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Your Future Might Be Electric!

With the rising price of oil and pressure to make vehicles easier on the environment many companies are looking at ways to make low or even zero emission vehicles. Look at the money being spent in the auto industry. It seems almost every manufacturer is looking very closely at ways of reducing emissions. A few leading edge motorcycle companies are doing the same and they're coming up with motorcycles that can serve a variety of purposes. We're going to take a closer look at three different companies with three very different takes on electric transportation.

Quantya

Quantya, operating out of the city of Lugano Switzerland, are one such company. The company started in 2005 and they're producing an electric motocross bike they call the Quantya FMX. It's the first competition ready electric motocross. The company was started by motorcycle enthusiast Max Modena who sought to build an environmentally friendly machine. Not just that though, tigtening regulations regarding noise and emissions mean that opportunities and places to ride were becoming more limited in Switzerland.

The Swiss government even banned 2-stroke motors. An electric motocross opens new possibilities. Riders can access trails without disturbing or polluting the environment.

The bike weighs 195 lbs (no dry and wet weights here!) and will quickly rip up to a governed 40 mph. The suspension is premium long-travel Sachs & Marzocchi. The bikes roll along on 18 inch trials tires which reduce the environmental impact and provide better grip. The 14kKW motor is powered by a 47 volt or 74 volt lithium-polymer battery pack that's good for 30 and up to 180 minutes of run time. The engine produces an output equivalent to about 20 hp which may sound un-inspiring but the torque numbers are fairly impressive coming in at 23 foot pounds which is available immediately. 23 ft lbs of torque puts it close to a Honda CRF250X. All Quantya motorcycles will come with a 2 year warranty.

Thirty minutues to an hour and a half is a pretty wide range in running time; that'll certainly be seen as a disadvantage by some. Here's hoping technology improves to boost that running time. Dario Trentini, CEO Quantya USA, has been quoted in a November 2007 PRWeb article saying "We are seeing many new exciting technologies emerging and we will continue to utilize only the latest such technologies to deliver the absolute best quality and efficiency to our customers." From these comments it would appear they're keen to improve as technology allows it.

Quantya SA has already achieved some level of success in Europe where riders can go to "Quantya Parks" and experience the excitment of these electric motorcycles on a rental basis. Quantya USA is the exclusive importer and distributor for the USA and Canada and are located in Syosset, NY. For more information visit the company website here.

Brammo

Another company with a really interesting take electric transportation is Brammo in what could be considered something like a typical standard style motorcycle.

Just so you know the pedigree of the crew at Brammo. These are the same group that bring the Ariel Atom 2 to the US. Never heard of it? Well it is a car, but not your everyday grocery getter. The Ariel Atom 2 is the US version of the Ariel Atom from England. Atom 2's are street legal, track-day sports cars produced by Brammo, Inc. of Ashland, Oregon, an official Ariel Atom licensee. This is a motorcycle magazine so we'll keep the description short. This thing is amazing! The Atom 2 comes with a an Eaton blown 300-horsepower Ecotec engine (Jay Leno even helped convince GM to let Brammo use the Ecotec engine). KTM makes something similar to it called the X-Bow.

Alright, enough about cars, but you needed to know that the people at Brammo like fast things that are cool! They've directed some of this desire towards green technology and a making a motorcycle that runs on electricity. Enter the Enertia!

The Enertia is nearly silent and has no clutch or gearbox. It is also very light at 280 lbs and narrow (12.5 inches between the knees). According to Brammo it's also practically maintenance-free. The frame is a carbon fiber monoqoque and does duty as both the motorcyle's chasis and its battery tray; this machine uses six of them. Machined 6061-T6 aluminum bits are bonded to the carbon fiber structure wherever the need for threaded hard-points (footpegs, swingarm, etc.) exists. This is a building technique common on the race track. The resulting frame is very stiff and weighs a mere 16 pounds.

Six 12-volt lithium-phosphate battery packs are used to power the Enertia. The batteries are about half the size of a traditional car battery and are are mounted inside the upper and lower channels of the H-shaped carbon fiber chassis—three on top, three below. Brammo worked closely with the battery maker on the application of the lithium-phosphate cells, which unlike lithium-ion or lithium-cobalt, are exceptionally resistant to combusting, even if the batteries are impacted or punctured. Good to know!

Beneath a small lid where the gas tank is on many bikes is a connection to recharge the bike from any regular 110-volt electrical outlet. The Enertia will reach an 80-percent charge in two hours, and be fully recharged in three. The battery pack is 86 lb's which is a substantial portion of the 280 lbs that the Enertia weighs. The bike apparently feels even lighter than it is because the weight of the batteries is concentrated on the center line of the motorcycle.

You start the bike with a push of a button and about two seconds later its ready to go. Now just press the bar mounted switch to "on" and twist the throttle. The bike is reportedly whisper quiet. There is a "power" setting that ranges from 40-100 that the rider can select. It allows you to trade power for range. More power gives you less range. The engine is an alternator-sized electric motor mounted at the bottom of the chassis just ahead of the rear wheel. The motor is directly coupled to the rear tire via a chain and sprocket. It is rated as having 12-25 horsepower, with 17-34 lb-ft of torque. Those horsepower numbers put it on par with say a Kawasaki Ninja 250 but the torque numbers are about double. At the 100 percent power setting, Brammo claims a 0 to 30 mph (which is a pretty close to 50 km/hr) in 3.8 seconds and 0 to 40 mph (right around 64 km/hr) in 5.88. Top speed is 50-mph (about 80 km/hr).

Brammo claims a realistic range of 40 to 50 miles (or 65 to 80 kilometers) between charges at the 40% minimum power setting. A small Enertia logo in the gauge cluster glows red, yellow or green depending on the power draw, to help maximize efficiency. It's not designed for a passenger, but Brammo plans both a larger, two-up machine, and an even more slimmed down single-seat version for the inner-city or campus crawler.

Brammo has begun taking online orders in the U.S. for a limited edition "Carbon" model (US$14,995), set for delivery in the third quarter of 2008. You can also reserve the standard model (US$11,995) due some time in the second half of 2008.

Vectrix Scooter

Vectrix started up in 1996 to develop and commercialize zero emission vehicle platforms with an emphasis on the two wheeled variety. As of June 2007, a little more than 10 years later, you've got the Vectrix electric scooter. As of the writing of this article they're available in several US states; Rhode Island, California, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Washington. They fall into the maxi-scooter class. This scooter weighs 500 lbs (227 kg) and has a top speed of 100 km/hr. It can accelerate from 0-50 km/hr in 3.6 seconds or 0-80 km/hr in 6.8 seconds. This machine is comparable in specifications to a 400cc scooter in terms of weight, peak power, torque, acceleration, seat height, and price. According to the Vectrix website it makes 20 kW peak power at 3000 rpm which is about 27 hp by google's calculations.

The Vectrix scooter was designed to outperform an equivalent gas scooter (e.g. 250 cc – 400 cc) in many ways. It features a number of advantages over their gas powered competition such as a lower cost of ownership, cheaper to run, no need to visit the gas station, low center of gravity, quicker acceleration (faster than a 250cc gas scooter according the manufacturer), no gears to shift, charge anywhere there's a regular 110-volt electrical outlet, whisper quiet, and zero emmissions of course.

At a base price of US$11,000, it's expensive to take home the zero emissions scooter. The maintenance and fuel costs will quickly help compensate for the higher up front costs. Electricity to power the scooter is a fraction of the cost of gas. It also requires much less maintenance with far fewer parts than a gas scooter. Vectrix claims maintenance costs savings in the neighborhood of 70%.

The Vectrix features a fast charging time, 2-3 hours for full charge, with a range of approximately 65 km to 100 km on a single charge. The Nickel Metal Hydride battery is designed with long life in mind too, with an expected life of up to 10 years or 50,000 miles / 80,000 km based on 1,700 (80% charge) battery discharging cycles.

A patented regenerative braking system redirects energy back into the Vectrix battery pack, helping to extend its range by up to 12 percent. The regenerative braking system is really interesting feature; if you twist the throttle forward you slow without touching the brakes and this regenerates the battery. You can also use it as a slow speed reverse gear too; something usually only found on much larger machines.

You can even take along a friend on this machine. The Vectrix has a 30-inch seat height that will comfortably accomodate two people and has room to store both their helmets on-board. It's not too hard to look at either; you'd be hard pressed to distinguish it from a gas scooter at a glance. In the way of instrumentation its got LCD’s which display speed, odometer, battery state of charge, fuel gauge, estimated range, and system status.

The scooter comes with high quality parts from respected manufacturers such as Brembo, Pirelli, and Sachs. It features a stiff aluminum frame to help keep weight down.

Vectrix have come up with a new model in their line up. The new electric scooter has three wheels, two up front and one in the back. It's expected to arrive the fourth quarter of 2008, and come with a US$15,990 price tag. Both models feature a two year warranty.

Final Thoughts

The electric motorcycle has arrived! They may not be perfect but they certainly have improved to a point where they represent realistic transportation for a large percentage of people. Battery technology is rapidly improving and right now it's the only thing holding back sales. Batteries are expensive and the range is really dependent on the driving style of the rider. It takes a far-sighted rider to examine their needs and see the longer term benefits of an electric. If you are a city communter then an electric bike may be what you'll want to look for in the really near future. However, if you want to hit the higway and do some touring, you're not going to be able to do that on an electric. Better keep your gas powered bike for that task for now.