Review: CycleBoard three-wheeled e-scooter
Kick scooters have come a long way since they were first introduced in Europe and the US around 100 years ago. Starting as simple "wheels and a plank" arrangements, they've evolved into a huge variety of shapes and sizes from lightweight stunt scooters to bulky, electric-powered commuters and everything in between ... including the 3-wheeled CycleBoard.
CycleBoard completed a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier last year, raising over US$147,000 of a $70,000 goal. It has dual front wheels, a single rear wheel, thick tires, a lightweight aluminum frame, a 450 W electric motor and a wide, tilting deck that's connected to the front wheels so that you turn by leaning side to side.
We recently climbed aboard to see how the CycleBoard performs and to try to understand why someone would spend at least $1300 on this conveyance versus a pretty decent bicycle, or even a crappy old motorcycle. A few hours in and we began to understand that the CycleBoard shouldn't be seen as an alternative to either of those, but as something entirely different.
Ease of use is a key factor. The review unit arrived fully assembled and neatly folded. We unpacked it from the box with no problem, popped the handlebar post upright, adjusted the brake lever on the left and the throttle lever and gage on the right, and charged up the lithium-ion battery by hooking up one end of the charger to a regular outlet and the other into a socket on the left side of the CycleBoard frame. In a couple of hours we were ready to go. That simple.
The directions advise you to take the CycleBoard somewhere you can get used to it at slow speeds. So we folded it up, packed it into the car and drove to the nearest empty business park. It was a Saturday, so we knew there wasn't going to be anyone around.
A power button near the throttle lever turns the CycleBoard on and a single kick activates the electric motor and gets it moving. The wide deck lets you ride with either both feet together or staggered. The latter is recommended for making fast turns.
There's a trigger throttle on the right of the handlebars and a brake on the left – pretty straightforward. The hardest thing to get used to is that the handlebars do not steer this scooter. You have to lean into the direction of the turn. The faster you go, the further you have to lean. Those familiar with skateboarding, snowboarding or surfing will find it easier to do than those who aren't.
In first gear, you're moving along in the single digits. But the CycleBoard has five speeds with a stated top speed of 20 mph (32 km/h), so once we got used to turning and weaving in the parking lots, we took it on a nearby bicycle and walking trail to see how it handled. When pushed it and actually got it past 25 mph (40 km/h) in fifth gear on a flat path.
Drop down into third gear and turning into slight bends in the trail at a relatively brisk 15+ mph (24 km/h) becomes pretty easy. Harder turns at faster speeds and in the big parking lots took more effort that showed two flaws: the handlebar post doesn't lock hard enough into place and the brakes could use some additional help – issues which the company says are already being addressed.
The handlebar post is height adjustable from between 34 to 40 inches (86 to 102 cm) and can accommodate riders up to six feet six inches tall. A locking clamp tightens the handlebar downtube into place, but no matter how hard we tightened it, sharp turns that required a steeper lean and more force on the handlebars would sometimes cause the them to move out of position. Disconcerting at the least, and potentially dangerous if you're trying to steer the CycleBoard out of the way of daydreaming drivers like the one we were unlucky enough to encounter.
The second issue is the vented rear disc brakes. The resistance you feel when you pull on the lever feels like there are no brakes, but they're there. We tried tightening the cable as much as we could, but to little avail. The brakes work, but they could be better.
The only other issue is the weight. At 44 pounds, despite its ability to fold down into a compact shape, very few people are going to want to or be able to carry this onto a bus or train. When folded, you can pull the CycleBoard behind you like a dolly, but even pulling a 44 pound scooter around for a long period could be hard for some people.
The 250 Wh battery is coupled to a 450 W rear hub motor that can carry you up to 15 miles (24 km) if you spend most of it going 20 mph. More than likely you'll be in the 10-15 mph zone, which will extend the range further. Charge time is around three hours.
The CycleBoard has some clever design features that keep the bike uncluttered. All of the cables are tucked out of the way and wired through the handlebar and downtube. There's a built in bell by the brake lever, and an optional integrated lock can be tucked into place just behind the deck and over the rear wheel. The gage is easy to read and provides information like speed, gear indicator, trip and cumulative distance, and battery life. Importantly, if that battery indicator hits zero, you can still get home by riding the CycleBoard in the traditional human-powered way.
An optional handlebar mount can be centered between the handgrips, allowing users to attach a smartphone or GoPro camera and stay charged off the scooter's battery via a USB output port located behind the display. Obviously, this will affect battery life, but the option lets you capture your CycleBoard rides from the rider's point of view.
Phillip LaBonty, founder and CEO of CycleBoard, says he designed the e-scooter to be both fun and safe. The lean-in steering is key to both, and the company has filed for a primary patent on the steering design.
Our tester was the Phantom Black Elite model, which lists at US$1299. Extras like different deck designs, the integrated lock, fenders and an extended battery can add several hundred dollars to the base price. Alternatively you can buy the Nighthawk Elite for $1699 and get all of those extras included.
For scooter fans and newbies looking for a quick, easy, and a possibly addictive way to get from A to B over a relatively short distance, the CycleBoard could be for you. The question is how much you're willing to pay for the fun.