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I'm looking for something a little bit better than your average bike in terms of transportation potential, but cannot be a license-required vehicle as I cannot get a driver's license. I also don't have good terms with regular bicycles as every single one I've had has worn out well before even 2 years of daily use.

I thought the obvious:

1.Electric bikes (too expensive though and customizing to fit my needs would be difficult too);

2.Public transportation (the price isn't the issue, but the waiting/inconvenience/limited means);

3.Walking (I already do this and while it is manageable, it takes forever to go anywhere far obviously).

What would be a more ideal, not-so-expensive way to do better than a bike, but less than a license needed vehicle and/or slow and limited public transport? Any other in-betweens I may be missing?

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    Can you be more specific about what needs to be better than a bike? Also, what issues have you had with the bikes you've had?
    – LShaver
    Apr 23 '19 at 19:55
  • Some way of transporting that I can use myself at my convenience, but that is more reliable than a standard bicycle at the least. Most bikes I get have many issues over not so long periods of time, such as broken chains; wheel bearings damaged/parts going out of place; frame bending; and misalignment/general wear downs. I do ride almost every day, so this might explain it -- but it still is an issue if you can't even rely on a bicycle for at least 2 solid years. Also, there are other annoying, stressing problems like inner-tube damage; tire issues; and having to refill air every few weeks.
    – Buddy Fup
    Apr 23 '19 at 20:20
  • Basically the whole point to me was getting these transportation vehicles to avoid high costs and burdens like cars with insurance, gasoline, licensing, lease payments/etc. But if I'm getting a bicycle to have to spend hundreds in repairs and/or stress having to fix and pay everything in a DIY way, it becomes not much better than a car which I can't afford/manage anyways. I know nothing's perfect, but bikes have become a bad memory.
    – Buddy Fup
    Apr 23 '19 at 20:22
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    A bicycle needs maintenance like every other means of transportation. If you are not willing to do the maintenance, pay somebody to do it. Otherwise you wont get anything better than a bicycle when you want mostly carbon-free, low cost, individual transport. E.g., I got a new bike (800€, so not that expensive) last November, been doing about 2.000 km since then (daily comute) and the maintenance so far has been tightening some screws, pumping air thrice, and most importantly, oiling the chain regularly. Quite reasonable effort for low cost, healthy transport.
    – Erik
    Apr 24 '19 at 11:32
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    I also don't have good terms with regular bicycles as every single one I've had has worn out well before even 2 years of daily use You buy the wrong bikes or don't maintain them properly. If you change that, that requirement (complication) can be removed from the question.
    – user2451
    Apr 29 '19 at 8:40
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An electric scooter would be ideal.

Bicycles suffer from a peculiar characteristic of humans, namely that they produce power at a ridiculously low RPM. Power is force times speed. If speed is low, to get any useful power, you need huge amounts of force. The rotational equivalent is that power is torque times RPM, very similar to the linear equation.

Let's consider how much torque a 100 kg rider that pulls up 30 kg from the handlebar exerts. 130 kg = 1275 N. That at 0.17 m crank length is 217 Nm. It's probably more torque than in my car engine!

I don't know what issues you have had with bicycles, but I'm suspecting it may be related to the drivetrain components, such as chains and sprockets wearing out quickly. They do that because of the huge forces involved, due to the low rotational and linear speeds.

Here's some bicycle failures: http://pardo.net/bike/pic/fail-001/000.html -- those occur because bicycles are lightweight and need to withstand extremely high forces.

Additionally, handlebars, stems, etc. can crack due to huge forces involved when pulling up from the handlebars to obtain more force on the pedals.

Also, most bicycles are designed to be easy to pedal. If you have electric propulsion, for example low rolling resistance of tires is no longer a must. Thus, you can have thicker tires that get less punctures. Bicycle tires are designed to be usually low rolling resistance, at the cost of frequent punctures.

Ideal electric scooters use typically smaller wheels for higher RPMs at the same linear velocity. They use a different drivetrain that works at high speed, allowing the engine to spin at 10 000 RPM or so. Electric motors like to spin at 5000 - 20000 RPM, generating very little torque but considerable power due to the high RPMs. Less torque equals smaller numbers of failures.

One answer recommended a 50cc scooter. The cheapest are often two-stroke engines generating very harmful exhaust emissions. Even the 4-stroke ones may lack a catalytic converter (although I was reminded that the best models may have a cat). Actually, the non-catalytic-converter tiny 50cc engines are more harmful than a car engine if you consider only the harmful emissions (they may generate a little less CO2 per mile, though). So, whether a 50cc scooter is environmentally friendly will depend on the exact model: do get a 4-stroke one with a catalytic converter.

I'm sure most places are modern and allow electric equivalents to 50cc scooters. Get such an electric equivalent! Chances are it will eventually save you the amount of money you have to spend on gasoline.

Edit: after this answer was written, I found that one of my workmates has bought an electric unicycle. It requires considerable skill to use, but it's much lighterweight and smaller than a bicycle, and you can carry it wherever you go including carrying it in public transportation. Cost is significantly below 1000 USD / 1000 EUR. Whether you dare to invest in unicycling skills is another question, but it may be a very useful investment.

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    Consider the small diameter wheels of an electric scooter versus the large diameter wheels of a bicycle, and a bicycle has a much greater capability due to stability. As for 50cc scooters, both Honda and Yamaha have four-stroke engines with catalytic converters. Also, consider fuel injection versus carburetors and liquid cooling versus air cooling but these specifications can depend on the model.
    – S Spring
    Apr 26 '19 at 0:57
  • Here is a link to a Honda 50cc scooter with a catalytic converter: motorscooterguide.net/Honda/Ruckus/Ruckus.html.
    – S Spring
    Apr 26 '19 at 1:17
  • Here is a link to a Yamaha 50cc scooter with a catalytic converter: motorcyclistonline.com/2013-yamaha-zuma-review
    – S Spring
    Apr 26 '19 at 1:23
  • Thanks, answer revised! Indeed it may be the cat has finally reached the 50cc engines!
    – juhist
    Apr 26 '19 at 16:50
  • Why pull up on the bars at all? Routine cycling has the rider seated and the weight of the arms resting on the hands, so far less torque than you calculate (and probably higher cadence). And the parts subject to the most torque aren't the ones that need the most maintenance. Chains and cassettes will need doing first. I've only just changed the bottom bracket on mine and recently the most used chainring, after 20 000km.
    – Chris H
    May 26 '20 at 12:11
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Since providing my older answer to this question, and since considering electric scooters, I have actually purchased an electric bike and have to not update my old answer but provide a new much better answer with completely different perspective.

I used to dismiss electric bikes based on three problems:

  • Bikes are low-speed high-torque devices whereas electric motors are high-speed low-torque devices. I used to think there's no logical place to put an electric motor into a bike. Motor in front wheel hub makes it hard to fix a front puncture, offers no logical way to implement reduction gearing for high-speed low-torque motors, makes it hard to have two wheelsets with different types of tires, and results in front wheelspin and a crash if riding on slippery steep uphill. Motor in rear wheel hub makes it hard to fix a rear puncture, has to be crammed in very small space because the rear hub also has bicycle gearing, offers no logical way to implement reduction gearing for high-speed low-torque motors, and makes it hard to have two wheelsets with different types of tires. Also any motor in hub requires a very high torque low speed motor which are uncommon beasts. Motor in bottom bracket would be even more ridiculous than motor in a wheel hub because the torque there needs to be much higher and the speed much lower, or so I thought.
  • Law restricts electric bikes to 250 watts. This is not much higher than the power of your average cyclist when riding up a hill (actually athletic cyclists produce far bigger power levels).
  • Law restricts electric bikes to 25 km/h. I thought this means that at 25 km/h the power assist needs to be already zero, so to avoid a very bumpy on-off-on-off-on-off assist, the power level needs to be reduced at already 22 km/h, or so I thought.

However, later I bought a new e-bike and found how e-bikes solve these challenges.

  • Good quality e-bikes are mid-drives where the motor is at the bottom bracket. However, the bottom bracket area is made much larger and the motor is actually not directly connected to the bottom bracket, but rather connected via a reduction gearing. Thus you can have a high-speed low-torque motor and modify its speed and torque characteristics to be useful in bicycles.
  • E-bike makers interpret the 250 watt limitation as "maximum sustained power". So it's very typical to have 70 newton meter e-bikes that provide the power even at 90 RPM. A simple calculation shows such a motor provides 659.73 watts, much higher than 250 watts. How can this be the case? The reason is that the e-bike has software that integrates the average power over a very long time period of an hour or so, and if it threatens to be the case that average power exceeds 250 watts calculated over a very long time, it starts to restrict power. Because an average cyclist rides on flat land at speeds higher than 25 km/h, on typical e-bikes the electric assist is used only when riding against a very strong headwind, up a hill or when accelerating. It is not a flatland assist level. Thus, almost never the 250 watt average power limitation is exceeded even though the motor assists at over 650 watts at every uphill.
  • E-bike makers interpret the 25 km/h as the midpoint of where power begins to be reduced. So it doesn't mean that at 25.1 km/h the power needs to be already at zero. It's more like power begins to be reduced at 23.5 km/h and at 26.5 km/h it's at zero. So substantial power assist can be still provided at slightly above 25 km/h. Furthermore, because the electric motor in e-bikes is an uphill and acceleration assist device, even if some brand of e-bike already has the assist at zero at 25 km/h, it's not a major problem. Your average speed suffers but not by much.

So why do I advocate e-bikes over e-scooters for example? The reason is simple: range.

My e-road-bike has 125 - 175 km range using a half-kilowatt-hour battery, at the maximum assist level (125 km is the range on routes where I need to brake a lot, but a leisurely country road ride has 175 km range).

A typical electric scooter with half-kilowatt-hour battery is advertised to have about 45 km range. However, if you read a fine print it's for a lightweight rider riding at constant 20 km/h speed with no braking, no headwind and perfectly level ground. I actually saw a test report of a half-kilowatt-hour e-scooter that was advertised to have 45 km range, but had only 21 km range at higher speed when braking occasionally and riding occasionally up hills. Also most e-scooters limit the power level to a very low value when only 20% of battery is left. Thus, only 0.8 * 21 km = 16.8 km provides full power. Also typically lithium ion batteries are considered to be at the end of their useful lifetime when 70% of capacity is left. Thus, you can only rely on full power at the end of the battery lifetime to have 0.7 * 16.8 km = 11.76 km range.

Why is the range on an e-bike far better? The reason is based on many differences.

  • Firstly, a bicycle has very low rolling resistance high pressure narrow large diameter tires. An e-scooter usually has either honeycomb airless tires or maybe low pressure small diameter wide pneumatic tires (in which case it'll be a very major chore to fix a puncture as the electric motor is built into the wheel hub). The e-scooter tires have several times worse rolling resistance than bicycle tires.

  • Secondly, a bicyclist is riding in a fairly aerodynamic position. In most e-scooters, the rider is standing, maximizing the frontal area.

  • Thirdly, in electric bikes the cyclist can ride on human power at speeds greater than 25 km/h on flat land. Thus, the electric assist is practically never used on flat land (only momentarily when accelerating to full speed). It's an uphill assist device, and even then only an assist device and not a device that produces 100% of the power. Because of this, the motor is rarely used that increases the range to very high values.

Also consider that the 125 - 175 km range of half-kilowatt-hour e-bikes can be extended if considering acceptable to ride without electric assist. Thus, you can actually rely on the range. If the battery starts to become aged, you can still ride the 125 - 175 km, only the very end of the journey has to be made without electric assist.

In contrast, on a half-kilowatt-hour e-scooter you can only rely on the 11.76 km range on aged battery without using the last 20% that only offers very much reduced power (so the speed will be horribly slow).

Do you want 125 - 175 km range?

Or do you want 11.76 km range?

I'll choose the 125 - 175 km range. I chose an electric bike therefore.

Unfortunately, quality e-bikes are still expensive. Spending too little typically means you have an e-bike that does not have a power sensor on the bottom bracket (so the computer has no idea how hard you are pedaling and the pedaling level doesn't directly affect assist level). Typically on cheap e-bikes the motor is at the front wheel hub. Also on cheap e-bikes the battery is typically very small.

Fortunately, e-bike prices are continuously decreasing. So in few years, a quality mid-drive e-bike with decent half kilowatt hour battery can be bought for far less money than it costs today.

Riding on an e-bike is still considered "exercise" so it has major health benefits. However, by dressing suitably you won't become sweaty like you do on a regular bike if needing to ride uphill.

Also on an e-bike, if choosing a model that has pannier rack or installing an aftermarket pannier rack, you can carry a lot of stuff on the panniers. Far more than you can fit in a backpack, and far heavier stuff. On e-scooter where the rider is standing, typically the only feasible option to carry stuff is a backpack.

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  • Amazingly detailed answer. ⭐️
    – Nic
    Oct 9 '21 at 14:25
  • Food delivery bicycle riders in NYC use throttle controlled electric bicycles. The major bicycle makers don't really offer them but the laws allow them at 20 MPH. These are "Class 2" electric bicycles.
    – S Spring
    Oct 11 '21 at 12:57
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In general, any two or three wheeler with a one-speed transmission and no manual clutch, or with a two-speed automatic transmission, and a ~50cc engine, is a moped. Some states don't require tag and insurance but most states require a driver's license. Also, the top speed of the moped is likely required to be 30 MPH. Note that only "most states" require a driver's license.

If a traditional moped with larger diameter wheels is wanted then the Tomos was recently re-imported. Otherwise, Honda has a long-wheelbase 50cc rat scooter as well as traditional scooters. And Yamaha has some 50cc scooters.

I have previously suggested a new type of moped. The 50cc engine would go into a mountain-bike or beach-bike frame like a motorized bicycle. The moped would use mountain-bike wheels, tires, and brakes but DOT approved. So the moped would weigh about 60 to 75 pounds instead of double that amount. A computer would limit engine RPM to make the 30 MPH top speed but since the moped would have extra power available it would not slow down just because of going up hills. The moped would have a four-stroke engine for torque if not otherwise expected. Also, the one-speed moped would automatically clutch by control of a computer.

Motorized bicycle ? That currently and most often refers to a two-stroke engine put in a beach-bike frame. When the police are spotted just turn the engine off and pedal.

As for a bicycle I recommend a gravel-bike which is a lightweight bicycle with wide tires.

Electric bicycles are a problem because they are more often designed for top speed instead of hill climbing. In other words they are pedal assist but work best with faster pedaling. I think maybe we should go to throttle controlled electric bicycles with 20 MPH top speeds but most states would call that a moped and then make them illegal because of not having DOT tires.

Now Europe has light and heavy quadricycles that are four-wheel vehicles not regulated as cars. Take a look at the Twizy. But there is no such thing as a quadricycle in the U.S. and therefor a lot of three-wheel vehicles are being designed for the U.S. which are then regulated as motorcycles. The three-wheel vehicle works best as having two front wheels and one rear wheel.

Somehow kit cars come to mind. The Stalker 7 is one of many Lotus 7 variants. Or there is a Factory Five "AC Cobra" variant. In fact an aftermarket C3 Corvette frame can be used to build a kit car by replacing the OEM "birdcage" subframe with a roll cage. The result is not likely to have swinging doors.

A favorite small motorcycle is the KTM Duke 390 or RC 390. But Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha all have popular small motorcycles.

Basically, a person's life depends on their vehicle.

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  • Here is a full-size sit-down electric-scooter: images.app.goo.gl/7YK7yKyoPP3UJRfT8 . It looks very chunky. What is missing is a moped, designed like a mountain bike, that has a hydrogen fuel-cell. The mountain bike frame could hold the compressed hydrogen.
    – S Spring
    Apr 30 '19 at 20:17
  • A hydrogen fuel-cell would allow a smaller vehicle battery and save weight. A hydrogen fuel-cell sends electricity to the electric-motor/battery system. A city fueling system could be developed for a city-vehicle system.
    – S Spring
    Apr 30 '19 at 20:28
  • Honda has a "Super Cub" motorcycle that should be allowed in with moped laws. The Super Cub has a 125cc engine, a four-speed transmission, and an automatic clutch. Of course this is a motorcycle with large diameter wheels not a motor scooter with small diameter wheels.
    – S Spring
    May 25 '20 at 22:08
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Depending on what country/state you live in, a sub-50cc moped/scooter might be an option. Some areas allow these to be ridden with only an age requirement — no license needed.

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    I cannot understand why in the sustainability site the recommendation is to use a vehicle with very likely a two-stroke engine and no catalytic converter (although some do have a four-stroke engine, yet they still don't have a catalytic converter)!
    – juhist
    Apr 25 '19 at 17:32
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    Because it is more sustainable than a ICE car. There is no magical pass/fail threshold for "sustainability". Anything that is better than the "normal" option moves us in the right direction. Your personal standard for "sustainability" is pretty-much irrelevant, because no-one else shares exactly the same views. In other words, your way isn't the only way. Other approaches, which you may not agree with because they don't meet your personal standard, can be entirely appropriate/legitimate/valid.
    – Tim
    Apr 25 '19 at 22:10

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