If you’ve been following the Saigon Scooters, Buzz electric scooter story on ScooterLab you’ll probably be pleased to read about the latest developments from our Far Eastern correspondent and man in Nam, OlaDele…
Sometimes life gives you lemons and sometimes, life hands you a cool glass of delicious lemonade.
Case in point. Electric scooters had (have) been popping-up like hot corn kernels, thanks to the movement to coerce consumers onto environmentally sustainable vehicle choices, but no model convincingly looked the part until a year and a bit ago, when SLUK were the first to feature an authentic looking, retro-electric scooter in development in Vietnam by Patrick Joynt (CEO) and his team at ‘Buzz Escooters’.
Vietnamese electric retro scooter causes a Buzz
Checking out the Buzz for the first time I thought “That’s niiice.” From a design appreciation perspective, it ticked a whole lot of boxes. From the point of view of a 2-stroke-oil-for-blood Scooterist, it looked good and comfortingly familiar, managing to merge aesthetic influences of the 1950s classic step-thru styling with some fresh, modern design aspects. Items like the elegant single seat, a nod to those found on early Vespas but with LED brake lights built into the back; like the bar end indicators that keep the sleek, ‘Frenched’ body finish unblemished; like the unique, low powered, LED bulb cluster for a head-light.
It didn’t look like a rip-off, nor a melancholy interpretation of what somebody with no clue was trying to pass off as vintage. It looked authentic and with its unapologetic modern details, something fresh and all of its own.
The more I read through the feature, the more intrigued I became. OK, it was electric so yes, there was the perennial issue of range anxiety that comes with that mode of fuelling. But, if the Buzz’s best-case specs of 120 kmh top speed, 0-100 kmh sub four seconds and up to 240km on a charge were to be believed, the fear of being stranded for hours at a time waiting to juice-up, seemed a lot less debilitating. Plus, with nods towards the development of battery tech on the verge of changing how feasible running an EV will be, by the end of the feature I was like, “Vietnam’s not that far, I’ll hop on a plane.”
Airdropped into Nam
A couple weeks later I rocked up to the ‘Saigon Scooter Centre’ showroom, unwrapped myself from the back of my GRAB scooter taxi and strolled inside to meet man and machine. Cool! So how about taking it for a burn? Or whatever the equivalent of taking an EV for a spin is (maybe a quick discharge?).
As luck would have it, a prototype Mark 1 was in use as the shop’s daily run-about and although it was the only road going Buzz at that moment, after convincing Pat I wasn’t a tyre-kicker or an industrial double-O, he let me have a quick whizz on it up and down the strip in front of the showroom.
“Try not to give it full throttle” he warned, as I made ready to pull away. “For some reason, it’s popping fuses around the stop.” It was. Which I confirmed. Twice. Showing all the twist-grip finesse of a pianist in boxing gloves. “Not the best demonstration of the virtues of electric powered riding,” I thought but as it turned out, it was a simple fix that was sorted by the next day getting me another, longer turn in the saddle.
With its wide, lairy, low set handlebars about as broad as its shapely booty; a seat high enough to convince you-you were on a tool rather than a toy; enough leg-room that the toes-under-knees foot position didn’t feel like a compromise and firm suspension with enough play to soak-up the pot-hole ridden roads that seem to blight Ho Chi Minh and London alike, the fit felt spot on for my Western-fed dimensions.
A turn of the ignition silently primed the scooter for action and a twist-of-the-grip later I was off chasing down my guide, Linh. The careful acceleration per ‘dodgy fuse’ the day before, replaced by a much more satisfying, urgent surge forward (per my liberated right hand) today. Fortunately, the disc brakes were easily up to the challenge and once I settled into keeping pace with Linh, I got to appreciate the manoeuvrability benefits of the Buzz’s low centre of gravity, and its well-mannered, progressive, throttle responsiveness. A feature invaluable for slow control and too often over-looked by EV makers.
The ride was over far too quickly but in that short span, the Buzz had made an impression, feeling as accommodating as my Vespa GT but without the compromise of the big squishy seat and cocktail of dials and displays. It was minimal and focused. Even though, I knew the production model would inevitably evolve, per practicality and homologation demands, at that moment I was pretty stoked with having been able to enjoy the uncorrupted simplicity of it as it was conceived to be.
And so, to now
Sadly, the Mark 1 as was, just wasn’t mass produce-able. So, in order to get to the point where they had a product to sell, the Buzz team really stepped it up during 2018, making modifications and gathering the pieces they needed to produce in volume. From sourcing parts, to creating infrastructures, to attracting investment, to starting new businesses to ensure reliable parts supply. And it looks like they’ve pulled it off, because just a few months later, on the verge of homologation (due in February) the scooter had gone through that many changes, I was literally looking at a whole different bike.
Aesthetically, the ‘Buzz Classic’ as it’s to be called, remains virtually the same shape as the Mark 1 and its fibreglass body has kept its smoothed, ‘weld-free’ finish. The differences that quickly stand out are, the lines don’t seem quite as swooping, the body runs more parallel to the ground, the Vespa front fork has been replaced by more traditional stanchions and the vintage centre stand has given way to a modern side-stand. That gorgeous single seat is now a practical, lower set, bench seat and the low set, broad handlebars are now higher and less brooding. Add in a pair of 12-inch wheels and you get a more practical seating ergonomic than on the earlier model too.
Aftermarket as standard
Less obvious but no less striking are cute revisions like the profiling on the front fender, which like the body, handlebars and seat frame is made from fibreglass. Then there’s the single digital clock housed in the tidy, modest sized headlight unit, the grips, the bar-ends, the brake levers, the piano black mirror/indicators, stick-thin rear indicators and a tail light not much bigger. All parts that look more after-market than standard, keeping the Classic looking streets ahead of anything comparable. It’s probably just as well it comes with a pre-fitted alarm.
Forward Motion comes courtesy of a direct drive, brushless, hub motor in two power options. There’s a 1,000w (single battery with a two additional battery option), which will give you around 55kmh. There’s also a 3,000wTBC (3 battery system as standard), that’ll do around 90kmh. Range figures are TBC but expect around 75-100km from the 1,000W and 175-200km from the 3,000W (after a 5-6 hour charge). The kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) will help to make those distances more of a reality. Distances that could feasibly see the Classic roll up to a rally or two.
Not all good
As accomplished as it is though, the Buzz still has some question marks.
Of the three 3 batteries per bike, one fits under the fatter footboard and acts as a ‘reserve’. If this battery’s a fixed item as suggested, topping it up could be a real inconvenience, especially if it’s the bike’s only power source.
Then there’s the weight of the batteries. The 1,000w scooter weighs in at 88kg, whilst adding two extra batteries to make it a 3,000w system tips the scale at 120kg. Like the reserve, you’ll be able to charge these batteries in situ. However, since the plan is for them to be charged remotely as well, should you opt for that, you could be left hefting 32kg of battery each time. Even split into two lots of 16kg, that’s not everybody’s idea of fun.
Of less significance is the possible addition of a leg-shield tool-box. A perfectly sensible solution to making more space for (and to access) the tight-fitting electrics, as well as for carrying bits and bobs. Nothing wrong with them but they add nothing to the bike’s lines.
And then there’s my personal bug-bear, the wing mirror/indicators combo. As a city rider who finds wing mirrors are forever knocking against or being knocked by one entity, or another. The last thing I want is a pair with indicators built in. Just the thought makes my head and my credit card hurt.
Fortunately, none of these issues are insurmountable and the Buzz team is actively seeking a solution to the battery conundrum.