Vextrix Electric Maxi-scooter!

by Ben N on December 2, 2014

A few weeks ago, I got a lead on somebody selling a Vectrix electric scooter. I had heard of them before, but didn’t know the details, so I looked them up on the web. A Vectrix is a scooter-styled electric motorcycle. Think of it as the EV version of a Honda Reflex. It does require a motorcycle license (which I already have anyways) but goes freeway speed and can carry a passenger.

That is, it WOULD, if the batteries weren’t dead.

I headed up for a several hours drive towards the Twin Cities to meet with the seller. My buddy, Ryland, lives in a city on the way, so I swung by to pick him up. With a non-functioning NiMH battery pack, it would be helpful to have a friend with to help load the cycle into the back of the truck. Ryland, who is half Lumberjack and half Viking, was the perfect guy to help. of course, it’s also nice to chat and see what his latest project is, in this case, a rocket engine made from old furnace parts. (No Joke. Look for updates on that later this winter.)

IMG_1215We finally arrived at the seller’s and got to take a look at the cycle. A 2007 model, it was in great shape and had a nice bold dark red finish. About 500 original miles on it. The seller described how the cycle had progressively less range until one day, it simply didn’t turn on. He had no experience rebuilding battery systems, and his wife wanted it out of the garage if it was just going to sit there.

We took care of the paperwork and loaded the bike into the back of the truck. By now, it had started snowing. A bit early in the season, I sill had my “all-season” radials on the truck. Once we figured out how to leave the “gated community”, (it was labyrinthian. We had to break out the GPS,) we headed out, dropping Ryland back at his house an hour or so later.

IMG_1219The rest of the ride home was a slow one. Traffic on the interstate was at about 45 mph most of the ride. Plenty of cars in the ditch the whole way home. While having several hundred pounds of non-functioning scooter in the back of the truck didn’t help my suspension, it actually WAS good for traction! Nothing like a little extra weight on the back axle of a rear-wheel drive!

I made it home uneventfully, although late at night.

The next day, I headed over to my parent’s house. My father has an insulated workshop on the back of his garage, with a DIY project of a natural gas furnace converted over to run on a small LP tank. A garage at 55 degrees and no wind is pure luxury compared to working in my dark and cramped garage with the wind whipping straight through the gaps in the wallboards.

DSC_3432I parked the cycle indoors where it would await me until I had a break in my suddenly very busy schedule.

Soooooo, just the other day now, I finally got a chance to crack open the bike and take a look. I had already viewed a number of YouTube videos about upgrading Vectix’s. (Check out YouTube username “Antiscab” for some good videos!) So, I was ready for a little disassembly with my cordless drill and a 10mm socket.

The work is pretty straight-forward. First, I removed the various rubber foot pads and floor mats, followed by a few small trim pieces. Then I removed the seat and the trunk bracket. Finally, I removed the large center cover from the cycle.

This now exposed some of the guts of the vehicle. On top is a cover which is really an air duct. Inside are two fans used to cool the battery pack as it charges. Once that was removed, I could get at the battery pack cover itself. I removed all the bolts holding it on, and then started prying at the cover. Once I got through the gasket-goo holding it on, I could see the tops of the NiMH cells and the motor controller.

DSC_3460The battery pack in a 2007 Vectrix is a 125V nominal Nickel-Metal-Hydride battery consisting of two main blocks of cells, weighing in at about 200 pounds. I put a volt meter on to test the pack. The 125V pack measured…… Two. Two volts! For the entire pack!

Yep, I think it’s safe to say that the problem is with the battery. At least this time I was working on a battery pack WITHOUT the Atlantic Ocean falling out….

DSC_3456So, I guess what’s next is to make a plan. I really don’t have any extra money kicking around to invest in an expensive new lithium pack, but here’s a few options I came up with:

1: Just make the original pack work. The scooter won’t charge because the voltage is too low for the system to boot up. I could try using a pair of small NiMH chargers I have (56V, 1A) to try charging the two halves of the pack. IF I can get some current flowing, that should get the pack up to 100 volts, which should allow the system to kick on, and then use the main charger. I would be able to connect a laptop computer, interface with the cycle, and start running diagnostics to figure out where to go from there.

2: If the original pack trouble was caused by a bad cell or two, I could disassemble the pack, find the bad cells, and replace them, then use the mostly original pack.

3: If the original pack is genuine junk, I should be able to build a new pack from NiMH cells I pulled out of a Ford Escape Hybrid battery pack. I originally planned to use these as an upgrade for my electric Kawasaki, but they might work great on the Vectrix. I already have them and am going through the very slow process of individually recharging them all. It would NOT be a high-capacity pack, but the price is right!

4: Should I want a bigger/better battery pack than I can make from those NiMH D-cells, I could put in some used Thundersky lithium cells. 40AH cells fit PERFECTLY in a Vectrix, and I know of two guys who have some cells for sale. Used cells would be significantly less expensive than new ones.

5: Shell out the big bucks for a a shiny new battery pack. This is the least likely of the options and last for a reason. Batteries are STILL expensive. Even with the ever-falling price of lithium, it’s still unlikely that I would go buy some brand-new cells. Not unless Santa is REALLY nice to me this year.

So, what’s next? Looks like I’ll start poking at the batteries and see if I can get a little charge in them, and check for bad cells. After that, I’ll likely be playing around with those NiMH sticks from the Escape Hybrid.

Stay tuned to see what happens next!

-Ben

{ 2 trackbacks }

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Randy December 2, 2014 at 11:57 pm

Does the Vectrix charger have a computer interface or do you have a computer program and interface to hook up directly to the batteries?

2 Ben N December 3, 2014 at 10:35 am

The Vectrix has a central computer, which has a 9-pin computer connection on it. I’m stilling checking on it, but I believe that this is raw CANBUS data, so I’ll need to get a CANBUS to USB adapter, rather than just a plain serial to USB adapter. However, I can’t talk to the computer until I can get it to power on, which it won’t do until I can juice up some batteries.

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