What would the world be like if PC companies designed and manufactured vehicles?
A few years ago, Bill Gates was quoted as saying something to the effect that if the tech industry built vehicles we’d have flying cars by now – highlighting just how much more quickly the technology market advanced. The response from the automobile industry?
Something to the effect that you’d also have vehicles that crashed and needed to be rebooted often which, I expect, would be particularly problematic if they were flying at the time.
Well, Dell recently collaborated with a company called Current Motor and this unusual marriage had an offspring – a hybrid cross between a tablet and scooter. They call it a SuperScooter and they’ve given it to me for
a month. Now I’ve been riding motorcycles for over 40 years (I started riding before I even had a driver’s license) and even though I sold my last motorcycle several years back I find I still miss it.
This is the big problem with electric vehicles. Battery technology today doesn’t provide enough density for long trips, batteries take hours to charge and you generally have to make an ugly tradeoff between price, performance, weight, and capacity. Low price gives you less range but also less weight and higher potentially higher performance, you pay more and you get range but lose performance. Now there is an improvement coming, apparently they’ve discovered if you inject silicon into the batteries it significantly increases capacity and this may eventually solve this problem.
The other issue with current technology is that it takes a long time to charge and there are still very few places to charge away from home. This combination makes what would otherwise be a great long distance experience impractical. This too is being worked both with faster charging batteries and plans to build out charging infrastructure largely driven by Tesla and Qualcomm (Qualcomm is pushing for inductive charging in either streets or parking spaces). But this fix isn’t here yet.
This means most electrics are good for short hops of between 30 and 50 miles round trip – depending on battery capacity. Now Current shipped me their under $10K value product which means I had about 30 miles of no risk range, light weight and moderate performance.
This scooter is really quite a bit of fun to drive. It is dead quiet at speed so you can really hear what is going on around you. Given cars aren’t that good at seeing two wheeled vehicles this allows to better keep track of where they are when you aren’t looking in your mirrors or they aren’t in front of you. On a quiet road it is like coasting on a bike but without that annoying sound the bike gears typically make.
It is really very pleasant, although I soon found myself wishing for a radio. One of the advantages of a Scooter
form factor is that it provides very good shielding from the weather. Unlike on a regular motorcycle your shoes, pants, shirts, and face are relatively protected from the elements so you can wear an open face helmet and better enjoy the weather with less fear of eating a bug.
It is no custom chopper but it is far cheaper, far more comfortable, and far easier to ride. It does draw a lot of attention particularly here in very green California. People do come up and ask about it but I think women would find it better and getting dates than men will. Since I’m married I view this as a lifesaving feature.
There are several parts of this scooter that make it cool in a geeky way. First it uses Vehicle Wraps for
customization. Not only can you buy it wrapped from the factory (the one I’ve been using is wrapped in carbon fiber) there are tons of folks that do wraps and for a few hundred bucks they can pull and replace the wraps with anything from other finished like steel, flat back, or even fake wood (I’d avoid the fake wood) to custom graphics. Not only does it look cool but it is far more resistant to scratching than paint.
Second, and this is part of the Dell contribution, it has a tablet as a display and this device is equipped with a WAN connection with a specially coded cell phone app. Meaning, if you are having a problem Current Motors can remotely diagnose it. Plus, you can monitor the bike on your phone and the display will run apps like trip planning and GPS software.
Now you do have to boot the dash but only when you first uncrate the bike or after you’ve disconnected
the battery for storage (there is a breaker for this). Otherwise it activates when you get close to the bike or use the key to activate the vehicle.
Wrapping Up: Recommendations
The bike is just fine if you are just looking for something to get you to work or school and live in an area like the west where the weather is generally good and your commute is under 30 miles and doesn’t involve much freeway.
In fact, this likely would have been a safer choice while I was in high school and college than the motorcycles I owned at the time and far better in weather. If you can figure out how to get a power cord to it, it is ideal for cities where you typically drive under 15 miles but have to navigate in heavy traffic. Scooters can get through areas where cars can’t and electric vehicles love stop and go driving. Many think they are the future of in-city transportation.
However, if you are on the freeway a bit at speed or need more range the performance version would be
recommended because, at least in California no one drives 55 – making the 58 top speed of the base bike too slow. Being a freeway speed bump isn’t that much fun and their more expensive configuration tops out closer to 70, all while boasting far more range.
If you are looking for something to go long distances, I would definitely say that electric isn’t an option, at least not yet. And while you can buy performance motorcycles that are electric they are typically very expensive, far more exposed, and generally a very poor value against performance gas bikes. If you want to race you can’t beat gas, but for quiet, cheap, reliable day to day short hops electric is a very pleasant option.
While this scooter isn’t as cool as a bike, it is infinitely more cool than a Vespa (it is decent size) and it even has reverse so you don’t look stupid when you try to walk it back out of a parking spot up hill (try that on your typical bike or scooter and you’ll know why folks who ride make sure they park with their bikes pointed up-hill.
Current is replacing this bike with the performance version in a few days. For now, while the weather holds, look for my Cheshire grin in while I drive by gas stations this weekend. I find I’m enjoying that drive more and more.
Oh, and one final thought. Existing electric bike designs are typically based on their gas predecessors simply because we like to see familiar shapes. But given the actual motor is in the wheel hub and the battery can be custom designed, so you could build some truly wild things (Like this prototype from BMW or even this wilder one from BSG). I can hardly wait!