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This page describes my purchase of an EMB Lectra electric motorcycle and the experiences I have had since owning it. Some specs:
 

Motor EMB VR24 "variable reluctance" motor - designed by EMB specifically for this bike. Puts out 3hp continuous, 8hp peak
Controller Proprietary EMB controller for VR24 motor
Batteries 4 Optima "Yellow Top"
Charger EMB 440 - designed by EMB for this bike. Accepts 90-264 vac input at 47-63 Hz
Top Speed 50+ mph
Range Up to 35 miles with a light driver and optimum conditions (15-20 "real world")
Cost $4499

I got mine for $3995 plus about $340 for shipping. The price went up shortly after my order. I'm told that I have the first Lectra in Utah - not a big surprise, but still neat. I'll be using it primarily to commute to work (3 miles each way) and to run errands around town. I expect that my '93 Ford Escort will see little use when it's not snowing or raining. I intend to do an electric auto conversion in the next couple years so I'll be completely independent of fossil fuels except for long trips.

After several email exchanges with Scott Cronk, owner/founder of EMB, I convinced my wife that this was a "Good Idea" and ordered one in mid February. Scott has been really good at promptly answering all of my questions regarding the Lectra.

It arrived today and so begins my Lectra diary...

3/9/99 - It arrives!
At 3:30 a large truck pulls up to my driveway. Within about 15 minutes the friendly driver and a friend of mine manage to unload the 6' x 4' x 3' crate into my garage. It even has a genuine "this end up" arrow on the side, just to make sure that careless shipping personnel don't flip the 500 pound box upside down, which they would surely do in absence of that helpful arrow.

We quickly remove the top of the crate which is secured by about 15 screws. Looking down through the sawdust I see my new toy for the first time. I rifled through the tail pack to find various goodies - alarm dongles, EMB T-shirt, rear view mirrors, etc. There's also an envelope stapled to the inside of the crate containing an owner's manual, EMB key chain, screws to attach handlebars, warranty info, registration card, certificate of origin, and a little card that certifies that I own the worlds first electric motorcycle. The owner's manual contains a mini "tool kit" consisting of two allen wrenches and a couple spare fuses. Well that was neat - back to work to finish up some uncompleted tasks.

I didn't last long at work - I'm back in under an hour. Following the instructions that were attached to the outside of the crate, I removed the back end of the crate(several more screws), a structure securing the rear wheel(more screws), and a large padded piece of lumber that held the seat down.(and more screws) The handlebars had been removed from the bike and bolted to the inside of the crate - I had to unbolt them, and then roll the bike out and reattach them with the provided allen-head screws.

At this point I noticed that the bike had shifted a bit during shipping, causing it to rub against the handlebars mounted to the side of the crate and as a result I have gouges in the headlight housing and the paint just next to the instrument panel. There's no structural damage, but I hate when new stuff(especially expensive new stuff) isn't just perfect. I emailed Scott about it, but I haven't heard back yet.

Now that everything is assembled I decide to take my first ride. Drat! It's raining. Oh well, I'll take a quick spin. I drive for just over half a mile. Wow! This is cool - just a hum as I cruise along. It is quiet, but the sound it does make is very unique so I expect there will be a lot of heads turning when I drive into town. My top speed on this little ride was only 30, but it got there very quickly. I'll take it out again tomorrow if the weather clears up and give it some more throttle.

There's a short cord(10 feet?) in a nylon pouch under the seat. It uses the same kind of 3-pin connector that you find on the back of a computer, so I'm going to leave it in the pouch for "on the road" use and just leave a computer cable in the garage so I don't have to pack/unpack the power cord. I'm going to look into finding a retractable system that will fit on the bike somewhere.

That's it for today - tomorrow I'll try to get it registered. I'm not sure how Utah handles EV's, but I'll find out.

3/10/99 - Registration
It's sunny today. After a few calls I find out that Utah does not require emission inspections on motorcycles. I can't say I agree with that policy, but it does make today's work simpler. I just need to find a motorcycle safety inspection place. I found a little shop that's located behind someone's house and they did the inspection quickly with no hassles. There were a few guys there with lots of questions about the Lectra. "How fast does it go?" "How far?" "How much did it cost" etc.

Safety certificate in hand, I headed to the registration office. Oops - forgot the bill of sale. I had to head back home. I got on a 45mph road and hit around 48mph. I definitely need to get a helmet, 45mph wind is COLD when it's 55 degrees out. By the time I got home, I was down to two little LEDs(out of 5) on my state of charge(SOC) meter. I figured I could probably still make it to the registration place and back - nope. About 1/2-way there I lose power. It took me a moment to remember that the controller software cuts power when you drop under 20% SOC and you have to hit the "reserve" button to get going again. I do that and make it back home to plug in.

I had traveled 12.7 miles on that charge and I suppose I could have got another few miles before I was completely out of juice. If I stayed on slower roads and was more conservative in my driving I may have got a few more miles there too. If you drop below 10%, the electronics supposedly limit your max speed and acceleration so you can get maximum range until you find somewhere to charge.

I headed back to the registration office in my trusty old Ford Escort. 30 minutes later and $284 poorer I have plates and registration. I also received my first electric vehicle "perk" - I didn't have to pay the $1 emission fee. :-)

Riding impressions: This thing is really fun! It feel more like an amusement park ride than a vehicle. It's doesn't have any trouble keeping up with city traffic, though cruising at 45 drains the batteries quickly. Going up a moderate hill it dropped to about 40 mph. It feels very maneuverable, easily leaning into turns. The brakes are responsive. As I mentioned before, it's an attention getter - everyone within 100 feet of me would turn to check out the strange whirring motorcycle.

Now the bike's legal - next: ME! I don't have a motorcycle license yet, so I need to get down to the DMV and take a written test as well as a parking lot skills test. I'm going to try to do that tomorrow.

3/11/99
Last night I drove the route from the DMV to my home in my car and measured it as 6 miles even, for a 12 mile round-trip. Considering my range on the first charge, I may be pushing it a bit but I'll give it a go.

Well that was disappointing. I filled out a form, waited in a long line, passed the written test handily and FAILED the skills test. Problem: I ran over some cones in a slalom test - my fault for not practicing slow turning maneuvers, but two other tests involved achieving a set speed, then performing a maneuver (stopping or swerving) at a precise point. Since the Lectra's speedometer is located on the "gas tank" I cannot look at it and the track at the same time. Next time I'll just have to ignore the speedo and hope I can hit the right speed. It wasn't a total loss though - I did get a learner's permit that makes it legal for me to drive on surface streets during daylight hours as long as I don't carry a passenger.

I'm not sure what they are going to do when I do pass the test, as they were a bit confused when my answer to their question of "What is the displacement?" was "zero." In Utah, there is a restriction put on scooters/motorcycles with engines smaller than 80 cc's that states that the driver may not ride on the freeway. I don't plan on taking the Lectra on I-15, but I'd still like to get by without the restriction so if I get a more powerful bike in the future I won't have to go back to the DMV. Neither the clerk nor the tester knew what to call it, but it's a non issue until I pass the test.

The round trip to the DMV, including the driving test, came to 12.9 miles. I had to hit reserve on the way back but the last green LED was still lit when I got home. I have a dentist appointment this afternoon, so I'll get to take another ride today.

3/12/99
I've decided to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation ridercourse. It's $100 for two weeks of motorycle riding/safety instruction and a DMV skills test waiver - yep I'm going to BUY my license. :-) The MSF course is a good idea even if you don't fail the test as it teaches many skills that you might otherwise never learn. It makes my wife happy too.

I also heard back from Scott today. He usually responds within 24 hrs, but he had been out of town. He's offered to replace the damaged parts when he gets new stock in. I am impressed with the offer as I didn't explicity request new parts in my email to him, though I was hoping I could get them replaced.

I think this will be my last daily log. I'll update this page whenever something interesting happens with the Lectra. If you don't see any entries for a while, then I'm having a good time riding a trouble-free EV.

3/17/99 - 100 miles
I hit 100 miles on the odometer on the way home yesterday. I also did 50mph, though acceleration is slow after 40mph so it took a while to get there. I'm starting to memorize distances between the various places I go. 2.8 miles to work, .8 miles from work to the racquetball court, etc. A couple times I've thought to myself "if I only had a few more miles" but usually the range is adequate for my needs.

I keep getting the same set of questions about the bike, I think I need to make up some cards that say "It can go 50 mph. It has a 15-mile range. It takes 4 hours to charge. It costs about $4500. Yes, it just plugs into the wall. Yes, you can listen to me drive off."

I also got my "service manual" in the mail today from EMB. It's actually a spiral-bound book of CAD assembly drawings. There are 17 drawings, detailing the assembly of everything from headlight to the suspension. I wish all vehicle manufacturers provided something like this. It's much more useful than those fix-it-yourself guides at the auto parts store that give vague descriptions and poor photographs of part locations. Other important tidbits of info are included, including bolt torque values and where to use threadlock compounds etc. Using this booklet, I could completely disasemble and rebuild my Lectra.

4/16/99 - 250 Miles
There hasn't been an update for a while - partly because I've been having a pretty trouble-free experience with my Lectra, partly because I lost my job and have been busy looking for another. I just started my new job on Monday with a raise and better benefits. Life is good.

Anyway, about the Lectra... It's been running well for me, but hasn't gotten much riding over the last couple weeks because of the job search. I interviewed at several places absolutely out of range for the Lectra. The job I landed is located about 7 miles from home, which is just barely in range for a round trip. I was excited to find out just today that there's an outlet I can use for charging during the day so I can run errands at lunch and don't have to worry about conserving power during the comute with careful acceleration and braking.

I've learned that I need to be careful about giving people a ride on the back - the weight is no problem, but it's very easy for the passenger to accidentally bump the rear fender/chain guard into the rear wheel. Mine now has a 3/4" crack in it because of this. Scott says the replacement cost is $41 - not unreasonable at all. He also says it's just ABS plastic so I can probably find a solvent-based adhesive to repair the one I've got. I'll probably still order a spare just in case.

My only maintenance so far has been a chain tightening. This was very easy, but it wasn't clear that it was needed, except for an obnoxiously loud sound from the chain slapping against the chain guard during regenerative braking.

When driving normally, the chain is under tension at the top and just kind of hangs underneath. When using regen braking, the tension is at the bottom and the slack hangs at the top. If the chain is loose it hits the chain guard. For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with the rear brake, but after taking the fender off to inspect the aformentioned crack, the sound went away. Aha!

I followed the instruction for tightening the chain as described in the user manual. It all went smoothly and now the chain is very quiet. In fact it is making less noise now than I recall it making when I first got the bike. Perhaps it was too loose at first or loosened up very quickly. Scott indicated that there have been other comments about this and that he is considering using a higher quality chain in the future.

He also says my replacement parts should be delivered in a week or two, along with some parts for a "service upgrade." I'll post more info on that when I receive the package.

4/17/29 - Sebastopol Spy Report
Agents in deep cover within the EMB organization have produced a photograph of the prototype of the EMB lectra. As you can see, a lot has changed since the original model, though my agents report that the next model from EMB will have a similar "chopper" style. Time will tell...

4/26/99 - Parts Arrived
I finally got my new body panel and headlight casing. They look very nice and I look forward to installing them. I also received the service upgrade. It consists of 6 screws, a new rear brake drum, some threadlock, a couple cotter pins and installation instructions. I should have time to install everything in the next day or two.

The service kit includes instructions to include receipts from any mechanic work for EMB to reimburse - I had them send me a new rear fender instead.

4/28/99 - Installed Service Upgrade
This went pretty smoothly. Basically, the screws holding the front disk and rear drum had to be replaced with those in the package. The rear drum needed to be replaced too, though I didn't see any distinct difference betwen the old one and the new one. All the screws required liberal amounts of threadlock.

The instructions could have been clearer, but I guess this upgrade only affected about 70 bikes and most amateur mechanics like myself should be able to figure them out.

4/29/99 - Installed New Dash
A whole lot of fixing and not much riding going on right now, but that's alright - it's been raining for the past week. After removing the bolts the secure the dash panel to the bike, there were a variety of unmarked wires that had to be removed from the dash - 4 single connecter wires, five wiring harnesses, and the connection from the speedometer to the pickup on the front wheel. I sure hope I remember what goes where.

Once the dash is off, you need to remove the circuit board which is secured by 4 screws. Under the curcuit board is an aluminum panel which is the backside of the black dash that you see from the outside. Five nuts are removed and the dash is carefully separated from the panel - it's sealed with silicone, so you need to be careful.

After separating the dash, I used a razorblade to remove the silicone from the panel before applying a new, thin layer before installing in the new panel. The dash is placed in the new body panel and the five nuts are snugged down, then the little bit of extra silicon that squeezed out the front is wiped up. Now to put it back on the bike.

Let's see, grey wire goes here, red one goes right here... <SPARK> Ooops. Hmm, let get the multimeter. OK, that's 24 volts - must be the battery. That big long grey one is the ground. OK, one more time... <SPARK> Geeze. OK, be brave. I'll just ignore the spark and hope that if this is wrong the fuse will blow. Deep breath. <SPARK> Hmm, it's connected now. No smoke. I'm Alive. Great!

After the much less exciting plugging-in of the other connectors, I start checking everything. horn-OK, signals-OK, headlights-OK, taillights-OK, hand brake-OK, foot brake-... hmm. The brake light isn't going on. I must have screwed up somewhere. After checking under the dash, everything *appeared* to be fine. I couldn't figure out which wire is coming from the brake, so I took off the right-side body panel. The bike looks really cool naked with all its batteries showing. I'll have to get some pictures of it to put in the gallery.

Anyway, after some fiddling around, it turns out that the brake switch that is activated by stepping on the pedal is bad. I've emailed Scott about it - I'm sure he'll send me another. Tomorrow I'll install the new headlight casing.

9/7/99 - 1062 Miles
It's been a while since my last update so this one will be long - bear with me.

The headlight casing has a couple of crimped-on nuts that bolts fasten to. The casing I received did not have these nuts so I was sent another one. This was months ago and I still haven't gotten around to replacing it. Soon...

I did recieve a new break switch and Scott included an extra tail light as a bonus. I haven't installed that either, as I've used been primarily using the hand brake as the regen braking heats up the motor pretty fast. I may even disable the regen breaking, as I get the impression that it only returns a marginal amount of charge.

The self-loosening chain was getting more and more annoying so I ordered a new D.I.D. brand chain that is much quieter and hasn't had to be adjusted since I installed it about a month ago. EMB now uses this chain on all new Lectras and would probably have replaced mine for free if I has asked. It was only about $15+shipping from Motorcycle Accessory Warehouse, so no big deal.

While changing the chain, I was going to put on my shiny new rear fender but when fitting it I found that it rubbed against the chain and the rear tire. After some wrangling to see if there was somewhat I could make it work, I gave up and reinstalled my old cracked fender. Shortly after that I received some correspondence from another owner who's fender has sustained a lot of damage from wheel contact as my original one had. This appears to be a design problem but I have been reassured by EMB that an aluminum brace is under development to correct this problem and should be available in the next few weeks.

Last week I sent an email to Scott Cronk about a few problems I was having. (the fender, a fogged speedometer, and a loose sprocket.) I received a call at my office shortly after that from Scott. He told me about the fender bracket that he would be sending to me, offered to replace the speedometer for free and said he'd put me in touch with the head engineer about the sprocket. I was impressed by the service and have since received the offered speedometer. I need to extract my old one to send it back. Upon closer inspection of my sprocket, it is within the spec stated by Mr. Cronk so I will not need to waste the engineer's time.

It's starting to get cool here in Utah Valley, so I'll need to pick up some gloves and maybe a new jacket for the last couple months of the riding season.

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