Cape Town - The Lightning 9 is the flagship of the EWizz electric scooter range range, produced in China but locally assembled with sophisticated electronics and control systems developed in South Africa.

That’s an ongoing process, so the Lightning you buy may very well have new features the test bike didn’t. But the basics will remain the same - a nine-kilowatt brushless direct current electric motor in the hub of the rear wheel fed by your choice of three battery sizes, depending on how much range you need (between 110km and 175km) and how much you’re prepared to spend (from R84 995 to R99 995). The test Lightning had a 75Ah battery; current models have 80Ah or 100Ah batteries. 

It’s a big rangy scooter, weighing in at 171kg ready to go, with a 1530mm wheelbase, 13 inch wheels, plenty of room for two passengers and a surprisingly generous footwell; most Chinese scooters tend to be a little cramped in this area. A tall screen is part of the styling, and it comes with both side and centre stands - but no parking brake so, as with a conventional scooter, don’t park it facing downhill!

All the lighting is by LEDs to lessen their draw on the battery, including the headlights, which throw an intense blue-white light that not only lets you see where you‘re going but also gets you noticed in traffic - not a bad thing for a vehicle that runs almost silently.

Not noticed enough, however; two pedestrians walked into the Lightning during the five days I had it.

The controls are, however, entirely conventional, with one exception: press what would be the starter button on a scooter with a combustion engine and open the twistgrip, and the Lightning will slowly run backwards - very cool, and very convenient when manoeuvring around in a narrow driveway.

Nine kilowatts doesn’t sound like a lot of power in a world where there are combustion-engined scooters with five times that output, but when you factor in that all the power is available right off the line, it’s impressive.

Snap the twistgrip all the way open when the lights go green; there’s a heartbeat’s worth of hesitation - and then the Lightning gets away fast enough to embarrass most cars and a lot of big bikes (including a BMW R1200GS on Potsdam Road!) up to 80km/h.

100km/h comes up without effort, but it takes a while to work up to its top speed of 122km/h indicated (119 true, cementing EWizz’ reputation as the maker of the most accurate speedometers yet tested by this publication)

Having a big electric motor in the rear hub means the Lightning carries a lot of unsprung weight so the ride, especially at the rear, is firm to the point of harshness. The steering is also surprisingly light and quick for a machine of this size and weight; the bike can get a little twitchy on long fast sweepers.

However, that we are discussing long fast sweepers at all in the context of an electric scooter, says a lot for the Lightning’s real-world capabilities.

Braking on the biggest EWizz is an interesting combination of old-school floating callipers on disc brakes at both ends, and cutting edge regenerative braking at the rear.

The 210mm front brake was, frankly, disappointing, even with the regenerative braking switch in the “ON” position, but the 180mm rear disc was a lot sharper, as is so often the case with scooters, because of their distinct rearwards weight bias.

So much so, in this case, that EWiz advises riders not to use regenerative braking in very wet conditions. In the dry however, using all three brakes together is like running into wet cement, with no misbehaviour from either wheel.

But what about range?

The big talking point with any battery-powered vehicle is, of course, range. EWizz claims between 110km and 175km, depending on which of three batteries you specify. I can only vouch for my experience with the intermediate battery in the test Lightning.

On the Sunday I covered an event that entailed a lot of hard riding on national roads, which meant that the bike spent 95 percent of its running time with the throttle pinned - and the 20 percent 'reinforcement' light came on after just 69 kilometres. It reinforced the hell out of me - I immediately slowed down and the Lightning took me the final nine kilometres to my home without missing a beat.

Two days later I gently commuted to the CBD, and after work took the bike to visit a friend who runs a BMW i3 battery car as his daily transport, cruising all the way at 60-80km/h. I politely declined his offer of a top-up charge while we dropped the engine out of his project bike and arrived home having covered almost exactly the same distance as on Sunday but with four out of 10 bars still showing on the charge meter.

The same friend also pointed out that if I had thrashed an equivalent combustion-engined scooter in the same way up and down the national road on Sunday, I would probably have had to refuel it on Monday anyway.

VERDICT

The admittedly expensive purchase price of the Lightning is offset by its running cost of about 5c a kilometre, and its limited servicing requirements – all it needs after 10 000km or a year of running is a quick check of the charging circuit, the brake pads and wheel bearings; there is simply nothing else to wear out or go wrong.

As a comfortable commuter for grown-ups it has more than adequate range – especially if you have charging facilities at work and, when necessary, it can hold its own at the national speed limit on the motorway.

While I accept that most electricity in South Africa is generated from fossil fuels, so in effect you are riding a coal-fired scooter, at least one Lightning owner in Cape Town charges his scooter off solar panels and gets as much pleasure from thumbing his nose at Eskom as from riding around fuelled by sunshine and good karma.

FACTS: EWizz Lightning 9

Engine:Brushless direct-current electric motor 
Power:9kW
Front Suspension:Conventional telescopic forks
Rear Suspension:Dual shock absorbers
Front Brake:210mm, 2-piston floating calliper
Rear Brake180mm, 2-piston floating calliper
Front Tyre:130 / 60 - 13
Rear Tyre:130 / 60 - 13
Wheelbase:1530mm
Kerb Weight:171 kilograms
Battery Capacity (as tested):72Ah
Price:From R84 995

IOL Motoring