Electric cars are all the rage at the moment, and really, there’s only one name that springs to mind at the moment and that’s Tesla. However, if you want to join the electric vehicle revolution without taking out a second mortgage, your options are a bit more limited. What if you want to join said revolution on two wheels? Then there’s far fewer.
Electric motorbikes aren’t really happening in Australia at the moment, but there are a couple of options. One of them is from Fonzarelli, the company led by Sydney engineer Michelle Nazarri, which is championing the movement with electric, road-legal scooters which are apparently quite a bit of fun to drive, and good for the environment too.
We took a look at one of the company’s electric rides, Fonzarelli S1 Electric Scooter. Don’t let the name fool you; this isn’t a kids toy. It’s a road-legal electric motorcycle (scooters are legally motorcycles so far as NSW road rules are concerned) with an electric motor, zero emissions, and a range of up to 100km depending on configuration.
What’s is it?
The Fonzarelli S1 is cutting edge technology in two wheel form. With a battery under the seat pumping out 72v to a 3-phase 7kW elctric motor in the rear wheel hub, you’d think the Fonzarelli would look like something out of a future movie but it doesn’t. It just looks like any other Italian-styled scoot on the road, except that it doesn’t need fuel, it doesn’t make that annoying scooter noise, and it goes like the clappers.
Though the top speed is only about 80km/h (a bit faster down hill), it reaches that top speed very quickly depending on the weight of the rider and configuration of the engine. In my case, being a larger bloke, it took about 6 seconds to reach sixty, a little more up a hill. Good news though, there’s a boost button that dumps a bit of extra energy into the motor, which does make it a touch more spritely. I didn’t have any issue pulling ahead of stopped traffic from the lights, which is a good indicator.
Power is delivered from a 20kg battery stowed under the seat, and depnding on your Fonzarelli model, you can configure one or two 10kg batteries (which are good for about 50km each), or a single 20kg model which will take you up to 100km. Of course, this varies depending on where you go / how much gear you carry, but you can charge from flat in about 3 to 5 hours. Like many mobiles these days, there’s a quick charge feature which will get you to 80% within an hour or so.
The basic Fonzarelli moped is priced at $4,990, and the S1 model I reviewed starts at $6,990 which has a larger motor for more power, and increased range. The good news starts after the purchase, though, as you’d likely spend no more than a dollar or two per week to charge it, far less than $15 per 300km for fuel. Better yet, if you have an accommodating workplace, you can probably just take your battery inside and charge it at your desk. That said, the 20kg battery isn’t small (or all that light), and charging it at your desk is likely to get a few odd looks.
How’s it go?
In most respects, the Fonzarelli S1 handles like a normal scooter, but in some ways, it doesn’t. For starters, it’s light. Very light. At just a shade under 100kg, the S1 feels almost too light, but once you hop on, worries quickly fade away. The light weight combined with a powerful electric motor means that the S1 quite literally leaps from a stop and you’ll be up to speed in no time. There’s more than ample power to pull ahead of traffic, and for a scooter rider, that’s a great thing. Being light, the Fonzarelli range is quite nimble, and very adept at weaving between cars.
There’s other things to get used to, too. There’s no engine noise. It’s near silent, though the electric motor can be heard when there’s not traffic around. You also don’t feel that comforting engine vibration while riding, which can be a bit disconcerting, but you quickly forget about it. You do have to be careful in traffic though; because the S1 doesn’t make a lot of noise, you need to be extra mindful to be visible, because you can guarantee that other cars and even pedestrians will not hear you coming. You will find yourself using the horn a bit to grab attention.
At 6″ tall, I still managed to fit my legs inside the S1’s cowl without issue, but you wouldn’t want to be too much taller. I do feel the S1 would suit someone a bit shorter, though. Having said that, I felt the S1 had plenty of power to move me around, and while it struggled a little up hill, everywhere else it handled me just fine. It really is quite fun to ride around on … and it does turn heads. People are amazed that it can move along so quickly (and accelerate so fast) and yet be almost completely silent.
Charging is also another minor beauty; there’s no need for anything fancy here. Electric vehicles often require special charging stations or 3-phase power installation or both. All the Fonzarelli range requires is a standard 240v power socket, and you don’t even need to have one in your garage or wherever you park — you can take the batteries inside quite easily and charge them safely there. One of the other advantages of an electric bike? It’s got a USB port under the seat, so you can charge your mobile up while you’re riding. Granted, some other scoots have one these days, but most don’t. It’s a small but welcome addition.
What’s it less good at?
With a top speed of about 80km/h (down a hill), there are places the Fonzarelli S1 simply can’t go, or didn’t feel safe to take. Crossing Sydney’s majestic harbour bridge, for example, was just fine, but then moving along the Warringah Freeway where the traffic tends to move a bit faster was a bit … unnerving. I was much happier turning off onto the A roads than sticking with the motorway ahead, and that’s a place where the S1 (and its riders) will be much happier.
If you’re a bit on the heavier side (think, north of 90kg) you’d need to consider whether you’ll be heading up steep hills more than occasionally. If you are, and if those roads have higher speed limits, prepare to sit in the left lane and proceed a little more slowly. Those familiar with northern Sydney’s Comenarra Parkway — a good back way to get to some northern suburbs — will know there’s a few rather steep inclines to climb, and while I got up them okay, there were a few moments where I thought I wasn’t going to make it. In most environments, though, the Fonz S1 is more than capable, and if you’re an inner suburbs dweller with a shorter commute, this is going to be much, much more suited to your needs. For a longer commute, you may develop something smartphone users are well familiar with — battery anxiety.
Would I buy one?
For inner city and surrounding suburbs riding, the Fonzarelli S1 is a great alternative to the petrol-powered scooter (or perhaps even a smaller-engined motorbike). It costs next to nothing to run, maintenance is as simple as changing brake pads, keeping an eye on your tyres and checking everything’s still where it should be, and it’s great for the environment.
At $6,990 the pricing isn’t that different from most scooters on the road, though of course it’s possible to spend either side. Where the difference can be found, though, is that saving of $10/week to keep the S1 on the road. Over a year, that’s as much as $500 in fuel, and you might spend $50 (tops) in electricity to charge the S1, and even less if you can charge it at work during the day … but that’s a bit sneaky. Fonzarelli’s Michelle Nazzari tells us that, colloquially, a good number of Sydney’s Fonz riders are able to charge their batteries while at work, which makes the total cost of ownership even less.
For shorter rides or commutes, the S1 is easy to recommend. For longer rides, an experienced rider may well prefer something a bit more comfortable, a bit faster, or with a higher range … but that’s not what the S1 (or other Fonzarelli bikes) are aimed at.
The best bit? If you want to test-drive a Fonzarelli, you can. In NSW and Victoria, you’ll need a bike licence to ride one of these, but in other states, you may be able to ride one on a full car licence depending on local laws. Bonus.
The Fonzarelli range can be bought online at http://www.fonzarelli.co/ starting at $4,990.