The “last mile” problem is one that cities have been trying to solve for decades. While it is fairly easy to get to most cities, getting around that last mile to your final destination is often anything but simple. On the other end of the trip, “first miles” often have the same issue. How do you get from your home or apartment to the closest bus stop or train station that will take you to work?
That responsibility has often fallen on smaller one-person forms of electric transportation, also known as personal electric vehicles (PEVs). These can be anything from electric bicycles to electric scooters and electric skateboards. Basically anything small, quick and convenient to move someone around a crowded urban environment.
In an effort to determine which of these PEVs is the best option for urban commuting, I spent the last two weeks commuting entirely by personal electric vehicle, and now I want to share my experiences to help you determine how best to get around your city. Read on to see what I learned.
The four modes of transportation represent a wide range of personal electric vehicles and power ranges.
To compare the PEVs equally, I chose an approximately 5.2 km (3.2 mi) commute. The path crosses from one side of Tel Aviv to the other, a city of approximately 400,000 that includes a range of street styles from city block traffic to bike lanes in neighborhood-style streets to coastal promenades, all in the course of a sub-20 minute commute.
Each PEV followed the same commute route at 08:00 AM on a weekday, and each commute was GPS tracked for comparison.
While it would have been more scientifically valid to repeat each vehicle’s commute many times to obtain a solid average, I didn’t want this to turn into a multi-month saga. Instead, I repeated the commute on one e-bike a total of five times to determine how much the commute time varied simply due to uncontrollable events such as traffic disparities and red lights.
And lastly, if you’d like to see a video overview of the results, you can find one near the end of this article.
Now without further ado, here are my results and notes.
I found the scooter to be a fairly good city commuter vehicle. Despite lacking suspension, its pneumatic tires absorbed most medium-sized bumps in the road and helped the scooter feel decently stable at its top speed of 25 km/h (15.5 mph).
I would have loved to be able to go a bit faster than that, especially on the roads with bike lanes where I could fly past traffic, and on open roads with sparse traffic.
However, once I got into the city and traffic backed up, I rarely felt like I needed to go faster than the scooter’s top speed because I had to slow down to safely pass cars anyways. With such a thin vehicle, it was easy to slide between and around cars that were stuck in traffic when on streets that didn’t have a bike lane. This is known as lane splitting, and may not be legal in your area (it is legal here in Tel Aviv), so check your local laws before attempting lane splitting. Also, lane splitting requires a high level of situational awareness, another thing to keep in mind.
I must say, there’s a very satisfying feeling when you blow past cars in traffic on a little 12.5 kg (27.5 lb) electric scooter.
By the end of the commute, I had traveled 5.36 km (3.33 mi) in 17.7 minutes with an average speed of 18.4 km/h (11.4 mph).
I can see why so many electric scooter shares use this type of vehicle, they are small, lightweight, and work well for city commuting.
The electric skateboard was hands down the most fun of all the personal electric vehicles I commuted on. Surfing down the street was a great way to start the day, and absolutely brought a smile to my face. How many of you can say that about your commute?
Plus, it was pretty funny to see other drivers’ faces when I would glide past them as if floating while they were stuck crawling along in traffic.
However, as much as I loved the feeling of riding an electric skateboard, I also can’t deny that an electric skateboard is also the most dangerous of all the options I tested. The electronic motor braking works fairly well, but definitely doesn’t have the same stopping power or time as a scooter or electric bicycle with mechanical brakes.
Plus, I had to be very aware of what was in the road ahead of me. On an electric skateboard, even a small pot hole or stone is enough to ruin your day or worse.
Even though the electric skateboard was more fun than the electric scooter, it wasn’t quite as comfortable as the scooter since I felt less stable and had to anticipate braking much sooner.
However, I did arrive faster on the skateboard, which had a slightly higher top speed of around 30 km/h (22 mph).
I finished the commute with a total distance traveled of 5.23 km (3.25 mi) in 16.5 minutes with an average speed of 19.3 km/h (12.0 mph).
250/350 W folding electric bicycle
The next personal electric vehicle that I tested was a 250/350W folding electric bicycle. I describe it as both 250/350W because in practice there is almost never a difference between the two. Both 250W and 350W e-bikes almost always use the same batteries, motors and controllers and simply swap the power rating sticker depending on the laws of the country they are being sold in.
The e-bike I was riding topped out at around 30 km/h (22 mph), and so it had similar performance to the electric skateboard. There are some folding electric bicycles that can go much faster, but this was a standard e-bike that is closer to the European legal models.
However, it definitely felt more stable than the skateboard. To be fair, I’ve been riding electric bicycles for 10 years, while I’ve only been riding electric skateboards for maybe 6 months. Someone who has been riding a skateboard since grade school would probably say that an electric skateboard feels stable to them.
But I would wager that most people are probably like me, and have much more experience on a bicycle than a skateboard. You just don’t hear “Oh, it’ll come right back to you. It’s just like riding a skateboard…” very often.
The folding electric bicycle was very comfortable to ride. Having normal bicycle brakes allowed me to accelerate and decelerate much more confidently than on the skateboard or scooter, even though the latter did have a rear disc brake.
It was a little harder to squeeze between cars in traffic or around parallel parked cars because the handle bars were wider than the scooter (and non-existent on the skateboard), but the increased stability meant that I could go faster for more time and only slow down when necessary (and not as an early precaution).
The folding electric bike set the new high-water mark, covering 5.41 km (3.36 mi) in 16.1 minutes with an average speed of 20.4 km/h (12.7 mph).
1,000W electric mountain bike
Electric bikes are great for offroading and nature trails, but e-mountain bikes are also excellent commuter vehicles, as their heavy-duty frames and suspension can absorb the stress of city commuting better than standard city/hybrid bikes.
This e-bike was definitely the most comfortable of all the vehicles I tested. Its larger wheels rolled over pot holes with ease and its front suspension took a lot of vibrations out of the handlebars.
The 1,000W e-bike allowed me to take advantage of the areas with less traffic, reaching speeds as high as 47 km/h (29 mph). On the longer straightaways, that made a big difference in my overall time.
Once I got into the denser city traffic though, the higher speed wasn’t as much of an advantage since I was rarely traveling faster than the other PEVs I tested while passing cars and around other cyclists in the bike lanes.
However, the extra power of the 1,000W e-bike allowed me to accelerate faster from stops, meaning I could keep up with cars and often out-accelerate them, gaining position in the traffic queue.
Once I made it out closer to the coast, traffic opened up like usual and I was able to use my speed again to cut a significant amount of time off of my commute.
The 1,000W e-bike covered 5.46 km (3.4 mi) in 12.2 minutes with an average speed of 27.1 km/h (16.8 mph), making it clearly the fastest option among all the PEVs that I tested.
The results of all four vehicle commute times are shown below:
5 km Commute Time for Various Personal Electric Vehicles
Are the results repeatable?
I also wanted to test to see how repeatable the results were; i.e. if I would get very different times if I hit the lights differently or if there was a slight change in traffic from one day to the next.
To attempt to account for this, I repeated the 1,000W e-bike test four more times for a total of five trials, and got the following results:
The durations for the five commutes (top line in the above image) were all fairly similar except for the third commute where I hit just about every red light possible and was thus significantly longer. I wasn’t sure whether to throw this out as an outlier or not, so I decided to be conservative and leave it in, calculating an average of +/-9% of the total commute time based on the data.
When adding that same +/-9% to the commute times of the first three vehicles, they all fall within the reasonable deviation that I calculated, meaning that it is likely that any of the three could theoretically be fastest on any given day depending on the conditions. There just isn’t enough difference between the results of the e-scooter, e-skateboard and folding e-bike to say that any is definitively faster.
However, the 1,000W e-bike obviously remains the winner even under its slowest conditions.
I didn’t really intend for this to be a test against cars, but I decided to throw a taxi into the mix, just for the sake of comparison.
Even despite the taxi driver taking risks that I wouldn’t even try in a video game, rush hour traffic in the city still proved too much for a four-wheeled vehicle that takes up an entire lane.
The taxi took 21 minutes to cover the same ~5 km commute, which is over 60% slower than the 1,000W e-bike. That places the taxi solidly in last place.
What does this mean for me?
To be honest, I expected to find a larger deviation between all of the vehicles. In the end, the main conclusions appear to be that while a 1,000W e-bike that can go 47 km/h (29 mph) and is faster than pretty much anything, you can still commute quickly on smaller e-bikes, electric scooters and electric skateboards. And anything is better than driving when it comes to making good time in the city.
For most people though, a few minutes one way or the other isn’t going to be a major deal breaker. Comfort and convenience are often bigger factors.
For those placing the highest value on comfort, I would definitely recommend the two e-bike options first, as they were both more comfortable and stable due to the larger wheels and seated position. The scooter was still a nice ride, but not quite as comfortable, and the skateboard was fun but more of a stressful way to commute.
For convenience though, the skateboard was probably the most convenient because of how small it was. I could just carry it into a building with me once I arrived. If you had a folding skateboard like the one I reviewed here on Electrek, you could even stash it in your backpack.
The scooter was probably the next most convenient because I could also fold it to be relatively small and carry it with me.
The two e-bikes were the least convenient because of the added time of locking and unlocking them before and after the commute (not factored into the time in the test), as well as looking for a secure place to park them on the street, especially if bike racks aren’t plentiful.
Ultimately, all four of these options make excellent commuter vehicles, and the choice really depends on what you value in your commute: speed, comfort or pleasure. Since some of these are more subjective than others, you can likely find a way to make most or all of them work for you.