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Prices be Damned, Keep on Driving that Huge Car?

by Joshua Liberles on June 12, 2008

Ottawa_Ahole Prices be Damned, Keep on Driving that Huge Car?
A recent article in the Ottawa Citizen argues that it’s both impractical and illogical to trade in gas guzzlers for the money saved on fuel. Depreciation and financing costs of a large SUV vs. a less expensive, more fuel efficient vehicle represent the lion’s share of the operating costs, argues the Citizen.

From the Ottawa Citizen, comparing the Chevy Cobalt to a Chrysler minivan:

There is a $531 differential in annual fuel costs between the two vehicles. If gasoline went up 10 cents a litre, it would cost the person with the minivan about $50 more a year than the same increase would cost the thrifty Cobalt driver.

So, the logical person wouldn’t trade in a large car for a small one, just because of gasoline prices. If you want cheaper transportation, buy a less expensive car. Improving fuel efficiency will save you very little. Driving less doesn’t matter that much either, because of the high fixed costs of owning a car. By cutting back to a mere 12,000 kilometres of driving, the minivan owner would shave only $700 off his annual driving bill.

At 22 / 31 mpg, the Cobalt isn’t exactly a shining example of fuel efficiency. Part of the problem, certainly, is that auto manufacturers haven’t done much to increase efficiency in decades. Look to more rural settings – where the $20,000+ new vehicle may not be the norm, and the dramatic impact of increased fuel costs becomes apparent.

 

The article also cites Ottawa’s average commute distance of 8.1 kilometers (about 5 miles). Perhaps the picture is a whole lot rosier in Ottawa – a 2005 U.S. poll conducted by ABC puts the national average at 26 minutes to cover 15 miles each way. All told, adult Americans averaged an hour and a half in their cars per day.

The Ottawa Citizen reporter, Randall Denley, goes on to argue against supporting mass transit as an alternative since the costs will come from taxpayers, for many of whom it “will be an added cost for a service they still won’t use.”

How about we take a look at the true costs associated with car driving as usual? There are the hidden subsidies for roads, way underpriced parking, and fuel. Look a little deeper and we have a warming planet, obesity, and polluted air and the related health effects.

Denley goes on to support endless pavement and sprawl: “The end-of-the-suburbs doomsdayers tend to forget that other popular destinations, such as the grocery store and the hockey rink, are actually quite close to suburban homes.”

I’m not sure which suburbs Denley frequents but the modern model of development I’ve seen has been endless spread-out lots of McMansions on the ubiquitous cul-de-sacs, linked by multi-lane roads extending to the horizon in all directions. Twenty minutes by air-conditioned SUV takes you to the huge boxstores clustered around the perimeter selling artificially cheap crap. Sounds like paradise!

Photo via flickr by Mikey G Ottawa.

Related posts:

  1. Quit Sprawling = Less Driving + Less Warming
  2. Fuel Prices Put Americans in the Poorhouse
  3. Gas Prices Squeeze Car Racers Too
  4. Huge Hybrids: Hallelujah?
  5. Gas Prices Hit Rural Areas the Hardest
  6. Recent Posts

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alex March 20, 2008 at 8:33 pm

Nice review! But I’m curious, which 15% of the days can you use a bike and not a motorboard? (And, for that matter, which 1% is the Prius out but not the bus?)

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2 Nick March 20, 2008 at 8:49 pm

I bought one of these for $200 about 4 years ago. I presume is was the earlier model you spoke of.

It worked well for maybe 2 months, but that was about it. I thought the scooter had several serious design flaws (altho things like regenerative braking were really cool). The major problem I had was with how the motors drove the scooter by directly rotating the wheel. Whenever I rode over a bump, however, these metal parts that spun the wheel would dig into the soft plastic wheel. After going over enough bumps, the wheel ending up becoming narrower and the scooter would not go nearly as fast or as well. The battery would also die after maybe 10 minutes.

Maybe they fixed this in the newer version, but I’m not willing to risk it again. The one I bought was a piece of junk and its sitting in my basement collecting dust. Next time they should use a chain or belt drive.

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3 Kathryn March 20, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Hey– I’m the Kathryn who’s doing the guest blogging on the Motorboard for the LA Times blog. This is a great summary of the ins and outs of a Motorboard — including the drawbacks and benefits — and I love your analysis of the energy use!

About the ergonomics, I should say that I’m only 5 feet tall (on a good day), and I’ve noticed that the Motorboard seems perfectly built for someone my height. Since most people are at least a bit taller than me, I know it means that the handlebars might feel low for others.

Nick, you gave a perfect description of something that’s been puzzling me about the Motorboard — how my wheel gets all chewed up after enough bumpy rides. I have the 2000XR, and it took 3 months of LA sidewalks to do this to my wheel — about the time I was almost ready for a new wheel from regular wear and tear anyway. Still, I couldn’t figure out how the wheel was getting chewed up or how to prevent it. Thank you for your explanation!

The newer model, I think, is a big improvement on earlier models — but the extended range battery is a must, if the Motorboard is used for any length of commuting. Roth Motors advertises that the extended range battery goes 10-20 miles, and I’ve only run out of battery power once or twice with this battery — I think as my wheel is wearing down and getting all crunchy from the bumps (using more battery juice).

Another idea for commuters– since I use the Motorboard to commute 3 miles to work, I got an extra charger for work, so I can charge both places. I don’t know that it’s completely necessary with the extended range battery, but it’s convenient and prevents me from having to carry the charger just in case.

I’m excited to hear that Roth Motors is planning a weather-proof version, for people who live in places with regular rainfall. I would also look forward to a bump-proof wheel!

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4 Tom Konrad March 21, 2008 at 12:46 am

Alex: The days I can use a bike but not a motorboard are when it’s wet. In Denver, that’s often because there’s water on the road from melting snow, or if it has rained recently.

Nick- In the manual they talk about the wheel wear. You can swap the front and back wheels when this happens, after which you can buy a new wheel for $20 from Roth.

I heard other people talking about problems with the NiMH batteries of the 2000X in comments on various blogs. You’ll note they are not selling the 2000X anymore. If it’s sitting in your basement, sell it on eBay… someone else can upgrade it and replace the wheel.

With the various maintenence costs (batteries, wheels) this will probably cost considerably more than the fifth of a cent per mile for electricity… but it’s still going to be considerably less than the price of gas.

Kathryn- You seem to have hit the mark… I do feel like I’m a bit large for it… as you can see in the photo at the start of the story. Maybe they’ll consider making a large size, as well as a weatherproof one. Of course they have to raise the money before they can do either.

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5 RowdyKittens March 21, 2008 at 1:04 am

Thanks for the wonderful review and all the comments. This is a really cool method of transport. My partner and I decided to sell our car, so this is something I would consider using when I go grocery shopping. :)

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6 brian Goldner March 21, 2008 at 5:39 am

great article, really in depth!
Another alternative might be a good folding bike. Dahon sells some really nice ones for far less than this motorboard costs. Some of them have chainguards so your pants wont get dirty and u wont need to roll them up.
of course, some people (myself included) sweat a whole bunch (even though I’m capable of biking 60 miles) even during short distances at slow speeds

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7 jungle March 22, 2008 at 9:08 pm

On a visit to Paris I noticed a lot of people (including fairly serious looking people, not just sk8r punx etc) on roller blades.

These strike me as a remarkably efficient way to get short distances, once you’ve learnt to use them. They also cost a lot less than $700, and get you some exercise.

– Although they may be illegal to use except on the actual road with the cars in some towns/cities (!), so check first.

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8 Craig March 23, 2008 at 4:00 am

Tom, the ergonomics of the raked back handle is probably forsaken for the purpose of safety. I’m sure that the rake is to prevent you from going over the handlebars during an emergency stop or from hitting an oversized bump

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9 Paul May 8, 2008 at 5:47 pm

I bought a new 2000X to see how practical it was to have one, without plunking down $799-1000 for the XR or XR plus. The first day I got it i plulgged in in and charged it and rode it to work and it was fine. I charged it at work, and the inner metal 3prong plug section that is on the charger cord came out and remained in the Motorboard. I pulled it out, and tryied to see if I could get it to go back in and glue it. The charger now shows a full charge and it goes dead in after 5 minutes of riding. So I ordered a new charger from Roth(they told me that they wont even be able to mail it out for another 5 days). I hear that Roth Motors service is not that great. So now I have a new 2000X that looks great sitting next to my desk, but all I can do is look at it for the next two weeks while I wait to receive the charger

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10 angelo July 2, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Hello everyone, i,m angelo from philly. I’m glad to have found this informative site. My motorboard xr plus should be arriving around next week. I didn’t know that roth motors has plans to make a weather proff version, but that could take a while for us who wants it now. Has anyone ever got pulled over by the police for riding it?

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11 cheryl August 14, 2008 at 11:02 pm

I’d really like to buy it but don’t trust a formerly bankrupt company. They have to do more to prove they’ll be around to service this vehicle. Besides, if the style is worthy, another stronger company will take it from them eventually. Good try Roth, you almost got my money on that one! The thing didn’t work out of the box for him. I’ve heard rumors of poor customer service. Cute and a great idea, I’ll wait till the market is saturated with more choices.

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12 Joe August 20, 2008 at 11:48 am

These scooters are the worst. Customer service is a joke, and for the price, it’s truly a rip-off. If you need a more ECO friendly form of transportation, check out a ESR750ex on the Goped.com site. Truly a better unit than this plank on skateboard wheels.

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13 angelo August 27, 2008 at 2:02 pm

happy to have bought it but very dissapointed at he range- only about 4.4 miles on nice flat ground at almost full throttle which I tested several times. I’m so upset as they didn’t returned my email back about it.

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14 angelo August 27, 2008 at 2:05 pm

I just want to add that my motorboard I tested is the xr plus.

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15 andrew September 14, 2008 at 9:59 am

I purchased an 2000XR a month ago. I ride a bus an hour to work, then use the scooter for the last 2 miles. It works great, sort of. I was pleasantly surprised by its power, I expected less. It was able to push me, a 220 pound adult at about 15mph, on flat ground. I have been impressed with the battery, in fact I charge it up at work and use it to go home and back to work on one charge.

At 18 pounds it, together with my books, it is about the limit of what I could carry on the bus. I could not image carting any other motorboard (say go-ped, or other) on the bus. The laptap is out though, I cannot manage a backpack scooter laptop.

The biggest problem is the wheels as mentioned above. Perhaps because I am a heavier rider there is even a greater problem. The wheels quickly developed wear marks, some cracks, and then after going down a hill to fast over and hitting a couple of very small gravel-rocks, it carved a 1/2 chunk out of the tire.

I swapped tires as they recommend, only to have the front wheel cover scrape and make a bit of noise. I tried to reseat the wheel cover, only to have one of the bolts snap in half because it was glued tight.

The brakes also work by pressing metal against the back tire, which I assume will add to wear.

At least with me, there is a tendency to stand away from the steering, which increases weight on the rear tire, and I assume also increases the wear on that tire over the front tire.

One last thing, I quickly noticed that pressing the acceleration too fast will cause marks on the tire, and more recently I think that releasing the acceleration too quickly (when you want to slow down) will also do the same thing.

My conclusion agrees with this article. The usefulness depends on your commute. For me, living in a dry climate, where I required something I can lug on a bus – it seems to fit me well. And I hope that by learning how to treat it a bit more delicately (and avoid gravel) I will be able to make the tires last longer. Even if I need to order tires twice a year, it will be worth it for me.

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16 Jacob Munoz September 20, 2008 at 5:28 am

So I ordered an XR from electric-scooters-galore.com because I live very near mass transit and work in DC. First off, there’s a two week delay between ordering and delivery – and delivery takes another week (three weeks total, kinda really slow). But on the positive side, it seems that they’ve sent me the XR with the extra big battery. I noticed the shipping weight seemed a little heavy for an item that’s supposed to weigh 16.5lbs (UPS said it was 24lbs in the box – I did also order two extra wheels). So, after also noticing that the instruction manual was for the 2000X, and the metal was engraved with 2000X – I got ticked! But I checked the box, which had a yellow sticker ‘2000XR ‘, so I finally opened the board and looked at the battery, which was marked XR …! So I think I got an extra $200 worth of battery for free! Woot woot! The spotty customer service reported by people above probably explains the mixup.

My first expectations were low, found all sorts of angry reviews – but they seemed to mostly be about the 2000X, or the short range of the XR. I’ve already used a full charge up (really got over-enthusiastic and started racing up hills full throttle, then ran out of juice…oops). If I had actually been trying to get somewhere, I would have been more frugal with the ‘gas’ but I wanted to see what it could do, and I did.

The ground clearance could be about an inch higher, and a really cool feature would be LED headlights (I’ll probably do that myself, as there’s plenty of room in the battery compartment). BE SURE TO TIGHTEN THE STEERING WHEEL! You can collapse/extend the handle bars really quickly – which lets you forget to tighten the adjustment knob at the top. When you don’t tighten this ring, the ride is rather wobbly (the small wheels probably amplify the loose steering) which is something I’ve seen people complain about, but it’s your own fault for forgetting. It would be nice if the power charger was a little smaller, but it gets a little warm – which may be the reason for it’s size. Going down some sidewalks makes a fairly loud clickity-clack, but that’s just the laws of physics so I’ll deal with it. WATCH the sidewalk for misaligned concrete, as bumps larger than an inch need to be taken lightly or not at all (pick up scooter).

Its definitely NOT a toy, and those that are disappointed probably had misguided expectations. You really should kick-push while riding if you want to get far, but being lazy is real easy on this board. Top speed/downhill is scary… but fun… but scary!

Again, the documentation I received was for the old NiCd battery version, and the device itself is engraved with ‘2000X’ – very odd. If you order an XR or XR and you just see ‘X’, open the board and check the battery for confirmation, I did. For reference, I weigh 165lbs (I’m little. 28, but little.)

So I think I’ve made out pretty well so far, as it suits my needs nicely. It’s definitely not a solution for everyone, but good luck with whatever you choose.

Clearly my experience is bizarre and not to be expected. ;D

Reply

17 Jacob Munoz September 20, 2008 at 5:28 am

So I ordered an XR from electric-scooters-galore.com because I live very near mass transit and work in DC. First off, there’s a two week delay between ordering and delivery – and delivery takes another week (three weeks total, kinda really slow). But on the positive side, it seems that they’ve sent me the XR with the extra big battery. I noticed the shipping weight seemed a little heavy for an item that’s supposed to weigh 16.5lbs (UPS said it was 24lbs in the box – I did also order two extra wheels). So, after also noticing that the instruction manual was for the 2000X, and the metal was engraved with 2000X – I got ticked! But I checked the box, which had a yellow sticker ‘2000XR ‘, so I finally opened the board and looked at the battery, which was marked XR …! So I think I got an extra $200 worth of battery for free! Woot woot! The spotty customer service reported by people above probably explains the mixup.

My first expectations were low, found all sorts of angry reviews – but they seemed to mostly be about the 2000X, or the short range of the XR. I’ve already used a full charge up (really got over-enthusiastic and started racing up hills full throttle, then ran out of juice…oops). If I had actually been trying to get somewhere, I would have been more frugal with the ‘gas’ but I wanted to see what it could do, and I did.

The ground clearance could be about an inch higher, and a really cool feature would be LED headlights (I’ll probably do that myself, as there’s plenty of room in the battery compartment). BE SURE TO TIGHTEN THE STEERING WHEEL! You can collapse/extend the handle bars really quickly – which lets you forget to tighten the adjustment knob at the top. When you don’t tighten this ring, the ride is rather wobbly (the small wheels probably amplify the loose steering) which is something I’ve seen people complain about, but it’s your own fault for forgetting. It would be nice if the power charger was a little smaller, but it gets a little warm – which may be the reason for it’s size. Going down some sidewalks makes a fairly loud clickity-clack, but that’s just the laws of physics so I’ll deal with it. WATCH the sidewalk for misaligned concrete, as bumps larger than an inch need to be taken lightly or not at all (pick up scooter).

Its definitely NOT a toy, and those that are disappointed probably had misguided expectations. You really should kick-push while riding if you want to get far, but being lazy is real easy on this board. Top speed/downhill is scary… but fun… but scary!

Again, the documentation I received was for the old NiCd battery version, and the device itself is engraved with ‘2000X’ – very odd. If you order an XR or XR and you just see ‘X’, open the board and check the battery for confirmation, I did. For reference, I weigh 165lbs (I’m little. 28, but little.)

So I think I’ve made out pretty well so far, as it suits my needs nicely. It’s definitely not a solution for everyone, but good luck with whatever you choose.

Clearly my experience is bizarre and not to be expected. ;D

Reply

18 andrew October 7, 2008 at 9:23 am

Well its been three weeks later, and it seems with a little care and experience, it is possible to reduce the wear on the tires.

I ordered my 2000XRplus from ebay and it came with a notice that all boards are marked 2000X, and there is no external way to tell if it is a 2000X, 2000XR or 2000XRplus.

I got aggressive yesterday and tried to wear out the XRplus battery, after an hour of riding and getting so lost in a neighborhood that i had to call a friend to pick me up, the batter was still going strong.

It seems that rough pavement significantly slows down the ride for some reason I don’t understand.

If anyone knows of a 2000XR forum, let me know. I think it would really help to share experiences and set expectations.

Reply

19 andrew October 7, 2008 at 9:34 am

Thanks Jacob Munoz for the tip on tightening the steering wheel, it does help make the steering less wobbly – although it is still next to impossible for me to steer with one hand, allowing me to wave “hi” or signal directions of which way I am turning to a passing car.

I use a bicycle helmet and a bookbag with a blinking red bicycle light that I attached to the bag.

By rough pavement in my previous message, I mean either unfinished or “scarred” road surface which provides makes a noise to car drivers as they near the side of the road.

Reply

20 Steve February 2, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Just an update for anyone who finds this post while looking for Motorboard reviews…

Last Fall (Fall of 2008), Roth Motors again entered into bankruptcy. As far as I know, the company is still bankrupt. Which doesn’t surprise me. After all, the price for Motorboards was too steep, and I always knew they wouldn’t be able to sell very many at that price point. Also, the Internet is filled with complaints about the reliability and durability of these Motorboards. Apparently, many Motorboards don’t make it for more than a few months before breaking.

So, if anyone is tempted to buy one, be careful! As the company is bankrupt, you’ll very likely be on your own if something breaks! And if you need a part that is proprietary to the scooter, you might be S.O.L.. In other words, if (or I should say “when”) the scooter breaks, there might be no way to fix it.

The Motorboard by Roth Motors was a good idea, but Roth ultimately couldn’t pull it off.

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21 andrew kingston May 20, 2009 at 5:29 am

Hi
I am interested in finding john lynch or david roth or who ever is in control of roth motors as i am in the UK it is very difficult for me to find who to speak to so if anyone can help i will send them a new scooter.
I wish to licence or purchase the 2000xr design and re-develope it using our new motor etc
Please help ASAP.
Regards
Andrew Kingston

Reply

22 Julius February 19, 2009 at 8:29 am

A very good resource for this scooter is http://www.motorboards.org and http://www.motorboardmods.com/forum

There is lots of technical information there, pictures and information on repair and spare parts too.

Reply

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