Review: Skipping taxi lines with EcoReco's M5 Air electric scooter
If you've never been to CES, then you may not know one of the tech show's dirty little secrets: getting around Las Vegas during the show can take up nearly as much time as the show itself. Though Vegas isn't the ideal city for personal urban transportation, our time using the EcoReco M5 Air scooter made for a solid alternative to standing in taxi lines. If you live in a city that's more friendly to personal transport, though, it could be much more than that.
In Vegas, you can't just flag a taxi or Uber on any corner, like you could in someplace like New York or Chicago. Instead you have to find a designated taxi pickup area, get in line and wait your turn. When you're leaving the convention center or another big CES hot-spot, that can sometimes mean shaving an hour or more off of your day. And that doesn't include the time spent sitting in horrendous traffic once you do finally catch a ride.
So when EcoReco offered us the opportunity to mooch a couple of its new M5 Air electric scooters during CES week, we pounced. Fortunately what we found was more than just a convenient excuse to skip taxi hell; the M5 Air is a pretty badass personal vehicle that not only saved us time, but, at its best, was an absolute blast to ride.
With no bike lanes in the CES part of Vegas, we were limited to sidewalks. When we were able to take back roads, with little traffic and no pedestrians in sight, the EcoReco e-scooters set us free: colleague Darren Quick and I could hear the opening chords of "Born to be Wild" jamming in our heads, with visions of ourselves as a modern-day Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper – only with laptop-filled backpacks in place of leather jackets and male pattern baldness in place of flowing manes.
Before the acceleration kicks in you need to start with a few pushes like a regular scooter, but once up and running the e-scooter can reach up to 20 miles per hour (32.2 km/h), though we didn't have many straightaways to fully test this on. Several times we hit 16 mph (25.7 km/h) and, for the form factor, even that felt like flying. It's easy to adjust the throttle (on the right side of the handlebars) to find your sweet spot, quickly accelerating a little or a lot depending on the amount of obstacles in front of you. Braking (on the left side) was as expected.
The scooters handled hills well enough when we were able to maintain our pre-incline momentum, but when we needed to brake on the incline, the scooters had trouble getting back up to a halfway decent speed. It wasn't a deal-breaker, but it may also mean the scooter won't be a great fit for especially hilly cities like San Francisco.
The only big problem with our experience had nothing to do with the M5 Air scooters themselves, and everything to do with Las Vegas, as those same sidewalks that served us so well on back roads became a congested mess as we approached the convention center. For the last half-mile of our commute, we'd may as well have walked, given the snail's pace we were forced to endure, with pedestrians blocking our path at every turn. Though it would have cranked up the dork factor several notches, at that point a kiddy bike horn would have been handy: at least it would have spared our fellow convention-goers from our barrage of "excuse me!" and "on your left!" utterances.
Before investing in a product like this, take a good look at your city, town or college campus and ask yourself whether there will be enough bike lanes or other open routes to actually save you time.
The M5 Air handles fairly well, though it will feel a little jiggly running over uneven pavement, breaks in sidewalks and the like. When on a flat asphalt surface, though, they handled as smooth as silk.
When you get to your destination, the scooters are a cinch to fold up (or at least it's a cinch once you read the instruction manual). Slide in the handlebar grips, press a couple of buttons and your personal vehicle folds into a 34-lb (15.4-kg) contraption that's somewhat tolerable to carry.
Despite the "Air" branding, you're going to feel it lugging this puppy around. If your commute requires walking up stairs or carrying the scooter for any notable distance, you'd be better off skipping this model in favor of something lighter (at the possible expense of power, battery life or both).
Speaking of battery life, EcoReco rates the M5 Air at up to 20 miles per charge – though if you have to go up many hills or do a lot of stopping-and-going, that could be lower. We didn't get a chance to drain our Vegas loaner units down to zero, but after commuting roughly 5 miles, with plenty of stop-and-go included (and around 30 hours sitting idle), their battery meters were showing less than 50 percent charge left. Of course, if the battery does die, you can push it like a conventional (albeit beefy) scooter, so you won't get stranded.
Charging is easy, cheap and ... acceptably fast. EcoReco says 2 hours will get the scooter from 0 to 80 percent, and 4.5 hours will go from 0 to 100 percent. The battery life is good enough that most urban commuters shouldn't have a problem taking round trips on a single charge – just juice it up at night.
The "Eco" part of the product name comes into play when you realize it can travel an estimated 500 miles on US$1 of electricity and, of course, has zero local emissions.
The scooters' aluminum frames felt solid and sturdy, though one of our loaner units did manage to somehow pick up a big scratch on its front end during the few days we were using it. Without any memory of scraping or bumping it, though, that damage may very well have come from not-so-careful bell desk employees who were trusted with handling them while we walked the convention floor. Either way, you may be wise to go into this knowing the smooth black sheen you see when you unpack it won't be permanent.
Another problem, that was more theoretical than practical for us, is the lack of any headlights. We were a little concerned about scooting back to the hotel during the evening after a long day at CES, but the streets were well-lit enough that it wasn't remotely an issue. It's something to keep in mind, though, if you plan on often commuting home at night in dimmer areas (though there is a spot on the handlebars for a universal mount, so you could install a light there instead of something like a GoPro).
Much of your decision on this product is going to come down to your environment. Do you have bike lanes in your city? Failing that, do you have sidewalks that stay somewhat clutter-free? And are e-scooters even legal to use in either place? If the answer is no on all three counts, then you're better off taking the train.
In the right environment, though, the EcoReco M5 Air can be a truly personal vehicle that will liberate you from traffic and, if not completely cut out public transportation, at least serve as a "last mile" solution between stop and destination. Under those conditions, its $1,250 price tag may very well be justified – unlike some electric scooters, this one is clearly made for grown-ups and is far more than a toy.
Products like this may not be must-haves, though, until technology evolves to allow them to combine this impressive level of power and battery life with 30-40 percent less weight. At this point, you're going to have to choose one of those points to compromise. This model's weight may not sound like much, but lug it around for more than a few minutes and, trust us, it will.
The EcoReco M5 Air is available now for $1,250.
Product page: EcoReco