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Unplugged summer tour is music to environmentalists’ ears

May, 2010

Haven’t we all experienced that one unrequited yearning during our lifetime, whether it is driving a Ferrari, spending a night in an eight-star hotel or hearing Leonard Cohen at a small venue?

For my wife, Marion, and me, it was a motor scooter. Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted what I thought others had — that carefree feeling, a warm breeze buffeting my face as I propelled down the road like a rocket at the great speed of 45 kilometres an hour. I secretly yearned to be an asphalt-fettered Amelia Earhart, my silk scarf fluttering in the wind. What a sense of freedom.

And I am not meant for a fancy two-wheel behemoth with a 200-page guide. My delight would be an unhurried 49cc that offers a pamphlet-sized manual.

Alas, our mothers jackhammered the fears of a hundred Golems into our brains. They proffered countless tragic narratives of friends or relatives who were disabled, disfigured or mauled at the mere thought of riding such a “deathtrap.”

Now safely in our 60s, Marion stalwartly decided to take the first, courageous plunge. She fulfilled her dream when she found a used scooter. Since we are mindful environmentalists, she was committed to one powered by electricity, and found a used “49cc classical” model from Motion Urbaine on Marquette St., at the corner of Mont Royal. Opened by affable Jean Pruneau, 34, five years ago, the store is one of two electro-scooter retailers in Montreal. Pruneau was looking for a business opportunity and since electric cars aren’t yet being sold in Canada, he settled on scooters.

Under the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec regulations, the driver of a 49cc (1,500 watts in electro parlance) motor scooter requires only a regular car license. The most powerful electric models fall into that category. Insurance runs about $170 a year.

All electric scooters in Canada are imported from Taiwan-based EVT, which is the only electric-scooter manufacturer approved by Transport Canada.

The slower, 500-watt models are equipped with pedals and are capable of top speeds of 25 km/h. They are considered bicycles, can use bicycle paths, and drivers require a license and insurance.

As to how far a scooter can go before electricking-up depends on a person’s driving style and geography—hilly terrain draws more power. A daily, overnight charge will do after a busy day.

Marion started to drive hers daily. She would go everywhere and she loved it. So I tested the scooter-driving waters and fought the ghosts of mothers past. And we quickly discovered that a scooter is a hard toy to share. So I bought my own.

Marion and Mark store their toys behind their house and often take them out to play. Photo: Scott Philip

I found a scooter on sale at Ecomoto Montreal, a one-year-old store on Notre Dame near Guy that was opened by 46-year-old David Goldmann with a little money from an inheritance. “I was looking around to buy myself a gift and I wanted a Vespa. But I was also fed up with anything that was gas. I fell in love with the electric scooter and I decided there was real potential for it in Montreal.”

Much to my surprise, both Goldman and Pruneau told me that I’m not the only over 55-er buying these scooters. It’s not your average 24-year-old flying on an aerodynamic Honda V4 Concept nor your 40-year-old Harley Davidson weekend road warrior. We’re buying them — readers of The Senior Times.

“Five years ago,” Pruneau explains, “when I first opened up, 90 per cent of my clients were baby boomers. Now, because EVT introduced other model styles we get younger people but still 50 per cent of my sales are to older people.”

Since they are considered bicycles, the 500-watt models provide a less strenuous way for seniors to enjoy the many bicycle paths that string the island. These models also afford the perfect alternative for people on the go, but who are concerned about the dangers of city traffic and want to travel on the paths.

Also, Goldman says seniors like the plug-and-play simplicity of these machines and “because they’re easy on the pocketbook.” The engines on these electro-scooters were designed with simplicity as an objective.

“One time a customer came in with a funny sound coming from the engine and I didn’t know what it was because we’ve never had to fix a bike,” Goldman says. He phoned the distributor in Vancouver and held the telephone to the scooter’s engine. “I was told right away what the problem was and how we were to fix it.” The part arrived within a few days.

Where gas scooters have hundreds of moving parts, the electric ones have almost none—no gears, no chains, just a throttle and a few batteries. And best of all, these bikes don’t need a muffler. They merely purr, hum and beep.

For me, simplicity means finding parking within 30 seconds of arriving where I work—downtown. I usually find a spot near a cluster of bikes or Bixis. I don’t need to pay for parking and the fuel cost to get downtown is about 10 cents.

Now, Marion and I don’t leave home without taking our “toys,” whether it’s to go grocery shopping, the bank, the gym or to visit friends.

Now our gas consuming, carbon-emitting, noisy car mostly sits idle—as it should.



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