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And they're off: (from left) Nicholas Mobayed on a Trikke, Bob Boersen on a Segway and Gordon Torbet on a Tante Paula electric scooter, at the Dubai Kartdrome.
And they're off: (from left) Nicholas Mobayed on a Trikke, Bob Boersen on a Segway and Gordon Torbet on a Tante Paula electric scooter, at the Dubai Kartdrome.

Lean, green thrilling machines

How practical and fun are the current innovations in personal electric mobility? Gordon Torbet hits the track

It's the one everyone's been waiting for: the most exciting track test of the year in Motoring. No, there are no Maseratis or Aston Martins involved here, but we're still pushing machines to their limit. This green grand slam is a head-to-head run-in with three revolutionary future vehicles - the Segway i2, the Tante Paula electric scooter and the Trikke uPT - each one unique in its characteristics and eager to fight it out at breakneck speed on the 1.2km, FIA-sanctioned Dubai Kartdrome circuit, with its 17 demanding turns and lightning-fast pit straight.

It's 9am and the tension in the air is electric. Not a whiff of petrol fumes is being carried on the light westerly breeze. The three riders prepare themselves: myself, a greying petrolhead motoring journo; Bob Boersen, a 6'8" city businessman: and Nicholas Mobayed, president and CEO of the Bond Group, which imports and sells the Trikke uPT in the region. One man, at least, is confident of victory - Mobayed has, after all, spent a lot more time on the Trikke than either Boersen on the Segway or myself on the Tante Paula electric scooter. As we wait for the chequered flag to drop, we edge forward, tantalising our opponents. With a rev of our electric motors, we're off, and the electric scooter and Trikke uPT (or Ultralight Personal Transporter) immediately pull away from the Segway, which, even with "tortoise" speed restriction mode switched off, is left in the dust. Then, the svelte Trikke uPT begins to pull into the lead, and into the first turn you can see how effective the patented cambering mechanism allows the rider to lean deep into the corner.

Tante Paula actually means Aunt Paula in German, so it's possibly not absolutely designed for our "high speed" track test. But the grip levels on the 12 -inch tyres are pretty impressive, while braking before the sharp uphill turn two is positively raucous with ventilated front and rear discs - a feature also shared with the Trikke, which is slowed by a vented disc on each rear wheel. Meanwhile, the Segway, immortalised in the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop, doesn't have traditional brakes. Instead, you lean forward to speed up and lean backward to slow down. But it's all a bit inexact, especially when you are 6'8" and hooning it around a race track.

"Hooning" may not be the correct term, as none of the green meanies pushes much more than 30kph, with the Segway decidedly pedestrian at just 20kph - which is actually quite sensible considering it's designed to be used around pedestrians. It's power to weight that seems to be the key to victory on the Kartdrome circuit. Weighing in at a comparatively featherweight 17kg - a third of the weight of the Segway and less than half the weight of the Tante Paula scooter - the Trikke uPT crosses the line in a spritely two minutes and 51 seconds, while the electric scooter follows in three minutes and 24 seconds. A cup of coffee later and the Segway trundled past the flag in three minutes and 46 seconds.

For comparison, a quick jaunt around the track on a race kart can take less than a minute. Obviously, and thankfully, these gadgets weren't designed for a track. It's all about everyday practicality, convenience, manoeuvrability, and enjoyment, not to mention their design and that "X-factor" appeal. So let's look at everyday practicality. If you intend riding from home, then all three eco-trippers measure up, but if you're planning on loading them into your car and driving to a suitable location then they are all pretty cumbersome. The 17kg Trikke folds virtually flat thanks to a locking mechanism that allows all three aluminium tubes to collapse together, and it will lie across the back seat of a small sedan. But the 47kg Segway and 43kg Tante Paula are both a real workout to lift - in fact, you can't get the Segway into a sedan. The electric scooter concedes a removable saddle and fold-down handlebars, but you are still lugging the weight of a teenager around. Light weight does have its disadvantages, as the Trikke's aerospace-grade aluminium frame can be easily carried off if left unattended.

The weight issue spills over into convenience as well, and convenience is where the Trikke comes into its own. Imagine you're zipping along on your Segway or scooter and you suddenly run out of power. With the Segway, you fall off because the technology that keeps you stable on its two 18-inch wheels only works when you have charge. With the scooter, you grind to a halt and hopefully don't fall off. But with both, you then have to push them to an electric socket (assuming you have your charger with you and around three hours to spare). However, with the Trikke you have several options: the battery is light enough that you can actually carry a spare and switch them over when one runs out; or you can find a coffee shop, plug in the battery while you sup on a latte and an hour later you'll have 80 per cent charge; or you can get a bit of exercise and ride the Trikke as it was originally designed - using your body and legs to propel you back home with a carving motion inspired by the action of skiing.

In terms of manoeuvrability, it has to be a draw between the Trikke and the Segway. Although the Trikke can take tight turns with all three wheels in touch with the tarmac and has two speed modes for easier control, the Segway is the only one that has a turning circle of zero metres and can propel itself backwards. Meanwhile, the scooter's wheels in the standard front and rear configuration allow it to tackle slightly more challenging terrain - gravel and long grass, for example. And let's not forget, you also get a comfy padded saddle for those journeys to the health food store.

You might think that the Trikke has the competition sewn up - it's faster, lighter, quicker to charge, you'll never have to push it and it's more transportable. But a quick straw poll of around 20 individuals proved that, while they could see the advantages of three wheels, the Segway pipped the Trikke to the post for sheer riding fun, unique design and technological wizardry that integrates you so well with the machine. Of course, to be fair we didn't mention the price you pay for all that engineering, which includes a locking device and security alert if the Segway is tampered with.

Even so, for its sheer versatility, compact design, power, speed, longevity, its option to be man-powered, the fun of zigzagging from side to side, and the price, the Trikke uPT has to take the chequered flag. motoring@thenational.ae

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