Have extension cord, will travel

Vectrix wants you to get on your bad (electric) motor scooter and ride

Flanked by a fleet of Vectrix ZEV motorcycles, Mayor Heather Fargo (left) chuckles at reporter R.V. Scheide’s inquiry regarding the bikes’ “hop-up factor.” Vectrix chief technology officer Peter Hughes (right) holds in a laugh.

Flanked by a fleet of Vectrix ZEV motorcycles, Mayor Heather Fargo (left) chuckles at reporter R.V. Scheide’s inquiry regarding the bikes’ “hop-up factor.” Vectrix chief technology officer Peter Hughes (right) holds in a laugh.

SN&R Photo By Nicholas Miller

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It’s not politically correct to say so, but the need for speed trumps environmental concerns for hard-core motorcycling enthusiasts such as myself. What’s the point of surviving the global-warming apocalypse if you’re not having any fun? Fortunately, the marketing gurus at Vectrix, manufactures of the ZEV, or zero-emissions vehicle, understand this.

“You don’t care that Vectrix is the first fully electric bike, that it’s great for the environment, and that its low repair rates are unrivaled,” goes the pitch for the ZEV on the company’s Web site. “You just want to go fast. And by fast we mean zero to 50 mph in 6.8 seconds.”

That’s plenty quick, so last week, when Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo unveiled a pilot program with Vectrix that will explore using the vehicle for policing and parking enforcement, I jumped at the chance for a test drive. And I’m here to tell you, brothers and sisters, that I have ridden the future, and it is fast.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical going into the test drive. Sure, with zero emissions, the ZEV fits nicely into Fargo’s vision of the city’s sustainable future. But previous experience had taught me that all electric vehicles share three common traits: They’re slow, limited in range and God-awful expensive. I presumed the Vectrix would be no different.

I presumed wrong.

Designed in America, equipped with top-flight Italian components and manufactured in Poland, the $11,000 ZEV is designed to compete against luxury motor scooters such as Suzuki’s gasoline-powered Burgman 400, which retails for $5,000 less than the ZEV. Vectrix hopes that lower operating and maintenance costs, combined with government subsidies for zero-emission vehicles, will make the ZEV economically competitive.

The freeway-legal ZEV can be plugged into any standard 110-volt outlet. It takes four hours to fully recharge the nickel-metal hydride battery, which has a range of 55 miles. At current electrical rates, it’ll cost you 32 cents to drive to Auburn and back. A similar journey on the 60 mpg Burgman will set you back 10 times as much, $3.20, the current cost for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline.

Weighing more than 500 pounds with a wheelbase of 60 inches, it’s no toy. It’s an adult-sized motorcycle with the ability to carry a rider and a passenger and storage capacity for two helmets—or if you really feel like living dangerously, a case of beer. Vectrix chief technology officer Peter Hughes calls it “a revolution in personal transportation,” and when it comes to the realm of all-electric vehicles, that’s no exaggeration.

Nothing exemplifies this revolution more than the vehicle’s “bi-directional regen” throttle, one of nine inventions on the ZEV that have been patented. Twist the grip toward you, and it accelerates like a normal motorcycle. Twisting the throttle away from you while driving reverses the current, slowing the bike and turning its motor into a generator that helps keep the battery charged. Turning it forward while stopped shifts the motor into reverse gear, allowing for easy maneuvering when parking in tight quarters.

“The reverse is limited to 2 mph to 3 mph,” Hughes explained. “We don’t want you going 60 mph in reverse.”

Motorcycle riding readers are by now no doubt thinking, “Hey, wait a minute! This sounds totally weird!” Climbing aboard, that’s what I thought, too. Turn the key, and aside from the easy-to-read digital instrument panel springing to life, nothing happens. No noise, no nothing. Twist the throttle, and the ZEV pulls smoothly and silently away.

Slaloming between City Hall’s columns was a snap, thanks to the bike’s low center of gravity. But where the ZEV really shined was out on the street. Although top speed is a relatively sedate 62 mph, it can reach that speed with eye-watering rapidity, in less than half a city block. The bike turns on rails, and riding it is simply a gas … or should I say buzz?

Pilot programs such as Sacramento’s will determine if the ZEV is economically viable. If the claims of lower operating costs pan out and government subsidies become a reality, the first all-electric motorcycle could prove to be a hit with consumers. If that comes to pass, rest assured, the future won’t be boring. Vectrix has the fun factor dialed.