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Looking to go from A to B in a large city? Even with extensive public transportation, car sharing, ride-hailing, or the good old shanks’ pony, travelling the last-mile can be gruesome and time consuming. Enter the e-scooter!
Testing the e-scooters in Berlin
There are a plethora of e-scooter startups active in various European cities and Berlin, it’s no different. During my visit to the German capital, I tested the four big players currently present with e-scooter sharing: Berlin-based Circ (previously Flash) and Tier, Silicon Valley’s-powerhouse Lime, and VOI from Stockholm.
How to get started?
Getting started with the electric kick powered scooters as they’re officially named is super-easy. Sign-up in the app, add your credit card details (only Circ offers Paypal), scan the QR-code on the e-scooter and off you go.
One annoying feature in the VOI app is that it keeps prompting for Bluetooth. Very convenient to unlock when there’s no wifi or 4G, but annoying if you can’t turn it off and it drains your battery.
As we expected, Lime’s app was the most advanced one, having the best options in-app such as history, with Circ in second place. VOI’s app especially delivered a below-par performance: it often took half a minute or more to lock or unlock.
How do these e-scooters work?
After scanning the QR-code with the app, the e-scooter unlocks. You keep one foot on the board and with the other foot, you kickstart it by pushing yourself once (although some VOI scooters needed an extra push). Then, you press the acceleration lever on the right handlebar to add speed.
Wow! The torque these e-scooters deliver is what makes driving them a lot of fun. I would even say, it’s incredibly addictive.
Addictive, but you need to be careful!
As a real Dutch person, riding bikes, scooters, and mopeds all my life, I rode them without a helmet. But please, if you’re an inexperienced user, I would advise against it altogether or at least, be extremely careful wear a helmet and hand, chin, elbow, and knee protection.
Although they’re limited to 20 km/h, it requires special skills and knowledge. Like doing a little “hop-on” when there’s a little bump, or going fast and side-ways over tram tracks. Once, I almost fell when I entered an unforeseen porthole. Phew!
Also, breaking requires anticipation and special skills. Circ and Tier have hand brakes for front and back, VOI and Lime use a footbrake for the rear brakes, accompanied with a front-handbrake. To be honest, I am not a fan of foot-braking. It requires you to balance properly, and besides that, there’s a prolonged delay in anticipating.
Lime’s footbrake was not sufficient to go to a full-stop swiftly. For the inexperienced user, it may lead to pressing the front-brake to hard, and that could lead to accidents. As VOI’s e-scooter is a little newer, its footbrake felt like it performed better.
Another issue with Lime was the quality of the e-scooters. As the first-mover, you can tell they have been used heavily. Many looked damaged or worn-down, and they are harder to handle as they feel less light-weight.
With the slightly heavier model, you would expect higher durability as well. Once, the entire steering wheel was wobbly because it was broken, making it impossible to drive safely. I reported it to Lime’s customer service which responded promptly but had to ask for a refund myself weirdly enough. Which I received.
The VOI scooter didn’t feel premium at all. I wonder how long they will last in heavy use cases. The Tier e-scooter was firmly built too and relatively more comfortable, but not as much as Circ’. Overall, Circ beat Tier, but not by much.
To summarize, Circ is my personal favourite with all things taken into account. The e-scooter is light-weight but well-balanced, the torque is amazing, brakes are the best, and most importantly, when balancing, the response to the throttle was often way better than with the others. It feels like a superior product, and it looks great too. Bravo!
And, importantly, Circ had both a phone holder on the wheel and a little cupholder for – let’s say – a sunglass case, a coffee (with a lid) or a bottle of water. Convenient.
We met with Circ’s co-founder and COO Boris Mittermüller to tell him the good news. He informed us that the next version will have even better handling and durability, as well as the opportunity to more easily swap the battery.
Speaking of battery lifetime: we didn’t test for that. An everyday user could care less, and usually, you’re informed if the battery is running low. Only once I emptied one out, right when I arrived. Normally, you would just take another one, right?
Lime, however, did beat Circ with the availability of e-scooters. But in general, in Mitte (the city centre) and the popular areas around it, you’ll never have to walk more than a minute or so to find one of the brands. You can always look one up in the apps too. If they were cheaper and with a newer e-scooter, Lime might have won.
(With challenger bank N26, Lime offers a 50% discount).
The ideal use case for an e-scooter is a 10-15 minutes ride, which roughly equals a little over a kilometre in traffic with stops and red lights. After that, it becomes tiresome. Some areas in Berlin have a lot of cobblestones, which makes a comfortable ride impossible. There’s no other alternative than walking or riding on the sidewalk.
Parking will become more of an issue, as the city of Berlin cracks down on illegal parking of e-scooters or limits the places to park. In the near future, we expect to see parking stations around town. For now, I tried to be wary of loitering and park on a street corner or next to a bike rack.
Let’s talk pricing!
E-scooter sharing has never been dirt cheap. With Lime, the most expensive option, it typically cost me €3,40 for 11 minutes and 1,2 kilometre. With Circ, my rides cost me €2,50 for ten minutes up till €3,55 for 17 minutes (no kilometres provided). VOI sets me back €2,50 for a ten-eleven minute ride.
Tier doesn’t offer a ride history in-app, but instead sends a Rechnung (bill) in German, with for even me as a Dutch person impossible to comprehend words as “Freischaltgebühr”. I paid €2,65 and €3,10, but for what exactly?
You could say, all in all, not exactly a bargain. But, if you compare it to the same journeys with public transport, it’s only a little bit more expensive but it saves a lot of time and hassle. A taxi would have involved waiting time, at significantly higher costs (a short trip in Berlin costs €5 for two kilometres). If you’re travelling without luggage too, like me, with a lot of meetings closeby, the e-scooter is a perfect choice.
The micro-mobility craze is hitting off in a lot of European cities. In the coming months, we’ll be visiting Brussels, London, and Oslo for a tour of the numerous players. Want to have us do a test-drive of your European city? Invite me.
Stay tuned to Silicon Canals for more updates in the tech startup world.