I set off for San Francisco early on Thursday morning. My mission: to ride on the back of a Vectrix scooter. With a top speed of 62 mph, this scooter is rumored—OK, rumored by its PR firm—to be the best of its kind. With an estimated 10-year battery life, a patented braking system (DAaRT™) that redirects energy back into the battery pack, rapid acceleration, an engine that is quick to charge (plugs into any standard 110/220 volt power outlet and charges in just two hours) and a body that is easy to drive, the Vectrix is virtually silent, with a streamlined design that looks as cool as it is (said to be) practical and comfortable. To make this little Thursday-morning media event all the more tempting, alternative-fuel consultant Chelsea Sexton and Plug in America cofounder Marc Geller are scheduled to speak.
I figure this is a great chance to go for a scooter ride and learn a little bit more about this new electric-vehicle craze that seems to be sweeping the North Bay, where the once obligatory Volvo station wagon is being replaced by the Toyota Prius and the Highlander Hybrid, and scooters are becoming an increasingly familiar sight on the roadways.
I arrive at the event a good half-hour before the scheduled speakers, which gives me time to acclimate to the fog and sign up for my ride on a Vectrix. The Vectrix is indeed as silent as they say; the sound of teeth chattering can be heard despite the scooters whizzing about the parking lot.
When it's my turn, I climb on the back of a glistening model and go whizzing around in a tight circle, taking the turns with such speed and agility that, if it weren't for the fact that the scooter wasn't making any noise or spewing any fumes, I might as well be on the back of a motorcycle. This thing is slick, and I beg for an extra spin around the ring.
"That was great!" I say, as I pull off my helmet. "How much are they?!" I'm in love, and I'm ready to buy. The promotional material I've already read claims that the Vectrix is "clean, affordable and fun to drive." Well, the clean and fun-to-drive parts are true. "Eleven thousand dollars," a shivering Vectrix promoter informs me as he takes my helmet back.
Maybe it's just the cold and maybe I just need a cup of coffee, but my exuberance begins to fade. Eleven thousand dollars for a scooter is not "affordable" in my book, and I'm beginning to wonder why the speakers have yet to appear and start speaking. I look around for someone who might be able to explain what's going on with the keynotes, and see that those in charge have rushed to gather around a stunning news anchor in tight jeans who has only just arrived with her van and crew.
At this point everyone begins to look very important and inflated while I sit, alone and cold on a folding chair, wishing that I could wear such tight jeans without looking like a jerk. Thirty minutes tick by, during which time no one speaks to anyone who isn't holding a camera or a microphone, and I discover that I have dog crap on my shoe. It's definitely time to go home.
As I drive back to Sonoma County, it occurs to me that I have just put 70 miles on my car in order to ride an electric scooter for three minutes. The irony, so perfectly represented by the tang of dog crap on my sneaker, does not elude me.
I decide to put in a call to Moto Meccanica, a motorcycle and scooter shop in Santa Rosa, to see if they know anything about Vectrix. Moto Meccanica doesn't do electric, but they do cheerfully direct me to Revolution Moto, who might. I put in a call to Revolution owner Roy Gattinella to see if he has any electric scooters for sale, and to ask him if he's heard of the Vectrix. Roy has heard of the Vectrix and considered carrying it at one time, but according to his standards, electric scooters are not a good enough option.
"Using an automobile to run small errands is like sailing a cruise ship to go water skiing," Roy says. While he eagerly awaits alternatives to the gas-run scooter, the electric scooter just isn't it. Roy says you have to look at the "manufacturing footprint." These scooters are being made almost entirely out of plastic, they run on nickel metal hydride batteries that are incredibly toxic for the earth from the moment the nickel is strip-mined to their inevitable disposal, and we have no idea how long the product will last.
"Show me a scooter that runs on hydrogen or on solar, and I'll be all over it," Roy says. In the meantime, he feels more comfortable sticking to old technology that is still great technology, scooters that run off of "a sip" of gasoline, and are built to last.
As for me, I'm left wondering, if no scooter is perfect, then who are the real eco-warriors when it comes to transportation? Some say it's the bicyclists. But what about those of us who don't appreciate having to equate going somewhere with exercise? Find out more in upcoming columns when I take on the public transit system.
For more information on the Vectrix go to www.vectrixusa.com. For a scooter that sips rather than guzzles, visit Revolution Moto at www.revolutionmoto.com; Moto Meccanica at www.motomeccanica.com.