I’ve been interested in electric moped conversions for some time, and I’ve even done a few myself. And in the worlds of both scooters and motorcycles, electric power is catching on. But what about hybrid power? Having tried a hybrid moped myself—one that happens to be AWD as a result—I’m very much into the idea. Here’s how I got here.
[Editor’s Note: Welcome back Doug Kingham, a UK-based (formerly Germany-based) car-nut who doesn’t have the space or local laws to own a bunch of fun cars, and therefore scratches his car-project itch with EV-converted scooters! He showed such a conversion once before here on The Autopian. -DT].
Last year, I turned a 2008 Vespa PX125 scooter into an electric vehicle. It took some doing, naturally. I ripped the engine, transmission, and fuel tank out of my PX125 and installed a rear wheel-mounted electric hub motor and two 64V lithium-ion batteries. In addition to satisfying my project itch, I ended up with a quick, quiet, and eco-friendly vehicle in a beautifully retro package. Here’s a reminder of how it turned out:
Other than a bit of custom wiring, this was truly a plug-and-play conversion kit that I purchased from Retrospective Scooters. I’ve put about 1,500 miles on it in the last year and have been extremely pleased with it so far.
Retrospective Scooters in North London was vital to my PX125 EV conversion. I’ve stayed in touch with the owner, Niall McCart, and kept him in the loop on my other project—a Vespa LX 50 EV conversion:
Unlike my PX125 conversion, my Vespa LX 50 conversion involved retrofitting the powertrain from a 2017 NIU N1S (a 50cc-equivalent electric scooter), which was not something that had been done before. I documented this process on my YouTube channel, but never got around to writing an article about the conversion. Niall provided invaluable advice and guidance throughout my LX 50 project, so I was keen to show him the finished product.
I arrived at Retrospective Scooters after a chilly, hour’s long ride on my LX 50. After showing off my conversion to Niall and his team, and after drooling over the vintage Vespas and Lambrettas on display, we headed inside for a chat.
Niall was keen to talk to me about his latest creation: a hybrid moped.
The term “moped” can mean different things to different people. At first, I thought he meant a Vespa-style moped, but I quickly learned that he was talking about the old pedal mopeds that were popular in the 1970s, such as the Piaggio Ciao and Puch Maxi. If you think about it, these early mopeds were hybrid by their very nature: you could use the two-stroke engine or you could pedal it like a bicycle. They were particularly popular with teenagers at that time because, in many countries, you could ride such a machine without getting a full motorbike license.
Niall had come up with the idea of building a hybrid moped after having a chat with a friend who was looking for an electric motorbike to hang off the back of his caravan. His friend was keen to have an efficient, environmentally friendly, and easy-to-park mode of transportation to get from his caravan campsites into city and town centers without having to worry about any low emission zones or equivalent. Yes, a bicycle or even an eBike would tick all of those boxes, but this friend of Niall’s was looking for something different.
Niall initially thought about converting a motorcycle to electric, but he didn’t feel that there was an easy and neat way to do it. Instead, he decided to combine his knowledge of converting Vespas with his knowledge of electric bicycle components. He wasn’t looking to do a one-off conversion; as with his scooters, he was looking for a way to create a kit that would allow customers to do the conversion themselves.
The kit Niall has developed consists of new forks, a front wheel with 1 kW hub motor, 90A controller, disc brake, LED headlight, and a handlebar-mounted thumb throttle. Customers will need to swap over their own tire and mudguard, as well as buy their own lithium-ion battery.
The controller is contained within a custom fairing behind the headlight, and the only wiring required is the connection to the battery. This hybrid setup means that you can end up with an all-wheel drive moped—two-wheel-drive, really—with the electric motor driving the front wheel and the two-stroke driving the rear wheel. Or you can ride using the electric motor only, two-stroke only, or you can pedal it like a (heavy) bicycle.
So in February, I drove to Retrospective Scooters to check out this triple hybrid AWD moped in person. Niall’s test mule started life as a normal 1973 Puch Maxi S. This was a very popular model of moped, especially during the ’70s. According to the blog Dual Wheel Journey, over 1.8 million were built from 1969 through 1995.
Built in Austria at the height of the oil crisis, this particular Maxi S came with a 2 HP 49 cc E50 engine coupled with a single-speed transmission. It has a top speed of around 30 mph and could get roughly 100 mpg. The top speed could be increased by the normal “derestricting” methods, but this particular example was in stock condition (minus the hybrid kit, of course).
As I have to come to expect from Retrospective Scooters, the Puch was in excellent working order and looked beautiful to boot. As part of the conversion, Niall installed a rear rack-mounted 48V battery (which can be charged on the bike or removed) with a 50A Battery Management System, just like those installed on e-bikes. After giving me a demonstration and explaining how everything works, Niall let me take it for a test ride.
Having never ridden a pedal moped before, Niall needed to explain the starting procedure to me. With the key in the “on” position, you need to reach down between your legs to turn on the fuel valve, make sure that the engine switch on the handlebar is set to “run,” pull the starting (or decompression) lever on the left side of the handlebar, start pedaling, and then release the starting lever to start the two-stroke engine.
If the engine is cold, you also need to mess about with the manual choke and primer, but since Niall had just ridden it around, this wasn’t necessary. Of course, this being a hybrid moped, pedaling wasn’t strictly necessary as I could just depress the thumb throttle to ride away on electric power only and then, once underway, fire up the two-stroke using the decompression lever. [Editor’s Note: I guess it’s an electric starter, but in a weird roundabout way. -DT]
Riding up and down the streets of North London on the hybrid Puch was an interesting experience. I am used to riding my electric Vespa and I had recently been riding a 700cc Yamaha MT07 in the process of getting my full motorbike license, so I was used to normal motorbike features, such as turn signals, mirrors, and a speedometer, none of which this moped had.
The Puch originally had a speedometer, but it was removed during the conversion process. Niall usually mounts his phone on the handlebars and uses a GPS speedometer app instead (see below), but since I didn’t have the correct mount on my phone, I wasn’t really sure how fast I was going.
The addition of the electric hub motor doesn’t have any effect on the top speed of the moped, so I knew I wasn’t going faster than 30 mph. Whizzing around the streets near Retrospective Scooters, I tested the various modes of the hybrid moped: 2-stroke only, electric only, both together, and pedal only. You would only really resort to “pedal only” mode if you’ve run out of fuel or if your battery is dead because it is heavy stock (86 lbs or 39 kg dry weight), and the EV components make it even heavier. Still, it’s handy to have the option to pedal it if required.
Compared to a stock pedal moped, the biggest benefit of EV conversion is the substantial improvement in overall acceleration. Niall likes to describe this as a “turbo effect” and likens the conversion to tuning your moped. Stock pedal mopeds are pretty slow off of the line, so the additional power provided by the electric motor is certainly appreciated.
After riding around for 10 minutes or so and getting used to how to operate it, I settled into a routine of using the electric motor when accelerating from a standstill up to (what I assumed was) the 20 mph speed limit, switching to the two-stroke only, and then dipping into the electric power when I needed an extra boost in acceleration. The improved acceleration allowed me to feel more confident in traffic, and it allowed me to accelerate out of potential trouble when required. Another benefit, of course, is the ability to ride silently in EV mode, which your neighbors will appreciate as the two-stroke is very loud.
Back at the shop, Niall was keen to hear what I thought, and I was keen to hear about his future plans. The moped I rode was one of two prototypes that he built, and he was still tweaking the Puch that I had just ridden. Niall had recently taken both to a trade fair in Germany and left the other one, a Piaggio Ciao, with a friend who was going to have it checked out by the local TÜV inspector. The Retrospective Scooters YouTube channel has a great video showing the two hybrid mopeds side by side, with acceleration tests in the various modes.
When I was there in February, the kit wasn’t yet for sale, and Niall was still trying to decide if it was worth it to invest in a larger-scale production of the kits. His kit will work with all European pedal mopeds, including the Peugeot 103/104 and Mobylette, and, of course, the Puch Maxi and Piaggio Ciao. He’s tested the waters on various moped forums and the feedback hasn’t been overwhelmingly positive, especially given that it’s not exactly cheap. As of this writing, Retrospective Scooters is listing the conversion kit for sale on eBay for £1,595 (~$2,000), and that does not include the cost of the battery, which could cost between $300 and $400, depending on how much you trust Ali Express vs Amazon. If he had enough interest he could have them manufactured at scale, which would reduce the cost, but he hasn’t reached that level of demand yet.
I reached out to Niall recently to ask whether he had sold any kits yet via eBay. He said he that hasn’t had any takers on eBay yet, and he chalks that up to the cost and the fact that he hasn’t been able to get many people in the saddle to try it out. Niall says, “If they did try it and discovered all the benefits and how amazingly fast and strong the new version is it might be a totally different story but I just have not gone to any moped-oriented shows or events to demonstrate this and have test riding.”
As for the cost, Niall says that he put together the kit “to be strong and reliable with great performance using the best components that cost a fair bit, and although I could get it down a bit more with bulk ordering, it wouldn’t be much less and I don’t want to skimp on quality to end up with a lesser product.”
Since my February test ride, Niall has been making improvements to the kit and has been experimenting with different motors and controllers, as well as improving the braking. In his words, “it really flies along now.” The new hub motor (shown below) is visibly bigger, and the disc brake has been upgraded to a center-pull version that outperforms the previously installed side-pull caliper. The new hub motor also allows for regenerative braking, which has been set at 10%.
Niall has been playing with the controller settings and trying to find the sweet spot in terms of acceleration and usability. The problem with too much torque from the front hub motor is traction, or lack there of. On a moped, motorbike, or bicycle, most of the weight is on the rear wheel, and the rearward bias is even more pronounced going uphill. So unless you’re carrying a heavy load on the front of the bike, too much torque will result in quite a bit of wheel spin. As Niall says, “I’m still playing with it. We can reduce the power to ease that torque but don’t want to kill it either. I have some ideas to try out that might tame it and keep it as a useful booster.”
If I had a vintage pedal moped already, would I buy one of Niall’s kits? Yes, absolutely. As far as I am concerned, this hybrid kit injects new life into a beautiful old bit of machinery and makes it more environmentally friendly. The additional power provided by the electric motor makes it more useable around town and allows you to be a more considerate neighbor (or not).
I have definitely been spending more time browsing the used market for a dirt cheap used moped. Despite there being 1.8 million Puch Maxis made (in addition to the hundreds of thousands of competing models), there don’t seem to be many left, or at least many for sale. The increasing rarity of these old mopeds makes me want one even more. But fortunately for my wallet and my marriage, I haven’t found the right one yet.
Images: Retrospective Scooters or Author
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