The name of Piaggio is not well-known in North America, but they are a well-established brand in Europe. This Iconic Italian company has been slow to commit to a significant electric bike, but their history shows that they are serious about this new product. They revealed this new model on the 4th of November at the EICMA 72nd International Motorcycle Exhibition in Milan, Italy.
The History of Piaggio
After the devastation of WWII, the Italian company Piaggio switched from producing aircraft parts to scooters, since affordable and fuel-efficient transportation was the most pressing need in the post-war economy. There had already been many examples of small motorcycles, but by adding a forced-air fan, a scooter engine no longer had to be mounted at the front of vehicle for cooling (in the airstream). This configuration shift resulted in the class-defining Vespa scooter (Vespa is Italian for “Wasp“). Its popularity resulted in an entire class of vehicle being commonly referred to as a “Vespa-style” of scooter.
Tadpole Scooters, E-scooters, and Plug-In Hybrids
The next noteworthy innovation from Piaggio is a recent tadpole-configuration scooter with a front suspension that leans into turns. By having two wheels in front, it is still classified as a scooter (with all the licensing, registration, and insuring benefits), but this dramatically improve the cornering and braking performance.
They released their tilting-tadpole “MP3″ model in 2006, including engine sizes from 125cc-500cc. In 2009, they released their patented “HyS” model that had a hybrid gasoline-electric drivetrain, which included a 12-mile “electric-only” mode for use in low-emission zones. The addition of an integrated electric motor allows this model to have strong acceleration from a smaller gasoline engine, and the HyS model is reported to provide 141-MPG while still having exceptional thrust from a standing start.
The earliest E-bike model I could find is the 1995 250W Piaggio “Albatros“. The seat flips up to allow removal of the vertically-mounted pack, made from three 12V / 7-Ah Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) batteries for a total of 36V. The original front hub-motor was a brushed, but in the picture below, the battery case has been gutted and refurbished with a lithium pack, and the front motor was upgraded with a slightly larger Chinese brushless 400W model. The original gear-set is a 5-speed Internally-Geared-Hub (IGH) from the well-regarded German firm Sachs.
In 2012, Piaggio developed the “Ciao” concept E-bike, which attempted to leverage injection-molded plastics to make an affordable, light-weight, and compact city E-bike. It also used a fully-enclosed shaft-drive. It used a 350W geared hub inside the front wheel, with a Lithium-Ion battery embedded in the center of the frame. The shape and name come from a popular gasoline scooter that Piaggio made for 41 years, starting in 1967.
The 2014 Piaggio “Electric Bike Project”
Piaggio owns the Vespa line of scooters, and also the Aprilia brand of performance street motorcycles, along with the Moto-Guzzi line of large cruiser motorcycles. As a result, they are one of the premier presenters at the annual EICMA International Motorcycle Exhibition in Milan. This year, on November 4th, they included a display of their new electric mid-drive bicycle, which they are calling the “Electric Bike Project”.
The Piaggio drive
Piaggio claims that they have developed their new mid-drive motor using their own in-house expertise. They are certainly capable of doing that, but they are being very secretive about many of the details…and of course…the details are what we here at electricbike.com are interested in.
Piaggio has not published many details, so we will add them as we find them. The hydraulic braking system uses a 180 mm disc on the front, and 160 mm on the rear. The toothed-belt drive appears to be the quiet, clean, and very strong Gates Carbon Drive system.
The battery is listed as a 400-WH Lithium-Ion pack.
NuVinci N360 Transmission
The Piaggio will be using the NuVinci N360 transmission in the rear hub, from Fallbrook Technologies. This innovative IGH uses a variable angle on the pivots of steel balls that are coupled with input/output friction rings to create a compact Continuously-Variable-Transmission (CVT). Because it does not use conventional gears, it cannot take high power, but…for a mild-assist Euro-spec street pedelec…it is an upscale feature that high-end customers will appreciate. It runs silently, and can be shifted while at a stop.
The Piaggio goes a step further by also including the Fallbrook Harmony H|Sync auto-shifting system to further simplify the shifting controls clutter that is normally found on the handlebars.
Written by Ron/Spinningmagnets, November 2014