Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
What Everyone Asks
How fast does it go?
My Lectra was customized to have a smaller front sprocket (11 teeth vs. 13 teeth), boosting its top speed from 45 mph to just over 50 mph (53 is the highest speed I've reached). In practice, I've found that if the wind is against me, or if I'm going up a steep hill, I can't go any faster than about 40 mph. And my top speed under most driving conditions is right at about 45 mph.
How far does it go on one charge?
There are five lights on the Lectra's SOC (State of Charge) meter. The fifth one is “Reserve” and you should not plan trips that require you to use it (you could ruin the batteries). Although EMB advertises a max range of 30 miles, which would be about 6 miles per light, I have not been able to get more than 3.5–3.8 miles per light, giving me a working range of 14 or 15 miles. Based on my experiments, it appears that my riding weight of about 205 pounds is the primary range-limiting factor. The less you weigh, the farther you'll go.
Finally, the Reserve light is (according to EMB) set conservatively, at about 60% of capacity, meaning that, theoretically, if you ran your batteries all the way down to reserve, you could turn around and get home if you didn't drive too fast. But this is not the intent: that kind of thing could seriously reduce the life of your batteries.
How long does it take to recharge?
It takes 4.5 hours to totally recharge, corresponding to roughly one hour per SOC light. But it gets to the 90% level in half that time. To finish off the charge (which is good for the batteries), it should be left plugged in for the full time, when it can be. Generally this is no problem: when I arrive at work, I plug it in and it's got eight hours or more to recharge. If I go somewhere for lunch, it's still about four hours on either side. When I get home, it stays plugged in all night. I don't even think about charge time anymore.
I have actually seen the bike recharge from a five-mile trip in about 25 minutes, but that doesn't “scale”: a 10-mile trip will not require merely 50 minutes. In other words, it seems that the discharge level and recharge time are not linear.
Why are the wheels so small?
The wheels are on the large side for a scooter, and technically, the Lectra is a scooter, although it is styled like a motorcycle.
How much noise does it make?
It's not silent. My wife says that it sounds like “someone is running a shop-vac one street over.” Regen braking makes it sound much louder, like a circular saw, maybe. If it's stopped at a stop sign or stop light, it makes no noise at all, unless the motor is hot, in which case you will hear a cooling fan running. The cooling fan is much louder than the actual drive motor, which is funny. At slow speeds, like less than 20 mph, the Lectra is, indeed, almost totally silent.
Can two people ride?
No. Its weight limit is 200 pounds and there are only one set of footpegs. I asked EMB about this limit, since my riding weight, with jacket, helmet, and backpack is about 205. They said it was not a firm limit, and gave me heavier-duty rear shocks to help with that.
What People Seriously Considering Ownership Ask
How much does it cost?
It costs more now than it used to. I paid $4400 for the Lectra and for shipping—$4000 for the bike, and $400 to ship it from Sebastopol, CA to Tucson, AZ. I had to pay $200 Arizona sales tax; the $4400 didn't include any California sales tax.
However, I regained basically all of this when I filed by 1999 Arizona taxes. Based on the forms for tax year 1998, which were all I had available in January ’99, it looked like I might be able to recover about half the purchase price. But the tax credit was greatly expanded for tax year 1999. For ZEVs (Zero Emissions Vehicles), the credit is $10,000 or the half the purchase price—whichever is more. Yes, you read that right. Because of this and some worse loopholes, Arizona clamped down hard on this credit and it is now perhaps harder than it was before to qualify for an alternative fueld credit. You can read more about my experience with the credit if you like.
How much does a complete charge cost?
About 20 cents. For me, this works out to about 1.3 cents per mile. I think it works out to less if the bike isn't discharged all the way; see the question on charge time above. However, the true cost per mile really needs to include the amortized battery replacement cost. See the next answer.
How long do the batteries last, and how much do they cost?
I have not yet had to replace my batteries, so I can't give firsthand evidence. Replacement cost is about $680, where I live. (See what happened to me when I first had to change my batteries.) The batteries' life is dependent on how deeply they are discharged each time. According to the owner's manual, the batteries can be fully discharged/recharged 300 times, or half discharged/recharged 800 times.
How much maintenance is required?
The Lectra is not much more complicated mechanically than a bicycle; in fact, because most bicycles have derailleurs, the Lectra is in some ways less complicated.
So far (6/23/2002), after over three years of ownership, I have had to:
- put air in the tires,
- replace some wheel bolts,
- tighten the chain,
- replace the chain,
- replace one rear tire (I ran over a screw),
- replace the batteries,
- replace the sprockets, front fork seals, and chain,
- replace the front tire (because it was finally wearing smooth).
The chain ends up being the weak link (no pun intended) because of the high torque of the motor: the motorbike is basically always starting from stop in high gear, putting a lot of stress on the chain. Even with a stronger chain, though, the starting torque will definitely stretch it over time. You should be careful to keep the chain tight because a loose chain then wears on the sprockets, and then you have to eventually change both.
The wheel bolt replacement was a “required service” that EMB asked all owners of a certain series Lectra to do; the wheel bolts it shipped with had some chance of becoming loose. For me the service was purely preventative as the existing wheel bolts seemed to be perfectly tight, when I replaced them.
The only parts that could really cause me serious problems if they broke are the motor itself and the drive electronics. Fortunately, neither of these has yet developed the least problem.
What breaks first? What should I expect to replace?
As of 6/23/2002, nothing mechanical has broken outright on my Lectra. That is, nothing has busted and left me stranded somewhere, although the leaking battery incident comes close. I asked this same question of Scott Cronk and he said that the instrument panel bulbs seem to burn out first. Ironically, I haven't had this problem yet.
Is it safe to ride in the rain?
Yes. There is a warning on the Lectra that there is always some possibility of electric shock, but normal operation in the rain should be fine. One thing to be aware of is that the Lectra's tires are designed for speed and low rolling resistance, which means that you should take care on slippery roads—they are not designed for traction.
What if it sits in the sun?
The only problem I have found is that if I leave the Lectra this way, the cooling fan turns on immediately, as soon as I turn the bike on. This has not been a real problem, although it can mean that the temperature light comes on sooner than it might otherwise.
Is that 200 pound weight limit a rigid requirement?
No. That has to do mainly with the strength of the rear shocks, something that EMB increased for my Lectra, and for the range. Weight is a major factor in the range you get from the batteries. If I weighed 75 pounds less, for example, my range would almost double. (My riding weight is about 205 pounds or so.) So, the more you weigh over 200 pounds, the more disappointing the Lectra's performance will be.
What Actual Owners Ask
How much will it increase my range?
A little. I haven't experienced more than about a 10% increase; maybe 15% under certain conditions. The other advantages are that it's impossible to “lock up” regen braking, and that using it spares the friction-based braking.
Why is it so loud?
It is a good deal louder than the normal forward operation of the motor. According to the EMB mechanics, this actually has something to do with the controller software (!). It's a less efficient energy transfer, evidently. It also contributes to motor heat more than forward operation. I don't know what it is that actually makes the noise.
What is “excessive” regen braking and how will that damage the batteries?
The only danger to the batteries is overcharging. I asked Scott Cronk about this disturbing phrase in the owner's manual and he said it applied to people who live, perhaps, at the top of a tall hill, and after having the Lectra charge in their garage all night, regen-brake all the way down this hill, turning the potential energy of the hill into electric energy.
What's the “best” way to use it?
The owner's manual suggests simply applying both front (disc) and rear (regen) brakes at the same time. This is pretty good advice.
If you are overheating or in danger of it, use the disc brake more.
A final use of regen braking that works well for me is to change the speed at which one “coasts to a stop”. There is no engine compression to slow down the Lectra when you release the throttle, the tires have low rolling resistance, and the weight of the bike itself (350 lb) contributes to your inertia, so that you can coast for a LONG, LONG ways, sometimes surprisingly so. By applying the regen brake just a little, to add to the rolling resistance, you can coast down at the same rate that the rest of traffic is traveling, and be able to recapture the energy, too.
This sounds obvious, but at least for me, it's a different mental operation than “braking”. So, from stoplight to stoplight, it's: start, accelerate, cruise, coast, brake. I hadn't normally thought of using the brakes during coasting, but it works well.
Cooling and the “T” (Temperature) Light
What's that fan I can hear at stoplights?
That fan is keeping the controller and (perhaps) the motor cool. It starts out slow and gets louder and faster as the temperature rises. As it gets louder, you are getting closer to having the “T” light come on. When that comes on, the controller will begin decreasing power to the motor, eventually preventing you from exceeding 30 mph, until the motor cools sufficiently.
How long does it take to cool down?
This seems to depend entirely on the temperature of the outside air. During one hard ride, without any stoplights, at top speed through the night air, I only had to pull off to the side of the road for perhaps two or three minutes, in order to let the “T” light extinguish. I think this was because the main heat source was the motor itself, and the ambient air was pretty cool.
However, on hot Tucson summer days and nights, it seems like the fan runs every time the Lectra does.
What sorts of practices can keep the motor cool?
Not running at top speed (an impractical suggestion, for me). Coasting to stops. Using the disc brake more than the regen. And, oddly, avoiding heavy stop-and-go traffic: a constant speed helps keep the air flowing over the controller and motor.
How do I get into the “trunk” where I can store the manual and my registration?
For me, this wasn't obvious. There are two wing nuts, under the seat, about halfway back from the front of the seat. Unscrew these and the whole seat “cushion” lifts up, to reveal a little shoe-heel-shaped depression, big enough for the manual, registration, and proof of insurance.
What if my license plate doesn't fit the mount on the back of the Lectra?
Not sure if everybody has this problem but I did. For some reason the standard AZ motorcycle plate I got had holes that were just an eighth of an inch too close together. I simply used a drill to elongate one of the holes horizontally, and then it was fine.