The electric-powered, silent all-terrain EcoCharger quad bike is causing quite a stir, reports Ian Mason
A small crowd had gathered in Gunmaker’s Row at the CLA Game Fair. The focus of interest was a beefy but otherwise pretty standard looking quad bike. The EcoCharger was gliding back and forth across Blenheim’s sun-baked grass – but how? The weird thing was the total silence. Not a sound.
Mention electric quads and most people think of those dinky micro-models made for kids. But the beast in front of me was no toy. On the contrary, the EcoCharger looked a real work-horse.
The fruit of years of development by Devon farmer Fred Chugg, the UK’s first grown-up all-electric quad bike claims some impressive statistics: zero road tax and running costs of just 1.5 pence per mile (equivalent to 380 mpg on a standard quad) should tickle the interest of anyone struggling to keep a cap on shoot or farm costs.
Fred knows farming, and he knows quad bikes inside out. His family have farmed near Ilfracombe since the 15th century. Home is Keypitts Farm, set in a picturesque valley just three miles from the North Devon coast. In 1997, Fred and his wife Wendy decided to diversify away from beef and sheep farming and built an adventure and quad bike centre. Business grew and they now hire up to 80 quads a day. Fred couldn’t help but notice the £400 a day he was spending on petrol.
“This set me thinking,” he told me. “I’ve got 30 years experience working with standard quads, but I thought there must be a way forward for an electric-powered ATV.”
Two years development
Fred hired a mechanic/electrical engineer, took a sabbatical from the hire business and spent two years plus half a million pounds developing the electric quad. What started as ‘two men in a shed’ has grown and his EcoCharger quad range now embraces a two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and six-wheel drive versions. The first six quads were sold through Mole Valley Farmers, to be tried and tested as engineering samples. After more than three years being worked hard in the field, these are still performing well, says Fred.
Fred found that the major banks were unable to help him when the time came to expand and upscale manufacture. He is currently poised to get an all important CE mark for the EcoCharger (which denotes compliance with European legislation) for the quad and with a new business partner on-board to drive sales and marketing, will be targeting EU countries such as Germany and Holland where there is a great demand for green technology.
The bikes are 72 volt with the weighty batteries sitting low in the frame. This adds ground-hugging stability (a tipping point 10 degrees greater than a standard quad) improved up-hill climbing performance and better grip in mud, says Fred. Regenerative braking reduces wear on brakes and puts power back into the battery when descending hills.
A top speed of 30-36 mph (depending on model) is slower than a standard quad, but given the nationwide litany of ghastly accidents featuring petrol quad bikes, this may be no bad thing. A range of 30 miles should be adequate for most shoot work with a full five-hour recharge costing just 50 pence.
The running costs for Fred’s EcoCharger ATVs compared with a standard quad are shown in this table:
“Individuals switching to electric often get what we call ‘range anxiety’,” said Fred: “But most people tend to over-estimate their daily mileage. Our farm is 200 acres and we have done everything on the farm from fencing, to bump starting seven-ton tractors, to shifting half-ton loads of hardcore using the electric quad. It has massive torque and has never run out of charge. One of our customers farms 28,000 acres and he has never found range to be an issue.
“In a hurry, you can put back about 70 percent of the power in around one-and-a-half hours. Let’s face it, most quad bikes spend much of their working lives parked up, so park it next to a standard 13 amp socket and it’s always ready to go.”
As well as being used by farmers, one of Fred’s EcoCharger quads has been purchased by a stalker in Essex, who doubtless finds the silent operation a boon. Others have gone to the National Trust, the Coast Guard, Westminster Council and the Commonwealth Games.
The EcoCharger quads on Fred’s farm are recharged using a small wind turbine generator, so the daily running costs are effectively nil. For landowners generating wind or solar power, the bike makes a useful power repository.
Fred has always charted his own course through life. He left school at 13 to take over running the farm. Aged eight he was building go-karts out of prams. “Basically I have always been interested in making things – and for me, the electric quad will be my legacy. Even if the major quad manufacturers start making electric models, I will always feel that I pushed them into it. These vehicles work and it’s about time we were using them – the product is there, and it will do the job. We are confident it is good enough, strong enough and will do what we say it will do.”