The future of inner city transportation? Airbike ALi5 v2 electric scooter Review

Traffic is increasing everywhere. With it comes air pollution, noise, traffic jams. Going to places like south east Asia, you see cars, tuk tuks and scooters whose exhaust you can smell from 100m distance. Clearly, something needs to change.

Witnessing these problems over the past years, I’ve become increasingly interested in the future of transportation. While I’m a big fan of big projects like the Hyperloop, I think that things need to change on a smaller scale as well. We need to replace as many gas powered cars, motor bikes, buses etc. — the sooner the better.

I wanted to experience myself if and how personal electric vehicles (EVs) can change the way I travel within my city. I don’t own a car, so I mostly use Berlin’s public transport, which is a pretty good system. Except for the fact that I have to walk 15 minutes from my home to the next subway station. And a few other places I regularly visit are a bit hard to reach, too. My plan was to keep using public transport, but fill the gaps with an EV.

So, a few week ago I bought one of those electric push scooters that fill up Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I opted for a model that was already in production, and one that was as light as possible, because I knew I would have to carry it around a bit: meet the Airbike ALi5v2. Bye bye €600.

The ALi5 is a small push scooter, a bit like a skateboard with a handle – with an added electric motor. It only weighs about 6kg thanks to its carbon fiber construction. A lot of the other models weigh up to twice than that. 6kg is okay to carry it from street level to the subway, but not much further, so you really don’t want anything heavier than that if you have to carry it. Some sort of (detachable?) handle or a shoulder strap that makes carrying easier would be a great addition.

I can bring the scooter on trains and buses, where it’s a lot less bulky than a bike (during rush hour you can forget to bring a bike on a train), plus I don’t need to buy an extra ticket for it, which is a big plus.

My normal commute is around 40 minutes, consisting of ~18 minutes of walking and 25 minutes on trains. With the scooter the number goes down to around 28 minutes, so I’m saving about 2 x 12 minutes on a normal work day.

In terms of driving performance, it’s powered by a 350 watt motor embedded in the front wheel. This gives me a cruising speed between 25 and 28km/h (top speed 33 so far), depending on the underground. Less uphill. I wouldn’t mind if the motor was a bit stronger, but not if it made the scooter heavier. Range is supposedly around 30km — way more than I think I’ll ever need, so no complaints there.

Speaking of underground, the ALi5 has no suspension and only relies on the flexibility of the carbon fiber board for shock absorption. This means it really doesn’t like bumpy sidewalks — I already find myself avoiding certain streets and having to plan trips according to whether the sidewalks are paved or are still cobblestone (come on Berlin). Larger wheels would help, but again, they would make the scooter bulkier. Maybe they’ll come up with some sort of mini suspension fork in the future. Or a different tire.

One problem I haven’t experienced yet is the fact that riding these electric scooters is actually illegal in Germany, and probably most of Europe. I ride it mostly on the side walk, and should I ever spot a cop my plan is to just start pushing it manually and pretend it’s not electric — we’ll see how that goes. If the cops are cool I’m hopeful they’ll turn a blind eye. 
Apparently the EU is working on the problem. I’d really like the scooter manufacturers to step up here though, and at the very least inform customers like me about the current status and any changes to it. This is their market, so why aren’t they pushing it?

I have a few minor complaints about the scooter: first of all, the rear light is fake. It’s just a piece of red, transparent plastic. That was so disappointing. Now I have to find a way to attach a battery light somehow. Please fix that.

The front light is very bright and connected to the main batteries, so that’s great. Unfortunately it seems to point upwards, blinding people walking towards me instead of lighting up the street. A more conventional light like seen on bikes would be more useful I think.

The ugly charger.

A very minor complaint, but still: I want a sexier A/C adapter. This one looks like it was made for some super boring laptop. It’s bulky and doesn’t match the design of the scooter at all.

And that is supposed to last for how long?

The cap that covers the charging port is way too flimsy and will probably come off within a few weeks. And why not just convert the charging port to USB, so that I can charge my phone from it? This way I could also use my laptop charger for the scooter (USB C now delivers up to 100W of power) — talk about synergies.

Other than that I’m very happy so far. It’s so much fun to ride this little thing, and I can’t wait for summer to come around. This model being version 2, I’m positive someone is working on a Model 3 already, which will hopefully address some of the concerns I mentioned above. As battery power density keeps going up, I’m hopeful that we’ll see even lighter vehicles as well.

Following that, I would hope that more people start buying these little miracles of engineering, and stop looking at me like I’m from another planet when I rush past them.