– Pontiac, Michigan
Around the turn of the millennium, the landscape for portable digital music players was a mess, despite the technology being primed to explode. Such notable devices as the Nomad Jukebox, the Remote Solutions Personal Jukebox (both named by Boomers, I imagine), and the 2-gigabyte, $2,000 i2Go EGo roamed the Earth in small numbers and undoubtedly large pockets.
In 2001, Apple did its Apple thing with the original iPod, creating a device with middling specs, a high-ish price, locked into a proprietary (but excellent) software ecosystem, and offered a sleek industrial design that made everyone who saw it want one immediately.
Honda’s love-on-sight new Motocompacto arrives today on an e-scooter scene that’s roughly analogous to the MP3-player milieu of the early aughts. There are electric scooters and bike competitors with more power, range, and features, but I wonder if Honda doesn’t still have the advantage thanks to its impeccable design, attainable price tag, and overall ease of use.
|Quick Specs||Honda Motocompacto|
|Motor||Single Permanent Magnet, Direct Drive|
|Output||0.66 HP (490 Watts) / 11.8 LB-FT (16 NM)|
|Top Speed||15 Miles Per Hour|
A Kick In The Pants
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of piloting an electric bike or scooter, you might not realize that all of these devices are kind of a hoot. That same instantly available electric torque that throws you back in the seat of a powerful EV is present in a scooter like the Motocompacto, and even the modest 11.8 pound-feet is enough to make acceleration feel sprightly.
In fact, for new Motocompacto owners or those just getting used to an e-mobility device, Honda offers two, stepped modes of operation. In Mode 1, top speed is limited to just 10 miles per hour – suitable for newly minted or younger riders (Honda recommends riders be 14 years old or more). Mode 2, selectable via the one-button control pad under the digital display, ups the top speed to the full 15-mph maximum.
I tip the scales at about 250 pounds so I was ready to be mildly disappointed when I first straddled the Motocompacto and depressed the thumb-switch throttle (which you can watch below). Imagine my surprise then, when the be-wheeled white box sprang away from the start smartly, and topped out at 14 mph in what seemed like fewer than Honda’s claimed 0-15 time of seven seconds. Losing a bit of top speed for the heaviest riders (the maximum load rating is 265 pounds) isn’t a huge deal, when the initial acceleration is more than adequate for pulling away from stop lights and intersections in city traffic.
No Need To Drag A Knee
On the smooth pavement of the test area (a parking lot) the Motocompacto’s ride quality and stability were excellent. I don’t ride motorcycles at all, but if you can balance on a bicycle or stand on a scooter, you’ll have the skills needed here. Even weaving through a cone-described chicane at close to top speed, the scooter was really easy to manage. Steering via the centrally mounted handlebars was smooth, natural, and predictable, and leaning the machine into sweeping turns wasn’t the slightest bit spooky.
I found the riding position to be extremely upright, and at 6-foot-5 there was more bend in my knees than some of the shorter testers on site. But overall I can’t predict any ergonomic issues riding the Motocompacto even up to its 12-mile-range maximum.
The wide triangular seat is part of the magic here, offering just enough padding to reduce impact harshnesses you’ll no doubt encounter with those small wheels on crappy city streets. This is by no means an all-terrain vehicle, after all, but thankfully it’s so nimble that avoiding potholes can be a game, not a pain.
There’s just one drum brake, on the front wheel, and I was able to easily haul myself down from top speed, fluidly. The handlebar-mounted brake lever couldn’t be more conventional or effective in use, even with a rider of my weight.
Space For Activities
The brilliance of the Motocompacto’s other functionality – the bike was "born in LA, designed in Ohio, and manufactured and assembled in China" – is the form it inhabits. External elements like the rear wheel, seat and post, handlebars, and even the charger fold up into the narrow cavity in the body. Every one of those elements clicks into place and has a lock, and the scooter won’t power on unless you’ve done it all correctly, to avoid a suboptimal or dangerous ride (like when I tried to take off with the rear wheel still stowed).
Fully compacted (compacto-ed?) the Honda is just 3.7 inches wide, 21.1 high, and 29.2 long – a slender, 41.3-pound rectangle that’s easily managed with the integrated nylon handle. (If Honda doesn’t offer a shoulder strap for the Motocompacto post-launch, I’m sure the aftermarket develop one.) If you’re making a quick pitstop there’s also a loop integrated on the steel kickstand, just the right size for any standard bike lock.
The brilliance of the Motocompacto's other functionality... is the form it inhabits.
A huge side benefit of folding parts into the scooter’s body is that one has a useful bit of storage when riding around. While assembled to ride there’s a trunk-like cavity in the body. A skinny laptop bag or any laptop sleeve would stow in the slot without an issue, and it’s a great space to stuff any kind of soft-sided bag, a big burrito, or a huge sandwich (lunch is on you).
Folding up the Motocompacto, or getting it ready to ride, is more fiddly than I’d like. At least on my first three tries, getting the rear wheel deployed and handlebar locked into place (in both directions) wasn’t an obvious process. Honda is working on some quick video to show new owners how to open and close their scooter, and I anticipate that a bit of practice would have the process down to second nature in no time.
Just Look At It
The Motocompacto goes on sale this month, for a retail price of $995 (there are no fees beyond sales tax, according to Honda). You can order yours at the dedicated website or walk into a Honda or Acura dealer to make the purchase. And, at least based on the crazy response to my social media post last month, I think there are going to be a lot of takers at that price.
Honda has achieved something special with the minimalist design, that makes the Motocompacto feel desirable, almost as a knee-jerk reaction at first sight. The blunted rectangular shape is intended to be a kind of canvas for the sorts of stickers that now adorn our water bottles and laptop lids; and almost certainly the bikes will get wrapped for corporate sponsors and the like. But the clean, iPod-like silhouette will no doubt stay “factory” for many buyers – that’s how I’d rock mine.
Outfits like Super73, Juiced Bikes, and Revv 1 are around if you need an eBike with way more range and a more versatile operating envelope, for double or more the price Honda charges. For me though, having that “first mile/last mile” solution in a package I adore, from a company I’ve trusted for decades, is compelling. And just like so many of us buying our first iPod 20 years ago, there is something almost non-rational that makes the Motocompacto must-have – you can’t quantify cool.