Vectrix's latest model - the VX-2 - features a range of 55 miles with comparable performance of a 50cc gas-powered scoot.
Seven years of cab driving trained me to constantly scan the big fuel-price signs above every gas station, even if I don't need any gas. But during a recent day of riding, I realized I didn't need to make a note of the cheapest gas location, or if you needed to purchase a car wash or pay cash to get the lower price.
And it felt pretty good.
That's because I was riding a Vectrix VX-2, that electric scooter
company's entry-level model that promises up to 55 miles of range and performance on par with a gas-powered 50cc scoot. You may have heard of Vectrix's freeway-legal model, the VX-1
, but that bike may have more performance – and pricetag – than you need. Vectrix – now owned by Hong Kong-based battery manufacturer GoldPeak after bankruptcy restructuring – responded to this by teaming up with Vmoto (an Australian company) to build a lower-priced, lower-spec entry-level machine that would incorporate some of Vectrix's technology but provide an affordable way for riders to go emissions-free.
The Vectrix is a clever combination of high and low tech, high-end and low-end, designed to provide a practical transportation solution to short-range intra-urban commuters. A tube-steel space frame and plastic bodywork make up its basic structure, and 13-inch wheels are bolted to either end. The 4-kilowatt brushless DC motor is mounted in the rear hub, and a 48-volt, 2.8 kilowatt-hour silica-gel (but still low-tech) battery rides under the floorboards. The high-tech
The VX-2's motor is stowed inside the rear wheel hub.
angle is Vectrix's power-management software and "Multi-Function Throttle" that acts as both a regenerative brake as well as a reverse function.
Wheelbase works out to a rangy 55.4 inches, seat height is a manageable 30 inches, and ready-to-ride weight is a zaftig 430 pounds—more than Vectrix's own 'big' VX-1, and a lot heavier than, say, a 194-pound 50cc Honda
You won't mistake this for a luxury scooter, but there are still some nice amenities. There are disc brakes front and rear, a large storage space under the seat (that's sadly not quite big enough for a full-face helmet), good passenger accommodations including floorboards and a grab-rail, and a tidy instrument panel. Styling is nice – sorta bulbous, weird enough to let people know it's something different you're riding, but not so way-out that they judge you. Build quality is very good for a mainland-Chinese product – the paint is nice, the parts fit together well, and nothing fell off or broke while I was riding. A two-year warranty may set your mind at ease.
Riding around on the VX-2 is as easy as you think it should be. Flip the ignition key to the on position, squeeze the brake levers and you're ready to ride. A twist of the handgrip and the scooter silently heads into the flow of traffic. Unlike most motorcycles the twistgrip goes both ways – rotating it away from you slows the bike down while recharging the battery. If you're stopped, it's a reverse mode, handy for backing the hefty machine out of a parking space.
Despite being more than 400 pounds the VX-2 is easy to handle thanks to its center of gravity and short wheelbase.
Handling is similarly easy. Sure, it's plus-sized, but a few design features keep it manageable. The battery pack is placed below the rider's feet, for a harbor buoy-esque center of gravity. The wheelbase is short for a vehicle this heavy, and although the motor is secreted inside the rear wheel hub, there is probably less unsprung mass on the rear swingarm than you'd find on a gas-powered scoot with the motor/transmission built into the swingarm. That meant the bike was quick-steering but never felt unstable.
Going uphill can sometimes present a challenge, especially on San Francisco's ridiculously steep grades. I went up some long, steep hills, occasionally pulling to the side of the road so vehicles wouldn't be held up by the 15-20 mph pace, finally stopping at the highest point of San Francisco. I stopped my extreme-grade testing when the motor started getting so hot I could smell it after a long, steep block of Lombard street, one of those streets so steep it has steps cut into the sidewalk for pedestrians. But on gentler slopes – the kind you'll find in cities not inexplicably built on 49 hills in as many square miles – the Vectrix is only slowed down a little.
On the flats, the performance is more than adequate. In fact, my test unit went much faster than the claimed 30 mph top speed. On a slight downhill slope, the VX-2 will almost bury the 50 mph speedo. Sure, it's probably a little optimistic, but 40 mph is a reality on this VX-2. More importantly, acceleration is brisk – despite the weight disadvantage, the VX-2 is in a league with a 50cc gas-powered scoot, if not at the head of the pack.
The scoot has large storage space under the seat and ample room for a passenger.
Of course, with an electric vehicle, how fast it goes isn't as important as how far it will go on a charge. So ask yourself: How far do you ride your scooter in an average day? If you're the average 50cc scooter rider, odds are, not too far – maybe 10-15 miles round trip, or 25-30 miles if you make multiple trips through the day. If that's the case, a VX-2 with a fresh battery and a full charge is going to be fine.
Vectrix's power-management software does a good job of metering the charge to maximize range, and you can extend it even more using the re-gen feature (although I couldn't tell you how much it really adds to the range). I rode my VX-2 pretty hard – full throttle off the lights, slicing through traffic and blasting up and down San Francisco's steepest hills – and I didn't start feeling the software limit power until about 25 miles, and I had enough juice to ride at a reasonable pace for another five miles. Far short of Vectrix's claimed 40-55 miles, but maybe it could make it with gentle acceleration and a 15-20 mph pace. I just don't have the patience to ride that slow.
Living with the Vectrix should be easy. Hand-in-hand with range anxiety – the fear that an electric vehicle won't have the range for daily needs – is charging anxiety, the fear of not finding a charging station when you need one. The Vectrix can be charged at any 110 outlet (with the included charger, which should fit under the seat), but so long as you don't go more than 30 miles in a day (which means you're not really in the market for a small scoot), you need look no further than your garage's wall outlet for a charging station. Just remember to plug it in each night, and magically, all your worries about charging stations and expected range disappear. A full charge from empty will take five hours, or 3.5 with the optional 220-volt
Instrumentation includes a central analog/digital display with battery charge, system status, speedometer and odometer.
A third anxiety may be battery life. The Vectrix's low $4295 MSRP is enabled by the use of low-cost silica-gel batteries, which are more durable, charge faster and withstand deep discharging better than the liquid lead-acid battery you may have in your car or scooter now. They're also a lot less expensive than nickel-cadmium or lithium-based batteries – a good thing, as they won't last as long, either, about 300 charge-discharge cycles, according to the spec sheet. But that's okay – replacements are about $300 from your local Vectrix dealer. That means in addition to the approximately $.01-.20 it'll cost to charge the Vectrix, factor in about a dollar per charge so you can buy a new battery when the time comes.
Sure, the LiPo in the VX-1battery will last four or five times as long, but it's also a lot more money – something serious electro-commuters should consider if they are going electric solely to save money on gas. A final obstacle is the need for a garage or other space to park your scooter in so you can charge it at night – a lot of city folk buy scooters because they don't have a garage. If they had a garage, they'd probably buy a car, no?
With prices at the pump only getting higher, the VX-2 offers an affordable alternative for traveling in the city.
Here's the thing: at about $2000 (and by the way, most government rebates and incentives don't apply to smaller, non-freeway-legal vehicles like the VX-2) more than a comparable 50cc gas scooter, and needing a new battery every year or two, the VX-2 probably wouldn't save a prospective buyer a lot of money, unless the price of gas goes way up – which it eventually will. But saving money isn't the only reason to go electric. Need to fill up? Look no further than your garage. And maintenance is mostly brake pads and tires – cheap. Plus, the VX-2 is clean and quiet and people like it. You could probably ride it into the supermarket without getting kicked out, or park it in a hospital cafeteria without getting yelled at; after all, it makes no sound and emits (or leaks) nothing, so why is it any worse than a loaded shopping cart or a gurney?
Maybe best of all for the perspective buyer, it's a pretty affordable ticket to green transportation, a totally practical way to get around a small, crowded city or suburb. The affordable, practical electric car may not be here, but for the right customer, the easy-to-ride, fun and stylish VX-2 may be just the thing to make them feel good about passing gas stations – forever.