VanMoof S3 e-Bike — Sleek, Smart, and Saves Your Legs on Hills

By Steve Schaefer

VanMoof-front

Bicycles are ubiquitous. I’ve had one most of my life, starting before the age of 6. I even made a living as a bike messenger many years ago at age 18. I now own a 35-year-old 10-speed and a modern 21-speed cruising bike, but I don’t ride them. Part of the problem is that I live in a hilly area, and while it’s nice to ride downhill it’s a lot more challenging to ride back up. VanMoof has an answer.

VanMoof e-bikes help you pedal, while still retaining the look and feeling of being “a bike.” The VanMoof S3 model I tested has a small electric motor and is packed with loads of technology neatly and securely hidden inside its sturdy, matte black frame.

The S3 and its smaller, but otherwise identical X3 sibling, just came out in April, replacing the previous S2 and X2 while offering more features and better quality, at a lower price! How did they do that? Answer: VanMoof increased the production volume in their Taiwan factory, as well as owning more of the production process and outsourcing fewer of the steps involved. This increased efficiency resulted in savings they could pass on to their customers.

VanMoof is a Dutch company from Amsterdam, but they have a few locations in the U.S., including San Francisco! The narrow, but deep shop sits at 886 Valencia Street in the City’s famous Mission District, across the street from a remarkable mural that’s been updated for the COVID-19 pandemic.

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I arrived at the shop a few minutes early and waited patiently for my appointment outside while three employees arrived, including Grace, who became my guide for exploring this exciting bike. Once they opened up at 11 a.m. I entered the shop and saw a few of the bikes set up. Grace brought out a black S3 and explained the good stuff.

This is a beautifully simple looking ride. The surfaces are all painted a deep matte black that looks like it’s an eighth of an inch thick. The handlebars are simple one-piece units with the appropriate brake levers on each side and a couple of little thumb buttons for controls. The left button is an on/off switch and the right controls some settings and lets you select extra boost when you need it while riding up hills. There are matching black fenders that, per Grace, are great for keeping rain from spraying you off the tires. There’s a small but bright LED headlamp up front and a red taillamp.

You can use a phone app with the bike, but I wasn’t able to test it. There used to be one set up in the shop display, but with COVID-19 concerns, it’s a more touch-free environment now. We kept our masks on the entire time, including my photo session. You can do a lot with the bike itself, but the app enables more configurations, and can even be set to unlock the bike when you approach.

A compact display is built into the top of the upper bar, and with a small flush field of little lights lets you set five levels of automatic assist, from none (0) to 4. You can also see the level of battery charge and note your speed when you’re out riding; it also displays messages from the anti-theft system. You can use the display to unlock the bike, too, tapping in a three-digit code.

This is an assisted bicycle, so you won’t be cruising along with your feet sitting on the pedals doing nothing. It just makes it a lot easier to ride. You can decide what level of assist works for you, although my brief test had the max setting.

This bike has one sophisticated anti-theft system, too. You line up a couple lines on the wheel and hub and press a small button behind the left pedal. Chunk! The wheels are locked up tight. A thief would not be able to use the bike, even if they cut the chain lock and dropped the bike in their truck. And, an alarm sounds when the locked bike is moved and gets louder if the thief continues to fool with the bike. The display shows a flashing skull to presumably further discourage the bad guy. If they do run off with your bike, within 15 minutes its hardware sends out an SOS to VanMoof, where an employee can track its whereabouts. I’m not sure how exactly they confront the perp who stole it (find a cop?) but VanMoof promises recovery or replacement if they can’t recover your bike within 2 weeks (a loaner is provided). This theft policy costs $340 for three years—well worth it, I’d say.

Once Grace showed me the tricks of the bike and adjusted the seat for me, I walked it out the door and took off for a short test ride. In San Francisco, there is no shortage of hills to climb. I learned right away that you must pedal to use the boost button. The transmission itself is an automatic—you don’t select gears, so it downshifted for me to start out and I could feel it shifting when it sensed I needed it.

When I hit the first hill, a real steep one, I pushed the boost button but the motor (or more likely, I) petered out partway up. It may be that some hills are just too steep for the boost. More likely, I am not in great shape so I needed more than it could provide.

So, I came down the hill and was able to test the hydraulic disc brakes. These really work well and are likely to stay good for a while. You can see the metal discs and the small pads sitting over them, just like in a modern car (but much smaller). Brake pads do wear, so VanMoof recommends purchasing the service package. It takes care of all your routine maintenance for $340 for three years, which just happens to be the same price as the anti-theft package. That’s also almost exactly 300 Euros, so maybe they just do a straight conversion from the Amsterdam even-numbered price. You can also get occasional service without a plan, but it’ll be just like going to the car dealer—you need at least some maintenance, it could add up, and parts are extra.

I tried the boost on a few less daunting hills near Dolores Park and the little motor gave me the help I needed to climb them. And, cruising on relatively flat streets is magic. It’s like walking on those moving sidewalks at the airport—normal effort gives you extraordinary velocity.

VanMoof-S3

The S3 has 28-inch wheels and a full-size adult bike frame.

Stats

The little motor in either the S3 or X3 provides boost torque of 59 NM (43.5 ft.lbs). It’s powered by a 504 Wh (Watt hour) battery. Note: I’m used to talking about kWh (kilowatt hours) from electric cars. This tiny motor puts out just over half of one kWh. A Chevrolet Bolt, for example, has a 60-kWh battery, making it 120 times more powerful than the bike. Of course, the Bolt’s battery weighs 900 pounds and the one in the S3 fits neatly inside the bike’s vertical tube.

Battery range varies tremendously. If you use the minimal assist (level 1) and are pedaling moderately on a flat surface, you can get some assist for more than 90 miles. If you have it set to maximum assist and are using boost a lot, it could be more like 37 miles. “Your mileage will vary.” Of course, you can pedal without assist for as long as you like.

It takes about four hours to fully charge the battery on 110 household current. The battery is not removable, so you need to bring the bike close to the outlet—a task easier in a garage than in a third-floor walkup apartment.

The S3 has 28-inch wheels and has a regular full-size adult frame. It accommodates riders from 5-8 to 6-8, which just includes me (at the lower end). The X3, with 24-inch wheels and a smaller frame, accommodates riders from 5 foot even to 6-5, so I could pick either one, I guess. Below, it’s shown in the other color, a rich light gray (the black S3 better matches my outfit).

VanMoof-X3

Nokia 2000_trimmedSo, what’s the price, you ask. It’s $1,998 for either the S3 or the X3. If that seems like a lot think of it as an Apple iPhone 11 and a regular bike as a Nokia cell phone from 2000. This is no ordinary bike. There’s a lot of sophisticated brain power in these e-bikes, and they are built like fortresses to protect the hardware—and keep it from being stolen. If you have the means and the desire to ride a bike for an extended distance for commuting or just fun, the VanMoof bikes are worth the investment.

Electric Scooter Guide – Helping You Find the Perfect Scooter

By Steve Schaefer

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Electric scooters are taking off as a way to get around inexpensively and environmentally responsibly. And, they can be a blast to ride. While some city riders, in non-pandemic times, might borrow a scooter from a fleet, such as Lime, many people want their own. But how can you know what’s available and what best suits your needs? That’s where the Electric Scooter Guide (ESG) comes in.

The Electric Scooter Guide provides electric scooter news, industry insights, safety information, in-depth reviews, and exhaustive data. It was founded at the beginning of 2019 by Chuck Temple and Justin Klein with the mission to “help people find the perfect scooter.” They also put out regular YouTube videos to complement the substantial and regularly updated online content.

The website’s design is clean and functional. The home page offers four quick links to essential content; I’ll elaborate on them in detail below.

  • Best Electric Scooters of 2020
  • Beginner’s Guide to Buying an Electric Scooter
  • Hand’s-On Electric Scooter Reviews
  • A teaser for their ESG LIVE scooter chat live show

Best Electric Scooters of 2020

This long section is filled with charts, tables and images, and starts with ratings by more than 750 owners.

Ratings chart

It’s arranged by price range, after which ESG presents their top 12 picks, from 12 to 1. Each scooter gets a hero shot image, a link to written and video reviews, and pros and cons. These guys give you all the data, not just an impression.

Beginners Guide to Buying an Electric Scooter

A beginner is looking for more guidance, so this section is geared to walking the reader through a step at a time. It covers price, features, components, distributors, maintenance, and shopping tools.

Categories

Scooters are broken into three categories: Budget, Commuter, and High Performance. Budget scooters are priced under $300 and are meant for “minimal or light recreational use.” Commuter scooters are intended for daily use, so are more durable than the Budget ones. They offer more features, and the best ones have suspensions and other premium features. The guide subdivides Commuter scooters into three subcategories: Budget ($300-600), Midrange ($600-900), and Premium ($600-1,200).

The Performance scooters ($1,200-1,600) offer faster speeds and longer ranges, which you would expect for a much larger cash outlay. Upgrades include tubeless tires, semi-hydraulic brakes, powerful lights, and turn signals. Extreme Performance scooters ($2,500+) are the highest performing scooters but tend to be heavy (more than 70 pounds) and with their fat tires are best for offroading.  A prime example is the Wolf Warrior 11, which can zoom up to more than 40 miles per hour—much faster than the bargain units.

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The mighty Wolf Warrior 11

Features are discussed at length. After walking through the levels, the guide discusses features, which further helps the reader figure out which scooter will work for them. It starts with price, referring back to the previous section. Next is another crucial number, range—how far it’ll go on a charge. Then, they discuss weight, which can be a factor in how it handles but really matters if you plan to carry the scooter. Top speed is useful to know. Most riders are OK going 15-18 mph on the street, but if you have the aforementioned Wolf Warrior 11, you’ll be flying. Max weight is the limit the scooter will carry. For most scooters, it’s 220 pounds. Motor power makes a difference in your riding experience. It starts at 200 watts and runs to 500 watts or more. The Guide recommends at least 250 watts for commuting. Suspensions, as in cars, makes riding much more comfortable, and the guide advises getting a scooter with one if you plan to commute longer distances or drive over rough terrain. Lighting is crucial if you plan to drive at night, and it varies from scooter to scooter, although there is minimally a white light up front and a red one in back. Brakes, of course, are essential. There are four types, from electric and regenerative (the weakest) to manual foot brakes, to drum brakes and at the top, disc brakes. As in cars, disc brakes stop better, but tend to be on the more expensive scooters. Tires—also essential—are either pneumatic (air-filled) or airless. The latter are solid and much less comfortable, although they require virtually no maintenance. There is something called an IP Rating (ingress protection), which rates how water-resistant the scooter is. This would be important for protecting the parts from damage. IP Ratings go from x0 (no protection) to X7+ (can be fully submerged). If you plan to ride in the rain, you need at least IPx4.

Distributors are the places you buy the electric scooters. ESG lists three types: Domestic (shops or online), direct from China, or a crowd-funded campaign. They recommend buying domestically. Shipping from China is cheaper, if unreliable, and crowd-funded campaigns are exciting but more of an investment opportunity (be prepared to lose your money and wait a year or more for a scooter).

Maintenance – It’s important to consider how you’ll fix your scooter if it breaks. You should expect any scooter to require some maintenance. Some companies don’t offer replacement parts, so you may have to learn how to fix it yourself. Preventative maintenance saves a lot of trouble, and the guide offers links to detailed maintenance information.

Hands-On Reviews

As you’ve seen already, the ESG is very detailed. The reviews are arranged by price categories, making it easy to compare products in the category you plan to shop in. There are more choices in the lower price categories, for example, 10 options in the $300-600 range, and unsurprisingly, just three in the $3,000 plus group. Each scooter, regardless of price, gets a thumbnail photo and a one-short-sentence description, with a link to the full review.

Reviews - 4

Once you click the link, you’ll get multiple photos, tech specs, highlights, and a summary, including a video and other scooters to consider. Here’s an example of the specs chart.

GoTrax specs

Following the intro section is a thorough review, including performance tests, features, warranty/post-purchase support, and conclusions. They may even include comparisons with the previous version or a close competitor.

ESG explains their exhaustive five-step review process. It starts with the initial unboxing and assembly, which identifies possible issues. The assembled scooter is ridden for a week each by two team members to sort out the details. Then, they run performance testing for acceleration, braking distance, range, and hill climbing. Then, they get together as a group and produce written and video reviews. The final piece is long-term testing, which exposes any durability issues.

This section, frankly, looks more thorough than what major automotive buff magazines do—almost more like Consumer Reports. Excellent.

The YouTube Video Show

I tuned in to one of Chuck’s shows on YouTube. Professionally recorded, they feature Chuck’s folksy charm as he talks about the topic of the day.

Scooter Database

There’s even more to this sprawling site. ESG offers a constantly updated database that contains detailed information on every available scooter, based on manufacturers’ data. You can set a filter at the top for Metric (kilos) or Imperial (pounds), beginner or advanced, and “All” or “Curated.” I’m not sure what the difference between All and Curated is, but there is LOTS of content available.

Safety and Gear

Scooters are fun, but can be dangerous if not driven carefully. Even then, it’s best to be equipped with a good helmet and other crucial accessories. Currently, this tab on the home page contains seven valuable articles about keeping safe while you’re riding.

Coupon Codes

There are deals to be had, from discounts to free accessories. All of this is listed in one tab, but is also provided in the individual scooter reviews.

Summary

The Electric Scooter Guide is a compendium of expertly written reviews and carefully maintained content that should make it easy for anyone to figure out which scooter to buy for their needs and budget. Readers will also learn how to take care of their new scooter, and how to protect themselves while riding it. And it’s a gateway for connection with fellow enthusiasts. The YouTube channel is fun for enthusiasts to enjoy this growing transportation phenomenon. And with a busy Facebook page and a Facebook Group with more than 5,000 members, the Electric Scooter Guide gives you everything you need for your electric two-wheeled commute or adventure.

National Drive Electric Week – Cupertino 2019

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My Chevrolet Bolt EV

National Drive Electric Week is a nine-day celebration of the electric car. Now in its second decade, it grows annually, and spanning two weekends and the days between in the middle of September, offers EV enthusiasts a chance to meet and compare notes as well non-EV drivers a chance to look at, and sometimes even drive, the current crop of plug-ins outside of a dealership environment.

I attended the Cupertino, California event on Saturday, September 14–the first day of NDEW 2019. I brought my Chevrolet Bolt EV, which I’ve enjoyed–and showed–since I got it in January of 2017. With its three-year lease running out on 1/8/2020, it’s likely the last chance I’ll have to share it before switching to another EV next year.

The Cupertino event has a long history, and there is where you can still see some of what EVs used to be–labor-of-love science projects. I’ll talk about a few shortly.

EVs You Can Buy or Lease Now

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Hyundai Kona  Electric

With a bit smaller number of display cars than it was last time I attended, and a thin crowd, it was a little disappointing, but many of today’s pure EV options were there. I saw three Chevrolet Bolt EVs, including my own. A compelling new entry, the Hyundai Kona Electric (shown above), was there, sporting a white top over its jaunty blue-green.

The Kona, with a 258-mile range, is the next-best thing to a Tesla for range, and probably today’s best deal for range. This base model, at about $36,000, sat mere steps away from a 2019 Jaguar i-Pace, which starts about about twice that price. The Jaguar offers great style and luxury, and with 220 miles in the big battery and all-wheel-drive, has its own, different, buyer.

Nissan brought a new LEAF to show, and from its booth awarded prizes throughout the six-hour event. It was the one chance you had to ride in a car. Some NDEW events are more experience-oriented, but this one was more of a show and meet-up.

I saw a BMW i3 down at the far end, and a couple of Tesla Model 3s. Also nearby was a plug-in hybrid Ford Fusion, flanked by two Ford Focus electrics. These EVs, with just 76 miles of range, would make cheap used cars if you wanted a stealth EV.

At the other end was a Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid. It’s actually a significant vehicle, since it’s the only PHEV minivan available in the U.S. Its 33 miles of electric range is plenty for local soccer practice shuttles and commuting. This one sported a little extra flair.

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EVs are not just cars, of course. I saw some electric motorcycles and bicycles there, too, but as I stayed near my car much of the time, I didn’t spend time with them. I have ridden a few, and they are a fine option for some people under particular circumstances (good weather, short trip, no baggage, etc.). I did hear one motorcycle zoom past a few times with its electric whine. I’ve considered getting my motorcycle driver license just so I can test these in the future.

Here’s Roberta Lynn Power with her folding Blix electric bike from Sweden.

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Historic EVs

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EVs have been available in major manufacturers’ showrooms since 2010, when the 2011 Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt came out. But before that, besides the conversion projects, there were few. One model that had two representatives there at the show was the Toyota RAV4. Built just around the turn of the century, it put Toyota ahead of the crowd. Too bad they didn’t keep building them, because the RAV4 is a very popular body style now. You can get a new one as a hybrid today.

A pair of cute little Corbin Sparrows sat together. Not much more than shrouded motorcycles, these little pods would make perfect little errand-runners or last-mile transit connection vehicles.

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The tiny German 1993 City-EL weighs a mere 575 pounds and can shuttle one person for about 40 miles at up to 45 miles per hour. This one is nicknamed “Lemon Wedge.”

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Pioneers, Projects and Conversions

As long as there have been cars there have been tinkerers–people (mostly, but not exclusively, men) who enjoy a tough project. While some folks like to make a classic Mustang faster and louder, others enjoy electrifying an old gasoline car. The man displaying the Jaguar i-Pace had converted a Mazda Miata before.

I spent some quality time with George Stuckert, a retired engineer who also serves as secretary of the San Jose chapter of the Electric Auto Association. This group, a major sponsor of NDEW, was founded way back in 1967. They used to host a Cupertino event that was all project cars. George is glad that you can buy a new EV at a dealership today, but his pride and joy at this event was his 1996 Volkswagen Golf, which he converted ten years ago. It looks like an old Golf, but has a clever pinstriped design with a plug along the side (that I somehow managed to forget to photograph). It’s filled with electronic tech.

George proudly displayed a large card with photos of the project, and showed me his notebooks of carefully documented steps and the book that got him started.

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It was not a smooth process, and included a few spectacular explosions, but he showed the grit and determination that’s what I admire about people willing to get their hands dirty and triumph over failure to ultimate success. The fact that you can buy a used 2015 VW e-Golf that is superior in every way to George’s car is completely missing the point.

In the front corner of the exhibit were two fascinating displays that, along with George’s Golf, gave a look at what a Cupertino Electric Auto Association event was like before the NDEW and mass market EVs. Bob Schneeveis, a local legend, showed off his two-wheeled inventions, including a prototype steam-powered bike.

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Yes–you read that right. Although it’s not quite in the “drive it around the lot” stage, it is a beautiful piece. His electric motorcycle featured a fascinating front fork that made the ride soft and smooth. As a novelty, he had a “chariot” with a horse up front with “legs” made from brushes that capably gave rides to lucky attendees.

I enjoyed an extended conversation with Jerrold Kormin, who brought two displays: his converted Honda Insight and his prototype solar panel trailer. The former, besides swapping its engine for a motor and batteries, had new fiberglass nose and radically changed tail (and just one rear wheel). These design changes, per Kormin, gave the car a 15 percent improvement in its coefficient of drag.

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The car was being charged by Kormin’s fascinating portable solar generator. The inventor’s goal is to replace dirty, noisy Diesel generators. He is renting his prototypes out now. One appeal of replacing Diesel, Kormin told me, was that companies can avoid the major inconvenience of refueling Diesel generators, which adds complexity and expense. He claims customers can save $500 a month in fuel costs with a solar generator working just a 40-hour week. The trailer folds up for easy towing and takes about 5-6 minutes to open up. Learn more at his website.

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I met Joseph, an entrepreneur who was showing his Cirkit electric bike prototype. Looking clean and simple, it reminded me a bit of early minibikes, that you would assemble from a kit and the engine from your lawnmower! Click the link above to go to his website for more information.

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Vendors and Services

EVs need to be charged, which is why you’ll always find a friendly ChargePoint booth at EV shows. ChargePoint is a leader in chargers (I have one in my garage).

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I also met Shane Sansen, the owner of DRIVEN EV. His company works directly with manufacturers to acquire their lease returns and sell or lease them directly to customers. A great idea, and one I’m considering for my next EV. You can learn more at their website.

Besides seeing the vehicles and booths, I had a chance to network with some other folks who are working on EVs and climate action. I met up with my friend Greg Bell, who told me about his exciting new job working with Home Energy Analytics. Offering the Home Intel program, Greg meets with homeowners and shows them how they can reduce their energy consumption and save money. It can be as simple as replacing incandescent bulbs with LED ones, or more. Find out more at their website.

So, having consumed 3-1/2 pints of water and all my snacks, I packed up and drove home. It was a good day.

You can attend an NDEW event in your area through Sunday, September 22. Check their website for details.

Skip Scooters – a First Ride

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I just tried my first electric scooter! It’s easy, fun, and a little scary, too.

It began with seeing little blue Skip scooters tied to posts and trees around downtown San Francisco. I’ve just started a new job working in the city again after a few decades, and things have changed. My company builds and sells software for carsharing and ridesharing (and in the future,  hopefully scooters, too), so I was eager to sample one of the new “micro-mobility” options.

Skip scooters are available where you find them, but to ride one, you first need to download the app. That takes about a minute, from searching for it on your Apple or Android phone and waiting for it to download. When you open the app, it explains how to use the app and also how to ride the scooter safely. You can sign up for an account by adding in your personal information, such as driver’s license and credit card.

I decided that this particular Friday afternoon was a great time to try a scooter. Using the app, I located a couple of them near my office and set out to find them.

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I followed the map and looked–but no scooter! Then I looked across the street. I must have missed something, because there it was. The app made it look like it was on my side of the street.

I went up and tried to scan the QR code. The app then asked me for my driver’s license (front and back). Leaving the scooter tethered, I went to find a slightly more private spot to photograph my license on the street. The app warned me of “glare,” but I got two decent images. Then, I had to enter my credit card information.

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After this, when I put my phone up by the QR code, it gave me a four-digit combination to enter to unlock the scooter’s combination cable lock. Then, all I did was recoil the cable onto the scooter frame and pulled the bike over onto a piece of open sidewalk.

One push, and I was off. The accelerator is a thumb paddle on the right side of the handlebars. On the left is a matching one that slows the scooter down. There’s a manual foot brake that rubs against the wheel, but I think it’s more like an “emergency brake,” since the thumb brake worked fine during my .07-mile ride.

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After zipping along the sidewalk (proscribed by Skip and the City of S.F.), I got onto the actual street, after looking both ways carefully. I then spent the rest of my ride in back alleys, where I had lots of space and few cars to deal with.

The little Skip takes off strongly with its electric motor–just like an electric car, but without the mass. Of course, the motor and battery are tiny, so it all balances out. When you rent a scooter, the app tells you the percentage of charge left and approximate range you can expect. I assume going up hills would use up charge more quickly. I don’t think there’s a regen feature to add charge when you brake or go downhill, as in a car.

I wasn’t wearing a helmet–a bad idea–but I was just testing it, right? Most of the riders I’ve seen so far don’t wear them, possibly because they just hopped on it for a quick trip. However, if you take at least one ride, Skip will send you a helmet for free (you pay $10 shipping). When I got back to my office, I ordered mine using the app, I’ll wait for my helmet to arrive before taking another spin, just to be safe. However, even with a helmet, cruising up to 18 miles an hour down a street full of cars, potholes, pedestrians, and who knows what else seems like a risky proposition with no protection whatsoever.

When I was done with my test ride, I parked the scooter and attached it to a handy street sign pole. As a first timer, I neglected to wrap the lock cable around the pole a bunch of times like I should have, and I somehow missed the step in the app of taking and sending a “parking photo,” but the loan completed fine and my bank account was lighter by $2.75. I had a brisk sense of adventure and a little chill from moving at that speed with just a sweatshirt on.

Micro-mobility, as represented by scooters and electrically assisted bikes, is with us now. It makes a lot of sense in dense urban areas, where driving a car is a pain and environmentally irresponsible. It’s perfect “last mile” transportation from public transit to an office front door. I look forward to the day when downtowns are designed for scooters, with wide, car-free bike lanes separated from the cars and buses.