That’s a fine line up of classic scooters for sure, smallframe Vespa, a Lambretta GP, Special and Vespa PX. What may not be evident at first glance though is that none of these run on petrol. That’s right, they’re all converted to electric by pioneer company, Retrospective Scooters in London.
Since those early conversions, Retrospective has perfected the art of turning an ordinary classic scooter into an eco-machine without damaging the original scooter (or the environment). It means you can take an already restored scooter into them, have it converted to electric and ride it away a day or two later without damaging anything in the process. The conversion is also reversible so if you come to sell it later there’s an option to swap it back to petrol power. Retrospective are also well known for their excellent restorations so you can get a full-on electric restoration done or simply ride your current day-to-day scooter in to be converted as it stands.
- Since our first articles, the battery has improved in size and power output and the shape became a simple rectangle ‘shoebox’ shape. It went from 48-volts 24 amh to 64-volts and 28 amh. The dimensions of this battery box fit perfectly into the classic scooters. This gives Retrospective a universal carrier for whatever power source comes along next. If you saw the news earlier this week, fuel cells from Essex based company Austin Electric may well be the next best thing. Using an aluminium cell and an electrode they can produce nine times as much energy as a lithium-ion battery. Read more about that here.
- Retrospective have also perfected and strengthened their swing arms and now make them in-house.
- The motor is a new improved 3kw hub motor, which can be de-tuned to suit the 28 mph 50cc equivalent category if needed or be left to achieve the 55 mph 125cc category.
- Kits are now available for all the main models in the Vespa and Lambretta range, Lambretta LD is last on the list and currently being worked on.
- The whole setup is geared for whatever tech comes along next in regards to the power source and is made up of the very best components of the highest quality. The powerful maintenance-free hub motor is the best on the market and the manufacturer is ever-changing and improving the performance and durability.
- The controllers used are over-specified for the job they do, making them a smoother ride, and very strong, with better cooling and they’re 100% waterproof.
- All kits come with diagrams, photos and a video to show how easy it is to fit and connect. The process from start to finish is about 5-6 hours. The wiring is made up of pre-wired plugs and connectors.
- The conversion can be done to scooters already restored (or not necessarily getting restored) but are simply having the conversion done. There are no changes to the original set up of the scooters, a kit can be fitted and at any time be removed again for a reversal if required.
Cost of saving the icebergs
If you’re happy to tinker in your shed at home and are fairly comfortable with electrics (most of it is plug and play though) then you could cut costs and fit a complete conversion kit yourself. Full instructions come with the kit and it’s not quite rocket science. The kit includes everything you’ll need including swinging arm, wiring loom, LED light conversion, gauge, DC brushless motor, sinusoidal motor controller, Panasonic 18650 Lithium battery, two battery trays, charger and charging cable. It costs £3495, which isn’t cheap but the battery alone costs £950. If you want it fitted then you’re looking at an extra £500.
The heavy-duty swinging arms are a key part of the conversion. They’re made in-house using heavy gauge steel, they’re fitted together using dovetail joints for rigidity before welding and powder coating. The Lambretta conversion uses the standard silent-blocks and even uses standard Lambretta tank rubbers under the battery tray. Both Vespa and Lambretta versions use the standard rear shock mount position.
Vespa PX conversion
The scooter I’d gone down to London to ride though was the electric PX. It belongs to a customer who lives in the city and wanted to be able to ride his scooter without being subjected to ULEZ charges. He’s the typical customer for an electric machine. He lives and works in the city, doesn’t need to cover long distances but needs something easy to ride, cheap to run and not likely to get him fined by Big Brother.
Living in the city means many owners won’t have off-street bike parking either at home or work so a removable and easily transportable battery pack is a big selling point. The PX battery can be lifted out quite easily for charging.
As with all the conversions, the standard engine is removed, a custom wiring loom inserted, specific model swinging arm fitted and brushless hub motor installed. The battery pack/packs either go under the seat (in place of the fuel tank) on a Vespa, or across the frame (where the toolbox/fuel tank sits) on a Lambretta. There’s also the option on a PX to fit another battery inside the engine side panel, you can also fit a third where the spare wheel sits on the opposite side. Obviously, though the battery is the expensive part when it comes to electric vehicles but having a spare is certainly well worth having to increase usability and decrease range anxiety.
Heading to The Smoke
Retrospective are based in Walthamstow E17 and I wanted to visit the centre of London, which is around 10 miles away. My battery was on 92% (as shown on the meter installed on the left hand side of the glovebox) when I left the shop but Niall suggested I take a spare battery with me just in case I got carried away whilst sightseeing. The spare battery weighs 9kg and I had it in a postman’s sack over my shoulder. Even with it resting on the seat whilst riding it was like having a millstone around my neck. Having a spare fitted to the scooter is a much better option and Retrospective are currently working on a switchable battery so the rider can swap over by simply turning the original style fuel lever, a bit like going on to reserve on a petrol scooter.
If you’re used to riding a PX this one will feel very familiar, the only differences are that there’s no sound and the gear shift and clutch don’t move. Other than that it’s just the same as you’d expect. Having said that though it does feel like the balance is much more neutral, that’s thanks to the main weight of the battery being central within the frame, rather than having a slightly offset engine like on a normal PX.
With the ignition switched on using the usual PX key – on a modified switch, you simply twist and go. As with any electric vehicle, the power is instantaneous and you certainly don’t have to worry about keeping up with traffic in London. You can out-accelerate most of them, even though this is the electric equivalent to a 125cc. Electric motors are tuneable so can be turned down to suit 50cc legislation, or turned up. Their de-restricted J Range Lambretta will out-accelerate a tuned RT225.
Search for extinction
The throttle itself needs a little more force than a standard one and at first I thought the scooter was a bit slow. Once I realised it still had about 1/4 of a turn left the PX suddenly became much quicker. You can expect around 50mph-55mph with this setup but pulling away like a drag racer, sitting on a dual carriageway at top speed or hill climbing will zap battery power quite quickly. As I found out later in the day after unsuccessfully riding around London in the search of environ-mentalists. I thought I’d show them my eco machine and maybe dance around the biofuel campfire but on the day I was there they were all stuck down in the tube station (literally). Despite some inside information from a scooter girl eco-warrior I failed to track them down. I met up with some BREXITEERS and animal activists during my hunt but sadly had to give up on Extinction Rebels.
I had my own mini underground adventure though, having enjoyed seeing the sights by scooter in the pouring rain (The Tate Modern, Parliament, Camden, Theatreland) I headed back towards Walthamstow. I’m not very familiar with London so when I entered a tunnel I expected your usual run of the mill thing. Certainly not a 1482 metre long one. That’s apparently the length of the Rotherhithe Tunnel, although it felt never-ending. The reason this tunnel became important was because I checked the battery meter as I rode through it (it’s hard to see in bright daylight) and noticed it was showing 0%, a big fat zero. If you know me, you’ll know I have a phobia about filling scooters up unless I absolutely have to. If a gauge isn’t on red then I’m going to gamble on the next fuel station. Occasionally I win.
Watt a fuel
In this case though I was kind of hoping the gauge was trying to put the frighteners on me, I had no idea how long this busy tunnel was or how accurate the gauge was but I slowed down to conserve power. I’ve run out of battery on electric scooters in the past, it’s the best way to test their real-world range. You kind of know it’s on the way, the scooter doesn’t react to the throttle as it usually would and there’s a lag, it gets a little jerky. Then it cuts out. I was ready for it though and freewheeled straight on to the narrow pavement out of harm’s way. Luckily this tunnel has a scooter escape route (well it’s actually a pedestrian/cycle path). Apparently it’s not good to run out of fuel in a tunnel and can attract 3-points and a fine. Hopefully, the tunnel troll will understand that this was an electrical issue rather than fuel though…
I was glad to have the spare battery slung over my shoulder that’s for sure. Swapping them is quicker than fuelling a PX up, simply lift the seat, pull the battery out, disconnect the lead and swap them over. 45-seconds and you’re away.
The range I got out of that battery was 24 miles. Remember though, it was only at 92% when I left the shop and I was joyriding rather than trying to get the most out of it (in perfect conditions riding sensibly you may get 30 miles to a charge). The second battery was only part-charged, showing 62% in the tunnel and my ride back included about 5 miles of A11 dual carriageway where I was riding at full throttle. The scooter was more than capable of keeping up with traffic on this 50mph stretch of road.
Once I left the A11 though I still had five miles or so to go and I noticed the flat out blast had zapped power. In fact with another four miles to go it was showing just 2% battery. I was in the middle of a strange city taking directions from Google Maps through my Sena intercom. It soon showed zero on the meter and I was riding at a snail’s pace to conserve power. Willing with each turn that I’d be back at the shop. The scooter was barely pulling uphill by this stage and it literally cut out as I turned on to the industrial estate and freewheeled into the shop. As I pulled my phone out of my pocket the battery on that also died and I’d already killed the battery on my Sena camera. Hopefully, this test ride still helped to save the planet though…
With electric powered things you know that there’s a danger you’ll run out of power, you can’t just find a fuel station (or knock on a random door for a battery top-up). Treat an electric vehicle like you would a mobile phone. Your battery runs down as you use it so top it up when you can. Whether that’s plugged in at the office of nicking some charge whilst visiting a friend. Keep it topped up and you’ll lose some of that range anxiety.
The Retrospective conversions are very well done and not at all intrusive or damaging to a classic scooter. Other than a couple of small holes to be drilled and a gauge to fit somewhere (usually glovebox or Lammy toolbox door) it can all go back to standard. It rides very well and feels just like the scooter it’s fitted to, other than the obvious lack of sound and the smell, feeling and character of the original engine.
As a tool for the city then it’s a step in the right direction if you love a classic machine. Like it or not, the days of riding a two-stroke, or older four-stroke in major towns and cities is living on borrowed time. Clean air campaigns, ULEZ charges and the like are spreading like wildfire. And it’s only going to get more restrictive.
I’m still unconvinced that electric, pr at least as it is currently will be the answer to all of our problems. It’s not for everybody and you’ll not be able to ride an electric scooter to a distant town or country any time soon. The range just isn’t there for that kind of use. A scooter with a 30-mile range won’t do 30 miles when ridden flat out and Niall doesn’t recommend you use a scooter with three batteries to thrash 90 miles to the seaside. At the moment the Retrospective Scooters electric conversions are helping to keep classic scooter riders on the road in towns and cities. They’re making a very good job of it as well. One day though a breakthrough in technology will be a game-changer, could it be the Austin Electrics fuel cell, hydrogen or something completely different?
Words, photos and video: Iggy
Save the planet by shopping from the comfort of your own steam engine