On the heels of our very successful VW eGolf experience (14,970 miles covered in a year, under $7 in repairs, and less energy consumed at lower cost than if we’d had a gasoline car), I’d been feeling kindly disposed to all things electric. Suddenly arrived a cold call of an e-mail asking if I would be interested in checking out the new uScooter, a Chinese-built machine that claims to be the world’s first fully foldable electric kick scooter, with a top speed of 18 mph, a 21-mile range and a weight of but 24 pounds. “Sure,” I said, not realizing that a few days later one would arrive in the mail.
Unlike some in my superannuated peer group, I don’t rollerblade or skateboard through the streets of my town, probably because I never did. The skateboard revolution passed me by and I could never stop properly on skates. But I always liked a scooter. Though, to be honest, in the world of all green self-propelled vehicles not so much as I liked the Irish Mail hand-powered four-wheeled cart that captivated me aged five, on a visit to some far away friends of my parents. The only one I ever came across, I miss it still.
But I digress. I like the idea of an electric scooter and I like this one's 18mph top speed, faster than most of its ilk and as fast as or faster than many who will ride a bicycle on level ground, but with an even smaller footprint – meaning a different level of maneuverability -- and of course the fact that one needn’t ever work up a sweat on this thing.
It can be ridden like a (kind of heavy) manual scooter. But the point of it is the on-demand performance of an electric motor and a lithium ion battery pack, along with what we are told is the first ever kinetic energy recovery facility ever put in a scooter. The battery is charged by the energy drawn from the the act of slowing down, a feature found in all modern electric cars. If you want to verify uScooters’ claim of being the world’s least consumptive electric mobility device ever, check out their website to get started. But don’t stop there. There’s much to know in the world of electric scooterdom and I, a rank novice, plan to learn more. For instance, this looks really cool.
But I can tell you this. The uScooter maybe electrically propelled, but its operator works in a more physical realm than the lady driving the Cadillac XT-5. The scooterist is also moving faster than anyone not in a car or riding a motorcycle. So there’s a different hazard calculation to be made. At 18 or even 8 mph you’re going more than fast enough to hurt yourself and others, aboard something that, weighing nothing, offers no protection other than LED head and tail lamps. An accident while going flat out on a scooter is like when the swiftest centerfielder chasing a line drive crashes into something or somebody with his body. In function and in crash safety, then, the uScooter can be thought of as a Segway, without the cost ($999 vs $6000) or complication.
However, because of their small wheels, potholes and even errant expansion cracks can easily flip a scooter end over end, and that rarely goes well (although the electric scooter’s additional weight has to help keep it on the ground a little longer.) Helmet laws, in many locales, do not apply, but make no mistake, they do not suck. A helmet is mandatory equipment when riding a scooter in my book, and total alertness to road conditions immediately in front of the rider is paramount.
Safety aside, the uScooter moves right along and it’s good fun to ride. It requires little of its rider's energy, but it’s not for the unfit or badly uncoordinated. Like the regenerative brakes in cars, the feel of its brakes in use – like the throttle, they’re operated by a little lever on the handlebars – can seem a little disconcerting at first, though you get used to it. It’s also possible to stop too fast, and that, too, is to be avoided, if you want to stay upright. Practice makes perfect.
Being foldable and compact, the uScooter has some real advantages versus the bicycle for urban transport. Using New York City’s bike lanes, for instance, instead of even riskier sidewalks, they’d be very competitive, speed of journey-wise, with bicycles. But where they’d be especially useful I think is in the doomsday scenarios that many of us who live in and around the big city carry around in our brains and internally employ to justify our car – or should I say truck? -- purchases.
Photographs of dust-covered SUVs stranded and beached on Manhattan’s West Side Highway after 9/11 resonate with me still, their drivers having been forced to abandon their cars. Back when it occurred, I remember thinking, that the ideal vehicles to own for the next apocalyptic event, which will surely involve a traffic jam of biblical proportions, are small-bore motorcycles, rubber dinghies, ideally with motors, and foldable bicycles. As far as I’m concerned the electric scooter -- which you can store folded in your closet or car trunk -- is ready for instant elevation to that group.