E-scooters: the future of travel

Electric scooters are gaining ground – should you get one when you want to get moving?

(Image credit: Marat Mazitov/ Unsplash)

Electric vehicles are big business, but up until now the market has concentrated on cars. These days, though, electric bikes and scooters are getting more attention. It’s long overdue too, because electric bikes have been around since the 1890s. BMW gained a lot of attention with its C Evolution back in 2016, and now SEAT has launched its own model, the e-Scooter.

It’s easy to see why these devices are proving popular. More people are living and working in cities than ever before, which means that people need small, manoeuvrable bikes and cars to get around cities where traffic is a real problem.

In the past, petrol-powered mopeds have done the job. They’re hugely popular in most European cities, including Barcelona, where SEAT launched the e-Scooter. But now, with more focus on the environment, people are demanding electric options. These new devices are great, but they also have challenges. A lot of cities just don’t know how to handle them. 

New laws need to be created so people can actually use them safely. There’s also the fact that there are two kinds of device that could be described as an electric scooter.

The BMW C Evolution and SEAT e-Scooter look like traditional mopeds, and they’re sometimes called ‘maxi-scooters’ or ‘electric mopeds’. However, e-scooters can also be two-wheeled devices that look like children’s scooters. These products have batteries and can often be rented in cities – just like Boris Bikes in London – and are often also called ‘kick scooters’.

These smaller scooters are big business in America, where Uber and Lyft are getting involved, and companies like Lime are rolling them out in London, Paris, Berlin and Sydney. Because they’re rented, they’re cheap – and because they’re tiny, you don’t need a driving license to use one.

(Image credit: Trinity_Elektrotoller/Pixabay)

New take on old tech

- 1895

The first patent for an electric bicycle is filed in Ohio – and they probably existed before this date.

- 1896

British cycle company Humber displays the first electric tandem – and a year later it travels at a record-breaking 60kph

- 1919

In Britain, electric bikes with sidecars full of batteries are developed by the agricultural and general engineering company Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies. In its prototype the batteries are placed underneath the sidecar seat. This never made it through its trials, however. Meanwhile, petrol- powered scooters begin to gain popularity and development pulls ahead of electric bikes.

- 1941

A new company called SOCOVEL begins to sell electric scooters because petrol was hard to find during World War II

- 1967

Scientists develop better batteries for electric bikes, and the famous old brand Papoose begins to sell electric bikes. The same year, chemist Karl Kordesch invents a hydrazine fuel cell battery for a motorcycle. It’s the same compound that powers some rockets. The hybrid bike can travel up to 320 kilometres on a gallon of petrol, with a top speed of 40kph.

- 1975

American inventor Mike Corbin releases the City Bike, which is an electric bike with a 64-kilometre range. It’s based on a street-legal electric commuter bike that he developed a few years prior and named after himself. He also sets the world record for the top speed on an electric motorcycle, hitting just over 265kph on a bike that was named Quicksilver.

- 1991

Lithium-ion batteries are invented – a huge leap forward because it means more power can be stored in a smaller space.

- 1996

Peugeot releases its Scoot’Elec – a successful electric scooter that is manufactured for ten years and has a 40-kilometre range.

- 2014

BMW releases its C Evolution electric scooter – the first major car company to release this kind of device since Peugeot.

- 2017

Lime only launched a couple of years ago, and its scooter-rental business is already in more than 100 cities worldwide.

 This article was originally published in How It Works issue 134, written by Mike Jennings 

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