The "Beautiful Ugly" of Electric Mopeds and Dead Laptop Batteries
One of the unwritten perks of Workbar is the active culture of crowdsourcing among its members. Whether you need cybersecurity, a lawyer, or a phone charger, it’s cool to ask a fellow member… and even cooler to answer the call. When Anthony Dopazo, of MetroTech Services, sent out a request for dead laptop batteries for his moped project, the whiff of an interesting story wafted into Workbar like two-stroke fumes.
I sat down with Tony in the Zen Room, sinking into beanbags and digging into the inspiration and execution of his zany plan.
So how’d you get into mopeds in the first place?
“I’ve been restoring mopeds for five or six years. The moped was huge in the '70s, with the high gas and oil prices. In the ‘80s they died down, but you can still come across barn finds, where people have beautiful, rusted-out mopeds like the Puch Maxi. I bought a new car, but it’s sitting in the driveway. These mopeds have a beautiful kind of ugly to them.”
Mopeds don’t seem that hard on the environment in the first place, so why convert one to electric?
“When you’re restoring mopeds, there’s fumes and oil…it’s terrible for the environment. Two-strokes in general emit more pollution than their four-stroke counterparts. But they have resilient engines, so even these ones from the ‘70s are good to go. They can go full throttle for an hour. My next project was to build an electric bike, and then it clicked: I can retrofit motors to fit moped axles!”
How did you learn how to do this?
“My home office is a giant ‘Guy’s’ garage. I put together equipment and tools to help learn, largely self-taught. I have an engineering background, but in systems- not mechanics- so I had to work on it a lot.”
Did you get enough batteries, and does it matter if a battery is DEAD or just old?
“When you dismantle a computer battery, inside are cells larger than AA batteries, 18650s. I test them, to see if they can hold a charge. Five to ten percent of batteries that are dead are DEAD. But by adjusting the amperage you run through them, you can coax most back into life. So far I’ve gotten twenty laptop batteries.”
Is this a sustainable way to retrofit scooters?
“Yes! Dead batteries hold 70-80% of the charge as a new one. I’ll use 12 old ones to get what 8 new ones would do. There are ways to make 90% of old batteries into something useful.”
How feasible is something like this for a hobbyist?
“Technology that seemed so out of reach is now affordable. Hobbyists are getting into this equipment, in part because of the interest in solar panels and batteries. The question is ‘How to get energy stored up?’ Controllers are the answer, a little computer chip you can now buy very inexpensively.”
What’s your next project?
I want to make an electric surfboard! It needs to be two-stroke for displacement. Like the one that Laird [Hamilton] rode in that video. I wouldn’t even do it on a gas one, but I want to do this on the Charles River so bad!
In the course of everything I’ve done, each new step opens new doors. Projects will arise from other projects, and eventually I’d love to build something that runs my whole apartment!
Check out the photos of the process, courtesy of Antony Dopazo.
About the Author: Dave Gentry is a fan of progress and recess. He believes in Olde English, new fortune cookies and he answers to #davertido.
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