URB-E Electric Scooter: Australian Review

Image: Gizmodo

Commuting is bullshit. Trains are bad and buses are worse, and riding a bike is Actual Hard Work. That's why electric bikes are convenient — all the usefulness of a bicycle, with electric power to get you up hills. But that's cold comfort if you don't have anywhere to store your bike when you're in the office. Enter the URB-E, a compact electric scooter that folds up out of the way to hide under a desk, but that can also zip around the city without requiring any human effort.

What Is It?

Images: Gizmodo

The URB-E is a foldable electric scooter, built from lightweight aluminium, designed for city-dwellers to commute short distances on daily — whether that's between home and office, home and gym, or anywhere in between. Built in the US, the URB-E is only 16kg, making it significantly lighter than a full-size electric bike or folding bike, and it's that light weight and compact folding size that means the URB-E is portable even when you're not riding it. The company's intention is for you to ride the URB-E to your office or apartment and then store it away in a closet or near your desk — anywhere that you can charge it for the next ride.

Two points of articulation at the top of the URB-E's aluminium body let it concertina from its full, unfolded form — with an upright seat and A-shaped frame — into a much more compact, but still With a 20 mile — around about 35 kilometre — rated range, and a top speed of 15 miles per hour — just under 25km/h — from its 250 Watt motor, the URB-E fits into Australia's strict design rules for electrically powered transport. Its 36V battery charges from empty to full in four hours, and you can use that exact same battery pack to charge your smartphone while you're travelling, or to connect a forward-facing bike light, using the URB-E's integrated USB port.

An URB-E will cost you around $US1669, or $2250, but you'll also have to pay some pretty significant shipping costs in the order of $500 to get the foldable scooter and its sizeable lithium-ion battery landed in Australia. That means it'll cost around about the same price that you'd pay for a full-size electric bike assembled and sold down under; the question of which makes more sense for you to buy and use comes down to how you'll use it and what you want to do. The company offers a range of different variants and a bunch of accessories, like a kickstand and a grocery basket, that increase its utility depending on your needs.

What's It Good At?

Images: Gizmodo

The little URB-E is actually a hell of a lot of fun to ride, despite its small wheels and the slightly weird, Donkey-Kong-in-Mario-Kart shape that you have to contort your body into to sit on the scooter's seat, brace your legs against the foot pedals and your hands on the handlebars to actually use it. It's quick and zippy — and unlike an electric bike, there are no pedals, so you just twist the URB-E's throttle and you're away. All the way up to its maximum 25km/h cruising speed, the URB-E accelerates happily even on slight hills and doesn't really ever feel short of power.

The URB-E sits in a strange size class — it's not quite a bike, not quite a Razor scooter — that means wherever you ride it, it sort of just fits in. To be honest, I was a little hazy on the traffic laws around NYC in my couple of days with the URB-E, but its middle-of-the-road size meant I was happy switching between bike lane, footpath and (occasionally) road without any noticeable hassles from the pedestrian public or any of the city's famously grumpy drivers. Similarly, I didn't even feel especially dorky when I folded it up outside my hotel and walked in to the lobby before jumping into a lift up to my room. When in the room, I just left it in a corner and didn't find it imposing — even in a small Manhattan hotel.

The fact that the URB-E is foldable kind of represents everything about this electric scooter. It's surprisingly compact when you don't need it, but when you do, it's big enough to be usable enough for the range that it will cover. I got through barely one full charge in my four short days and afternoons with the URB-E, but it was simple enough to charge overnight that I didn't ever worry about running out of juice in the middle of a journey. It's worth mentioning, though, that unlike an electric bike, when you're out of URB-E power you don't have any backup method of locomotion — you're walking home with the scooter in tow.

What's It Not Good At?

Images: Gizmodo

If you're tall, an URB-E is not for you. With the handlebars barely 90 centimetres off the tarmac and a seat that only sits 70 centimetres from the ground, it would start to feel a little cramped for any rider with a height significantly over six feet. There's no adjustability in the frame too, apart from in the seat. The learning curve to get an URB-E up and going is reasonably small, to be honest — just twist the throttle and you're off — but it takes a lot more practice to actually master to the point of being comfortable weaving through traffic and pedestrians. I drove URB-E in New York City, and the first day was... dangerous.

Because the URB-E's electric motor is in its front wheel, it can sometimes feel like you're dragging the rear around behind you, where most electric bike competitors are rear-wheel-driven and feel a little more traditional. Similarly, the scooter's sole disc brake is on the rear wheel, which the opposite tro what I'm used to on my beat-up fixie. This contributes quite a bit to making the URB-E difficult to control smoothly at first — you'll have to do some training laps to get used to applying brake and rolling off the throttle smoothly to get comfortable to the point that you'll be competent on the URB-E in a built-up area.

It's expensive, too. A lot of that is Australia Tax — not an additional cost tacked on for us just for the privilege of being Australian, but just the cost of shipping the scooter and its batteries across the oceans to our fair shores. That's unavoidable, but it's an extra financial obstacle for Aussies to overcome when it comes to actually getting hold of an URB-E. I hope URB-E can drive that cost of shipping down in the future, especially if it becomes popular enough to send across in bulk. There is a cheaper $US1499 variant, but I wouldn't want something with less power than the $US1699 Black Label model that I tested out.

Should You Buy It?

If you live in a sub-35-kilometre journey from your home to your office, then the URB-E will get you there, day in and day out. It charges fast enough that you can (almost) deplete it on your morning commute in, and then (almost) deplete it again on your way home. It's the kind of electric vehicle that makes so much sense for city living, moreso than a full-size bicycle or even a folding bike. It has almost all of the size and weight advantages of a step-through scooter, but with the addition of some seriously zippy battery-powered electrics as well. It's quick enough that you won't hold up traffic — until you top out at 25km/h, at least.

I still haven't decided whether the URB-E looks dorky or cool. I think when I had it and was riding around New York, I felt dorky when sitting at traffic lights and stop signs with cars and proper bikes around me — but considered in abstract the URB-E is a really smart piece of design. It's light enough to carry around, powerful enough to actually use as a mode of powered transport. If you don't really care what other people think of you, then go ahead — the URB-E's function far outweighs its form. If you do, then just get yourself a fancy bike helmet and call the whole thing a fashion statement.

At the URB-E's landed price in Oz, it comes down to a pretty direct comparison between this lightweight foldable electric scooter and a full-sized electric bike. Does your commute have a lot of hills and bumps and rough bits? You'll probably want a proper bike. Can you use bike lanes and paved pathways? Then the URB-E makes a lot more sense. Do you have bike parking at work? Then you can use a bike? If you don't, then the URB-E will happily tuck away underneath your office desk, charging for the next time you need it. On the balance of these questions, I know I want an URB-E for my daily trip between home and office.


Comments

    I still haven’t decided whether the URB-E looks dorky or cool.

    Don't worry, I'll decide for you. It's dorky AF.

    It looks like McGuyver made this from a mikano set and a pair of trolley wheels.

      But is Dorky bad?

        I think theres a formula for figuring how long it takes dorky good to become dorky bad. If there isnt, there should be. This would have already passed that point, its dorky bad.

        Mostly for the retro mechano look of it, its off.

          I think there is a much more interesting formula which figures out how long it takes dorky to become cool. It's the innovation curve where the early adopters are considered dorky and only when the pack catches up is it cool.

            Dorky becomes cool once you convince The Cool Kids to wear (read: endorse) it. Hypercolor shirts were like that in the 80's. They'd been around about 6 months before TCK started wearing them, and you started seeing the variations.

            3 months later, TCK moved on to something else (beanie babies, probably) and Hypercolor shirts were back to being dorky.

    I think it being illegal to commute to work on this thing in Australia might be a noteworthy inclusion for this article.

      Why is that? Follows the ADRs for electric vehicles -- 250W or less, 25km/h top speed or less -- as far as I'm aware.

        Those rules are only for Pedelec bicycles which must only have electric assistance engaged by pedalling. Scooters are not pedelec bicycles.
        http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/roads/registration/unregistered.html

        "The following motorised recreational devices do not meet minimum Australian design standards for safety and cannot be registered:

        All petrol-powered bicycles, including bicycles that:
        - Have had a petrol-powered engine attached after purchase
        - Were purchased with a petrol-powered engine attached
        - Are powered by any other type of internal combustion engine
        - Motorised foot scooters (with or without a seat) – electric/petrol engine
        - Mini bikes or monkey bikes
        - Motorised human transporters such as the WheelMan or SEGWAY
        - Motorised skateboards – electric/petrol engine.

        These types of devices must not be used on roads or in any public areas such as footpaths, car parks and parks.

        Some retailers sell these vehicles and fail to warn customers that they cannot be used on roads or in public areas.

        There are heavy penalties for using unregistered and uninsured vehicles. Police can also seize unregistered vehicles."

        I think you'll find these guidelines have adopted in just about every state in Australia now.

          How is "Foot Scooter" defined? I think there is profitable scope there for arguing that without a foot tread-plate and the ability to propel it by standing on the plate and pushing with the other foot, this vehicle does not meet the common definition of "Foot scooter" and that the inclusion of "(with or without a seat)" refers specifically to this type of conveyance, and not any small-wheeled steerable conveyance, particularly as the drafters went to the trouble of describing it as a "Foot" scooter rather than "Scooter, with or without a seat or foot plate". Presumably this wording was adopted to leave space for electric versions of Vespa style motorised scooters. I'd also note that you have quoted the requirements for registration. Ordinary bicycles are not registered and are legal to use on roads, and the 250W limit is not for legality of use, but the cutoff at which they must meet ADRs and be registered.

          In summary - the only way to tell if this is legal would be to test it in court.

        Are you sure about that? My understanding was that 250W is only for pedalec (pedal assisted e-bikes) and it is still max of 200W for throttle e-bikes (like the one in the article) under the ADR.

        I found this: https://www.allianz.com.au/car-insurance/news/electric-bike-laws-to-bring-on-changes

          Yes, at least in Victoria, you can have a non-Pedelec eBike with power up to 200 watts. That specifically means a bicycle with pedals. It does not include a scooter that exceeds 10 kph.

        VicRoads:
        Your motorised scooter is classed as a motor vehicle if it is powered by a petrol motor, has a maximum power of more than 200 watts, or can go faster than 10 km/h.
        If your motorised scooter is classed as a motor vehicle it can only be used on the road if it is registered and the rider has a motorcycle licence or learner permit. But, you can use it on private property.
        https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/safety-and-road-rules/road-rules/a-to-z-of-road-rules/scooters-and-wheeled-recreational-devices

        It's not a pedalled motorised bike.

        As such, it's only illegal to ride on footpaths and roads in every state and territory. But other than that, it's cool. If you want to zip from your farmhouse to the mailbox at the front of your property, this might fit the bill.

        This really should have been at the top of the review...

    A. Pricey little fucker.
    B. It's about time the Gov eased up on restrictions about e- bikes. They are a good thing and should be encouraged as much as possible. They would alleviate congestion on the roads and parking. Hell, I'm a car nut but I would use one of those excellent e-bikes that sell in the US.

      The government has eased up on e-bike restrictions. You can now get 250 watt pedelec bikes that assist up to 25kph. They are fantastic. I've been commuting for two years on one, 14km each way, 40 min average travel time. Faster than driving in Melbourne and much more reliable than PT. I can legally ride it on bike paths and roads but it's not so fast that drivers or other cyclists are going to underestimate my speed, which might result in accidents.

        I like the ones without pedals that can do up to 40kph or even higher. Theyre not allowed here for some bullshit reason.

          Because they are motorbikes. Motorbikes require, brake lights, indicators, registration and most importantly, for the rider to have passed a license test to operate one on public roads. Can you imagine the anarchy on our roads if anyone, of any age, education and skill level, could ride throttle driven, 40+ kph vehicles around?

            Well you could hardly call them motor bikes. Theyre just pushbikes with the pedals removed and electric motor fitted but yes I understand what you mean. Maybe the law should be that if you have any kind of licence, then you should be allowed to ride them.

              But then you have other issues, like introducing a "bike" that is powerful enough to overtake cars... but must obey bike laws due to lack of signals. so very uncool overtaking on the left incidents will occur much more readily. Cycling accidents will increase and be much more serious due to speed, traction loss & cornering under acceleration. Braking becomes more hazardous due to bike weights two or three times that of normal bikes. Lack of safety equipment like leathers, full face helmets, gloves and protective boots all results in more severe injuries. It's a minefield.

      WE CURRENTLY have very good and very liberal E-bike rules and there are thousands of people using E-bikes. They all have to be primarily pedal powered, with 250watts for pedelecs and 200 watts for twist-n-go (throttle). All are limited to 30 km/h/. There is no rego insurance or licence required - you MUST wear a helmet, or the bike can be confiscated.This scooter is ridiculously expensive for what it is. With tiny wheels, it would be an unrealistic commute on most Australian city roads.

        Have you tried one? I suggest its just uninformed comment. I have and so can comment from first hand experience. The small wheels are only suitable for paved surfaces but I've ridden many of Melbourne bike paths with ease.

    THIS UNIT is COMPLETELY ILLEGAL in Australia. You can't ride it anywhere except on your own property.. ALL rules for motorised vehicles (not cars, trucks motorcycles) require PRIMARY PEDAL POWER. Pedelecs (Pedal-electrics) can be 250watts but they only get power from pedalling. Otherwise twist-n-go pushbikes can only be 200watts, and can be operated EITHER on the throttle or pedals or both (primary power must STILL be pedals). Anything WITHOUT PEDALS does not fit under the rules. If it is a mobility vehicle (FOR DIABLED) it MAY comply (doubtful given the scooter configuration) but MUST be limited to 8km/h. Selling, promoting or advertising non-compliant bikes can, we understand attract fines of $50K. Riding them always results in confiscation if detected. may also result in a fine. The rules have been harmonised for EVERY Australian State and Territory. The dumb Federal Government is NOW considering eliminating 200watt/twist-n-go which will sideline many mildly disabled, injured, aged, overweight and underage riders. It's up for negotiation now.

      So this promotion could cost the author $50k? Seems fair.

    Re the notes on legality:

    This is a clear example of the law being an ass. We have the same problem in New Zealand. Recently when a firm bought a powered foot scooter for staff to use round town and reduce traffic congestion in Wellington, there were issues, but after it hit the press, the council gave special dispensation allowing them to use their scooter.

    Traffic congestion is a huge problem where I live as there are few roads into the main industrial and residential areas. Thus a 3 km commute can take over half an hour by car. This problem is crying out for alternative transport solutions. I intend to buy an electric foot-scooter and use it for my commute. My area has broad pavements and shared cycleways, and there is absolutely no danger in using a powered foot-scooter on shared pedestrian rights of way. Hopefully traffic police will see sense and apply the law judiciously. If not, I will cite the Wellington case and petition Council. All I am doing is trying to take one car off the road, which is an outcome we all want!

    We all want to reduce traffic congestion, reduce pollution and so on...legislation needs to catch up.

    Just look tp some European countries which have many shared pedestrian/cycle/scooter roads and everyone gets along just fine and quite safely using devices like this one as a main transport mode.

    I have what I believe the only legally imported UrbE in Australia at the moment.
    its for sale if anyone wants to email me. The article is pretty accurate as to the capacity and features of the bike.

    I have been riding it around Melbourne bike paths for 5 months and no one has ever challenged me so I'm not sure on the veracity of the posters comments above. I'd treat them with significant caution

      1. What you mean is that you've been ILLEGALLY riding it around.. legally importing and using are two different things.
      2. You're best point is where you said "I'm not sure". You should have left it there (not suggesting I agree current regulations are ideal, of course).

      Funny I looked up 2 states and easily found that the scooter is illegal to use in any public area, might pay to check the state you live in, if you hit someone it could get expensive fast.

      Tasmania: A person riding a motorised scooter that is powered by a motor or motors not exceeding a maximum power output of 200 watts,

      Victoria: A motorised scooter:

      has the same features as a foot scooter
      is moved by pushing one foot against the ground, by an electric motor, or by a combination of both
      has an electric motor with a maximum power output of 200 watts or fewer
      is not able to travel faster than 10 km/h when ridden on level ground.

    A line has to be drawn somewhere and it seems to me to that anything faster than jogging speed is a good place to draw it. 10 km/h is a decent jogging speed so I think the regulations are just about right. That said, each device should be taken on its merits and while I think 10km/h for something like this seems reasonable, banning Segways seems stupid.

      Limiting them to 10kph essentially ruins their utility, you may as well ban them.

      Simples, class them the same as a bicycle, as they have similar performance. Remember a fast lycra clad eurorider™ can average up to 50kph. They just need a helmet and obey the road rules.

      Have a Australian Design Standard so they get the tick for being road ridable and limit their performance to the same as a fast bicycle rider (50kph) maybe with a 250w (hell even 1000w so they don't hold up traffic) mandate the same helmet laws as for bicycle riders.

      Why is this difficult? Oh I know its the usual old "its new so it must be evil" crap just like drones (The drones are coming! The drones are coming!). Drones - no more dangerous than a well thrown cricket ball, but no laws are needed for cricket balls. Ebikes - no more dangerous than bicycles, but they are new so DANGER, DANGER someone might get hurt, so lets limit them to walking pace. What the bloody hell is Australia coming too?

      Last edited 19/12/16 4:02 pm

    I'm sure the discussions around the dinner table many many many years ago were along the same lines with the advent of motorised transport ....

    "Hey, have you heard of the horseless carriage?"
    "Yeah, I want one!"
    "Why is that?"
    "Simply becuase I can get from A to B so much faster and easier."
    "Oh ... would that really work?"
    "Why do you ask that?"
    "Well, I heard that you can't drive one of those unless there is someone walking in front of you waving a red flag ... just to warn others using the carriage ways that there is a motorised vehicle following behind and so that you don't scare the horses!"
    "Bloody Hell!! Well, that puts paid to that. Bloody red tape and those pesky bureaucrats!!"

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