Electric scooters and motorcycles

Zero-emissions two-wheelers are very much in their infancy but the choice is growing all the time.

Electric scooters and motorcycles  
Piaggio MP3 Hybrid.
This is still at the pioneering stage, with none of the major players even participating, leaving the field open for a motley collection of strange brands, rebadging, a very wide mix of quality and no clear leader or single growing force.
That's not to say everything looks like it's come out of a garden shed, but equally it's unrealistic to expect the levels of design sophistication or build quality you'd find in a Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki or Yamaha.
Only two electric motorcycles are available and sales of these still register in the dozens so you're as unlikely to see one as hear one.

The rest are scooters, the majority Chinese built (which generally bodes ill for quality) and the handful of different models come with a multitude of brand names that seem to come and go. In other words, while there are some reasonable products out there, beware.

Electric scooters and motorcycles

Hybrid powertain with electric motor mounted alongside the rear wheel shaft (left side)

Motorcycles Zero
These are designed and built in Scotts Valley, California, as fun and performance machines rather than simply commuters, although they will fulfil that role.

Founder Neil Saiki is a qualified aeronautical engineer and the design reflects this. They look pretty good, too, more like conventional supermoto and trail bikes than worthy transport for geeks and greenies.

There are four models, which are essentially the same machine with minor differences according to purpose. The X and MX are for off-road use only, where their very low noise levels make them highly suited to dedicated parks and circuits near built-up areas.

The S and DS are road-legal supermoto and trail bikes differing only in wheels and tyres, priced from £7,995. These come with a two-year warranty. A "future-proofing" warranty is also available at additional cost, with upgrades at much reduced cost.

The Zero S and DS can be ridden with an A1 licence, the same as a 125cc petrol bike. Although the 67mph top speed is only slightly more than a conventional 125's, the acceleration is claimed to be substantially greater.

The claimed range is 50 miles, with a four-hour recharge time.

Swiss-made machine with a top speed of 45mph which, like the Zero, is legally in the same category as a 125. The Quantya Strada isn't cheap though - £9,100 is close to superbike money for learner bike performance, although the UK importer is also working on a hire-and-ride arrangement which will help mitigate this.

It looks very much like a conventional small trail bike, and its off-road credentials are good, the plan being to set up off-road parks using these machines exclusively.

While the top speed is low, as with most electric vehicles, initial acceleration is good, with a time of 1.9 seconds quoted for 0-42mph, which will keep you in front of most traffic from the lights.

The Strada's throttle response characteristics can be changed to suit different riding styles, although this demands a laptop computer when it ought to be possible via a handlebar switch, as it is on many conventional motorcycles.

The open-road range is claimed to be 40-50 miles, dropping to 25 miles in stop-start traffic. Recharging takes about two hours.
Scooters Xero Tech
A range of scooters imported as part of the Green Tech product range by the Best Buy technology chain, the new UK division of the large US company. Although the scooters are assembled in the Far East, Xero is a British company, so with this and Best Buy behind them they're a safer bet than most.

Three models are on sale, the Urban Citi, Urban Tourer and the Classic, the most popular because of its traditional scooter looks. This is available as 1kW and 3kW versions, although if you make use of the 3kW Classic's greater performance the range will inevitably suffer.

This is quoted as 30-40 miles, with an eight-hour recharge time. Top speed is retstricted to 30mph to comply with the machine's moped categorisation. A 12-month/6,000-mile warranty is offered, which is reassuring. Prices start at £1,499.

Best Buy has stores in Thurrock, Southampton, and Merry Hill (West Midlands), with more opening in Liverpool, Croydon and Derby this year. A retail website launches in the autumn.
Electric Transport Ltd offers the e-max 110S for £3,450 and the stripped down 80L for £2,950. The 110S is the more practical, with a claimed 60-mile range and two- to five-hour recharge time, while the 80L can cover 28 miles in one go for a recharge of 1.5-3 hours.

e-max is a German company based near Munich, while the scooters are built at a German-owned and managed factory in Wuxi, near Shanghai in China.

Lithium-ion batteries are used with a purpose-built motor located in the rear wheel. A booster button is fitted which increases power by 80 per cent, useful for steep inclines. Disc brakes are fitted front and rear.

These are more costly than most of the generic Chinese scooters, but the design and quality are a significant improvement.
Piaggio MP3 Hybrid
It's not all-electric but the MP3 Hybrid is the only machine from a major manufacturer that comes close. The strange double front wheel layout is common to petrol MP3 scooters and is very successful in Italy for the additional braking power and stability.

The Hybrid combines a 125cc four-stoke engine and electric motor with increased battery capacity. The relationship between them is controlled by an electronic management system where the electric motor aids acceleration from low speeds while the engine recharges the batteries.

Piaggio claims up to 170mpg and 40g/km CO2 emissions, and the MP3 Hybrid can also be used on electric power only in zero emissions zones, although its range is restricted to a dozen or so miles, and top speed is just 20mph with weak acceleration. The price is £8,255.
Do I need a special licence to ride one?
The licence requirements for an electric motorcycle depend on the category in which it is classed, in line with conventional two-wheelers. Most electric scooters are counted as mopeds, which means a top speed of no more than 30mph.

These can be ridden on a car licence without L-plates if you passed your test before February 2001, otherwise a Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) certificate is required, but still no L-plates. Mopeds are not allowed on motorways.

A 125cc equivalent demands a motorcycle licence, either the full class A or the A1 light motorcycle class, or it can be ridden with L-plates after CBT has been passed (as long as a provisional A or A1 category is on the licence).

Note that passing a test on an electric two-wheeler will restrict you to automatic motorcycles or scooters only.

Article from the Telegraph