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voloci | 48V mod | 36V mod | Reflashing the Voloci controller

Voloci Projects


The Voloci is a lovely electric motorbike that came out in 2001, and unfortunately went out of production a year or so later. My older brothers were involved in the design & production of it and that helped influence me to buy one. I keep it on Martha's Vineyard and ride it around when I'm there.

The Voloci was a bit ahead of its time, mainly due to battery technology. There were two models, one based on Sealed Lead-Acid batteries (same chemistry that's in a car battery), and one based on NiMH batteries (same chemistry that's in the Prius, the previous generation of power tools, and laptops from the 90's). The SLA Voloci's were a bit cheaper, a bit more reliable, and heavier. The NiMH Voloci's (like the one I bought) had a higher sticker price, and a clever removable battery design so you can easily take the battery out of the bike and take it inside to charge it. The NiMH battery weighs around 20lbs and has a handle and a slick quick-release mechanism.

The Voloci is a gorgeous and highly optimized design. It weighs only 50lbs or so without batteries, and less than 80lbs with battery. It's got a high quality full suspension, safety accessories (mirrors, turn signals, headlight, brake light, horn), robust drive train and a very comfortable, easy, responsive ride. Most of the non-frame, non-electric parts are standard moped or bicycle parts.

With all that going for it, why wasn't it a huge hit? In a word: RANGE. This is the same thing that has sunk every previous attempt at a mainstream electric car or bike: limited range due to limited batteries. In the case of the Voloci, I can only reliably go about 7 or 8 miles (at around 20-25mph) before the NiMH battery is exhausted the bike becomes dead weight. I discovered the hard way that running out of juice away from home is no fun, so I keep my Voloci trips fairly short. A few years ago I was also lucky to get a deal on a second NiMH battery pack, which doubles the range to 15 miles or so. It's a fun ride that I greatly enjoy, but I would not recommend it to a non-enthusiast.

Lithium and E-Bikes

Two recent developments have changed the outlook for electric vehicles in general, and the Voloci in my shed in particular:

1. Lithium batteries, especially the newer Lithium Iron Phosphate chemistry (LiFePO4).

2. E-bikes (electric bicycles).

Improvements in laptop and cellphone batteries over the past decade have migrated over to vehicles (e.g. Tesla Roadster). All Lithium chemistries have superior capacity compared to Lead Acid and NiMH, but until recently they've been too costly and fire-prone for mainstream vehicles. The LiFePO4 chemistry (Dewalt power tools, Chevy Volt) has greatly improved the safety, and also dropped the operating cost, among other reasons because they can be recharged thousands of times, unlike all the alternatives.

Meanwhile, on the E-bike front, manufacturers in China have gotten busy mass-producing some essential parts to add electric-assist to ordinary bicycles. E-bikes are a natural niche for electrification because the bike can still be pedalled when necessary. A small, cheap motor and battery that would be wholly inadequate to power the whole vehicle becomes a multiplier of leg power. And if you run out of juice, you can still pedal home. This was the original promise of mopeds, but a gas-driven drivetrain is way too heavy to make pedalling tolerable.

The E-bike phenomenon is a classic example of bottom-up development, based on the cheapest thing that could possibly work.

The bonus for my Voloci is that now I can buy high-performance, relatively low-cost LiFePO4 batteries, all packaged up for use on a bike-sized vehicle.

For example of what happens when people take this too far, see this ride video of a 75mph (!!!) e-bike weaving through Taipei traffic:

Project: souped up Voloci

I've long yearned for some awesome battery technology that I could retrofit onto my Voloci, and now the LiFePO4 e-bike batteries are here to make it possible. Last fall I discovered that one of my old NiMH battery packs was dead, so this summer I undertook a hot-rodding project. The project is detailed here: Voloci 48V mod

Project: replace lead-acid with lithium

This is a less-involved project, to revive and improve a lead-acid Voloci using new lithium batteries. Details here.

Project: reflash a corrupted controller

This is an esoteric but essential repair for a Voloci controller that seems to have lost its mind. Details here.

voloci | 48V mod | 36V mod | Reflashing the Voloci controller

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