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As a teenager, Dr Guido Schwarz was a young Austrian mod who helped his older brother to maintain his Vespa 50 Special. Guido had to wait a few years before buying a scooter of his own, his first was ‘just’ a Piaggio Typhoon. Guido became a scooterist though and bought a Vespa Sprint a couple of years later in 2001. 

Another two years passed and he progressed to a Vespa GS 150 and started to work on his own Vespas. He became part of a close-knit local scootering community. The group met every Tuesday evening and became good friends. In 2014 that group were fractured when four of them sadly died, all victims to cancer. Undeterred Guido moved the communal workshop to his house and carried on enjoying his hobby.

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Crank-e
Fast forward to 2015 and Guido met Alex Elbe, a young engineering student. Alex wrote his Masters Thesis about an electric engine for a Vespa smallframe. He built one and founded his own company crank-e

We’ve featured a Crank-e scooter on SLUK in the past. That one was a joint collaboration with Stoffi’s Garage but you can buy a conversion kit to do it yourself.

Manual gears

The difference with Crank-e and the other electric scooter conversions you may have seen is that this system utilises the standard Vespa engine.

More importantly to us classic scooter riders, it also uses the Vespa clutch and gearbox so you can manually shift gears. This makes the riding experience feel much more involving and different to the run of the mill electric scooter.

Guido plums in his new electrics
Guido plums in his new electrics

Electric Sprint

Guido ended up selling a GS to Alex and the pair kept in touch. In 2017 he had a lightbulb moment and thought ‘Why don’t I get Alex to make an electric large frame using my Sprint?’ Alex was still only doing smallframe conversions at the time, which makes sense. A smallframe is light, which allows it to make better use of the battery power.

Even so, a large frame also had advantages – namely space. There’s a glovebox and large removable side panels, plus a big empty space beneath the seat where the standard fuel tank usually resides. Guido didn’t want to be limited by the small range of most electric scooters so he set about looking for somebody who could build batteries to fit the available space. Enter Michael Mader from Hell Power an Austrian green energy company. Michael agreed to design the bespoke batteries. With a goal of achieving a range of 200 km.

Best laid plans…

In theory, things would be fairly straightforward and it wouldn’t take long to be riding this supersized Crank-e Vespa Sprint. We all know where scooters are concerned a plausible theory can soon go out of the window.

As Guido explains below…

From left to right, Alex Elbe, Michael Madder and Guido
From left to right, Alex Elbe, Michael Madder and Guido

Optimism ruled the scene and I thought I could be ready for driving in late spring 2018. Well, we never came even close to that, especially because the controller was too small and did not cooperate with the motor. It was difficult to analyze and several months passed.

In September 2018 I got the licence for the scooter and could get a green number plate. Then the troubles started. The bigger controller was also not in the mood to work with the electrical motor and we tried several solutions, but nothing worked.

The story turned into a horror movie, because there was no way back. The only chance was to make it work, but with every month we felt drifting away from the goal.

Weeks passed, then I got the new controller. Alex came from Villach (several hours to the south of Vienna) and we rebuilt half of the wiring. Then the big moment and the big failure. We were completely desperate, because we had absolutely no idea where the problem was.

The motor? Expensive and brand new. She could not be the problem! But it WAS the motor, the sensor was not mounted properly at the factory (in Israel). But it took us some more weeks to find out…”

Power and range

The scooter was designed to be equivalent to a 125cc, we asked Guido a little more about the power and range, “The engine is not as quiet as, for example, a Zero e-bike, but nowhere near as loud as a two-stroke. It sounds a bit like a quiet vacuum cleaner – although I can currently only judge the noise from the driver’s perspective. The road-holding is satisfactory to good. The power is not yet quite what I expect (with a nominal output of 8.4 kW/11.4 PS, 14 kW/19 PS are planned as peak power), and we will possibly do something besides the adjustment work on the controller. Durability is important; the Sprint E shows no weaknesses on the first long trip. I can’t answer the question of the range right now, down to the last kilometre. At the moment it looks as if the project goal (200 km range) can be achieved – after all, I have ‘packed’ lithium cells with a respectable 13.2-kilowatt hours of energy into the curves of the Vespa. Longer test drives will show if there are any problems…”

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Legislation

In the UK things are quite relaxed in comparison to many European countries when it comes to modifying vehicles. In Austria it’s quite a stringent process to get a vehicle registration certificate if the machine has been altered.

Guido talks us through his appointment with the test centre, “When I drive into the courtyard of the inspection station, the tension is at its peak. There is hustle and bustle, several people are waiting for their appointment, many are sitting there like poor sinners at the Last Judgment. This particularly affects the young men with lowered Golfs and 3-series BMWs. Most of them lose their number plates and the mood is correspondingly bad. The appointment in front of me is a Land Rover Defender 90 – also converted to electric drive. It does its laps silently, and I’m sure that this project is a multiple of my costs. Meanwhile, the owner and the examiner are talking at a noticeably high technical level. It is my turn.

The tension continues to rise, but the examiner is extremely friendly. We go through the report together, he agrees with almost everything so far. The only problem is with the weight of the vehicle: My E-Vespa weighs 145 kilograms, and the extra weight compared to the original petrol-powered version is roughly equivalent to that of a light passenger.

So we agree that the Vespa is only standardized for one person. That is bearable. The test round in the yard is also going well, the examiner has nothing to complain about, and I am already full of hope that everything will work out. The crucial moment. The examiner looks at me and says: “You can reload the vehicle.” “Okay, very good – and how does it go from here?” “I have to write a little more, you can take the decision with you in half an hour!” I am amazed because I expected that I would get the individual permit a few days later, if possible.

The mood rises, and half an hour later I’m driving back towards Vienna as a happy person. My permit is in the passenger seat and I decide to register the electric Vespa immediately the next day.”

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Back to standard?

Because the Crank-e uses the original engine minus the top end, the conversion is easily reversible. If you want to swap a scooter back to two-stroke, then it is quite possible. No classics were harmed in the making of this feature.

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Design & tech problems

Like many of us, Guido uses his scooter for longer distances. He rode it to Rome in 2012 and Croatia in 2015 (before the conversion), so range was very important. Because the Sprint is heavier than a smallframe and Guido wanted to have a 200km range it wasn’t a simple matter of using the existing Crank-e system. Instead, a larger electric motor takes the place of the original cylinder, that’s connected to a belt-driven system, which was designed to sit in place of the original flywheel. This solution came from a report on the German Scooter Forum back in 2011. An American had come up with a similar system using a retaining plate and two gear wheels linked by a belt.

With the panels on and flywheel cover in place for all intents and purposes, it looks like a pretty standard set up. It wasn’t plain sailing to get to this point though.

To provide the long-range he required, three batteries were needed. These occupy the spare wheel side panel, fuel tank areas and the box below the floorboards. The glovebox is used for the large charging unit. Hellpower designed them to fit the space and make as much energy as possible, in total the three batteries make 13,200-watt hours, that’s more than the Zero electric motorcycle and the long-range BMW C Evolution electric scooter.

Guido told us “The fourth challenge consisted of coordinating the various, completely redesigned systems: batteries, motor, gearbox, electronics – right up to a box in which the control unit must be installed and which is located where the exhaust was previously. To do this, I had to design and draw several parts myself, first in cardboard and then in steel or have them made. The adjustment work alone takes a damn long time.”

The box below the scooter contains much of the electrical gubbins and is designed to look sort of like an exhaust
The box below the scooter contains much of the electrical gubbins and is designed to look sort of like an exhaust

Austrian scooterist, Freakmoped took Guido’s scooter out for a test ride. Here’s his thoughts…

A quick test ride

I heard Guido had built an eVespa and knew I’d got to go and see it and have a quick ride.

Hmmm, it sounds like a kitchen utensil, that’s a bit weird. But looking over the scooter, it’s nicely done. The original engine case and even kickstarter is still visible. It even has a box ‘exhaust’ (adding a tailpipe would be a nice touch) so it’s not that bad optically, that’s where all the other electric projects kind of fail, because you can clearly see the electric engine and it isn’t ‘Vespa.’ A bit about optics, here you actually cannot really see that a conversion has been done, that makes it very charming. Fail #2 is mostly too little power, but let’s see how it goes.

The test ride was quite unusual, for starters it does not idle – of course not – it’s electric!

You put it into gear (only three gears are used, first is redundant), open the throttle, klack and off we go, bssssssssssssss and you quickly get from a feeling of ‘This is so weird, riding a Vespa and there’s no 2-stroke sound” to ‘Ha, ha this is kind of funny; woohoo – this pulls quite well’ and after a bit more time ‘Boaaaahhh this is super cool, I also want one!” That quickly takes me back to the price info I got. Ah, I’d rather stick to a new car, motorbike, scooter & ebike (used!). Electric conversions are never cheap.

Vespa virus

Interestingly, pedestrians do not notice that the Vespa isn’t loud and doesn’t stink, you just blend in, as this is Austria, where Vespa belongs to the daily picture. We do have the highest amount of Vespas worldwide, related to the inhabitants of the country and for countless years Vespa scooters hit the rank of 1-3 in the registration statistics. It’s really bonkers. This is where this very well done eVespa project gets big respect to Guido! It fits perfectly in with Austria’s national incurable Vespa virus.

Thanks and more info

We’d like to thank Michael Bernleitner at Moto Mobil for the use of his photos for this article. We’d also like to thank Dr Guido Schwarz and Freakmoped.

More info on Crank e can be found here.

If you’ve got an interesting project that you’d like to share with SLUK readers you can email us at editorial@scooterlab.uk 

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