The best way to test e-bikes and electric scooters is to navigate the mean streets of New York.
MAY 26, 2019 4:00 AM PDT
Poor rear wheel. Video by Mark Licea
It was a rare sunny day during an otherwise rainy spring season. I was cruising down Fredrick Douglas Boulevard just past 110th street, when a black Dodge Charger pulled up next to me, keeping pace toward the next light. I glanced over and saw the driver looking down at his phone, not paying attention. He accelerated to make the next right, not realizing that, on a Trek Super Commuter + 8S e-bike, I could easily hit 30 miles per hour, far faster than any car stuck in traffic usually can on the streets of Manhattan.
About to get crunched by the Dodge, I shouted, “Yo!” to the driver through his open window. Looking up from his phone he shouted back, “What are you doing?”
“I’m in the bike lane, what are you doing?” I replied. He clearly thought his car could beat me to the corner, but once I kicked into the Trek’s Turbo mode that adds more pedal-assist power, I shot past him.
It was just another day testing electric-powered rideables on the streets of New York, where the drivers hate the bikers, the bikers hate the drivers and everybody hates the scooter riders. And e-scooters and e-bikes are just the start of what’s available to get around your city or town.
For every option there are reasons one would want to choose one type of electric rideable over another — whether you’re after a little exercise, want to reduce your carbon footprint or simply feel like enjoying a little open-air freedom on your way to and from work.
What follows is what I learned from testing different types of rideables (I’ll be adding a skateboard or two soon), usually riding through the busiest sections of midtown Manhattan, around Central Park or down the West Side Highway bike path. With the exception of the Swagtron EB5 E-Bike, all of the products on this list come with variable ride modes, meaning they have different gears or levels of electric assistance. In most cases, the top speed for each device will increase with more advanced settings, at the cost of battery life.
Here’s some of the best electric rideables available right now17 PHOTOS
I’ve included water resistance (IP) ratings when available. IP ratings, which stands for Ingress Protection, lets you know how dust or water resistant a product is. For example, if something has an IP54 rating, the first number after the letters refers to resistance to solids while the second refers to moisture. Read more in our IP rating explainer.
Also, let’s not make a big deal of it, but I exceed the riding weight for most of these products. For the most part, they all still performed as expected, though maybe with a little less range or speed. No devices were harmed during this roundup.
Lastly, if you plan on getting into rideables, be safe about it. Leave enough space between yourself and both cars and riders on plain old human-powered bikes and scooters. Remember you’re able to go a lot faster, so pass with caution. And, most important, always wear a helmet.
Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of some of the products in this guide.
Swagtron Swagger 5 Elite, $299
Best for modest budgets
The Swagtron Swagger 5 Elite is the least expensive product on this list, and that’s its greatest feature. It doesn’t outperform any of the products mentioned here, but at $299 it’s hard to complain. It has a single 250W motor that doesn’t put out much torque but can reach a speed of 14 to 16 mph. The listed travel distance is approximately 11 miles on a full charge, with a charge time of 3.5 hours. The maximum weight supported is 320 pounds and the scooter weighs 26 pounds. Although it supports larger riders, due to its low power, you may get a slower takeoff and slowdowns on inclines.
Ninebot by Segway ES4, $769
Best for long hauls
The ES4 sits atop the Segway consumer scooter chain, with a secondary battery to make long distance commutes a breeze. It can travel an estimated 28 miles on a full charge and has a top speed of 18 mph (which I was able to hit). The folding point on this scooter is different from the others in this roundup. The entire front post folds down, wheel and all. While braking, I would shift my weight back over the rear wheel, pushing down on the spoiler brake along with hitting the handlebar brake (which is an antilock brake), but without much of the front headtube flex you’d feel in some other scooters. There’s also a shock absorber that helps when going over bumpy surfaces.
The dual-battery model weighs just over 30 pounds and it supports riders weighing up to 220 pounds. The scooter has some good power and can put out 300 to 800 watts depending on the riding mode. Charge time is longer than the average, about 7 hours. If you don’t have time to charge, it can also work as an old-fashioned kick-and-go scooter. It also sports some customizable LED lights under the deck. Those and some other settings can be adjusted in the iOS and Android apps.
Unagi E450, $890
Best all-around electric scooter
The Unagi E450 is the most well-rounded scooter in this lineup. It’s an excellent blend of looks, performance and ease-of-use. It’ll turn heads, with an aluminum and carbon fiber frame in four color options (we tried sea salt and cosmic blue) along with a beautiful LCD display in the handlebar. Powerful dual motors (front wheel 200-watt, rear wheel 250-watt) promise a top speed of 15.5 mph (and I was able to get it to 16 mph on a flat surface). The Scooter itself weighs just a bit over 24 pounds (and is rated for up to 220-pound riders). There’s a single push latch to collapse the handle for easy carrying. The scooter has a travel distance of 15 miles on a full charge, but this can vary depending on speed and single- or dual-motor mode. It has a water resistance rating of IP54. The latest cosmetic change to the scooter is a rear spoiler brake, Ideal for those steep hills you find in San Francisco.
Mercane Widewheel scooter, $999
Best for speedsters
The Mercane Widewheel scooter is the most powerful scooter in this lineup. Powered by dual 500-watt motors, it has some serious takeoff power and torque.
Most models are locked to a top speed of 15 mph, but there’s an advanced mode where you can unlock its full power and take it to 25 mph (but do so at your own risk). It has a dual suspension and weighs a whopping 50 pounds. The range is up to 20 miles on a full charge and it support riders weighing 220 pounds. The riding deck is longer and wider than your average scooter, making it easy to get both feet on the board comfortably. It has an IPX4 rating.
The scooter gets its name from its 8-inch wide tires, which are great for staying upright, but turns take some getting used to. Unlike most of the honor-system devices here, this one needs a key to start.
Swagtron EB5 Pro electric bicycle, $499
Best for small space and small budgets
Great for a commuter with limited storage space. The Swagtron EB5 Pro is a folding pedal-assist bicycle that also has its own throttle (so you don’t really have to pedal at all). It can travel up to 15 miles at a speed of 15 mph. The bicycle is a single speed and you can even turn all the powered features off and use it like a regular bike. It weighs a solid 37 pounds and supports riders up to 264 pounds, but when folded down, it’s surprisingly small.
Trek Super Commuter + 8S, $5,199
Best for a premium splurge
I decided to put the Trek Super Commuter + 8S to the test during the 2019 TD 5 Boro Bike Tour. First, I wanted to see how it performed as a normal bike. It’s heavy at 54 pounds and I had to see how it would fare against some of the sleeker bicycles. The 11 speeds made it easy to maintain a comfortable pace. When I came across a few inclines, the pedal assist (Bosch Performance Speed, 350-watt motor, integrated into the frame) worked perfectly.
Eco was my preferred assist mode, It gives the least assistance of the four settings, so it has the best battery performance ideal for long distances. The bicycle does not have a throttle, it is strictly pedal assist. Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo each progressively give you a more spice in your ride, and the estimated distance that can be traveled in each mode shows on the display. Pedal assistance on the Trek coincides with rpm — the faster you get the cranks around, the more the Bosch system will progressively increase your speed.
During my daily commuting around the city, I found myself riding in the streets more so than the bike lane. I was coming up too quickly behind other cyclists, and battery-powered delivery bikes too. Fortunately, the Trek SC+8 comes equipped with a bell, reflectors and rear as well as front lights, so hopefully they’ll see (or hear) you coming. For those instances where they don’t the S8 comes with 180-centimeter hydraulic disc brakes that stop on a dime, and the wider tires make bumps hardly noticeable. The S8 has an IP54 rating.
Future Motion Onewheel Pint, $950
Best for avoiding obstacles
The Onewheel Pint is $950, practically half the price of the bigger Onewheel + XR, which costs $1,799. It weighs 26 pounds and supports riders up to 250 pounds. The Pint can travel 6 to 8 miles on a full charge with a top speed of 16 mph. It is more maneuverable than any previous Onewheel and most other ridables. It handles inclines with ease and sports rear along with front lights for night riding. The board is operated by shifting your weight forward and back to move forward and back, and heel to toe to steer. Once you get the hang of it, it’s like riding a skateboard, and you’ll be tempted to pull off some tricks (which we do not officially endorse).
Kiwano KO1 Plus $999
Best for perfect balance
Of all the products on this list, the Kiwano KO1 Plus was the hardest for me to get the hang of. It’s a bit like a unicycle, and has a high natural learning curve. The KO1 Plus can travel up to 12 mph with a distance of 12 miles. It is definitely an interesting ride and a well-built solid product, but more for the adventurous rider rather than your average daily commuter.
With the KO1 Plus, pressing forward on the handlebars will move you forward and pulling back will send you in reverse, and you keep your balance by using your feet. Yes, it’s self-balancing, but once mounted by the rider some serious skills are needed to maintain, to prevent it from tilting side to side. I’ve seen some really interesting things done on it, but it’s going to take a lot more practice. The KO1 Plus has an IP54 rating.
Future Motion Onewheel + XR, $1799
Best hands-free premium experience
The Onewheel Plus XR is the bigger and older brother to the Pint. Still one of my favorites, due to the all-around freedom you feel when riding. That along with the ability to travel 12 to 18 miles and hit a top speed of 19 mph.
A nice feature found in the iOS/Android app is while riding you’ll get a notification once the battery is at 50% so you can make it back home from wherever you may roam. The app offers a bunch of other settings from social to board riding customization. It’s not the most travel-friendly in terms of carrying around, it weighs about 30 pounds, but is easy to store. In addition, it only takes about two hours to fully charge.
For a closer look, check the gallery of the Onewheel Plus XR