Piaggio wasn’t a huge fan of the Vespa Elettrica review I wrote for Common Tread. Not too long after the article was published, Piaggio’s man in the States got in touch to suggest I had taken the wrong tack, assessing the electric scooter from the perspective of a motorcyclist rather than a typical scooter rider.
Join the TMO Team
I’d argue I was, in fact, approaching it from the perspective of someone who commutes daily in Europe*, which the official Vespa Elettrica website implies is the scooter’s modus operandi. Or, well, perhaps the navigation of tightly packed, traffic-clogged streets is its secondary modus operandi. Being oddly Euro-hip seems to be its No. 1 aim, with 90s-esque trims and Elettrica-themed helmets and backpack.
In deference to Piaggio’s observations I’ll concede that my experience with 50cc scooters is limited. In peak power and top speed, the Elettrica is designed to mimic the performance of a 50cc machine, thereby making it available to riders in that segment of the market.
In Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that’s generally 16 year olds equipped with a CBT (or AM license). Scooters of the 50 cc variety aren’t terribly popular in the United Kingdom, making up just 5 percent of the overall two-wheeler market and 17 percent of the scooter market (according to figures from the Motorcycle Industry Association).
In the United States, however, 50cc machines make up almost half of all scooter sales (I’m afraid I don’t have stats on how much of the overall market scooters represent), and the rules on who can ride them vary considerably from state to state. By and large, 50cc scooters are classed as mopeds or motorized bicycles, and can be ridden by folks as young as 15. In quite a few states, the age is 14; in the state of New Mexico it’s 13. In the aforementioned Land of Enchantment there is no license requirement to ride a moped, but in most states you’ll need a permit of some sort.
So, you know, maybe there’s space for a 50cc-equivalent electric scooter, but that doesn’t change my opinion that the Elettrica is disappointingly underpowered and, as such, somewhat ill suited to the purpose for which it was ostensibly designed.
What it’s Like to Ride
Don’t get me wrong: the Elettrica is far from being a pile of poo. It’s actually kinda fun. Weighing in at 139 kg it’s a little heavier than a standard 50cc scooter (a similarly styled Kymco Like weighs roughly 115 kg, for example) but that extra weight is not noticeable. Its bulk is kept low and well balanced; I’m confident most riders would have no problems muscling it around on pavements or in and out of doorways.
Once you’re on the move, the Elettrica handles exactly as you would expect of a scooter. It confidently hits the smallest of gaps between cars, easily bringing you to the front of the queue at pretty much every stoplight. Only a bicycle will get you through snarled traffic more efficiently.
However, it’s what happens when you get to the front of that queue that’s the problem for me. Power delivery is too soft. The Elettrica’s stats sheet claims an arm-ripping 200 Nm of torque – more than a Triumph Rocket III. But twist the scooter’s throttle to the stop and you’ll be wondering where the hell that torque is. The scooter takes off in such a gentle, kid-friendly way that I’m not entirely sure it would disturb a cup of coffee placed on the seat. This is very much not what you want when you’re at the front of a row of cars and buses.
Back when I worked as a delivery cyclist I could have kicked the Elettrica’s ass in most situations. I was a hell of a lot quicker off the line, and with a top speed of 35 mph I was faster on a straight (the Elettrica is speed limited to 48 km/h, or 29.8 mph). The only place I would have gotten beaten is on a hill. But, in fairness, the person arriving at their destination via Elettrica is going to be far less sweaty than their cycling counterpart.
I thought a lot about my cycle delivery days when riding this scooter. Its nimbleness and the quiet of its electric motor – allowing me to fully use hearing as one of my navigational tools – reminded me of the sense of utter freedom one gets from cycling. To this end, the Elettrica is really not far from being so much better than it is. The issue is essentially one of programming.
So, even though I risk the wrath of Piaggio ninjas, I will continue to whine about the Elettrica’s power delivery, in hopes that future versions are “tuned” differently. I also wouldn’t mind if the brakes on future versions were better.
Where it Makes Sense
Piaggio isn’t the only one to suggest my assessment of the Elettrica is unfair. I wrote a review of the scooter for Motorcyclist, and Senior Editor Adam Waheed also noted a little more saltiness than he felt necessary. He pointed out that this is, after all, Vespa’s first effort in electric and certain kudos are deserved as a result.
I suppose so. But this is not the world’s first electric scooter; far from it. Various Chinese manufacturers have been churning out cheap-o electric scooters for a number of years. The styling, quality and range of these scooters is markedly below that of the Elettrica, but their presence gives us a sense of where the Elettrica fits. First and foremost, it would make sense in the hyper-congested and polluted megacities of Asia and South America – places where traffic is so bad that a Western mind starts to come undone when faced by it. The issue you run into here, however, is the Elettrica’s cost.
In the United Kingdom, the starting price for an Elettrica is £5,999 (In the United States it’s $7,499, and in the scooter’s native Italy it’s €6,390). That’s a fair bit more than a £899 Go Electric scooter from DirectBikes**. You definitely suffer what you pay for there, with the Vespa being superior in every single other way, but, you know, price is kind of important for some folks – especially those folks who would normally be considering a 50cc scooter.
Even with its sub-par oomph, the Elettrica still makes a certain amount of sense in the slightly-less-clogged-but-still-plenty-chaotic big cities of Europe. Milan, where I test rode the scooter, or London, for example. These are places where the Elettrica’s price tag may not sting as much (How many 16 year olds have £6,000, though?), and where you will rarely dabble with the scooter’s top speed. When I wrote my article for Common Tread, it was aimed at a US audience and I pointed out that there aren’t really many cities like this in the United States.
KEEP READING: The Chavs Are Alright
There may be tiny pockets of large cities where an Elettrica could work – if you live in, work in, and never leave Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, for example – but once you venture onto the roads where a 30mph limit is really more of an honorable baseline than a reflection of how fast people are driving, the scooter will struggle to be relevant.
But, perhaps that concern itself isn’t relevant. One of the other reasons riding the Elettrica brought to mind my cycling days is that I don’t see it as a vehicle for covering distances much greater than, say, 5 miles at a stretch. So, yeah, the person who lives in, works in, and never leaves the 4 square*** miles of Montrose is exactly the sort of person who may want an Elettrica. The question I have in that case, however, is: why not just use a bicycle?
All the Techno, All the Whizzbangery
Powered by a 4.2 kWh battery, the Elettrica takes about four hours to charge from zero to 100 percent, and delivers a claimed 60 miles of range. That’s perfectly fine in my book. If we stick with the “Makes Sense in Montrose” operating theory, you can spend all day whirring from place to place without running out of juice. And, by the nature of its intended use, it makes sense folks will be charging this scooter overnight. Charging is done via a 220v plug of the sort that will need an adaptor in UK homes.
Piaggio says the battery is good for 1,000 full charges before capacity dips to 80 percent (ie, the scooter still runs as normal, just not for as long). And it has estimated that means about 10 years of use before capacity drops.
The Elettrica has two riding modes: Power and Eco, the latter of which further restricts the scooter’s speed to a paltry 30 km/h or 18.6 mph. I cannot imagine who would choose the Eco feature, save Dutch people who are using the Elettrica on a cycle path. More useful, perhaps, is the fact the scooter has a reverse gear. Flip through the Elettrica’s extensive dash menu and you’ll also find it’s possible to select two different levels of regenerative braking. You will need the owner’s manual to do this, however, because the process is far from intuitive.
One of the key selling points of the Elettrica is that it is dripping with information and connectivity features. The dash consists of a 4.3-inch TFT display that shows you pretty much everything you could want to know while on the move.
If, for some reason, you should want to view this information when not sitting on the scooter, there’s an app to help you keep tabs on things. Useful aspects of the app include a feature that helps you remember where you parked your scooter, less useful aspects include the ability to control certain phone functions using the scooter’s switchgear. I’d say that the odds of your phone, helmet Bluetooth device, and scooter all working together consistently are quite low, but I suppose it’s a nice idea.
Would I Buy One?
Fun to ride but underperforming and extremely limited in application, the Vespa Elettrica is only going to suit very particular tastes. I often think of The Motorcycle Obsession as being akin to a blog about ice cream; not every flavour is going to suit every person, but an overall love of ice cream always shines through. However, the Elettrica dips its scoop into a tub that is so rarely opened that it’s gone a little stale.
Uhm… I think I got lost in the analogy there. But you get what I mean: a 50cc-equivalent electric scooter is a niche idea in the first place, and Vespa’s take on the idea doesn’t fully satisfy. Having ridden internal combustion-powered Vespa scooters, I know Piaggio knows how things should be. And I’m relatively confident it has the ability to fix the Elettrica’s faults. I still wouldn’t buy one at that point (not for £6,000, at least), but I’d be better able to understand someone who did.
The Three Questions:
Does the Vespa Elettrica fit my current lifestyle?
No. Certainly I’d have no problems getting the Elettrica through my garden gate, but my commute to work and back is roughly 32 miles a day, with one section of that being on motorway. There was a time when I worked at an office just 2.5 miles away, but if I could go back to those good old days I’d also go back to cycling to work.
Does the Vespa Elettrica put a smile on my face?
Yes, but maybe not really. I’m always happy when zipping around on two wheels, and on a sunny day in Milan, cracking jokes with Cycle World’s Morgan Gales and Cycle News’ Rennie Scaysbrook (the absence of engine noise meant we were able to converse almost at normal volume as we rode) I had a hell of a lot of fun on the Elettrica. I was giggling and smiling so much my face hurt. But looking back on it, I feel a lot of the credit for my high spirits goes to Morgan, Rennie, and the good weather. I can’t honestly say we wouldn’t have had just as much fun on bicycles or kick scooters.
Is the Vespa Elettrica better than my current motorcycle, a 2019 Triumph Bonneville T120?
No. I’ll concede, however, that such a comparison is wholly unfair. There are any number of things the Vespa can’t do that my Bonnie can, but the Vespa wasn’t intended to do them.
Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
* Uhm, well… I guess that depends on when you read this and what happens on 12 April.
** For those of you playing along outside the United Kingdom, DirectBikes is an online dealer of cheap Chinese scooters and low-capacity motorcycles.
*** Honey, Montrose is anything but square.