Over three years ago, George Bush gave us all a check to make us forget about how bad things were getting and how much gas prices were rising. Remember?
I used mine to buy an electric scooter. I'm not going to mention the brand, for reasons that will become clear. It was VERY hard to find anything at all that was actually legal to ride on the streets; it still is. Riding an electric scooter is still VERY much an early-adopter thing. Why is that?
That's a shame. This solution is probably good for very few people, but for me, it's worked out great.
First the technical details.
The scooter I chose was made in China. As far as I know it's still very hard to get anything made in America. The company that imported it had a TERRIBLE reputation for support; I was really taking a chance, though I figured I could fix anything that wasn't right. I paid just under $1000 for what is really an electric moped, though it's sold as a "power assisted bicycle". The pedals are removable and I removed them.
It ran on 48 volts which made it about as fast and safe as an elephant. Thanks to some ingenious people on the web, I was able to find instructions on how to get it up to around 30 mph, running at 60 volts. That's about as fast as you really want to go on a little thing like this!
Since my commute is about 5 miles, and much of it can be driven using streets with low traffic, it works out great. I can even come home for lunch. The law says it should be ridden as a bicycle; if you're holding up traffic, move to the side. That's the biggest drawback; this really can't be taken out on the main streets in traffic, you have to find routes that will get you there. And yes, upping the voltage probably makes it a little "iffy" as far as the power assisted bicycle definition goes, but I've been riding it now for over three years, most days of the year, and have never been stopped.
Total maintenance over three years has been about $150 to replace the batteries this year, and a couple of tires and inner tubes. According to my Kill-A-Watt meter, it costs me about 5 cents a day to run.
Now you see why I'm not advocating that everyone run out and buy one of these things. They're not for everyone. For me, it's perfect, but I'm in a pretty ideal situation. However, it does make you think; imagine cities built around the idea of a collection of small villages with vehicles like this as the main transportation.
Now for the fun part. What's it like?
It's not like riding a motorcycle at all. It's like someone is letting you drive a go-kart to work. It's a whole lot of fun. I find myself even now getting excited around lunchtime because I get to go for a ride! And since it's totally SILENT, it's a nice relaxing ride.
About that silence... it turns heads even now. People are not used to seeing a totally silent scooter go by them. I drive by a high school on my way and am constantly getting cheers and fist pumps and such when they realize what I'm riding.
Back then, three years ago, gas prices went down and all the people who panicked and bought gas scooters tucked them safely back in their garages and got the cars out again. But I'm still riding my electric every day. It just makes so much sense, and it's so fun. And I really don't miss buying gas. My favorite question from people who don't realize it's electric is "How much gas does it save?" My answer: "All of it."
Anyone who is tempted to follow my lead, you are ON YOUR OWN. This is very much terra incognita. You might not have the mechanical chops to keep it up all by yourself (no electric scooter shops down the street), the law might harass you in your area, the thing might fall apart in any kind of wet environment (I'm in the desert), the company might ship you a stuffed iguana instead, you could get yourself killed thinking you're on a motorcycle. I accept no responsibility for you hurting yourself. But for some people, this is a great idea. What a shame that, even now, it's so hard for anyone to do.
Edited to add: The very knowledgeable Ashaman points out that full-scale electric motorcycles ARE available and are getting very good, if you want something you can really ride on the streets with. Unfortunately the cost of these scales pretty fast as well.