Micromobility hardware is diverging: shared scooters are getting heavier in order to become durable, creating a space for lighter vehicles. We originally viewed e-scooters as a species, but maybe they’re a genus.
The commonality across the last 18 months of shared scooter deployments has been a preference for small, lightweight electric vehicles from Ninebot, the Chinese robotics firm that owns Segway and itself is partially owned by electronics giant Xiaomi. Whether your first ride was on a Xiaomi M365 or Segway Ninebot ES2/ES4, it was most likely manufactured by the same company.
Those vehicles were originally designed for personal ownership and never really intended for shared use. As a result, the average lifespan for these initial fleet deployments was an abysmal 30–40 days. They’ll need to be about 4–5x as durable.
That first batch of scooters weighed about 25 lb; some with extra-large battery packs ran up to 30 lb. But changes were necessary to extend their lifetime.
While opinions vary about durability improvements — bigger wheels, additional dampening, larger packs, stronger frames, potentially a third wheel for stability — the common agreement is all shared scooters need to get heavier.
A curb weight of 40 lb is the weight target for the ‘second wave’ of fleet scooters. Lime’s ‘Gen3’ scooter, launched in Q4 2018, weighs between 40–45 lb. Bird developed a more fleet-optimized scooter in the same period called the Zero, which weighs about 40 lb — Harry Campbell nicknamed it ‘the tank’.
Heavier shared scooters should positively impact fleet economics, but could change the experience for users (and chargers, who’ll have a harder time moving them). Commuters cite maneuverability as a core advantage when slicing through traffic and repositioning the scooters for parking. Bulkier scooters will change that, as well as performance dynamics like take-off speeds and braking distances.
When all those scooters become heavier for economic reasons, we’ve been wondering if there is a new opportunity for something lighter.
Dramatically lighter, in fact.
Carried with 1 hand
The forthcoming launch of the Boosted Board scooter will introduce a new, high-performance vehicle into the personal ownership channel of micromobility — largely a category left only to the likes of Dualtron, which can run as high as 80 lb. Given the curb weight of the previous Boosted products (15–18 lb across their skateboard lineup), I expected their new vehicle would weigh around 30 lb — the actual weight was announced as 46 lb. Bird this week announced direct sales of a new, 38 lb model called the One, which is also going into their shared fleets. There is some irony here: Bird designed a fleet scooter and is now attempting to sell directly to consumers, whereas years ago Ninebot/Xiaomi’s original M365 was designed for consumers but ended up in fleets.
The design optimization for personally owned vehicles can be far afield from that of the fleets. Some commuters value high performance, lighter weight and carry-ability over things like larger, field swappable batteries that a fleet operator holds dear.
As usage diverges, shared scooters get heavier as personally owned commuter scooters trend lighter.
A new reach goal for owned commuter micromobility could be 10–15 lb, which would put it within the 10% body mass bogey as recommended by the American Chiropractic Association (1) for daily carrying.
But, 10 lb? There isn’t even a 15 lb electric scooter available for sale anywhere on earth today. And that’s exactly why the first batch of scooters were such a funny valentine — they were as ill equipped for fleets as they were for personal use. For the commuter, those original 25 lb units were just a bit too heavy to carry on a daily basis, and if you did see one lugged on a train they were done so by a narrow demographic of young males.
Going light in micromobility is only possible through simplification and reduction of features. Only 1 rider? Then don’t fit a large pack with a 30-mile range. Not parked on the street? Then don’t make it transit-bus tough with a fixed neck.
10 lb carry-able micromobility could be a new inflection point in further opening up the category.
However consumer needs impact vehicle design, we are headed toward a new wave of product exploration in micromobility — a lightweight vehicle Cambrian Explosion. There are even more ownership categories outside of the commuter use case — think of the ‘Ford F-150 of micromobility’ as a cargo / shopping wagon.
Shared fleets are going to look a lot more robust — for example, the original Boosted co-founders Sanjay Dastoor and Matt Tran are now building new fleet optimized products within their Skip fleet — and the personally owned commuter category is going to move smaller and lighter — keep an eye on product designers like Manuel Saez at Brooklyness and Hong Quan at Karmic. If you are working on new micromobility product ideas, please be in touch: rpb (at) trucks vc.
Thank you to James Gross, Oliver Bruce, Adam Feldman, Michal Naka, Jim McPherson and Jeff Schox for reading this post before it published.