I love Vespa smallframes and Italians are incredibly nostalgic about Vespa 50s, but in many places they are now banned. Historic city centres all over the continent have banned the use of 2-strokes, and it’s coming to Britain as well.
In 2020, the mayor of London, who is very passionate about cleaning up pollution, is proposing to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to almost 14 miles across. That area contains millions of people who won’t be able to use a non-compliant (pre-Euro3) motorcycle or scooter without paying a daily charge of £12.50.
In Europe they aren’t offering to take the money (i.e the rich can afford to pollute), they are simply saying NO. Don’t bring dirty engines into the city centre.
Where does that leave commuters? They still need to get around. Public transport remains a poor choice for anyone with independent spirit.
Do we go back 120 years to when push-bikes and horses ruled the roads?
The classic solution
Austrian firms Crank-e and Stoffi’s garage have teamed up to offer an answer that might work for people who love classic scooter but demand more than an electric push-bike or a bus.
Crank-e have developed a fully-reversible conversion for the smallframe Vespa that allows an engine to be converted to electric power, and for the petrol tank area to be converted to hold the batteries and charger.
Unlike other electric scooters, the Crank-e conversion replaces only the top-end of the engine. The transmission remains as before so you still operate with a clutch and gears.
What is it like to ride?
If you have ever ridden a classic scooter then it is just the same controls, the only differences are:
- It pulls like a train from low speeds
- It is eerily silent
- It is slightly heavier (only 6kg extra on a Vespa 50)
Stoffi estimates 15hp at the rear wheel (I think a little less) but it accelerates like a kitted scooter at low speeds.
In many ways it is more rewarding and interactive than riding a modern automatic scooter, and certainly the Vespa smallframe has a style that nothing modern can match.
If I had to go into a historic centre, where petrol machines are banned, then I’d certainly consider this over an electric scooter or cycle. Even if the manual transmission system is not perfect in terms of energy efficiency, it is still much more fun than a twist & go.
What’s the future?
To know more about the project you should watch the video above.
There is talk of producing similar conversions for large-frame Vespas and also for Lambretta, but this seems to miss the point because they are much heavier vehicles that will penalise performance and battery range. The idea that makes the most sense to me is the electric Piaggio Ape conversion.
Many of these classic 3-wheeled delivery machines still exist and use a very similar engine to the Vespa smallframe. The need for a lightweight, narrow goods vehicle has not gone away, but in many places the Ape is now illegal. An electric version with space for more batteries makes a lot of sense.
One of the most attractive things about this conversion for me is its reversibility. In theory you could fit an electric engine for the week and swap it out for a hooligan Quattrini 2-stroke engine for the holidays outside the city. A scooter you can use everywhere in different formats might be the best of both worlds?
Where when and how much?
At the moment (October 2016) Stoffi is not selling the conversion, but he expects it to be available in the next year or so and to cost in the region of €2,000 as a self-fit kit.
It could be that in the future pre-converted scooters will be available, but these will obviously cost more and depend on availability of suitable chassis.
While some people may see converting a classic 2-stroke scooter to electric as sacrilege, this system actually saves small-capacity scooters that will soon have little practical use, and recycles them.
More than that, the end result is something that is fun to ride; which reminds me why I loved smallframe Vespas in the first place.
Words, images and video: Sticky