Was the Socovel of 1930s the world’s first electric motorcycle? Probably not, but it was referred to (in faintly dismissive terms) by ‘Nitor’ the pseudonymed columnist of The Motor Cycle in December 1959.
Built in Belgium, the Socovel consisted of a conventional lightweight frame, with three 12-volt batteries (presumably lead-acid) mounted crossways. A 48-volt motor, rated at 2.6hp, was bolted on behind, with power controlled by a twistgrip. It was evidently a success in a small way, with over 1000 made.
The Socovel Road Test
Eager to find out what this was all about, The Motor Cycle imported a Socovel in 1936, and found that it weighed 441lb, nearly half of which was accounted for by the batteries. Performance was less than scintillating, with a cruising speed of 16-20mph. The range proved to be 27.5 miles, though by the end speed had dropped to 10mph or less. As you can imagine, petrolheads at The Motor Cycle weren’t bowled over by any of this, though they were impressed by the Socovel’s hill climbing abilities – it would restart on a 1 in 7 with some wheelspin…
Twenty-odd years later, ‘Nitor,’ writing at a time when men liked nothing more than tinkering with their tappets on a Sunday morning, wasn’t convinced either: ‘It will be a long time yet,’ he opined, ‘before we are robbed of all the fun provided by poppet valves, sparking plugs and chains – and reduced to whiling away maintenance time merely by topping-up some very clever but dull and uninteresting looking fuel cell.’ Ah, how right he was.