So far, you have heard no sound at all.

The scooter will go up to 62 mph and has a range somewhere between 50-60 miles depending on how hard you ride it and how steep the terrain is. It has a 30 inch seat height. It takes 3-5 hours to recharge the batteries.

I went out with a group for the demo ride. I was riding behind the leader. Now, I have been riding a trike for over eight years and haven't ridden much on two-wheels so I wasn't too sure about taking this demo in the first place.

In order to get out to the highway, we had to go up the corkscrew drive at Roaring Brook Ranch (RBR), follow it around through the other demo areas and then head down the exit drive to the highway.

The corkscrew drive is one on which you do not stop. You have to keep going or risk a pileup behind you as other riders also try to stop. Fortunately, there are Americade volunteers with Walkie Talkies stationed on the curves to keep you going.

Anyway, I whipped the Vectrix out of its display area hearing only a slight electric motor sound, went up the hill, around a quick uphill left followed by a quick uphill right followed by a sweeping left that led around the property. The scooter responded beautifully with no hesitation. I just couldn't hear much running -- just the faint whining electric motor sound.

When the leader pulled up to the stop sign at the highway, I realized that I also needed to stop. Stopping the Vectrix is done in one of two ways. You can use the left and right handlebar brakes or you can forget about the brakes and use regenerative braking. We were told to use the regenerative braking. To make it work, you twist the throttle away from you and magically, the scooter slows down. It is engine braking that serves the purpose of also charging the batteries. This regenerative effect extends your range by up to 12%. After awhile, you forget about the regular brakes and simply twist the throttle toward you to speed up, and away from you to slow down. Neat!

When I realized I needed to stop that first time, I stopped way back and put my feet down. Then I realized I needed to be closer so I had to move closer to the stop sign. There was a cop there directing traffic. The leader pulled out on the cop's signal and I followed up the hill. The Vectrix shot ahead like a rocket as I caught up with the leader.

We proceeded to take a series of tight uphill and downhill twisties. I was leaning the bike quite a lot on the corners. Trikes don't lean so I had to remember what vehicle I was riding.

I didn't have to concern myself with shifting. There was none. Basically I just kept leaning the bike as necessary while I used the right throttle grip to either go faster or slower.

There was one thing that annoyed me as we returned to RBR to end the demo. I kept hearing a slight beep-beep-beep sound from somewhere. I must be doing something wrong. When we finally stopped at the Vectrix booth, the leader came over to me and I asked him what that noise was. He reminded me of one of his instructions at our riders' meeting before the demo. "If you forget to turn off the turn signals, it will keep reminding you by a beep-beep-beep sound," he said.

"Oh yeah, now I remember."

The Vectrix is built in a plant in Wroclaw, Poland. The headquarters for the USA is in Middletown, RI. The engineering and test facilities are in New Bedford, MA. A dealer network is now expanding across the USA.

I was told the price was about $11,000 but I saw a range from $8,800 to almost $12,000 from various other sources online.

There also appears to be a 3-wheel version much like the Piaggio MP3 scooter. In fact, there seems to have been some sort of deal whereby Vectrix purchased the rights to the Vespa MP3 design. I didn't see the 3-wheel version mentioned on the website but did see it in this Jay Leno's Garage video where Jay checked out the Vectrix.

The company is heavily promoting the scooter especially to cities that are trying to reduce pollution.

The Vectrix maxi-scooter seems to be filling a need to find a way to replace conventional fossil fueled vehicles. It's attracting buyers who are able to fit its capabilities into their lifestyles.

To attract more customers, the Vectrix probably needs to have a higher top speed to fit freeway conditions and a longer commuting range without recharging. However, the Vectrix is proving popular with those who have seen it and as the price comes down and the speed and range go up, this could be a big winner.

The following is a short video I took of another Vectrix demo group at RBR returning from a demo run. The group is followed by a conventional Harley that's making the sounds you hear near the end of the clip. They are the sounds of gas and oil being depleted while that rider's billfold is getting thinner with each fill up.

See Americade 2008 - Day 7 for all the rest of my activities on the day I rode the Vectrix.

My complete activities for Americade 2008 may be found on Americade Motorcycle Rally Day-by-Day Blog for 2008.

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