Is this the future of commuting? We test the £2,400 Super Soco – an electric motorbike with a removable battery you can charge in your living room or at your desk
• This zero-emissions Chinese-built bike has a claimed range of just 40 miles and a top speed of 28mph
• It takes 7 to 8 hours to fully charge the battery - though you can do this in your home or the office
• The Super Soco combines a 60-volt lithium battery with a 1,200-watt electric motor powering the back wheel
• After the subsidy offered by the government through the OLEV plug-in vehicle grant, it costs £2,349With the Government adamant that conventional petrol and diesel new cars will be banned from sale in 2040, we're all having to come around to the idea of electric vehicle ownership in the not too distant future. Put it this way: the walls are rapidly closing in on the internal combustion engine, and they all have plug sockets attached to them!
I'm just as hesitant as the next person about making the electric switch. However, I may have stumbled across something that – on paper – could convince me that plug-in power is a logical next step. It's called the Super Soco and it's an electric motorcycle that costs £2,349 and has a claimed range of 40 miles. Not sounding that impressive so far, right?
But it does have a stand-out party piece. The battery is detachable. That means you can simply remove it from the bike, take it into your home or office and plug it into the mains to charge it.
Could this be the practical solution to voltage-only commuting many of us have been waiting for?
Charging on the move: deputy motoring editor Rob Hull spent a week with the Super Soco electric bike. With its innovative removable battery charging solution, is it the ideal vehicle for urban commuting?
Electric vehicles - they're useless to me and many other Britons at the moment
There are four major critiques I have about the current electric vehicle situation.
The range offered is too short. The charging time is too long. There aren't enough public plug-in posts. And prices – even with a little help from Government grants – are too steep compared to a petrol-powered alternative.
Even for someone like me who lives in a big city with a 14-mile-round commute, life with an EV is almost an impossibility.
• I live in an apartment block with no parking facilities. Unless I run an extension cable the length of a fire hose out of my sixth-floor window, there's nowhere within reasonable walking distance for me to charge one at home.
It's a similar situation at work. There are zero plug sockets at the car park under our building and every nearby charge post is occupied with a 'death-trap go-kart' G-Wiz.
The last time I booked an £80,000 Tesla in for a review I had to take it to the nearest fast-charger. That was at Westfield shopping centre, two-and-a-half miles from the office - and that's not a quick journey round here. Is the future really shuttling backwards and forwards by public transport to your £80k electric car that's topping up its batteries? I hope not. And I hate shopping!
There is no question in my mind that the pure electric vehicles on sale today are not feasible for my needs. And I can't help but think that ministers have a monumental job on their hands to convince the nation's 45 million licence holders to switch from petrol to volts. That was until last week...
With the battery in place, the Super Soco weighs 78kg – the battery alone makes up 15% of the total weight
There are four big problems with electric vehicles on sale today: the range is too short, they take too long to charge, there aren't enough public charge points and they cost too much. So is the Super Soco any different?
Step forward the Super Soco...
The unique selling point of this svelte – almost scrawny-looking – little Chinese-made bike is the charging solution it offers.
Hidden beneath the faux fuel-tank cover is a 60-volt lithium battery, which is about the same size as a desktop computer that's been sliced in half.
As with any electric vehicle, this is the heart beat. But unlike any other EV I've tried, you can perform a transplant on it by lifting the power pack straight out of the body.
It takes a matter of seconds – flip a switch to turn off the electrics, remove the power cable from the battery, unlock the pack from its mount in the bike and the power source is completely disconnected.
It's now free for you to carry away and charge from a conventional mains socket at a location that's convenient to you. No more hunting around for vacant plug-in points or struggling with extension leads. It's an ideal resolution, in theory.
But there are a few issues.
The first you'll notice instantly as you hoist the battery from inside the bike. It's not particularly light.
Tipping the scales at 12kg, it's the equivalent of carrying a medium-size bag of fertiliser. If you're leaving the bike a few strides from your front door or office, that's not an issue, but it's a mini workout if you're walking half a mile or so (trust me, I did it).
It also takes quite a long time to charge, despite the compact battery scale. A full replenishment of electricity takes between seven and eight hours. That's on par with many electric cars on sale today when plugged into a standard mains socket.
Lift the faux fuel tank and the battery – which is around the same size as a desktop computer cut in half – can be removed from the bike
A removable battery means you can charge it anywhere there's a mains socket. This means you can charge it at your place of work (left) or at home (right)
Before and after: After completing a 14-mile commute (from a starting charge of 91%), the Super Soco's battery had 20% charge remaining. Plugged into a mains socket in the office while Rob worked, it was back to 100% in time for the journey home
How does the Super Soco differ to an electric bicycle?
The charging adapter – which can also be carried in the battery compartment of the bike – isn't quiet, either. In fact, co-workers complained when I decided to give it a boost of electricity in the office, leaving me no choice but to hop between vacant meeting rooms out of earshot of keyboard-hammering journalists.
To avoid further upsetting the This is Money workforce, I opted to charge the battery at home. It usually completed a full charge in the time between returning from work to getting some shut-eye.
There is another issue that needs to be highlighted, too. That's in relation to security. Because the Super Soco is fitted with an alarm and a clever anti-theft system – when the bike's locked, it detects when it is being lifted from its side-stand by a thief, sounding an alarm. This also triggers the rear wheel to lock solid, making it more difficult for criminals to wheel it away.
This is great in practice, but what about when you're charging the battery and there's no electricity to power the alarm system? If you're parking it somewhere that isn't secure while the battery is being juiced-up, you will need a sturdy lock of some description.
Despite the flaws, this is unquestionably the most practical electric-vehicle charge process I've experienced yet. But how long does that battery power last in real-world conditions?
It takes 'a matter of seconds' to disconnect the battery and remove it. However, weighing 12kg, it's not all that light
The battery compartment has enough room to carry the charger with the battery. There's also enough room for a supplementary battery to double the range, though it will cost an extra £799
It says a 40-mile range, but realistically expect half that
On a full charge, the claim is that the Super Soco can cover 40 miles before you have to reconnect it to the grid.
I quickly discovered that this is only the case if you ride the bike in the 'Eco' setting, which is one of three modes along with 'Normal' and 'Sport'.
For reasons you're soon to discover, I operated mainly in the most battery-sapping mode, 'Sport'. As a result, I watched the suggested 37-mile range displayed on the digital dash deplete fairly dramatically.
After a 14-mile daily commute in this setting, the remaining battery power was between a stated 25 and 30 per cent. That's easily good enough for the average UK commute of just under 17 miles, but I'd imagine a 20-mile journey might incur an uncomfortable period of range panic.
If you wanted to put your mind at ease, you can buy a supplementary battery to double-up on range. It costs another £799 and there's room for it in the battery compartment - you'll just need to pull over to the side of the road to disconnect the power lead from one and attach it to the second unit. It does mean the bike has to pull an additional 12kg in weight, though, which could slightly prune the range.
The batteries are covered by a three-year or 50,000km (31,000 miles) warranty.
Most of the Super Soco is made from plastic. It does feel a little flimsy in places, but it also means it is very lightweight and manageable in town
Rob was impressed with how agile the bike was. This is aided by the bicycle-size width of the tyres, he said
Performance: It's more Brompton than Bugatti
So what's the correlation between range and speed?
The detachable battery feeds electricity to a 1,200-watt motor powering the back wheel to produce an puny 2.61bhp. And some of that underwhelming grunt can even be reigned-in if you choose anything other than the most sprightly mode.
To test the bike in its super-efficient format, initially I braved 'Eco'.
'I can live with a restriction on the power,' I thought. However, the acceleration available in the range-extending setting is worse than sluggish – think of it as a slug towing a slug-size tyre behind it. And that's not the biggest problem. In this setting the top speed is restricted to a paltry 19mph.
This instantly made me feel vulnerable on the road, especially navigating London's hectic traffic with fully-laden double-decker buses and downhill cyclists able to out-pace me.
Fortunately, switching to a more potent mode is a simple case of pressing a button on the right handle bar, immediately releasing an extra dose of torque.
For an electric bike that costs less than £2,500, the full digital display is good quality. The red 'Power' switch, when pressed, turns the motorcycle on with a similar start-up sequence to a laptop
The maximum speed, according to the spec sheet, is 28mph (almost double the restricted top speed of an electric bicycle). Rob said he saw the speedo indicate more than 30mph when riding downhill
While 'Normal' is just about adequate to match the speed of stop-and-go traffic, it's 'Sport' that the Super Soco representative told me to use most frequently. After trying the other two modes, I quickly concurred.
But it's still not what you'd call fast. Whip the throttle to the stop and you gather pace quickly enough to pull a few yards on drivers fumbling with their clutches and gear changes. That gap you've initially extended is short lived, though, and it doesn't take long for following traffic to fill the mirrors.
Navigating roads and traffic flow from North London to Kensington and back, 'Sport' provides more than enough grunt to feel comfortable and safe. And while the spec sheet suggests the maximum speed is 28mph (almost twice the restricted maximum speed of an electric bicycle), a number of downhill runs – with a tail-wind – saw the digital speedometer surpass 32mph.
And it's surprisingly fun to ride, too.
To keep costs down, most of it is made from plastic. While this does make it feel somewhat flimsy it means it's exceptionally nimble and flicks from one direction to the other without much effort. The bicycle-like skinny tyres aid the agility, too.
The cost-saving exercise can also be felt in other departments – quite literally. The upside down front forks and rear shock absorber are definitely not state of the art and provide very little resistance to wrist-jangling stumbles through pot holes, and the seat feels like concrete clad in a millimeter of cushioning. For seven miles, it's not a massive issue, though.
The only other thing to bear in mind is that it's completely silent. That means smartphone-gazing pedestrians won't hear you coming when they're crossing the road, but white-van-men who cut you up can hear every obscenity you're directing their way.
Is this the answer to zero-emissions commuting? If you're daily travel distance is inside 15 miles, yes. However, a journey any longer may incur some range anxiety
Cars & motoring verdict
As an electric vehicle sceptic – for the time-being anyway – the most important question I wanted this week-long test to answer was: Would I buy one? And my response would have to be, yes, I would.
The reality is that it solves almost all of the main criticisms I have for electric-vehicle ownership listed earlier. However, this is only the case with my commuting scenario – if I lived more than 10 miles from work or had to use faster-moving roads, for example, I wouldn't be so confident that this is the solution for me.
My biggest reservation for now is the on-road performance. Undoubtedly, it could do with an extra kick of power. It's not slow, but it also doesn't offer that surge of speed sometimes needed to escape sticky situations when filtering through traffic or overtaking slow-moving vehicles.
Right now, there are other electric bikes on the market with a hell of a lot more poke, take brands like Zero motorcycles and Energica as examples. But they fall foul of the electric-vehicle snags I've always had. They're a pain to charge and – costing well in excess of £10,000 – are far too expensive.
The Super Soco, while far less potent, is at least affordable. At £2,349 – which includes the OLEV grant subsidy for being a plug-in electric model – you can't critique the cost. If the government grant disappears, that price will rise to £2,937.
With off-peak electricity costing around 12p per kilowatt hour, every 100 miles will cost you less than £1, the manufacturer says. And because it emits no carbon dioxide, it's free to tax. You can't get more reasonable than that.
Hopefully, we might see some extra power and reduced charging times soon, but, more importantly, let's hope that others adopt a similar removable-battery concept. But until then, you'll struggle to find a more affordable form of short-distance motorised commuting (without any physical exertion) than this.