Two mainstream bicycle manufacturers also have entries in the electric bike market—Trek and Schwinn both have electric models in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Typically billed as “electric assist,” these bikes are aimed at the bicycle enthusiast who, for one reason or another, needs some help with the pedaling. At 250 to 350 W, these are at the lower end of the power spectrum, but are lighter and look and feel more like a standard bicycle. These bikes are very popular with people who want to get outside, ride with younger friends, or like bike touring and sightseeing—but have trouble staying out too long, going too far, climbing hills, or keeping up with the group.
Somewhere in the mix between electric bicycles and scooters is the “electric moped,” the most popular product sold in some stores, according to Harlan Flagg of Hollywood Electrics. Their Bumble Bee offers speeds of up to 20 mph, power ratings of about 800 W, and a range of 25 to 30 miles. At $1,195, they are an attractive option for urban commuters. In most states, mopeds do not require a driver’s license or motor vehicle registration, an added bonus.
Riding an electric bicycle, whether electric-assist or high-powered moped, gives an interesting sensation from the electric motor. When pedaling one of the lower-powered bicycles you can, at will, simply turn up the power and you get the impression of being pulled forward, as if by some invisible force. With higher-powered bikes, the vehicle itself is heavier and pedaling becomes less feasible. Some of the bigger mopeds/scooters can’t be comfortably pedaled, and have pedals more as legal vestiges than for practical purposes.
The design of a motor scooter is great for an electric powertrain—smaller, fatter tires and wheels provide a good fit for the integrated hub motors (motors that are built into the wheels). A low deck doubles as a great place to put batteries. There’s plenty of room, the weight of the batteries is kept low, and the result is stability. As a result, there’s a huge array of very affordable electric scooters available—they are a common sight in Asian markets, and catching on in Europe and the United States.
One of the more popular brands is the Native Scooter from Electric Motorsport in Oakland, California, assembled from parts manufactured largely in Thailand. The Native Z1.5 has a 40-mile range, a 30 mph top speed, and sells for about $2,200. The larger Z6(Li) increases the top speed to 60 mph and retails for $4,800.
Some U.S. manufacturers are entering the market, with products available now or by order. Massachusetts-based Vectrix offers a small, lower-priced scooter, the VX-2, but also has the VX-1 Li—a near-motorcycle level machine with lithium battery technology and performance to match. The VX-1 Li has a top speed of 68 mph, a range of 40 to 60 miles, and a 0-to-50 mph acceleration of 6 seconds, you’re looking at a product that starts to blur the lines between a scooter and a motorcycle. At $14,000 for the premium Li version, you clearly are paying the price for the performance you’re getting.
Another new U.S.-based company is Current Motor Company, with three models ranging from $6,500 (30-mile range and a 55 mph top speed) to $8,000 (50-mile range and 65 mph top speed).
These scooters are a much tougher sell in the U.S. market than in Europe and Asia because of road systems and rider habits. They are marginally “highway capable,” but even at a 70 mph top end, they won’t give you a margin of speed and feeling of security on an interstate. Where posted speeds are lower and roads are narrower, they’re a great fit, and a workable solution for more rural, village, or country errand-running and commuting. The high cost makes them much less attractive in the city, though, where the acceleration and top speed aren’t going to be as usable.
Whether you’re jumping on for a grocery store run, using it to commute to work, or taking a sightseeing tour of local attractions, riding these scooters is as effortless as strapping on your shorty helmet and turning the key. Once you’ve depleted the battery, you simply plug it into a standard 120 VAC outlet to recharge. Most of these products will typically come to a full charge within a 4 to 5 hours. There’s no gas or oil; nothing to mix, drip, or smell; and the ride is silent. Riding around a campground in Maine in the wee morning hours, I’ve sneaked up on more than a few deer and other critters—a birdwatcher’s dream. Stopped at a traffic light, you’re aware of wind rustling in the trees, chirping crickets, and even conversations in neighboring cars.