Israel, the Detroit of E-Bikes & E-Scooters
Many electric bicycle and scooter companies have come and gone here in the U.S.. The reasons for their fitful success are many: Bicycling, with the exception of a few cities like Portland, Oregon, is often seen as a means of recreation and exercise, not transport; venture capitalists are more enamored of battery storage as it is key to help renewables and electric vehicles (EVs) scale; and, let’s face it, politicians view huge public transportation systems as the Holy Grail of infrastructure projects, not bicycle lanes for vehicles smaller than an automobile. When many of us want something electric, we aspire for the Tesla; many of us would settle for a Nissan Leaf. Reality often means a Prius. Two-wheelers are not part of this picture. But visit Tel Aviv and other cities across Israel, and e-bikes and e-scooters are almost as common of a sight as bicycles. At least 72 miles (120 km) of cycling paths stretch across Tel Aviv, both along its stunning beach promenade and within some of the most congested boulevards in the city. And they are used by cyclists and e-cyclists alike: Woe is the clueless visitor who dares to saunter within the dedicated bicycle lane, as a few choice words in Hebrew or English from an e-bike rider or cyclist may be the least of his or her problems. One reason for these vehicles’ increased popularity is pure necessity. As is the case in any nation that grows by a million people a decade, traffic in any of Israel’s cities can be a nightmare at rush hour, and an accident at any time of day can lead to snarled roads for hours. Real estate is also at a premium in cities, and of course the Holy Land’s millennia of history means an ambitious project can be stalled for years upon an archeological find. With the high cost of living and limited space, a small vehicle can offer a speedy way to the office while avoiding the headaches involved with parking. One example is RoadIX, a startup that works out of Capital Nature, a tech incubator located in Kibbutz Yotvata in the Arava Desert. This kibbutz was founded in the late 1950s as a dairy. But as with many of these communities, Kibbutz Yotvata diversified its holdings over the years. One of them now includes this hub that is home to a dozen companies, including the manufacturer of the MUV-e. RoadIX’s MUV-e is a “three-wheel electric personal vehicle” that the company insists is a model for future transportation. Resembling something halfway between a Segway and a skateboard, the sleek MUV-e can travel up to 25 miles (40 km) on a single charge; it's a light 33 pounds (15 kilos); and it can fold in as quickly as three seconds. The company has ambitions to become the next bike-sharing program, as it views this option as the most sustainable way to move people around congested cities. (The MUV-e, however, would have stiff competition from Tel Aviv’s popular bicycle sharing program.) In an ideal world, this scooter is perfect for those who already take a bus or subway for much of their daily commute, but need an option for those last several blocks that take them to the office. Testing the MUV-e, in one word, was a hoot. The trick is for the commuter to know his or her core well, as one needs to shift his weight slightly in order to turn left or right. But after a few fits and starts, the MUV-e was easy to use and could fly. Whether or not it can succeed on the streets of Manhattan or the hills of San Francisco, however, is another story. The company now has a waiting list for those interested in purchasing a MUV-e, which is priced at approximately $2,000. For now, the Israeli e-bike and e-scooter scene is akin to Detroit’s auto industry before World War II, as it is still relatively fragmented. Companies such as EBMAX (a common sight in Tel Aviv), INU, Blitz Motors (really an e-motorcycle) and Zooz are just a few examples of the companies trying to win over Israel and the rest of the world. They face challenges, not the least of which is consumer acceptance. Nevertheless, Israel has become the leading test lab of this new form of transport, which can offer an efficient and cost-effective alternative. But cities will have to sort out how to integrate and regulate these vehicles into their overall plan – recent backlash against accidents involving these vehicles spurred Tel Aviv authorities to fine e-cyclists $70 if they are caught on sidewalks instead of the city’s dedicated bicycle paths. Image credit: Shani Sadicario Editor’s note: Vibe Israel is funding Leon Kaye’s trip. Neither the author nor TriplePundit were required to write about the experience. Published earlier today on Triple Pundit.