Feature

Kick start an electric

G Magazine

Electric scooters are the cool, quiet and virtually emission-free option for the eco-minded urbanite. And at around one cent a kilometre for electricity, you’ll never need to stop at a petrol station again.

eScooters

"Scooters reduce congestion and demand for parking spaces; their carbon footprint is low and they are cheap to buy and run," says David Purchase from the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce.

Credit: iStockphoto

Jayne-Ellen

For over two years, Jayne-Ellen has enjoyed riding an electric scooter around for work.

Credit: Adelaide City Council

Ben van der Wijngaart

Ben van der Wijngaart, Deputy Mayor of Kiama on his Vetrix electric scooter.

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Concentrations of carbon dioxide are now higher than ever before and, globally, burning fossil fuels increased carbon emissions by about three per cent during 2010. "Transport emissions are one of the strongest sources of emissions growth in Australia," according to the most recent National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. And contrary to what you might expect, plane trips are not the main culprit. Road transport, including scooters, motorbikes, cars and trucks, accounts for 86 per cent of all transport emissions.

Yet there are already vehicles on the market that make a zippy alternative to petrol-powered transport. Electric two-wheelers have next-to-no emissions and are cheaper to run and maintain than cars.

As cities around the globe look for ways to lower transport emissions, David Purchase from the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce says "electric scooters are one of the answers to our transport problems".

"Scooters reduce congestion and demand for parking spaces; their carbon footprint is low and they are cheap to buy and run. The emergence of electric scooters is clear evidence of advances in technology at play."

By far the most advanced country in terms of electric scooter technology is China. In most inner-city areas in Beijing it is illegal to ride petrol-powered motorbikes, and even the sale of petrol-powered vehicles is banned in some places. It's anticipated that the market for e-scooters in China will grow 11 per cent every year for the next four years, compared to 3.9 per cent growth for petrol-powered motorbikes. And the benefits of electric scooters transfer well to our Australian lifestyle.

Low emissions

If you charge your electric two-wheeler with GreenPower or juice from your own solar panels, you can be proud of riding a zero-emissions vehicle. Yet even when powered by electricity from coal-fired power plants, electric vehicles produce far less emissions than petrol-powered ones.

An internal combustion engine loses up to three quarters of the energy from fuel in heat, with only the remaining quarter converted into motion. In contrast, electric motors can achieve energy efficiencies of up to 95 per cent.

Vroom factor

There's a perception that electric scooters and motorbikes are lightweights when it comes to performance. However, the larger models approved for Australian roads have a similar performance to a 125-250cc petrol-powered bike. In fact, the power-to-weight ratio can be better than a heavy petrol engine. Plus, unlike petrol-powered engines, electric motors need no warm-up and can accelerate instantly.

Cheap & easy

As well as the additional eco-perks, owning and riding an electric scooter or motorcycle has all the pluses of owning a non-electric one. You'll enjoy all the benefits of city riding on two wheels: zipping down the narrowest of alleys and finding a park with relative ease.

"Particularly if you're just starting out riding they're a really approachable option," says Phil Wilkinson from Zero Motorcycles, a US-based company which distributes vehicles in Australia. "They don't make any noise, there's no clutch, they're really easy to operate, and they're a heap of fun."

The operating costs of electric-powered scooters and bikes are between one and two cents per kilometre, or about a dollar every time you charge. And you can plug them into any standard power socket.

"The beauty of these things is because there's no fuel there's no oil, they don't get hot, they don't smell like a normal bike, and so you can push them into the house or into the office, or take them up the lift into your apartment building and plug them up if you need to," says Wilkinson.

"The batteries should last at least five or six years before you need to replace them. We sell replacement battery packs for $1200...but the price is expected to go down within five years' time," says Eric Dressler, founder and joint managing director of Erider All-Electric Transportation in Essendon, Victoria.

It takes between four and eight hours to fully charge an electric scooter or motorcycle and a full charge will generally last 50-100 km. Considering that over 50 per cent of car trips made around our cities are less than 5 km, electric motorcycles or scooters are ideal for most trips we take, to work, meetings or the shops.

"They're good for urban commuting, but we've had people in country towns purchase our scooters and bikes too," says Dressler.

In the near future, stations where electric vehicle owners can swap a flat battery for a charged one will make
longer trips a viable option. International electric vehicle service provider Better Place will start rolling out an Australia-wide network, starting in Canberra in late 2011, and electric scooters and motorbikes are part of the plan.

"The Better Place network is committed to serving any vehicle with a plug and will make it easy, affordable and attractive for motorists to adopt and drive any form of electric vehicle," says Alison Terry, head
of corporate affairs for the company.

Licences and Rego

Smaller electric scooters with a top speed of 50 km/h and an engine capacity of 50 cc or less are classed as ‘mopeds’. In SA, NT, Qld and WA you can ride a moped if you have a car license, without the need for a special learner permit. Other states and territories require a specific motorbike licence for mopeds. To ride the larger road-approved electric scooters or motorcycles with a maximum speed over 50 km/h anywhere in Australia you must have a learner or full motorcycle licence. Check with your state transport authority. Also, remember that prices for some bikes in our buyer guide don’t include registration fees. Getting your electric dream machine on the road might set you back an extra $500-$600.

Rider Profile: Jayne-Ellen Bridge

Jayne-Ellen has been working as a Parking Information Officer with the Adelaide City Council for three years. Two years ago, the council purchased two electric scooters, and Jayne was one of the first to hop-on and start riding at work.

How has riding an electric scooter made your job easier?
I prefer to ride the scooters than the petrol bikes. I find it a lot easier, it’s more comfortable and easier to manoeuvre.

Why is riding an electric scooter so good?
They’re very comfortable to ride, they’re quiet, they have a low hum, and they don’t emit any carbon. You only have to plug it into an electric socket at the end of the day.

How often do you recharge?
You can actually get a couple of days worth of riding before you really need to recharge. We get about 50 – 70 km to every charge, depending on the terrain.

Has anything ever happened where you thought “I wish this wasn’t electric”?
Never. I’ve not looked back since I hopped on it. It’s much easier to ride, softer on the hands, like the throttle and the brakes and everything. And it’s got more storage area than the panniers on a motorbike.

Rider profile: Ben van der Wijngaart

A few years ago, the Deputy Mayor of Kiama was inspired by visiting a city teeming with electric scooters and motorbikes when he attended the International Mayors Forum for Healthy Cities in Hang Zhou, China.

How long have you been riding your electric scooter?
About 18 months.

Why is riding an electric scooter so good?
It’s the buzz of getting around being green! I enjoy riding it around town because it’s quite obvious that it’s not petrol, and it makes people consider that there are good alternatives to fossil fuel transport.

How do you cope when it rains?
Like every other bike rider! You put on your wet weather gear. Of course, I’ll be a bit more cautious in the wet too.

What do you think is the most important thing someone should know before purchasing an electric scooter?
They need to know what they’re going to use it for. It’s no good for making a trip from Sydney to Kiama because it won’t make it. But for short trips around town, particularly in urban areas it’s ideal.

How much does it cost to run?
It works out roughly to about one or two cents a kilometre. I have solar panels on my house though, so I basically get my power for free.

G's buyer guide to electric scooters & motorcycles

NOPE 1500 L

NOPE 1500 L
Technically a moped, with a top speed of 50 km/h, you can jump on and start riding with your regular driver’s licence in SA, NT, Qld and WA (other states and territories require a motorbike licence). With a range of up to 50 km, it comes with a leather-trim seat, steering lock and ample storage space with an under-seat compartment and rear carrier. Recharge time is 6–8 hr and cost per full charge is 20-25 cents. Comes with one-year warranty. $2850 drive-away; www.nope.com.au

eRider Lightning Bolt 4000

eRider Lightning Bolt 4000
A lightweight scooter with a low centre of gravity and a top speed of 80 km/h. The lithium batteries should last between 5–8 years, and with proper care can be recharged 2,000 times. A single charge lasts up to 100 km in ‘city’ mode. The front brakes are ABS, back brakes are standard disc. Approved for learner riders, the 4000-watt rear hub motor has no chains or shafts for easy maintenance. Recharge time is 4 hr. Comes with one-year warranty on all parts and batteries. $4900; www.erider.com.au

eRider Lightning Bolt 5000

eRider Lightning bolt 5000
Still approved for learner riders, the 5000-watt rear hub motor means this scooter has a top speed of 95 km/h. Much the same as the 4000, the driving distance decreases to just 50 km on a single charge, but the battery will still last 5–8 years and can be charged up to 2,000 times. Recharge time is 4 hr. Comes with a one-year warranty on all parts. $5500; www.erider.com.au

ZERO S Street

ZERO S Street
If you’d rather the manoeuvrability of a motorbike over a scooter, this one’s for you. An aircraft-grade alloy frame creates a perfect power-to-weight ratio. Approved for learner riders, it has a top speed of 105 km/h and a range of 80 km. After five years you’ll need the first major service, but the 4000-watt batteries can be overhauled and updated with new technology, rather than discarded. It has a chain and sprocket like a normal motorbike that will need lubricating once a month. Recharge time is less than 4 hr. Comes with a two-year limited warranty. $12,995; www.zeromotorcycles.com.au

Still to come…

In two to three years we’ll see some stylish new e-scooters from BMW and Mercedes-Benz aimed at fun and sustainable transport.