It’s a brisk, sunny morning in late summer, the perfect time to be outside in New York City. I’m cruising up the Brooklyn Bridge, sipping an ice coffee and charging my phone. My ride is the URB-E Pro-GT, a $1,999 electric scooter that bills itself as the ultimate in lightweight urban vehicles. It gets me to and from work, a roughly four-mile commute, in the same amount of time as my bicycle. But it doesn’t leave me sweaty, and it tucks neatly under my desk. “No motors!” screams an angry cyclist heading in the opposite direction on the bridge. Well, you can’t please everybody.
I first rode a prototype URB-E back at CES 2014. At the time, it was a tricycle without much acceleration. Riding it made you feel... silly. Two years later, I got the chance to test out the first commercially available product. I liked it a lot, but there were still moments when it felt a little underpowered compared to a bicycle, and the front wheel drive meant the handling could be a bit jumpy.
The URB-E Pro and Pro-GT have been tweaked to address some of those concerns. It’s now rear wheel drive, which makes steering more stable, and it’s got coilover suspension and pneumatic tires, which deliver a smoother ride on bumpy terrain. Finally, it has a 350-watt brushless motor that ups the top speed from 14 to 18 miles per hour, and also gives a big boost to your acceleration. A 28 percent bump to the maximum speed makes a huge difference on the road, and I found I was now passing bicycles more often than they were passing me.
Of course, all these improvements come at a price. The URB-E Pro and Pro-GT retail for $1,699 and $1,999, respectively, a jump from the $1,500 it cost to get an URB-E back in 2015. URB-E says that the GT offers better acceleration and handling over the standard Pro model, thanks to the inclusion of a high-performance programmed controller. The older, less fully featured models of the URB-E, now called Sport and Sport-GT, are available for $899 and $1,099, but don’t get the same boost to their speed, acceleration, tires, or suspension.
Now, all that power and the rear wheel drive can take a minute to master. Almost everyone who tried my unit made the same initial mistake, cranking too hard on the throttle, sending the front wheel rearing up. After that, however, most people were riding confidently within 10 minutes. That’s a big change from the unit I reviewed back in the winter of 2015, which scared off about half the people who took it for a spin.
The rear wheel drive and the short stature can also be an issue in the rain. I got caught in a shower once while riding, and the URB-E continued to handle well. But I got a huge, muddy water stain up my back from the spray coming off the rear tire. A mud flap or fender would do wonders here.
The URB-E Pro-GT has a 35-volt, 50-cell, lithium-ion battery. I find it gets around 20 miles per charge, a little less if your trip includes a lot of steep hills. You need a key to start, and you can leave the battery locked in place. An extra turn of the key, and the battery slips out of the front column, which connects to the wheel and pairs with the handlebars.
One of the company’s major marketing lines with the latest URB-E is that it’s both a vehicle and a mobile power source. It has four USB type 2 ports, a USB-C port, and the option to adapt for two AC power slots. URB-E says its battery holds five charges for a MacBook and 40 for an iPhone, and it imagines the modern consumer pulling the battery out to offer it up as a power station for all their friends at a picnic. I never used it that way, but I did enjoy getting on the URB-E on my way to and from work and never having to worry that my iPhone might be low on battery.
The unit I tested, like earlier models, is easy to open and close. It hinges at the seat and can fold up into a relatively slim package. The previous model was awkward to move around when it was folded up. The new version is much easier to wheel around when closed, but it’s still too heavy, at 35 pounds, to be an easy carry for anything more than a short distance. URB-E has added a kickstand, which makes it easier to store upright.
URB-E likes to highlight its scooters as a flexible option for last mile commuting. If you fold it up, it can fit easily between your legs while you’re standing on a subway or a bus. I was able to squeeze it onto a moderately crowded elevator several times without knocking into anyone. For a commute that requires some time on a mass-transit vehicle, the URB-E is a better option than a full-sized bicycle. But you’re not going to have a great experience if you need to go up and down a lot of stairs, as I would when riding the New York City subway.
So, who is this unit right for? I just finished testing out the Copenhagen Wheel, and electric bike that provides an assist when you pedal. I liked it because it offered a boost to my speed without eliminating all the exercise. So, if you want your commute to be part of your fitness routine, the URB-E isn’t a great choice. It also won’t work for commutes over 20 miles or for people who want serious speed. A 10-mile commute is going to clock in at about 40 minutes if you’ve got any traffic lights to deal with along the way.
The URB-E Pro GT is great for people who don’t want to exercise or don’t have room for a bike in their daily commute. That might mean you have no room to store it in your apartment or office, or a trip that requires you to spend some time on a fairly crowded train or bus.
Last but not least, it’s definitely not as dorky as it once was. I got more compliments than chuckles riding it around New York City this past summer. But for now, it’s something new and different, so you’ve got to be the kind of person who enjoys stares, questions, and the occasional put-down as you’re working your way through the streets.