Tom Konrad, Ph.D. is an Investment Analyst at AltEnergyStocks.com, a provider of high-quality, original research into alternative energy, renewable energy, and clean technology companies. This is a guest post for Carectomy.com.
When I first read about the motorboard on Carectomy, it offered a solution to a problem I’d been thinking about for some time. I often need to go downtown (about a mile and a half) from my office, and I usually need to be well dressed when I do so. Since downtown is only a 3 mile round trip, my preferred method (if I have time) is to simply walk the distance. Walking takes care of my exercise for the day and can also be quite pleasant and relaxing.
Unfortunately, I don’t always have time to walk, biking can be impractical in dress clothes, and driving and using a parking meter usually involves rushing out at the end of a 2 hour meeting to avoid getting a ticket (and often saves little time due to the hunt for a parking spot.) Taking the bus does not save time for such a short distance, since the bus I would use only runs every half hour during the day.
The motorboard seemed an excellent compromise which would not get me sweaty in summer months (since it’s electric) and the upright stance meant that my slacks are in little danger. Like a bike, I could take the motorboard with me on a bus if I had to go far, although folding it up and carrying it with me would be simpler than loading and unloading the bike from the rack in front of the bus.
That was the plan. Here’s what happened:
While a new 2000XR motorboard sells for $799, the older 2000X version (which has a lower range because it is based on NiMH batteries, while the XR is based on A123 Lithium-Ion batteries) sells for $200-$300 on eBay. The company, Roth Motors offers an upgrade for the 2000X which replaces the battery pack and some electronics for $450. Since the net cost of buying a 2000X and upgrading is slightly less than the cost of the 2000XR new, I decided to try the 2000X and upgrade if I liked it.
The board unfortunately arrived DOA, although it was new in the box and had no visible damage. When it comes to quality, this is a little worrying, but I decided to accelerate my plans for an upgrade, and negotiated a discount from the seller rather than returning it to him.
Roth told me the upgrade might take 4-5 weeks, but then they turned it around so quickly that I wondered if they had just sent me a new 2000XR and kept mine for parts.
Riding a motorboard is fun. When I first took it out, I rode it around bike paths in parks near my home, and had so much fun that I inadvertently ran out of power. Which brought up the first problem I noticed: although there is a low battery indicator, it gives you very little warning (maybe 30 seconds) before you completely run out of power. I ended up about a mile from home, and while you can kick yourself along, it’s fairly hard work, about twice to three times as hard as going the same distance on a bike (and I can only go about 5 mph under my own power, so it’s pretty slow, too.)
The advertised range of 5 miles is about accurate… with one hiccup. My office is 4 1/2 miles from my house, but it’s ever-so slightly downhill. That means I have a little spare range when I ride to the office, but I run out of juice after about 4 miles on the way home. With my laptop and other paraphernalia, I weigh about 190lbs, so someone lighter (or carrying less stuff) might be able to go a bit farther, but given that having to kick any significant distance is not particularly fun (and the long, straight on-road bike path I use for my commute can be boring at 15 mph or slower), I’m not likely to use it regularly for my commute.
While the motorboard is fun to ride for short distances, and I don’t mind the occasional startled looks, I find my biggest complaint is that it’s not enough work. Over the last year, I’ve been weaning myself off the car, and I really appreciate the opportunity to get exercise on my commute. The day I rode the motorboard, I felt like I hadn’t gotten enough exercise (even counting the 1/2 mile I had to kick it home.) Where it really shines is as a supplement to transit: the ability to quickly cover a couple miles allows you to avoid or drastically reduce the number of required bus changes on longer routes. For me, changing busses is the most frustrating part of using them, even in Denver where busses are nearly always on schedule.
Thoughts on Design
I see one place where the motorboard design could be improved. The handlebars tilt back slightly, which looks good, but this means that the rider is steering with his hands only a few inches in front of his stomach. If the handlebars were vertical, or even had a slight forward tilt, the rider’s hands would be a few inches farther forward, which I feel would be a more ergonomic stance.
The fact that the 2000X arrived nonworking is a little worrying, and I have noticed that the handlebars are a couple of degrees off from being perpendicular to the front wheel (it’s so subtle I didn’t notice for a week.) I don’t know if this is a sign of quality problems with the 2000X, or if those problems continue with the 2000XR. I did read several accounts of problems (mostly due to the lack of front suspension) with the lead-acid based 1500X, which was made by the company before current management bought it out of bankruptcy.
Since I planned to write about it, I’ve been keeping track of my electricity usage (using a Kill-a-Watt) and distance traveled (estimated with Google Maps). After 24.2 miles of riding, I’ve used 0.51 kWh, considerably less than I would have expected. If a gallon of gas contains 33 kWh of heat energy, that’s over 1,500 MPG, and it costs a penny to go 5 miles. Since I buy windpower, I could say the carbon footprint is zero, but if I charge it up anywhere else, I can expect that the electricity causes about 1.2 lbs of CO2 per kWh, or about 11.5 grams per mile (about 7% the carbon emissions of a Prius.)
|Cost/mi of typical trip (fuel+parking)||$0.002||Free||Free||$0.25||$0.20|
|Weather (% useable- Denver)||60%||95%||75%||100%||99%|
|Safety||Good||Very good||Good||Very Good||Good|
|Can wear dress clothes||Y||Y||N||Y||Y|
|Cargo capacity||25 lbs||25 lbs||60 lbs||50 lbs||500 lbs|
Note: Numbers are for the way I use these transit options. Your numbers will vary.
As a supplement to public transit, the motorboard is an excellent option, especially for people whose work attire is not bicycle-friendly, or if the available public transit does not accommodate bikes. On the other hand, it’s not very practical anywhere where it rains or snows frequently… I don’t recommend it to anyone in Seattle. However, Roth Motors says they have plans for a weatherproof version.
The motorboard requires decent balance, and moderate strength to carry on public transit, which unfortunately rules it out for many of the people who could use a collapsible motorized vehicle the most. It may be a lot cooler than a Segway, but the physical requirements limit it to many of the people who need it least.
Probably the most comparable option for solving the last mile problem is a folding bike. Both can be carried on busses and light rail. The motorboard has much more limited range, but folds much more quickly than a bike (5-10 sec for a motorboard, 30-60 sec for a bike,) and is half the price (or less.) It also feels safer to ride: If you have to stop suddenly, or even crash, you are standing upright, making it simple to get clear. On a bike, it can be difficult to get off quickly (especially if you use toe clips.) The motorboard’s top speed of 15mph is about the same as a fast run, so it is possible for an athletic rider to jump off and stay upright even riding full throttle.
Is the motorboard for you? It depends on your commute, the local climate, and if your line of work is compatible with informal clothes. A motorboard isn’t a perfect replacement for a bike, or even walking, but it’s a great way to get to a meeting downtown from my office in a hurry.