At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, compact electric scooters and stylish electric bikes with ranges of at least 20 miles caught the spotlight. But price points of $1,500 or more for products still in prototype may brake riders' enthusiasm. Fortunately for frugal urban dwellers, there are cheap, petrol-free personal transportation alternatives, from electric scooters and bicycles to bike-share programs.
Electric bikes get riders to their destination with minimal effort and cost little to refuel. Charging is as simple as plugging the bicycle or removable battery into a wall outlet. Electric bikes come pre-built or as kits that transform a standard two-wheeler. "Bike commuting allows you to get to your destination without harming the environment, spending money on gas, or contributing to already congested roadways," asserts Melanie Lipton, editor of Bike Shop Hub
Currie Technologies' eZip Trailz Electric Bike.
We like the eZip Trailz Electric Bicycle
from Currie Technologies, which starts at about $445. The bike has a top speed of 15mph, a range of 15 to 22 miles, and takes 4 to 6 hours to recharge. Reviewers say it's a good entry-level option although a bit heavy (68 pounds), and the sealed lead acid (SLA) battery is less effective than pricier lithium batteries. Pete Prebus of Electric Bike Report
figures that users recoup the cost in about a year when stacked against owning and operating a car.
Electric Bike Conversion Kits.
An alternative to a pre-built electric model is a conversion kit with motor and battery that turns a regular bike into an electric bike. The Currie Technologies Power Kit
, starting at $299, is a good basic setup. The Hill Topper kit from Clean Republic
is another well-reviewed option, but is slightly pricier at $399. Both these kits use sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries; kits with lithium batteries cost more but boast a longer life, charge faster, and weigh much less.
Electric scooters as adult transportation are sometimes referred to as "dirt scooters" because their large, inflatable tires easily traverse bumps, cracks, and all sorts of urban terrain. Like electric bikes, electric scooters propel riders forward with speeds reaching up to 25mph with a simple twist of the wrist. Note that range and power for both vehicle types ultimately depend on riders' weight (including backpacks and grocery bags); each model specifies maximum weight capacity.
Currie Technologies' eZip E450 Electric Scooter.
The eZip E450 Electric Scooter
, another entry from Currie Technologies, is a well-rated electric scooter that retails for about $250. Reviewers note that this model is not a kid's toy; one says the scooter feels sturdier than some cars. It has a range of up to 8 miles with a top speed of 15mph; recharging takes 6 to 8 hours. A removable seat lets riders stand or sit. Reviews are mixed on its uphill performance; one says it tackles hills with ease while another suggests avoiding them altogether.
Razor EcoSmart Metro Electric Scooter.
The Razor EcoSmart Metro Electric Scooter
from the well-known maker of Razor kick scooters costs about $300. This seated electric scooter features inflatable 16-inch tires, detachable luggage rack, bamboo baseboard, and a relatively high 220-pound weight allowance. Its speed tops out at 20mph and it runs for up to an hour before needing a recharge (12 hours is recommended to preserve battery life). One reviewer reports traveling up to 8 miles on hills if he coasts down, which suits his 3-mile commute just fine.
In some cities, including New York, Chicago, Miami, and Boulder, bike-share programs are a popular alternative to privately-owned electric bikes and scooters. They're reasonably priced, with annual memberships often less than $100 and one- to seven-day passes costing less than $25. Users also save on the cost of maintenance, theft prevention, and storage but must supply their own helmets. These programs are designed for commuters -- bikes can be ridden for short periods only without paying an additional fee.
For anyone who wants to try out sweat-powered transportation, a non-electric bike is the way to start. The well-rated Schwinn Discover Hybrid (in between a road bike and a mountain bike) with large 700C wheels costs about $270 for the men's or women's version. Some standard bikes can be found for less, but reviews indicate that this bike is an excellent value. The 21-speed bike is built on an aluminum frame, is comfortable to ride, and long-term owners report it still rides like new.