How to convert your Vespa to electric: new tricks for old dogs

Person riding their classic Vespa scooter
Image source: Adobe Stock

Piaggio’s Vespa was one of the first major scooter brands to launch an electric model, demonstrating its commitment to innovative design that has made the brand a style icon for 75 years.  We’re seeing a huge leap in the sale of electric scooters, and with it, a growing number of people are converting petrol-powered Vespas to run on electricity. In this blog, we take a look at this phenomenon and outline everything you need to know about converting your Vespa to electric.

Why convert your petrol-powered Vespa to electric?

Scooters are a great choice for urban commuting, but with more cities joining London in introducing Low Emission Zones, electric scooters are going to become an increasingly common sight as people make the switch away from internal combustion. But Vespas aren’t just scooters. For many of their owners, they’re a way of life. Converting them to battery power gives these classic scooters a new lease of life in the 21st century, instead of relegating them to the dustbin of history.

Are Vespas easy to convert to electric?

Vespas have certain advantages that make them suitable for conversion. The sheet metal frame makes it easy to hide the battery and has plenty of room for the necessary wiring to be hidden away discreetly. The wheels are the perfect size to replace with a new wheel with a powerful electric hub motor, and the removal of moving parts makes maintenance very easy.

How to convert your Vespa to electric

The good thing about conversions like this is that you can make it as difficult as you want it to be. You could easily do your research and pick up a bunch of readymade components from Ali Express and slap it all together.

If you want to really min-max it, and you’re reasonably confident with a soldering iron, you could create your own custom battery pack from lithium-ion cells. You can find basic instructions to do this online, but with a bit of extra effort, you can create a battery that will fill the available under-seat space and help to increase your Vespa’s maximum range.

As the guide suggests, spend a little extra to get lithium-ion cells from a better-known manufacturer like Panasonic. Why? Because there’s a very good chance that any amazing bargains you find won’t be as amazing as you might have first thought. Many budget batteries are factory seconds or rejects that don’t have the advertised capacity or output or are faulty, which would quickly leave you with a scooter that struggles to find the power it needs.

Which electric motor should I use?

Vespa Elettrica on a grey background
Image source: Vespa website

In terms of choosing the right motor, Piaggio has removed a lot of the guesswork with the Vespa Elletrica. The scooter uses a 4KW brushless motor, and you should be able to find an equivalent quite easily. There might not be as many recognisable brands for electric motors as there are for batteries, so do a bit of research on what other people have used to help you narrow the field a bit more. Many motors come with the controller too.

The last major piece of the puzzle is the swingarm, which connects the wheel motor to the frame. This will often need to be custom made, and it’s vital that it’s built to withstand everything the road can throw at it. If you’re doing a project like this from scratch and you’re not confident in your skills, it’s a good idea to employ the services of an expert. Hiring a local technician to make your custom swingarm or battery will help to guarantee a successful project.

Looking for an easier way to convert your Vespa to electric?

There is every chance you’ve read this and thought to yourself “This sounds cool but also a heck of a lot of work, surely there’s an easier way?” And you’d be right! London-based scooter specialists Retrospective Scooters have created Project:E, the first complete electric conversion kit designed for both Vespas and Lambrettas.

Owner Niall McCart began work on this kit in 2017, teaming up with John Chubb, a retired Royal Navy commander. With degrees in electrical engineering and rocket science, their aim was to give these classic and much-loved scooters a new lease of life. 

An important part of their self-imposed brief was to make sure that the conversion didn’t change any part of the original design. An added bonus: the conversion process is completely reversible if required.

Electric conversion kits for Vespa mopeds and scooters

Kits are available for all major Vespa “types”, in small and large frame versions, as well as a wide mount kit suitable for older models from the 1950s. This makes it possible to convert pretty much any Vespa made between 1946 and 2017. The kit includes:

  • a brushless DC motor with a custom-made swingarm
  • a sinusoidal controller
  • a removable lithium-ion battery with an under-seat battery tray
  • all the cables
  • an LED headlight
  • battery gauge
  • keyless ignition
  • the all-important charging cable

As the hard electrical engineering work has been done for you, the conversion process just involves stripping out the original mechanics and electrics and fitting the new components. Niall estimates that it takes someone with basic mechanical skills about sixteen hours to complete.

What should you expect from a converted Vespa scooter?

When completed, the kit will give you an electric bike with a maximum speed of 55mph and a range of 40 miles. If more range is required, a second battery can be installed for a maximum 80 miles’ journey time.

This is equivalent to Vespa’s official electric scooter, and with prices for the kit starting at £3,450, it’s a much cheaper option if you have a spare scooter sat around ready for conversion.

The coming decade is going to see a huge transformation in the kind of vehicles we use for personal transport. As more manufacturers begin to transition their products away from internal combustion, we’re going to see more people looking for ways to keep beloved vintage machines on the road. For 75 years, Vespas have been pace-setters for innovative scooter design and have a loyal army of owners around the world. The ability to easily convert them to new, greener power sources guarantees that these classic designs will remain familiar sights on our roads for many years to come. 

Get electric motorbike insurance

Whether you’ve purchased your electric bike outright or you’ve converted your old petrol-powered Vespa, call us to get an affordable electric motorcycle insurance quote. We offer a number of optional extras, including cover for your helmet and protective clothing (up to £3,000), agreed value insurance, keycare cover, and more.

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August 8, 2023