What do you think of when you think of an eco-friendly electric vehicle? Whatever you imagine, it’s probably not a motorcycle made of forklift parts. But when Russ Gries spotted an old, battery-powered forklift gathering dust in a warehouse belonging to the company he worked for, that’s exactly what he thought. His company gave the forklift for free, but Gries still needed the skeleton of a real motorcycle to house the forklift’s parts. He was able to find a non-functioning 1976 Honda CB550 for only $50, and with that he had all the major components he’d need for his new electric motorcycle, which he christened Voltzilla.
Aside from those two major pieces, there were still a handful of other parts that Gries needed before Voltzilla would be usable – a pair of tires, light bulbs, oil, belts, and pulleys, among other things. The cost of these parts plus the motorcycle brought the total (so far) for the project to $351.21. However, Gries was able to offset these costs by recycling the forklift parts he didn’t need. He got $335.60 back for the scrap, which brings the total (again, so far) back down to only $15.61.
Of course, the monetary cost isn’t everything – there’s also the cost in time, and that’s where this project became truly expensive. At the time of this article, Voltzilla was nearly complete, with only a few kinks left to iron out.At that timeGries had spent 120 hours on the project, fabricating parts, finding ways to mount them to the Honda’s skeleton, and bolding things together. It’s a lot of time, but that’s not such a bad thing when it’s a labor of love.
Conversions of forklifts into motorcycles are unusual, but electric motorcycle conversions in general are much less so. Voltzilla differs from most other motorcycle conversions in a few ways. Instead of the more compact, low-capacity batteries used in most conversions, Gries used four 6-volt 220-amp golf cart batteries. Can addHe also kept the transmission, because he wanted multiple gears to deal with the hills around his house. Voltzilla also runs at 24 volts, whereas most conversions use 48 volts and higher. It also has reverse, inherited from Momma Forklift.
Voltzilla is also quite heavy – with the large batteries that Gries chose and the weight of the forklift parts, it adds up to 740 pounds. This doesn’t seem to be a problem, though, as Gries has stated that the motorcycle’s low center of gravity compensates for the weight.
At the time of this article, Voltzilla was coming along nicely. Gries tested the new vehicle and found that while there were a few small issues – a broken speedometer, a lack of paneling to cover the parts, etc. – there was only one major problem. The Honda CB550’s alternator shaft ratio was listed incorrectly in the manual, so Gries ended up buying the wrong size of pully. As a result, Voltzilla was limited to around 35 miles per hour.
Gries’ goal is around 60 MPH, so at the bare minimum, Voltzilla is going to need some new pulleys. Unfortunately, there are a few other things that still need to be done, and it’s unlikely Gries will be able to keep the project to $15. At the time of this article, Gries still had a handful of fixes on his to-do list: fix the front brake, fix the speedometer, make some changes to the bike’s electrical components, buy or build panels to cover the bike’s electronics, and finally do one last deep-clean – take Voltzilla apart, clean everything, repaint it, and then put it back together.
When Voltzilla is finally complete and street-legal, Gries plans to use it for his 12-mile (24 miles, round-trip) commute.