Electric Tricycle Replica Review: Super Enlightening, Mildly Terrifying
I'm an advocate for electric cars needing to get back to basics. There's no need to be running off, sticking in 56-inch touchscreens, or making the EV larger than a small European state. Really, one of the things we should be working on is taking existing chassis, finding ways to quickly convert them to EVs, and worrying about all the fancy stuff later. Nothing new under the sun and all that, which is how I found myself driving a converted motor tricycle from 140 years ago through the British countryside.
Two weeks ago, journalist Jeremy Hart got in touch with me and asked me if I wanted to drive a replica of an EV from 1881. The answer, obviously, was yes. Nothing on earth could be more my jam than this. Once I'd worked out if it was legal for me to actually leave my house and drive something under the U.K.'s lockdown restrictions, I was straight on the train to Surrey to have a go in a remake of what was very probably the first-ever vehicle with a rechargeable battery.
Not sure what image you were expecting here but: Yes, this is an electric cargo motor tricycle from 1881. Or, well, an unbelievably faithful replica of one that Hart commissioned and artisan bicycle designer Christian Richards built.
Because the original vehicle was an adaptation rather than a purpose-built chassis, the yoke-like pedals in front still work and can power the vehicle—and swing wildly, threatening to take your shins out when it's under motor power. The single seat is at the top, perched a bit perilously, and the battery is—as it seems to have been on the original—in a pannier attached to the rear of the bike. The motor drives the big left-hand wheel and the two smaller wheels are connected to what's surprisingly responsive steering.
Now for the facts about this vehicle. It's not really a stat sheet so much as it is a story.
Before 1881, there had already been some progress at making electric vehicles happen. Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian inventor, had made a small cart that used a motor to move in 1828. Four years after that, Moritz Jacobi, a Russian engineer, made an electric boat using non-rechargeable batteries that poisoned its passengers so seriously even the early pioneers of vehicles were forced to admit they'd succumbed to nitrous fumes.
By 1839, a Scottish inventor called Robert Davidson created something that, today, is widely credited as being the first electric car. It ran through the streets of Aberdeen, Scotland, with a passenger, but everything we know about it—which admittedly, is a surprisingly small amount for what was a huge breakthrough—says it used chemical, non-rechargeable batteries.
When Hart and Richards set out to replicate the cabin motor tricycle French inventor Gustave Trouvé took to the streets of Paris in 1881, there was so little documentation that a quick sketch was basically all there was to go off of. It's significant, as a vehicle, because it was rechargeable and Trouvé drove it down regular roads—which as anyone who's driven in Paris knows is kind of an experimental experience even if you're in a well-tested Renault Clio.