Over the past month we’ve covered reviews of every major electric motorcycle available on the market today, including reviews of the 2011 Brammo Enertia, 2011 Zero S and 2011 Zero DS.
Now it’s the turn of the Vectriz VX-1. Technically a scooter rather than a motorcycle, it is aimed at city dwellers looking for an alternative transport solution to a regular car, but doesn’t require you to be a motorcyclist to ride it.
With scooter-style hand-operated brakes, stylish looks and ample under-seat storage, the Vectric VX-1 certainly looks the part, but can it deliver?
Unlike the other three electric motorcycles we’ve ridden, the 2011 Vectrix VX-1 looks like a large, gasoline-powered maxi-scooter from a distance.
With a large, plush seat offering room for rider and pillion passenger and relaxed handlebars, it could be mistaken for so many gasoline-powered maxi scooters on the market today.
But get closer, and there’s no mistaking this is an electric motorcycle. For a start, there’s no tailpipe, and instead of a chain or shaft-driven arrangement driving the rear wheel there’s a hub-mounted 21-kilowatt-peak DC electric motor poking out from underneath the VX1’s substantial frame.
Vectrix VX-1 Maxi Scooter (NiMH)
Getting onto the Vectrix VX-1 is easy thanks to its low seat and step-through frame, but we found taking the 515 pound Nickel Metal Hydride-powered scooter off its side-stand without siting on the bike wasn’t always that easy.
Admittedly, Vectrix’s new lithium-ion powered models, the VX-1 Li and VX-1 Li+, are much lighter, weighing in at 425 pounds and 460 pounds respectively -- but given neither was available at the time of out test-ride, we have to base our experiences on the older NiMH model.
Acceleration is more than acceptable for round-town trips, with the VX-1 reaching 50 mph in around 6 seconds. An electronically-limited top speed of 68 mph comes after around 12 seconds although rider weight has a major factor in how quickly you accelerate.
Unlike every other electric motorcycle on the market, the Vectrix VX-1 features throttle-controlled regenerative braking. Open the throttle, and the scooter moves forward as you’d expect. Roll the throttle back, and it uses the motor to recapture energy back into its 3.7 kilowatt-hour battery pack.
At first, the regenerative braking caught us off guard, but within a few minutes we found it unnecessary to use either of the Vectrix VX-1’s excellent Brembo friction brakes to slow us down.
That said, when a child wandered into the street mid-ride, our VX-1 stopped quickly and easily with a combination of regenerative and friction braking -- although we noted the rear wheel had a tendency to lock up rather easily under emergency braking.
Handling, ride quality
Vectrix VX-1 Maxi Scooter (NiMH)
Unlike much smaller electric motorcycles and scooters, the VX-1 feels like a large motorcycle on the road, commanding space from other road users and giving a smooth and stable ride.
We loved the way in which the Vectrix VX-1’s regenerative braking helped us prepare for corners without using any friction brakes, while its low center of gravity meant leaning into a corner was particularly easy.
The laid-back riding style also meant the steering felt particularly light, making the process of leaning the scooter into a corner as effortless as possible.
Fitted with the optional summer screen, our review VX-1 gave some protection from the fall weather, but we found it a little too small to give any relief above neck-line. In fact, for speeds above 35 mph or so, we found our helmet was severely buffeted by the wind moving up and over the summer screen.
Rough sections of road were dealt with easily, with the Vectrix VX-1 handling most bumps and cracks without any fuss.
Our only criticism comes courtesy of the large plush scooter-style seat. At around five-foot nine inches, this reviewer found the seat back to be too far away, leading to a sore back after several hours of riding.
Vectrix VX-1 Maxi Scooter (NiMH)
To put the Vectrix VX-1 through its paces, we joined several thousand other motorcyclists on the annual ‘Hog the bridge’ event in south Wales. Covering everything from freeway riding to country lanes, it gave us a chance to test the VX-1 in a variety of situations.
And while the Vectrix VX-1 handled impeccably on fast-moving freeways, we found its key skills lay in slower-moving traffic.
On slower sections of the ride when other motorcyclists were struggling to keep clutches and engines cool, we found the VX-1 was just as happy to glide along at walking pace as it was to wind through country lanes at speed.
In fact, the Vectrix VX-1 has such a low center of gravity that there was no hint of instability even at really low speeds, making it ideal for creeping along in city stop-start traffic.
But it doesn’t stop there. As well as excellent regenerative braking, the VX-1 features a reverse mode to make low-speed handling in and out of parking spaces easier.
Activated by rolling the throttle backwards from a standstill, the reverse gear only operates at walking speed. We found it a little awkward to use at first, but eventually became accustomed to it for tight parking maneuvers.
As with all VX-1 scooters, our review unit came with an integrated 1.5 kilowatt charger, complete with charging cable. Capable of operating at either 110-volts or 240 volts, the on-board charger makes recharging the VX-1 easy, and can be filled from empty in between 3 and 7 hours depending on the battery pack installed.
Vectrix VX-1 Maxi Scooter
Sadly however, our review machine didn’t feature any kind of charge timer, meaning we couldn’t easily charge at night without using an external timer switch. Then again, we found our review scooter made a lot of noise when it charged thanks to its on-board cooling fans.
When it comes to range, Vectrix claims a range of up to 60 miles for the VX-1 Li and up to 85 miles for the VX-1 Li+. Our review scooter, fitted with the older NiMH chemistry battery pack, promised a range of 44 miles when fully charged.
But much like any other electric vehicle, when we pushed the VX-1 to its 68 mph limit on the freeway, we discovered it was possible to use up an indicated half a pack in as little as 7 miles.
We also found the on-board range-prediction software to be wholly inaccurate, incorrectly reporting that it had a range of over 250 miles after descending a one mile 10% hill.
At a starting price of $11,995 for the VX-1 Li and $13,995 for the Li+, the VX-1 range of scooters from Vectrix are hardly cheap.
However, if you’re a car driver rather than a motorcyclist and want an alternative vehicle to get to and from work the Vectrix VX-1 could offer an all-electric solution at much less than an electric car.
It’s also the only electric motorcycle on the market today which offers two seats, making it the perfect choice for a couple who like to go out riding together.
We loved its regenerative braking, especially on long down-hill stretches, and its big-bike feel. But for less experienced or smaller riders, its sheer weight could be too much to handle.
Entering our weekend-long test-ride, we have to admit that we had some serious prejudices against scooters, but after several hundred miles in the saddle we have to admit the VX-1 was better than we thought it would be.
In short, the VX-1 is the ideal commuter scooter or errand-running electric motorcycle, out-accelerating most cars and giving the rider a safe and mainly comfortable ride.
However, not everyone will like its laid-back riding position, heavy weight and highly variable range prediction algorithms.