Scooters with sass

The new locomotive craze that's sweeping Tel Aviv.

scooter 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
scooter 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
'Come on, try one out. It's easy," Arik Yehuda coaxes a few minutes after I arrive at his Trekker store in South Tel Aviv. "Do you know how to ride a motorcycle?" he asks after I reluctantly hand him my bag and glance suspiciously at the row of electric scooters lined up in a neat row outside the shop. Even after I shake my head, explain that it took years just to get rid of my training wheels and I came in high heels totally unprepared, he insists that I'll be fine as long as I can stand, push a brake with one hand and turn a handle with the other, all at the same time. "Just don't step off it until you've come to a complete stop," he says as I warily place one leg on the platform and both hands on the handlebars. I take off slowly, bringing my other leg up to a standing position to glide silently down the sidewalk. Faster than I imagined, I easily make my way down to the corner, slow down for a turn without falling off and return. Arik claps and says with a big smile. "See, wasn't that easy?" "Easy and fun," I reply. "Even in high heels you can ride one." I suddenly have a new appreciation for the craze that has swept through Tel Aviv like a hurricane. Electric scooters are bigger than Crocs. And prettier. Aside from the obvious advantages that electricity entails for the environment and noise pollution, it's also much simpler to ride than a bike. Five years ago, when Yehuda first started making his electric scooters, Gan Hahashmal was not yet the hip and trendy neighborhood it is today. "They destroyed most of the park to make an underground parking lot, so there was a giant hole, and they tore up the road so I didn't even have pavement in front of the shop for a year," he explains. For two years, he worked behind a closed shade in total secrecy, slowly perfecting his machinery. "The only people who came in then were friends who heard about what I was doing," he says. "It was all very underground." Three years ago, he started selling his first model of a Trekker scooter - a hybrid that ran on both gasoline and batteries. Today, he sells two electric models that are entirely battery operated: the 560 and the 560s with a seat. Each model weighs about 30 kilos and goes up to 30 kilometers per hour, although according to the law, one should not ride above 12 km/h. In fact, it is illegal to import Goped electric scooters from the US, but legal to buy Trekker's models, both of which have the same abilities when it comes to speed. Goped, an American company that sells more than 100 million electric scooters a year, sells scooters with suspension that have a wooden platform. But Trekker is the first and only Israeli-made version on the market, and Yehuda says the biggest difference is the purpose for which they are made. "Goped's scooters are used a lot for racing, whereas we are making single-person transportation platforms with customizable colors and wheels. I saw their model in the United States and I knew I could do it better," he adds. "I'm making a more stable scooter with nice brakes and a strong, durable platform. And the suspension only adds one more thing that can go wrong. You cannot have proper suspension at the price they're selling, and no one knows how to build a knee, which is the best suspension. My motto is to keep it simple." Yehuda went to the University of New Haven in Connecticut to study engineering and finished his BS degree in 1995, but he says he always had a natural understanding of metal and machinery. "It's ironic because I went to the United States to study after the Technion didn't accept me, but when I returned to Israel, I taught a course there." After teaching logistics for a few years and a short stint working in hi-tech, Yehuda decided it was time to put his knowledge of metal and wheels together. "There's too much metal on the road," he says. "It's not logical that we are taking so much metal out of the ground and consuming so much gasoline. The big companies are in control of the market, but I knew I could make something small and cheap that anyone could afford for transportation. It doesn't make any sense that a person should drive 1,500 kilos of metal when they really only need 30 to get where they're going." Because the electric scooter requires no physical exertion, you can also dress nicely. You avoid traffic jams by riding on sidewalks and in narrow spaces, you don't have to pay outrageous gasoline prices and it folds up so you can carry it with you wherever you go. So what's the downside? Well, it may be inexpensive compared to a car, but it's not what anyone could call cheap - NIS 5,800 without a seat and NIS 6,300 with a seat, including tax. Another problem is the battery life. Although it's supposed to last up to 20 km. for one person, if you're on the heavy side, you're riding with more than one person or you're lugging groceries home, that number decreases dramatically. But as long as you don't need it for long distances, the battery life doesn't pose a big problem. The other issue is theft. People will steal anything that stands still, and scooters are a lot more expensive than bikes. "I'm a wheel and gear freak," says Yehuda, showing me the wooden cabinet where the scooters used to be manufactured until the company opened a small factory down the street and turned this into a proper store. "My goal is to make Israel a greener, nicer place and build something solid that will get people where they're going."