By Derek Keller
Scooters and mopeds are widely used in Europe and in the developing world for zipping around town. Problem is the 50 cc two stroke engines on these bikes spew pollutants at a rate far higher than a modern automobile and the engines are noisy and cantankerous.
There is a new electric vehicle out there called the Voloci, manufactured by Nova Cruz Products in Dover New Hampshire, which takes aim squarely at this scooter/moped market for quick trips around town and short commutes.
I visited the Nova Cruz factory in New Hampshire and got a chance to ride the Voloci. The seat is so low to the ground and the bike is so light that it was not any more intimidating than a bicycle to ride. There are dual mirrors, turn signals and lighting making the vehicle completely street legal. The controls are a lot like a motorcycle but there is no shifting and no clutch.
To get going you just twist the throttle. The 1600 watt motor makes slight whine and the performance is surprisingly sprightly probably due to the light weight. I could definitely appreciate the suspension, front and rear, on the rutted roads I was traveling. I'd estimate that I was easily going about 25 miles per hour, but there was no speedometer. It is doubtful that you'll have to worry about getting pulled over by the police on this. With the heavy-duty suspension, the company is even offering tires that would allow the bike to be taken off road. The front and rear disk brakes made for easy stopping and should be reliable in the rain.
After riding around on the roads near Nova Cruz's factory for a while, I came to the conclusion that this comfortable, practical, speedy vehicle was also a lot of fun.
Clean electric technology means you don't have to worry about the gasoline fumes or noise. The other sweet thing about the Voloci is its light weight. Remove the 20 pound NiMH battery pack and you've got a bike that weighs only 59 pounds and can be stored in your urban apartment or lifted into your sailboat. The brushless electric motor means the Voloci should be long lived and relatively low maintenance, especially when compared to traditional mopeds and scooters.
Because it looks like a cross between a mountain bike and a moped you feel quite comfortable cruising around town. Licensing for the Voloci is very similar to that for a moped in most states, meaning very minimal requirements if any at all.
With electric vehicles there is always concern about range. Will it have enough range to be practical? The answer with the Voloci as compared to other electric scooters is probably yes. The Voloci has a range of 25 miles and a top speed of 30 miles per hour. If you keep the throttle floored the whole time the range might drop to 15 miles, but with a little effort you can easily manage the power to go at least 20 miles before needing a recharge. That's 10 trips to the grocery store or one very long commute to work.
In addition, Voloci can supply a dual battery pack so you can switch to the second battery when you run out of juice, effectively doubling the range to 40 to 50 miles. And the NiMH battery can be recharged in only 3 hours so you can plug in while you are at work or maybe even while you are sipping a cup of coffee at the local cafe. The NiMH battery is expected to have 700 recharge cycles before needing replacement. The Voloci is offered with an option of both a sealed lead acid and a NiMH battery pack.
I think that you are missing the point if you don't spend the few extra bucks to get the latest technology in the NiMH battery. It costs about $500 more but it weighs a lot less and has 700 recharge cycles versus 500 for the lead acid unit. In addition the lead acid battery is not removable which limits the recharging flexibility. Buying the lightweight Voloci with the lead acid battery would be like buying the latest miniature cell phone with an old clunky battery.
One of the problems I always have when commuting into Boston is that when I get to the train station, every parking space has been taken. With the Voloci I could go right to the front of the lot and park at the bike rack. The folks at Voloci can hook you up with a heavy duty Kryptonite lock to secure both the battery and the bike.
I met with Nathan Ulrich, the company's Chief Technical Officer who has a PhD. in mechanical engineering and an interest in alternative transportation technologies and with Naomi Cromwell, Nova Cruz's director of marketing. Naomi told me that Voloci is properly pronounced vo-LO-chee with an Italian accent. Volo is Italian for flight and Veloci is Italian for speed so this is a bike that moves at flight speed, especially when compared to other electric scooters.
Nathan has been in the two wheeled vehicle business since designing the Xootr (pronounced "Zooter") unpowered scooter which was a high quality alternative to the Razor scooter. At the high point of the scooter craze, Nova Cruz was shipping 1500 of the scooters a week. Nathan hopes to duplicate this success with the Voloci.
The closest competitor to this product might be something like the Lepton scooter offered by Zapworld. That scooter has a much higher weight at 233 pounds and costs about $1000 more for similar range and performance. But with the Voloci you can carry a spare battery if you need to double the range, an option not offered with the Lepton.
According to Nathan, the electric scooter market is currently screwed up with a lot of low quality products being dumped onto the market, effectively turning the product into a kid's toy. Nova Cruz is aiming at the high end of the market with products that have the "best quality and best performance." The Voloci is a bike that has tremendous utility for personal mobility compared to other scooters on the market. Its 1600 watt motor has four times the power of most electric scooters and there are no products which offer as great a combination of range and speed.
Nathan referred me to the Pertrans.com website with has a variety of articles on a new approach to personal mobility and is edited by his brother Karl Ulrich, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Nova Cruz has two vans on the road all the time on the West and East Coast trying to build a dealer network. Many dealers have placed orders sight unseen for the product based on the company's reputation with the Xootr product.
Ironically Nova Cruz is located in the same state and not far from Dean Kamen's Segway company. Nathan said that he is actually good friends with the folks at Segway and does not consider them a competitor since the Voloci is not designed to be ridden on the sidewalk, and the Segway can't go 30 miles per hour. Nathan said that the Segway has actually helped the market because with a current selling price of $8000, the Segway has changed people's perception of the price point for personal mobility.
The bike is priced at between $1995 and $2495, depending on the battery option chosen. Voloci starts to ship their bikes this month, May 2002, and dealers can be located at Voloci.com or contact the factory directly at:
Nova Cruz Products, Inc.
55 Industrial Park Drive
Dover, NH 03820 USA
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