Our world is changing. With more people moving to cities, or telecommuting, or just retiring and waiting for death’s icy embrace, our need to travel great distances every day in huge, comfortable cars may be declining. Hence, we offer three alternative transportation ideas, fully tested by a couple of future drivers:
The kids loved this three-wheeled front-wheel-steer half-skateboard/half-scooter Cycleboard thing. They sorted out the steering immediately, despite my warnings that, “It’s dangerous! Wear all that safety gear! Don’t kill yourself!” None of them killed themselves and they shed the elbow and kneepads as soon as they could and were going for maximum velocity records. Turns out it’ll hit 25 mph, we think. Might have been 20. We didn’t have a radar gun or anything.
“This is fun!” they said, the little showoffs.
Cycleboard underway – tilt left to go left, right to go right. Simple!
The Cycleboard’s steering operates by leaning the big control stick in the direction you want to go, which is fine. As you lean the stick over, the board on which you’re riding tilts into the turn, activating cute little tie-rods that make the two front wheels turn. Everything should be groovy, right? However, the board you’re standing on doesn’t lean as much as a skateboard or a typical two-wheeled scooter, nor do the front wheels turn as much. The tilt-to-turn ratio feels like less than that of a two-wheeled anything. In fact, it feels like it barely leans at all. So your brain is — or at least my brain was — a little freaked out. My impression was that the system is counterintuitive to brains used to leaning into turns, i.e., skateboard brains, snowboard, bicycle, motorcycle, Vespa brains and almost every other two-wheeled brain-bearing being on Earth. If you’re familiar with those transportation items, then you might have to adapt your style for this thing. Or at least I did. Everyone else who rode it, and there were plenty, seemed to pick it up right away. So I guess I’m some sort of freak of nature.
The other thing is range. On the website, Cycleboard claims their board will go “up to 25 miles” — turns out that’s with the optional extra battery pack. In the press material I got, the claim was 15 miles. Your range may vary. I went less than 4 miles before my Cycleboard just up and died. The little readout on the handlebar-mounted LCD dashlette was going from full to empty to half-full and all over the place before the lithium-ion battery — “very similar to those used in Tesla” — died without warning. I couldn’t believe it. I had to call for the ride-home-of-shame. I figured I must not have charged it all the way. So I charged it overnight, made sure it was fully full and then tried the same route where it had died. And what happened? It died again, in the same 3.8 miles. So the range ain’t the claimed 15 miles. Granted, I gained 280 feet elevation in those 3.8 miles, but that isn’t that much, is it? That’s 74 feet per mile. Hey, I live on an alluvial plain. And the Cycleboard literature claims it’ll go up a 20-degree slope, so I was within spec. On flat ground, I’d estimate that it’d go 8 miles. I’m a more or less average-size adult, well below the 250-pound Cycleboard limit. A skinny cheerleader might go, what, double that? Who knows?
Cycleboard parked and out of juice after less than 4 uphill miles.
Also, it’s heavy: 40 to 44 pounds, depending on how you set yours up. It’s not something you tuck under your arm like a skateboard. You can fold the steering mast flat, tilt the whole thing up and wheel it about like a dolly, but that is a little awkward. Stowing it on a bus would be awkward, too. A commuter train might be more accommodating.
Then there’s price. Mine was the entry level $1,299. That’s a lot of coin for an electric scooter. It’s $300 more than the smaller, lighter EcoReco. The more stylish but nonfoldable OjO electric scooter is $1,999. Or you can get a cheap electric Razor scooter for $229 from Toys R Us.
The Razor E200 electric scooter is fun and cheap. Just look at the look of joy on that kid’s face!
A cheap electric Razor E200 scooter from Toys R Us
We bought a Razor electric scooter on something of a whim as a transportation alternative for a teenager too young to drive. He loved it. The scooter now goes all over the place — or at least as far as Lucky Burger and back, so it meets all our hometown transportation needs.
Razor says it’ll go “up to” 12 mph for “up to” 40 minutes. Doing the math, that suggests an extrapolated range of 8 miles. Of course, the real range is probably 5 or 6 miles, and that range figure will go down if you encounter a hill or if you’re a heavy rider. Maximum rider weight is listed at 154 pounds. That’s a lot for the 24-volt sealed lead acid rechargeable battery. The E300 costs $47 more and offers wider tires and a wider deck for wider riders. For $99.99, you can get the Razor Power Core 90 electric scooter, but it’s made for riders 120 pounds and under.
We didn’t get the optional seat on our E200, which saved some money. The steering column doesn’t fold flat, so that limits the scooter’s utility — you can’t easily carry it on a bus, for instance. But all the kids love riding it. The only thing more fun might be a Sector 9 skateboard, but that’s not electric.
The Sector 9 skateboard, my first fancy store-bought board ever.
Sector 9 skateboard
There is a tide in the affairs of men when you no longer build your own skateboards from whatever you have left of previous skateboards, and you actually buy a fully assembled unit from a real skateboard shop. This point in life may be called “The great period of continuous employment,” or, God help us, adulthood. However, adults aren’t supposed to ride skateboards.
I bought a new Sector 9 board in a record shop in San Diego a year ago for 99 bucks. Prices have risen since then, and the cheapest one I found listed on their website was $124. Sector 9 was founded in 1993 by four kids who started building skateboards on the pingpong table in their backyard. The company grew to make surfboards and snowboards, too, and was purchased by Billabong in 2008 and then Bravo Corp. last year — for $12 million. Sector 9 boards are now sold in 1,800 stores and in 40 countries, but they’re still made in San Diego.
Sector 9 is known for longboards, the kind you can cruise comfortably on for miles. They make all kinds, though, including more gyro boards the kids use at the skate parks to “get vert,” or whatever they call it. Mine is not as long as some of the really big cruisers, but it’s still very comfortable, with large, wide urethane wheels (they make different wheels for different applications). It reminds me of the skateboards I built and rode to school in the early ‘70s. Back then, the predominant riding style was more wide, gracefully carved lines. Not these “rad” jumps the kids do nowadays.
We didn’t have any fancy grip tape on our boards back in the day!
The board is 30 inches long (some are 41 inches, 3.5 feet!), 8.5 inches wide and your feet ride about 4.5 inches off the sidewalk. The cutout wheel wells, or arches, prevent the wheels from “biting” the board under full turns, which can stop the board and pitch you forward. So that’s a nice touch. Power comes from your right foot. Or left, depending. If you watch out for rocks and those seismic shifts that raise sidewalk pavement by a critical few millimeters, you can ride this one for, well, for as long as you like. I generally go less than a mile, but I’m old. You can tuck it under your bus seat with ease, then under your desk at work with equal ease. So it’s real versatile. Plus, the kids will think you’re cool. Until you fall off and break your elbow.
On Sale: now
Base Price: $1299
Drivetrain: electric motor, chain-drive, rwd
Curb Weight: 40 pounds
0-60 MPH: no
Fuel Economy: 15 miles range base, 25 miles range with big battery(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Observed Fuel Economy: less than 4 miles range
Options: Bigger battery, different decks
Pros: A different and fun way to get around
Cons: Steering lean ratio takes a little getting used to
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