Commuting in Style
Since I returned to work after three months of parental leave, I’ve realized (once again) how much I dislike taking the rush hour bus to the harbor. It’s not a long ride, only shy of 2 kilometers (1.2 miles), but it’s still 2 kilometers in what feels like a cattle transport. Now that summer is fast upon us, I’ve started walking down to the boat to avoid the bus, but that means I have to leave from home a bit earlier.
A much quicker option would be to take my bike to the boat, but the ferry company charges child fare for bikes and I don’t want to park my bike at the harbor. What I need is something that can get me to and from the boat at least as fast as the bus does, and it has to be small enough that I can bring it with me without having pay extra for it.
The first thing that comes to mind is a kick scooter. While previously being commonly associated with kids and hipsters, I feel that kick scooters have now graduated. An adult using a kick scooter is no longer being considered a hipster douche.
I asked some of my colleagues what’s currently hot and not in the world of kick scooters. When you ask a bunch of tech nerds a questions about kick scooters, you of course get a lot of suggestions that are like a kick scooter, only not. Let’s have a look at some of what my esteemed colleagues came up with.
Imagine a Segway without the handle bars and you’ve got the Airwheel. In spite of being a high tech gadget, the Airwheel looks like a prop taken straight out of a 80’s cyberpunk movie. That is, of course, not a bad thing, and I’d love to try an Airwheel. But I’m not sure how safe it would be on crowded side walks, while crossing tram tracks and if I’ll survive hitting a medium sized pot hole.
Also, it’s the issue of how the driver looks while scooting around. It’s hard to ride a Segway without looking like somewhat of a dork, and the Airwheel makes it even harder. To up the ante even more, two Airwheel models come with loud speakers so you can make sure everyone around you can enjoy your music while you wheel through the city.
So, yeah, the Airwheel would be an option I’d consider if I lived in a world without crowded side walks, trams and potholes, and where everyone except myself were deaf.
Even though the Airwheel looks like an excellent way of getting yourself killed, it’s got nothing on the Onewheel. Like the name implies, the Onewheel, like some of the Airwheel models, transports you around on one wheel. But that’s where the similarities stop and the utter craziness begins: You stand on the Onewheel in the same way as you’d do on a skateboard, but you lean forwards and backwards to accelerate and decelerate, like you would do on a Segway. Or an Airwheel. So, all right, there was another similarity, I’ll give you that - but the Onewheel still looks a hell of a lot more dangerous, at least for people like me, who never really got the hang of skateboarding.
It would be great to try the Onewheel for shits and giggles, but it, too, looks like it can’t handle the basic hurdles of commuting in an average city.
By simply putting electric motors on a skateboard, the people behind Boosted look like they try to keep the madness at a reasonable level. But from their website it quickly becomes apparent that the idea is about as well thought-through as both Airwheel and Onewheel. Here’s a quote (emphasis is mine):
“Get the feeling of snowboarding, surfing, and wakeboarding right outside your door, thanks to electric motors, powerful brakes, and simple wireless control.” - Boosted
As I’ve already revealed, I don’t know much about skateboarding. But to put powerful brakes on one sounds like a really, really shitty idea. What, exactly, will happen when the breaks kick in? It doesn’t look like you’re strapped to the board, so my best guess is that Physics 101 will literately hit you in the face: The Boosted board will stop, but you will not - until you hit something while going at approximately the same speed as the board did when the powerful breaks engaged.
Another potential problem is the wireless controller: I sure hope the communication between the controller and the board is well encrypted and identifiable by the board as coming from your controller. If not, someone could easily take control of your Boosted board. Also, what happens if you fumble and drop the wireless controller while out and about? Will the board gently decrease the speed when it no longer receives a signal from the controller, will it come to a screeching halt or will you just have to hang in there until the batteries wear out?
It’s quite possible that some of these questions could have been answered by simply looking at the Boosted FAQ, but the internet has thought me to go sensational instead of actually look at the facts.
UPDATE: So, I decided to look at the FAQ anyway. It’s an entertaining read. None of the questions above is really answered, though. And after reading the first answer on this page, it’s obvious that the Boosted board is not a motorized skateboard, it’s a killing machine with four wheels.
Leaving motorized mayhem for a while, let’s see how hipsters get around these days. As prejudiced as that might sound, the Brompton bicycle has all the hallmarks of a hipster-approved product: Hand made, ridiculously expensive and with a retro look. The basic model starts at a whooping £770 (~$1,200), which is probably enough money to hire someone to carry you around for a while instead. Add all the available options - who wants a bike with a steel frame when there’s a titanium option available - and I’m sure you can easily double the price tag.
But if we disregard the outrageous amount of money a Brompton will suck out of your kid’s college fund, the bike is a stroke of genius. It’s a full blown bicycle that can be folded into a tiny heap of gears and tubes in a matter of seconds. It becomes so tiny you can take it with you pretty much everywhere without much hassle. Personally, I would always be a bit anxious if I brought it with me on the boat. Even while folded, I wouldn’t be surprised if an overzealous ticket inspector would fine me for bringing a bike without paying for it - thus making the Brompton an even more expensive experience.
Well-known kick scooter manufacturer Micro has also jumped on the electric bandwagon with their brand new E-Micro One electric scooter.
There isn’t much information available on the Micro site about the E-Micro One. I can’t, for instance, find a suggested retail price, which is usually a bad sign. But there are a few videos on YouTube that shed a little light on the scooter: The top speed is 25 km/h (~15.5 mph), it has a maximum range of 12 kilometers (~7,5 miles), a 500 watt engine, a 60 minutes recharge time, and it weighs in at 7,5 kg (~16.5 pounds). The scooter also has an actual, foot-controlled break, like an ordinary kick scooter.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I can’t find a price anywhere and that the version of the E-Micro One that is released this year is the first iteration of the scooter, I would probably get one - given that we’re not talking Brompton prizing, of course.
**UPDATE:**I managed to find price online: €799,95 (~$900). So not crazy expensive, but sold out. Of course. And the max speed has been decreased to 20 km/h, at least according to the specs on the website. Let’s wait a year or two and see how well the E-Micro One is received and if Micro decides to manufacture other electric scooter models.
Commuting on some sort of compact, motorized vehicle would be awesome. But as we’ve seen above, that usually implies a high risk of sudden death. While there is no doubt there are a lot of options available, this little research session has shown that the most high tech and adventurous ones are not for me. They are either too dangerous, too expensive, or they simply can’t be used on my commuting route.
In the end, I bought an ordinary kick scooter, the Micro Scooter Flex 200mm Blue. It’s received rave reviews around the web, and seems to deliver a lot of value for money. I haven’t really had a chance to try it yet, but apart from the color, what I’ve seen so far is great. How well it will work in heavy traffic and on packed sidewalks on my actual commute remains to be seen.
If this is the last you hear from me, I regret I didn’t buy an Airwheel instead.
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