I’ve become obsessed with micro-mobility options. For whatever reason, I am always driven to search for the next portable, practical and effective means of transportation, whether it be a last mile option or a possible car replacement.
With each passing year, companies from all over the world unveil the latest in their electric micro-mobility line of options. Electric scooters, electric skateboards, electric bikes… all promise greater durability, improved technology, more versatility, app connectivity, and even higher speeds. While tremendous innovations continue to hit the market with regard to these vehicles, there is one glaring problem that continues to plague the proliferation of these machines: range.
This is obviously no fault of any electric vehicle developer. It’s hard to combine speed, power and range in a small portable battery. The technology just isn’t there yet.
With this in mind, there are a few things you have to consider when thinking about range with regard to an electric micro-mobility option. One is that when a company says “Maximum Range of 15 Miles,” they really mean 8-10 miles. The cited range is usually based on about 60% throttle with no hills, a smooth surface, no wind and a 150 pound rider. But if you’re like me, you like speed, you weigh 180 pounds, and you have a giant hill that separates you from the rest of the city.
“That’s okay,” you say… “there’s still a lot of places I can go within 10 miles!”
Not so fast… you still need to get home. So now your range is 5 miles. Unless of course you want to look like a complete idiot and ask the guy at the restaurant if you can plug in your scooter. (Which I’ve done, by the way.) So suddenly, you realize that the lofty claims of life-changing distance don’t really compute in most people’s everyday transportation reality, even if you’re a single person living in most urban areas.
Let’s start with the two electric vehicles I own. One is an amazingly powerful Boosted Board Mini S, which is so incredibly well designed and assembled, it has become my favorite mode of city transportation. Retailing at $750, the price is up there but not altogether unapproachable, and worth it for the quality of this machine. Then there’s the range: 7 miles on a charge. This would be great if I could reliably “blend” it with other modes of public transportation, but unfortunately for all of us who don’t live in New York, DC, Boston, Chicago or a handful of other major metro areas, transit is just not abundant or consistent. I could use Uber, but it’s more expensive and kind of defeats the purpose of trying to go car free or “car lite.” That being said, I can still commute to work 4 miles away, charge there, and get home just fine. And it’s fun. Way more fun than driving. And I don’t show up a sweaty mess like I do on a bike.
Then there’s my wonderful U-Scooter Eco, which costs a very reasonable $600 and has an advertised range of 16 miles. This machine has more stability and control, but less power. Still, it’s a versatile option for longer trips. But let’s do the math. A 16 mile range actually means a 10-12 mile range which, if you’re going round trip, is a 5-6 mile range. Again, if you’re looking to even go across town, or make more than one stop that’s not in a straight line on your route, you’re not gonna have enough juice.
The electric bike market has shown tremendous promise, but there are two things that make this an interesting alternative choice with regard to transportation. Trek, for example, boasts a range of 20-100 miles depending on the amount of “pedal assist” you choose. The prospect of only lightly pedaling and getting 40-50 miles out of a battery charge is extremely tempting, until you come across the other barrier, and that’s the price. These machines start at $2,400, a cost that begins to border on prohibitive. I bought my last car for $7,500 and have driven it 30,000 miles in snow and rain, and it has a 300 mile range with plenty of fuel stations in between. Unless you have money to throw away, $2,400 for an e-bike is just not an option for most of us.
But when you look at the more approachable $1,000-$1,500 electric bikes, the quality is simply not the same, and the range figures are significantly lower.
The other often-overlooked downside of electric bikes is maintenance. Bikes take constant care… oiling, tightening, keeping the tires full of air, and that’s not even including the persistent flat tires! It’s a vehicle that needs continuous maintenance and you’ve added a piece (the motor) that also needs additional care.
So, let’s review. The reality for most of us is that “last mile” transportation options like e-scooters and e-boards, which imply connectivity to other forms of public transit, really mean nothing when public transit either isn’t adequate or doesn’t exist. Oh, and I almost forgot: if you live in cold weather climates, especially ones that receive as much snow as we do in Upstate New York, most of these options aren’t usable 4-5 months of the year.
And while e-bikes typically offer greater range and better all-weather versatility, they typically cost much more and take more care and maintenance.
So for most of us living in medium-sized cities or smaller communities where sprawl is king and public transportation is scarce, we continue to look for that transcendent electric vehicle with a real 50 mile range, portability, affordability and versatility with regard to difference surfaces and weather elements. Only then will micro-mobility gain real traction in the American transportation landscape.