Last-mile commuting with an e-scooter
I've been using an e-scooter to get to and from public transport, and it's liberating!articles escooter emobility electric vehicle
It started with me wanting to, in true Mustachian fashion, bike to work. Unfortunately, this isn't very practical in my daily commute, because of distance (over 30km one-way), and my use of multiple modes of public transport (bus and train). While I could try a folding bike, I wasn't completely sold on this idea due to the unwieldiness of it. (UPDATE: I now have a folding e-bike as part of my mixed-mode commute)
Then one day (around August 2016), I saw a kid's toy: a folding e-scooter, the Uber Scoot S300. This was affordable (R4500), however the weight of over 18kg made it seem impossibly unwieldy for carrying around a train station. Eventually, after much research and deliberation, I decided to give it go anyway.
I guess you'll never know if you don't try... #escooter #gautrain pic.twitter.com/KxoZMFYr4Z— Toby Kurien (@TobyKurien) September 29, 2016
I soon realised that I needed to modify the e-scooter to:
- be lighter. Around 14kg is light enough to sling over my shoulder.
- have a carry strap to enable me to sling it over my shoulder.
- have a bag to carry it in when taking it into public transport.
Thus began my adventures in modifying the e-scooter. I added the carry strap, moved the heavy lead-acid batteries into a backpack, making the e-scooter much lighter (around 13kg) and easier to carry, and my wife made a nice bag to put the e-scooter into. I later swapped the lead acid batteries (that weigh around 5.5kg) for an RC LiPo pack (weighing about 1.1kg). I even designed and 3d-printed a rear mudguard to avoid muddy trousers!
Today I did my #escooter #commute with @TheGautrain and it was great! Definitely needs a wheelie bag. Lots of curious onlookers. pic.twitter.com/2aMGoIgEUM— Toby Kurien (@TobyKurien) October 3, 2016
#escooter stage 1 mods done: carry strap added, custom bag (for Gautrain), batteries moved to backpack (for weight reduction) pic.twitter.com/2Bmo1ggKev— Toby Kurien (@TobyKurien) November 12, 2016
Stage 2 mod for the #escooter: LiPo battery. Pros: ~ 4kg lighter, > double the range. Cons: charging hazardous (must remove battery)! pic.twitter.com/Vkp2LeT9M8— Toby Kurien (@TobyKurien) November 20, 2016
Another mod: Designed and #3dprinted a rear mudguard for my #escooter. Hopefully no more muddied trousers. pic.twitter.com/vLZBUCxm9X— Toby Kurien (@TobyKurien) January 2, 2017
This is how I roll. To and from @TheGautrain #escooter #emobility #joburg pic.twitter.com/etImyMyHbM— Toby Kurien (@TobyKurien) January 13, 2017
I get a lot of attention while I scoot around to and from work! I have yet to see one other person try this form of transport here in Johannesburg, which is sad, because it is cheap and fun, and we have cycle lanes! Here are some common responses:
- Where did you buy it? Tevo, also available at Makro
- How far does it go? About 10km, depending on inclines.
- How fast does it go? About 20km/h, much faster than walking! On average, a 15 minute walk becomes a 5 minute ride.
- Does it need petrol? No, just charge it like a cellphone. It takes about 2 hours to charge. I use about 85Wh to travel a round-trip of about 6km which includes several inclines.
- How much does it cost? Less than most smartphones! I got it for R4500
- Shouldn't you use a bicycle instead, for the exercise? I get plenty of exercise carrying the scooter around the train station! Besides, I don't want to get sweaty and smelly on my way to work. Also, a bicycle is not as easy to carry around, even a folding one.
- Why don't you just use your car? Because I don't like sitting in traffic, struggling for parking, paying for petrol, ruining our environment, etc. But mostly the traffic thing.
- What if it rains? I carry a poncho or rain coat which keeps me dry, and I always still have the option of using my car.
Around July of 2017, I spotted this beauty in the window of a local nondescript gadget shop:
Well, not exactly that model: this one has an aluminium deck, and is not branded. I was concerned about the lack of suspension and the tiny wheels, but after watching many YouTube videos, I decided to buy it. And then, there were two...
Bought another #escooter. Easier to carry on #gautrain but rides like a skateboard. R3200. Lithium battery. Regenerative braking. pic.twitter.com/7idhqm57nS— Toby Kurien (@TobyKurien) August 8, 2017
- This is pretty much the lightest e-scooter you can get! It only weighs 8,2kg (according to my scale). This makes it really easy to carry around, and it even fits on the upper luggage rack on the Gautrain.
- It looks really nice and is well built. Strong aluminium everywhere with a well-designed folding mechanism means it can take a beating!
- It has a very useful, bright headlight.
- It has electronic braking (e-brake), including regenerative braking! This means that as you brake, some energy goes back into charging the battery. In practise, this is a nearly useless feature, as very little energy can really be harvested this way. How much does your laptop charge if you only plug it in for 3 seconds? Exactly. Unfortunately, the e-brake is an on/off type, meaning that you need to be leaning back before you brake, else you can go flying over the handlebars! You also need to be ready to step on the rear mudguard for extra braking power.
- The wheels are tiny and square, so it is very easy to loose grip and fall off. Infact a friend who hopped on, fell off the e-scooter merely seconds later, in front of an amused and applauding crowd! I had the e-scooter slide out from under me on a few occasions - luckily I was able to perform a running catch each time to avoid an embarrassing fall.
- The handlebar locks in place when folded, making it possible to wheel it around rather than carry it, which greatly improves portability.
- Lack of power. With only 250W, it needs plenty of assitance up any appreciable incline, even with my sub-70kg weight. Note that it has a front-wheel driven brushless hub motor.
- Lack of battery capacity. With plenty of assistance up hills, it can barely manage about 6km range. The battery meter will also give you stress: just 1km into your ride, it will show low battery every time you apply throttle (as it's showing voltage, rather than charge remaining).
- Poor weight balance. The deck and rear wheel is extremely light, as the batteries are in the steering column, and the brushless hub motor is on the front wheel. This means the everytime you lift the e-scooter, the deck will most likely swing around and hit your ankle in the most painful manner. Also, it's easy to tip over forwards when riding into small mounts of sand.
- The worst part about this e-scooter: it rides worse than a skateboard due to the stiffness and lack of suspension. It helps to stand sideways on the deck with your heels off the deck, so that your calves can absorb the shocks, because if you don't, your vision will blur from all the vibration.
In short, this e-scooter is only usable on smooth, dry, tarred lanes for fairly short rides. It is quite unstable due to lack of grip, high stiffness, and tiny wheels. Still, I find that I use it when I only need to ride it in town, on the smooth cycle lanes.
I'd pre-ordered a MudSlinger e-scooter way back in April 2017 after reading this Popular Mechanics article about it. I got in touch with the creators, who were very friendly and willing to listen to my advice regarding what an ideal e-scooter should be. Eventually, by September 2017, I got a review unit from them. And then, there were three:
Got a Mudslinger #escooter to add to my collection. SA-designed product https://t.co/Ibp97R354N pic.twitter.com/xPReTFLcNk— Toby Kurien (@TobyKurien) September 3, 2017
Here's a mini-review:
- The MudSlinger e-scooter has suspension! It isn't obvious from the pictures, but the suspension has decent travel. Combined with the air-filled front wheel, it results in a smooth ride over paving and road (and even dirt trails), while reducing the amount of strain on the e-scooter.
- Very light! While not the lightest, it weighs only 10.4kg (according to my scale) making it easy to carry on my shoulder.
- The solid rubber rear wheel (with integrated brushless hub motor) means no punctures on the wheel with the motor. Doesn't compromise the ride quality too much due to suspension.
- Powerful 350W motor. It can easily achieve 31km/h on flats and downhills, which is dangerously fast. Luckily there's a low gear (eco mode) which limits the top speed to around 22km/h, which is much safer.
- Slick-looking, compact, and durable. The review unit I had took a beating and nothing broke. It is hard to believe that the battery is in that super-thin deck.
- High-capacity 8800mAh battery. I haven't managed to test out the range, but it seems it will get over 10km on a charge on my usual route. I once did around 9km (lots of flat-out downhill) with charge to spare afterwards.
- Comes with powerful headlight and tail light, including a brake light.
- On the downside, the throttle is a big laggy, and the rear mudguard is inadequate.
I added a few modifications - a carry strap, and an extended rear mudguard to avoid muddy pants:
In short, the MudSlinger e-scooter is the one I'd recommend!
After almost 1500km of riding over a year, a few things broke:
- The handlebar stem broke internally due the strain on it when braking (body weight pushing forwards on it). I managed to hack together a fix that held for a few months.
- The front wheel bearings wore out. I was able to replace them fairly easily.
- I hit a bump in the road once and the front part of the deck where the hinge is attached tore and bent upwards. I fixed this by drilling through and bolting it back together.
Hopefully the updated models have resolved some of the design issues. This scooter is now available at Sportsmans Warehouse.
In October 2019, I got the latest model of the Mudslinger e-scooter - the Mudslinger GoSmart Explorer Electric Scooter, which is available from Sportsmans Warehouse for R5300.
This e-scooter is a huge improvement over the previous model. Most notably, it is of a much better build quality! The folding mechanism and hinge is much stronger, the battery is moved into the hefty stem, and an improved suspension is now integrated into the rear. There is also a kick-stand integrated into the deck. Overall the e-scooter feels much stronger.
In addition, this e-scooter features a USB charging port, and bluetooth, allowing you to pair it with an app on your phone, which is most useful for diagnosing any problems, but not for much else. There isn't any lock/unlock feature, nor the ability to view detailed battery stats, but that's OK. The e-scooter is perfectly usable without the app. The display readout on the handlebar shows all the important information (speed, charge state, mode, etc.), although it is not readable in direct sunlight.
This is still a compact and relatively lightweight e-scooter that is easy to fold, and fits neatly into the boot of my car. When folded, there is a hook that hooks into the rear mudguard, allowing it to be carried easily. The headlight is an improvement over the previous model (it is angled downwards and inside a reflector assembly), with much better night-time visibility, and the rear light flashes during breaking. The speed control features 3 modes, where mode 1 is limited in speed to about 9km/h, making it perfect for beginners to learn to ride it without the risk of a high-speed crash. The rear suspension makes for a more comfortable ride over the previous model, as it doesn't bottom out (with my weight). It feels like it has longer travel and is stiffer.
Another improvement over the previous model is the motor. Even though the power output is lower (250W compared to the previous 300W), it is a 36V motor, and thus delivers more torque, and it is much quieter. The top speed may be slightly lower, but it pulls a lot better up the hills!
The only thing to be wary of with this e-scooter is the brake - at high speed, the brake is really sharp and hard to modulate, so you will need to brace yourself and shift your weight rearwards before touching the brake.
In short, the Mudslinger GoSmart Explorer is a really well-built e-scooter that is a major improvement over the older model in all aspects, despite being priced the same! This is my favourite e-scooter yet!
Here's what is looks like, locked up at the Gautrain bike rack:
Here's what my daily commute looks like:
Sometimes, we just ride for the fun of it:
Here are some tips if you're planning to try this mode of transport:
- Wear sunglasses or safety glasses to protect your eyes. I use clear polycarbonate safety glasses as they are a lot cheaper and tougher than sunglasses.
- Wear a cap with a peek which allows you to shield your eyes from glare and possibly bird droppings.
- Carry a poncho or rain coat, and a high-visibility jacket. A poncho is light, small, and keeps you dry when it rains. The high-visibility jacket is a must when riding at night.
- Lean back when you ride. The faster you go, the more you should lean back. Try to get your weight over the rear wheel. This will greatly assist in braking and avoid you falling over forwards when braking hard or hitting sand.
- Avoid using sidewalks. Pedestrians aren't expecting you, and they can't hear you, so it is very likely you'll run into them, as you'll be travelling much faster than them. It is faster and safer to stay on the bicycle lanes or the shoulder lanes on the road.
- Use the bicycle lanes as much as possible. Since they aren't currently used much, expect many pedestrians and cars to be in your way. Going the wrong way down the cycle lane can also be extremely hazardous as pedestrians aren't expecting you and generally don't look in the direction you're coming from.
- Install a bell or something so that you can warn pedestrians as you approach them. My experience has been that something that sounds like a high-pitched squealing brake disc is far more effective (people jump out of the way) than something that sounds like an iPhone notification tone ('ding' - not effective at all).
- The best way to safely pass oblivious pedestrians is to hop off the scooter, walk around them, then hop back on and ride when it is safe to do so. Unlike a bicycle, this is very easy to do on an e-scooter.
- Don't "full throttle" up every incline. The e-scooter slows down up hills, and past a certain throttle position, will not go any faster. Infact, beyond that point, the speed controller heats up, wastes energy, and will possibly also cut out from overheating. You can extend your range by finding and sticking to this optimum throttle position.
- Assist the e-scooter up steep inclines by gently kicking off the ground as you would on a normal kick-scooter. This means you'll go faster up hills while also extending the range of your battery.
- e-scooters are great for travelling about 5km of fairly level and smooth terrain. Beyond this, battery life and rider comfort become an issue. For greater distances, perhaps consider an e-bike, like I did.
Follow my thoughts and experiences on my twitter #escooter hashtag.