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Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff
Smooth, quiet ride
Dual motor and three speed modes
Could use a real carrying handle
Handle bars do not fold down
At $990, the Unagi E500 costs more than some mopeds and is more than triple the price of most other electric scooters. But then none of them have the E500’s dual motors, E-brakes, multiple modes, in-handle screen, and ride quality. This is escooter as investment in a long-term quality ride, one that I think serious commuters might be willing to make.
I am not a risk taker, and cruising through the streets of Manhattan at 13 mph on little more than a 18.5-in.x 5.5-inch platform seems more than risky. It’s an insane idea, and now one that I wholly embrace and love.
New York City isn’t ready for banks of electric scooters nestled beside its popular City Bikes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ride an electric scooter in the metropolis’s many bike lanes. That’s why I see a future for the excellent Unagi E500 foldable electric scooter in Manhattan.
The E500 is a 26.5 lb aluminum and carbon fiber electric scooter that might reasonably be called the Tesla of escooters. It’s sleek, yet formidable. It’s all smooth lines and curves, yet sturdy. It’s looks simple and yet, from its rubber-covered handle bar to the relatively large based and wheels, is packed with cutting edge mobile technology.
Instead of a single electric motor, Unagi’s $990 rideable features a pair of 250W electric motors. In the handlebar is a monochromatic screen that keeps track of speed, distance, mode, number of motors in use, battery life, and the shockingly bright LED headlight.
Speed and braking controls are in a pair of highly-sensitive, thumb-ready levers. The right one smoothly ramps up the speed, while the left applies the E500’s E-ABS braking system.
It ships with a 67.2W proprietary charger that plugs into the base and charges the 9000 mAh lithium ion battery in roughly 5 hours. That might seem a little slow, but it’s not like I was charging it every day. A typical charge should last 15.5 miles.
The Unagi E500 arrives almost fully assembled. I still had to plug the handlebar into the scooter’s thin, white neck and then attach it with four Allen wrench bolts. Unagi smartly includes the Allen wrench.
I stepped back and took a good look at the scooter. It was larger than I remembered from when I first encountered it at CES 2020. The base looked huge compared to the Razor scooters my kids used to ride. The solid rubber wheels also appeared oversized (a fact I would later come to appreciate).
For maximum portability, the Unagi E500 folds in half. There’s a release near the base of the neck. To fold it down, I needed to shift the shaft a bit and then press down the release. The neck and handle fold down to the base, locking in position so that the handle bar is centered over the platform. That neck or stem becomes a carrying handle. Still, at 26.5 lbs., the Unagi E500 is not light, and can be unwieldy.
Each day, I would, after riding through the city, fold the scooter and carry it onto my commuter train. Then I had to lift it up over my head and put it on the rack. It fits easily but getting it there and up on that rack isn’t easy. The handles, which do not fold down, make it particularly hard. I hope future Ungai’s let me fold or detach those rubber handles.
Every ride on the Unagi E500, though, made me forget the commuter train struggles.
I had several riding choices. There are three speed ranges, signified by "1," "2," and "3" on the screen and activated by double pressing on a small button on the right handle. I could also choose to ride using one or two motors. That selection was controlled by a double press of the power button (a 3-second press turns the scooter on and off).
For my first ride through mid-town, I chose Level 1, which kept my speed at around 10 mph. After the first ride, I realized this was too slow. I did try Level 3, which can go as fast as 17 mph, but decided that was a little too fast for a city where people darted out from between cars and taxis regularly cut you off. Level 2, which kept me at about 13 mph, became my go-to mode.
I did try using both motors, but found that the torque was so strong it felt like the scooter would take off without me.
Most of my Unagi E500 rides were whisper silent and smooth as butter. The large wheels easily traversed small bumps and divots. On the other hand, the lack of air-filled tires and shock absorption meant I felt bigger bumps and potholes in my spine. I learned to steer around the worst of them.
This is an expertly designed, well-balanced scooter and, even when I was cruising at walking speed, I never felt in danger of tipping over. The platform is large enough to support both my size-11 feet. The braking system is responsive, smooth, but also sure. I could come to a hard stop If I needed too.
I rode the Unagi E500 in what I’d call a high state of alert. There’s a lot of activity on Manhattan streets and I wanted to avoid collisions, huge bumps, and be ready to stop on a dime. That meant keeping my left thumb poised over the break lever, even though my hand sometimes wanted to wrap fully around the comfortable rubber handle.
I did, of course, wear a helmet (a nice, lightweight Bontrager Trek Specter WaveCel Helmet with an easy-to-use magnetic latch chin strap).
Unagi rates the E500 as able to handle up to a 15-degree incline. This meant I had no trouble handling curb cuts, but did not approach more aggressive hills. In my own suburban neighborhood, I accidentally rode onto grass. The Unagi E500 did not like it. I got off and walked it to a hard sidewalk surface.
I rode on nice days, cold days, and even in light rain (it’s IP 54 rated). It was exhilarating and an enormous time-saver. The only thing I dreaded was wrestling it onto my commuter train, praying I didn’t poke or bluntly stab someone else with one of the rubber handles.
At night, I turned on the 1.8W LED headlight, which ably illuminated the ground in front of me and signaled my arrival to motorists and other commuters. There’s also a tiny kickstand stored under the platform that I used when I stored it at work.
Battery life appears to be on par with the 15 mile promised range, though I noticed that dual-motor usage did run through battery life a little more quickly. I was also afraid to run the scooter to empty, fearing I could be stranded with it in the middle of the city.
It took no time to learn how to ride the Unagi E500 escooter. I simply stepped on with one foot, pushed off gently with the other and pressed down on the accelerator button. What took more time was figuring out where in the city I could ride without breaking the law or putting myself in mortal danger. After a couple of days, I was zipping along at well-worn bike path like a pro, gliding in between pedal pushers and other ebike riders. Occasionally, one of them would glance over at my ride and give me a little nod that assumed meant, “Nice wheels.”
Aside from the weight and difficult train commute, my only other major criticism is the price. At $990, the Unagi E500 costs more than some mopeds and is more than triple the price of most other electric scooters. But then none of them have the E500’s dual motors, E-brakes, multiple modes, in-handle screen, and ride quality. This is escooter as investment in a long-term quality ride, one that I think serious commuters might be willing to make.