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Riding the Bolt Original e-scooter: A fresh take on mobility?

Pocket-lint logo Pocket-lint 17/05/2019 pocket-lint.com
a person riding a skate board on a city street: bolt scooter image 1 © Provided by Pocket Lint Limited bolt scooter image 1

Usain Bolt has a mobility company. Yes, the charismatic Olympic sprinter is looking to solve the world's mobility problems with the launch of a new e-scooter rental service

Introduced as "co-founder and backer" on stage at VivaTech, in Paris - where Bolt is looking to get started in Europe - Bolt's involvement in the company isn't exactly clear. On the company's website he's described as "ambassador and investor", but we get the sense he's going to very much be the public face of this mobility brand.

The opening of the European launch saw Dr Sarah Haynes, co-CEO, chairwoman and co-founder (a heady mix of job titles), starting with a quick message that other companies were trying to trade off an association with Usain Bolt, although no names were mentioned. Etergo - a Dutch company was rebranded from Bolt Mobility in 2018 and Taxify from Estonia has an e-scooter called Bolt too.

It's a slightly confusing start for Bolt's venture into urban mobility, hustling for space not only in brand name, but on Paris' already crowded pavements, alongside the likes of Lime, Bird and Wind. 

Outside the VivaTech show buildings we find the Bolt stand, setup to allow test rides on a short track, giving us the chance to get some first-hand experience with these new scooters.

A tweak in scooter design 

Evolving from manual scooters - yes, the ones where you push with your feet - many electric scooters see your feet sideways, at an angle or one behind the other, which Bolt is using as a point of differentiation. With footplates with side of the central spine, you stand facing forward.

It's wider than many e-scooters, but the foot plates on some of the Bolt scooters can flip up out of the way. We say some, because we've encountered a number of prototypes. The Bolt Original - which we get a ride on - seems to be exactly what you'd expect. While it offers those front-facing footplates, it's not hugely different to other electric scooters already available to rent or buy.

a motorcycle parked in a parking lot: bolt scooter image 3 © Provided by Pocket Lint Limited bolt scooter image 3

It's also this model that will be launching on Paris' streets this month - rather than the more advanced scooters. 

The Bolt One is an evolution of the Original, adding a removable battery and through some tweaking to the handlebars, there are cupholders too. These seem to be the things that animated Usain Bolt the most at the launch - again, a point of differentiation should your short ride on a rental scooter happen to coincide with that moment you wish to have a drink. There's also a light. 

The Bolt Chariot is altogether more ostentatious. Again with a removable battery, the argument is that you can take the batteries out to the scooters rather than having to collect all the scooters for recharging and potentially save emissions in the process - but how that dovetails with cleaning and maintenance when servicing a large rental fleet remains to be seen.

bolt scooter image 6 © Provided by Pocket Lint Limited bolt scooter image 6

What the Chariot also offers is an open cage between your feet that will provide somewhere to put a small bag. That could mean that your rucksack can come off your shoulders with the scooter taking the weight, lowering the centre of gravity for increased stability. 

The latter two scooters, however, were described as "prototypes" to us and that slightly haphazard feeling we encountered at the presentation on stage trickles down here too. The scooters are stickered with the B emblem, covering up the "Bolt" branding that's previously been in place - a hang-up of that conflict with other Bolt brands? 

It rides like any other scooter

Putting those oddities aside, we accept the opportunity to take the Bolt Original for a quick spin. The test track is a short out and back and doesn't give us the chance to get the scooter up to the maximum 25kph legal speed limit. We do concede to wear the helmet as directed and interestingly, all those who sign up to the service will reportedly get a free helmet.

Suitably protected, to get the Bolt Original moving you need to push off to get rolling, then depress the handlebar lever to bring in the power. It's about as simple as it can get, but very much the same as other e-scooters. What you can't do is apply the power from stationary - you have to be moving first. 

Once underway, it feels stable enough, the brake meaning you can decelerate with some control. E-scooters are popular because they are so easy to jump on and use. It's basically just standing, and pretty much everyone who can stand can use one. 

E-scooters face a rocky ride

Bolt, or Bolt Mobility, seems to have safety at the forefront of its mind. Accidents are plaguing the arrival of e-scooters, with over 1500 injuries reported in the US, a fatality in Belgium in April and other reports seeing talk of making helmets compulsory, bans in some zones, restrictions on parking locations and plenty more, putting pressures on those companies operating in this new market.

In the UK, e-scooters aren't legal: it's illegal to take them on the road and it's illegal to ride them on the pavement. That's not through some quick thinking that's stopped scooter rental companies invading the UK's cities - it's a convenient Catch 22 that was already in place. Other countries, it seems, might be moving to tighten regulation to control the wave of e-scooters appearing on city streets.

Those wanting to jump on-board and ride with Usain Bolt will have to download the app to get started, but with plenty of competition already in places like Paris, Bolt is going to have to do some serious marketing and add his personal touch to convince people to jump over to his new service. 

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