DESPITE WHAT you’ve heard about the myriad ways sweatpants and Zoom calls will forever transform work in America, most professionals still yearn for the normalcy office life brings. According to a May survey by Gensler Research Institute, only 12% of office workers plan to toil from home full-time after the pandemic subsides. The rest will happily don constricting clothing if it means a return to making decisions over coffee rather than during pixelated meetings spent spying on each other’s bedroom décor.
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What might change dramatically however: How we choose to travel to work. Fears of being exposed to germs in cramped underground spaces have reportedly caused mass transit ridership to plummet by 80% in urban centers such as Milan and San Francisco—and by up to 96% in hot spots including New York, Washington, D.C., and Paris. When they head back to their corner offices, car-shunning members of the C-suite set might be more likely to commute in prudent solitude on electric bikes than to trudge up subway steps.
“No one wants to be in a dirty cab. We don’t want to be on a bus or subway. People want their own mode of transportation that they control,” said Michael Burtov, author of “The Evergreen Startup.” Mr. Burtov, who works with entrepreneurs as part of MIT’s Enterprise Forum, also noted a severe dip in usage of shared bikes and scooters; who yearns to spend an afternoon wiping down handlebars or riding in gloves? “For individualized modes of transportation, which are affordable and really efficient, it’s a renaissance.”
To wit, Seattle’s Rad Power Bikes recently announced that sales had leapt nearly 300% this April compared with the same period in 2019. Its Dutch competitor VanMoof claimed a similar growth of 264% for the first half of 2020 compared with the same six months last year. That surge comes on the heels of its latest app-connected line, the S3 and X3, serendipitously launched in April.
E-bikes are by far the most popular option for newfound urban commuters—even before the pandemic, Deloitte Insights estimated that world-wide sales of the two-wheelers would top 40 million annually by 2023, far eclipsing EV car sales. But for professionals wary of the subway, e-bikes are hardly the only game in town.
Look around any city and you’re likely to spot men and women shooting down streets on stand-up scooters, zooming by on electric skateboards or precariously pitched on futuristic unicycles. Which form of “micromobility” might suit your lifestyle? Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Read on for our guide to the pros and cons of six types of solo transport.
Ideal For The day trader with a daredevil streak and a penchant for custom helmets.
Wrong For Anyone lacking a surfeit of self confidence.
Speed With its lone 18-inch tire, the InMotion V11 Electric Unicycle (shown, $2,000, myinmotion.com) blazes along at up to 31 mph. At that speed, a person standing atop its foldout foot plates is nothing less than a human exclamation point. For more of a semicolon vibe, the Superride S1000 ($1,999, superrideunicycle.com) plunks a cushy seat and wide-set handlebars atop its fat tire, buzzing you along at 20 mph.
Range InMotion’s V11 can travel an impressive 75 miles after being fully charged, while the S1000 can only muster 15 miles before needing a re-juice.
Bonus While price and performance are the key concerns, InMotion sweated the details for its V11, like the 7800 lux headlight and built-in kickstand—small features that rival makers have frustratingly neglected.
Schlep Factor At 60 pounds, the V11 is undeniably hefty, but a fold-up handle lets you tote it like rolling luggage when you’re not riding.
Comfort Level 8 of 10. Yes, you’re standing on the V11, but its industry-first suspension makes it relatively easy on the knees. Meanwhile, for a unicycle, the Superride screams comfort, though test riders claim that the learning curve to acquire proficiency is surprisingly long.
Commuting Tune “Aerodynamic” by Daft Punk
Ideal For The self-motivated middle manager who doesn’t want to arrive for morning meetings drenched in sweat.
Wrong For Anyone whose quarantine workout was lifting bagels to their lips. E-bikes like VanMoof’s chicly designed S3 (shown, $1,998, vanmoof.com) use your own pedal-spinning power to drum up energy in the motor, pushing the drivetrain and speedily propelling you to your destination with minimal effort. But basic fitness is still required.
Speed Up to 25 mph. Many of the latest e-bikes, like the S3 and the Stromer ST5 ($9,999, stromerbike.com) also feature a thumb trigger to release a short boost of power for when you need to take on a hill or jump off the line.
Range 40+ miles per charge—after that it’s all leg power.
Bonus Syncing the S3 to a smartphone allows you to set its assist level, lights and horn, dial in auto-shifting and lock the back wheel for added security. If you’re wary of chaining your rig to a street sign, Gocycle’s GX (from $3,299, gocycle.com) folds up neatly to park under a desk. For errand runners, Rad Power’s RadWagon 4 cargo e-bike (from $1,499, radpowerbikes.com) can be fitted with insulated bags to keep ice cream cold on the ride home.
Schlep Factor Powerful batteries, though well-hidden in the frames, make e-bikes difficult to lug upstairs. The sleek S3 weighs 41 pounds, double that of a standard road bike. The powerful ST5 is especially beefy at 66.5 pounds.
Comfort Level 6 of 10. Your legs won’t be spent from the ride, but designers have yet to eliminate saddle sores.
Commuting Tune “Bicycle Race” by Queen
Ideal For The now-permanent WFH employee who wants a fun ride to the corner store and socially distanced picnics. The Ninebot Gokart bundle (shown, $1,400, segway.com) includes Segway’s Ninebot S as its detachable back wheels, offering you two, two, two rides in one.
Wrong For Anyone who hates being stopped by strangers on the street asking, “What is that thing?!” People who struggle to beat their 4-year-old nephews at “Mario Kart.”
Speed 15 mph—and it feels even faster. For a fully enclosed, safer ride and a top speed of up to 25 mph, consider the Changli. The eccentric, electric clown car out of China has a roof rack and space for groceries (from $930, alibaba.com)—but watch out for escalating shipping fees.
Range A paltry 9 miles for the Ninebot, so don’t stray far from home. Changli’s range rises to 60 miles, per Jalopnik.
Bonus The Ninebot’s handbrake lets you recreate your favorite scenes from “Baby Driver.” Bored in quarantine? Set up a racecourse and invite the neighbors for a test drive.
Schlep Factor The Ninebot (some assembly required) easily folds up to fit in the trunk of your everyday driver.
Comfort Level 4 of 10. Crawling out of it gets old fast and there’s little suspension to save you from rough terrain.
Commuting Tune “I Can’t Drive 55” by Sammy Hagar
Ideal For The UX designer young enough to shred like a pro, but old enough to demur when it comes to kicking her way up hills each morning.
Wrong For Anyone uncomfortable on a normal skateboard.
Speed Twin 600 watt motors can rocket the 38-inch long Teamgee H20T ($799, teamgee.com) from 0 to 26 mph in only 3 seconds. The Onewheel Pint (shown, from $950, onewheel.com) trades four wheels for a single, central go-kart-sized tire, topping out at 16 mph.
Range The Teamgee claims 22 miles of range. Though the Pint only promises between 6 to 8 miles, it can juice up in under an hour using the optional ultracharger.
Bonus The H20T’s hand-held remote offers several acceleration and braking settings to customize your ride, while the Pint’s nimble design allows you to turn or spin on a dime.
Schlep Factor Unlike many electric skateboards, the H20T has no handle, so carrying the 21-pound deck can get awkward.
Comfort Level 7 of 10. To help boost your speed and performance on smooth surfaces, swap the H20T’s cushiony rubber tires for a set of polyurethane wheels.
Commuting Tune “Ontheway!” by Earl Sweatshirt
Ideal For The by-the-numbers engineer who sees scooters as a door-to-door solution rather than just a “last-mile” novelty.
Wrong For Anyone timid about being shoulder-to-shoulder with street traffic.
Speed The Apollo Pro (shown, from $1,849, apolloscooters.co) can zip you across town at 38 mph—enough to get you in trouble if you’re not mindful of local speed limits. The sleeker Unagi (from $840, unagiscooters.com) tops out at a safer 17 mph.
Range The base 52-volt-battery-powered Apollo Pro covers 56 miles per charge; the Unagi can only go 15.5 miles before plug ins.
Bonus Since Mother Nature doesn’t promise smooth scooting, for $99 you can replace the Apollo’s street tires with chunky winter wheels.
Schlep Factor Though its post folds for easy carrying and storage, at 77 pounds the Apollo might pose problems if you live in a Brooklyn walk-up. The candy-painted carbon fiber build of Unagi’s single-motor model keeps it to a svelte 23 pounds.
Comfort Level 9 of 10. The Apollo’s wide platform, fat tires and generous suspension minimize any bumps the pavement may throw at you.
Commuting Tune: “Steer Your Way” by Leonard Cohen
Ideal For The green-energy exec who wants her commute through Cleveland to feel like a romantic excursion in Roma. Vespa’s lithium-powered Elettrica (shown, $7,499, vespa.com) maintains its iconic style but upgrades its tech at every turn.
Wrong For Urbanites on a budget.
Speed About 30-45 mph—too fast for the bike lane, they’re better suited for slower city traffic than suburban speed zones.
Range The Vespa gets only about 60 miles per charge, so unless you have a short commute or a very long extension cord, opt for Niu’s NQi GT ($5,199, collegescootersmd.com) with dual removable batteries to charge indoors and a range of closer to 100 miles.
Bonus These modern mopeds produce no sound or emissions and can also sync to a smartphone. When a device is paired with the Vespa you can stream music, make calls or dictate texts, while the Niu can send an alert if it’s moved while locked and track your ride.
Schlep Factor At roughly 2 feet wide, these machines easily wedge between your neighbors’ bumpers.
Comfort Level 10 of 10. Have you ever seen someone frown while riding a Vespa?
Commuting Tune “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin
—Matthew Kitchen and Matthew Kronsberg
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