The drive to switch to electric vehicles doesn't stop when the tarmac ends. Liam Bell tests the latest model of the Eco Charger quad bike.
As someone who has admired Elon Musk’s Tesla cars from afar, I was delighted and a little excited to be offered the use of the new fully electric Eco Charger quad bike for a week to field test for Shooting Times.
Things are moving on as far as the use and development of electric vehicles are concerned. I feel that as things progress and new ideas and technology come to the fore, electric vehicles will become the norm. It might not happen for another 25 or 30 years, but it is most definitely coming.
Eco Charger quad bike background
The all-electric Eco Charger is the brainchild of Devon farmer Fred Chugg, who was looking for a more economical and environmentally friendly way to run his quad trekking centre in the West Country.
He was spending upwards of £300 a day on fuel filling up the trekking quads and thought electric vehicles would be the answer. He couldn’t find anyone making or selling electric quads — so he started making them. The Eco Charger quad bike is now so successful you can even buy one in Australia.
Fred’s first attempt was the conversion of a 125cc bike in 2011. The one I tested, which has the equivalent power of 450cc petrol engine, has a British-made motor, uses gel batteries from south Wales and is put together in Weston-super-Mare, though the chassis is from Asia.
At first glance, the quad look likes any other. It’s the same size and design, with the same controls. It’s only when you start to look closely that you spot the differences. There are a couple of extra switches, a charging point carefully sealed into an inspection panel in the front wing, the fuel filler cap replaced by an emergency stop button. A digital power meter displays the percentage of power left in the batteries where the fuel gauge would be.
Driving it for the first time felt a bit alien. I simply selected forward or reverse, pressed the accelerator and off I went in total silence. There was no noise until it started to pick up speed, and then all I could really hear was tyre noise and a little whirring from the drive shafts.
It handled well, drove well and pulled away as smartly as our petrol quad. Top speed was a bit slower at 25mph; a little slow for the road, perhaps, but plenty quick enough for farm tracks and across country.
Changing from two-wheel to four-wheel-drive required the push of a button, The diff lock came into its own when I got bogged down on a ride in the wood — where I would probably have got stuck regardless of what I was driving.
The footprint was no wider and the ruts in the wet bits no deeper than my petrol bike, despite this being 120kg heavier due to the gel batteries. You’ll be able replace them with lighter lithium ones in a couple of years.
The load capacity is the same as a petrol quad of the same size, but the racks are a little smaller and a slightly different design. Not an issue for feed as you are governed by weight. But not as handy for odd-shaped loads that need strapping on. Fully loaded it pulled up the banks and handled as well as any quad I’ve driven.
An add-on you can see in the picture here is the Lifeguard roll bar, which has been developed in New Zealand. We need quad roll bars in this country and it’s the first I’ve seen that’s impressed me.
It is essentially a spine of plastic vertebrae, strong enough to protect the quad if it rolls yet capable of moulding itself around a trapped limb so it’s not crushed. The YouTube videos are most impressive.
The lack of engine noise was bliss. As a result I could hear the partridges calling and pheasants cocking. Anything and everything I usually miss when the quad and mule are being driven along by their petrol engines.
Under ideal conditions — and I am guessing that means unloaded and on fairly flat ground — the batteries are supposed to give you between 30 and 35 miles on a single charge.
Driving up the banks on wet ground, and at times fully laden, the charge indicator and range soon dropped, though the Eco Charger never ran out of power.
The new lithium batteries will extend the range to 70 miles. However might have had to go back for a recharge had we been testing it in summer when we are covering much more ground.
The quad comes with a charger that simply plugs into the mains. It charges at about one per cent a minute and will be 70 per cent charged from flat in an hour. I plugged it in over lunch if it was low, and left it on trickle-charge overnight to fully recover.
The good news is that it’s much cheaper than filling up with petrol and as long as you have an electricity supply you will never run out of fuel.
So how did the Eco Charger quad bike compare with our petrol quad? The short answer is well. However I have some reservations over the relatively short battery life and the cost. There are lots of positives, however— zero emissions, low noise, and low fuel and maintenance costs.
We may not be in the market for an electric quad just yet, but I am sure plenty of people will be. I am equally certain we will see more of them in the future.
- Power steering
- Switchable 4WD
- Switchable forward/reverse
- Diff lock
- High-low gearbox
- Shaft drive
- Hydraulic front disc brakes
- Rear disc brakes
- Adjustable shocks
- 15kw permanent magnet DC motor
- Regenerative braking
- Reduced maintenance costs
- Weight 496kg
- 12-month guarantee, with a three-year option
- RRP £15,000 plus VAT (charger included)
Handled as well as any quad I've driven