Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

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Caruso
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From 'The Motor Cycle' April 18th 1936:

Belgian Machine Tried on the Road: It's Appeal and It's Limitations.

Has the electric motor cycle a future? What are it's advantages and disadvantages? On the Continent the electric motor cycle has made considerable headway. Was that solely owing to lack of petrol during the war or has the machine an appeal of it's own? In Britain electric motor cycles have been made - not many, and nearly all of a home made variety, with car batteries and car starter motors fitting in lightweight motor cycle or even bicycle frames. What of true production-model electric motor cycles?

A Belgian manufacturer, Socovel, has made over 1,000 electric motor cycles. The Motor Cycle decided to import one to examine it, test it, use it and learn all it could about such a machine. Last month the latest Socovel arrived. It is an interesting machine with appealing characteristics. In no way, however, is such a machine a rival to the motor cycle. It's speed and it's range per charge are too limited. On the other hand, thean electric motor cycle might attract many whose needs or desires are not met by motor cycles and autocycles. There are no gears, no clutch, no starting difficulties - merely a twist of the grip on the right handlebar and the brakes. To start the machine the grip is turned and the machine gently and silently glides away, picking up speed in the manner of a trolley-bus. To stop the machine the grip is moved backwards, whereupon the machine free-wheels and is halted by applying the brakes. Could anything be more simple? The Socovel is a machine built on motor cycle lines, and usually has a pillion seat, there is a heavy type of duplex cradle frame of welded construction, central-spring front forks, and generally, a heavyweight motor cycle specification that includes large-section tyres on small diameter rims 3.25 x 14 Englebert tyres - a spring top saddle with a single, adjustable tension spring as the suspension and a normal rear carrier of tubular construction. The machine is longer than a normal motor cycle and unusually wide at the footrests. The wheelbase is approximately 60in, while the total width over the footrests is some 29in; the width of the battery box is 15in. The motor is of 8in diameter and approximately 10-1/2in overall. A tapping off the front battery provides current for the 6v lighting and horn. The brakes are of 6in diameter.

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Caruso
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

As suggested, the machine is no lightweight - indeed, weight is one of it's main disadvantages. The three 12v batteries total 201lb and the machine, with batteries, 441lb. With such a weight the central stand, which is not of a low-lift type, is very difficult to operate single handed.

The sensation of gliding away, the result of merely moving the right handlebar grip, is enthralling. In short, it is a type of machine anybody can ride straight away; it is not merely as simple as, but more simple than, any pedal cycle. On roads that are approximately level the machine travels at anything from about 16 to 20 m.p.h. It does so with complete silence except for the noise from the chain drive. On the batteries fitted as standard - the three 12-volt "Tudor (Bruxelles)" - the total distance covered on a full charge was 27-1/2 miles. This was on to-and-fro runs over a slightly undulating road on a rather windy day. The speed in one direction was approximately 20 m.p.h. with a current consumption of 24 amperes at a voltage under load of 35-1/2. In the opposite direction the speed was around 16 m.p.h. and the consumption 33amps.

At 21 miles the voltage had dropped to 34; at 22 miles to 33; and at 24 miles to 32. Then there was a rapid drop and, with it, of course, a sudden and big decrease in speed. At 27.4 miles the voltage was but 9 and the the machine would barely crawl along. Leave the machine a short time and the batteries naturally pick up. After the machine had been standing about a quarter of an hour, following stopping at 27-1/2 miles, it covered a further half mile. The speed of the machine at 28 miles was under 10 m.p.h. and the voltage approximately 14. It is possible, therefore to cover an additional distance by switching off for a short time, covering another half-mile or so, and repeating the procedure. Also of course, a greater mileage will result if the machine is not ridden for over 27 miles non-stop, as was the case with the first duration test.

In this country, and with the design of the Socovel, in which there is no inbuilt charging arrangement. It is not a question of the owner merely plugging in to the house circuit when the machine is left overnight.

Caruso
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

Normally, a rectifier will be called for and the cost of a suitable charger. At present prices,is in the region of £30. Traction batteries are usually guaranteed for two to three years, but with proper usage can be counted to last almost indefinitely. Weight can no doubt be reduced, but it is inevitably a problem with a battery-electric motor cycle. Mileage per charge is a more material factor. A total distance of 50 miles would appear to be a minimum range to aim at. What of the cost of an electric motor cycle? Naturally, this depends on many factors but it is not impossible to visualise a machine which incorporated a means of battery charging, yet compared in price with lightweight motor cycles. A fact which may not be appreciated is that such a machine can have a very good performance on hills. The Socovel would restart with ease - would even spin it's rear wheel if the twist grip was opened rapidly on a hill with a gradient of 1 in 7.

A novelty the machine may be, but it was not merely with this in mind that The Motor Cycle bought and imported the Socovel electric motor cycle. The object was to learn something about a production model electric motor cycle that has sold in considerable numbers to determine what progress has been made and to assess the possibilities of a two wheeler that is different, a gentlemanly machine if ever there was one.

LeftieBiker
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

The more things change, the more they stay the same! No doubt the manufacturer claimed a range of 50 miles and a top speed of 30MPH...

Aircon
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

any photos with that article?

Caruso
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

Aircon wrote:

any photos with that article?

No but here's one I found on the web that matched the small line drawing that was in the article.

Aircon
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

Caruso wrote:
Aircon wrote:

any photos with that article?

No but here's one I found on the web that matched the small line drawing that was in the article.

That's just a Vectrix with the fairing removed :)

MEroller
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

Indeed, this looks just about the same as my scoot sans bodywork! 1936, eh? Back to the Future it is :-)

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reikiman
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

I was just amused at how the reviewer described the "growing amps" process of letting the cells rest so you can go again for awhile. It's not a recommended practice of course ..

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PJD
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

Yeah, nor is draining a 36 lead acid battery pack down to just 14 volts under load. But how could the reviewer know this?

LeftieBiker
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Re: Socovel Electric Bike Review from 1936

IIRC, those old flooded-cell batteries were heavy and had relatively low capacity, but were extremely tough.

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