Tag Archives: electric scooter

The Agony and Ecstasy of Personal Transport

I don’t drive. Crazy, I know. Even coming from Hobart, living 20 minutes by car from the CBD, or 40 minutes by bus, I’ve never really found the need. And if I didn’t need to drive in Hobart, where everywhere is at least a good twenty minutes away by car, then I probably wasn’t going to need to drive when I moved to Brisbane, a city with vastly better public transport infrastructure than Hobart.

But for a little while now, I’ve wanted to explore Brisbane. I’ve visited all the big shopping centres, walked through all the Westfields, and now feel as though it’s time to branch out. As much as I like walking, walking has two major downsides. For starters, it takes a long time if you want to go anywhere, and walking outside in Brisbane heat might as well be classified as self-harm.

So for the past couple of months, I’ve been asking myself: how do I get around Brisbane that isn’t walking or driving?

Biking is the most obvious answer. You could probably pick up a semi-decent bike for under $1000, and would easily satisfy any kind of personal transport you had. While I’ve always been impartial to biking, I’ve never owned a nice bike, so now is probably not the time to start. Besides, the thought of having to ride on the road, alongside cars, is kinda scary. Yes, I know bike paths exist, and Brisbane has some very nice bike paths that look increasingly tempting and very rideable, but there are a few things that keep me from going all-out and buying a nice bike.

If I’m going to get a nice bike, I’m probably going to want some kind of return on investment. It seems crazy to have a really nice bike only to ride it on the weekends, which means I’m probably going to want to ride to work. But what kind of person voluntarily does hard physical exercise for 20-30 minutes, twice per day, in anywhere between 25º and 35º heat? Even if my workplace has great after-trip facilities, there’s no getting around the fact that I’m going to arrive at work as a gross, sweaty mess every single morning. Nobody wants that.

Besides, some quick maths says that a nice $2000 bike, at current public transport prices, is going to take over a year of riding to work before it pays itself off. And if I’m being honest, “biking culture”, if we’re calling it that, is a little too serious for me. Strike bikes off the list, at least for now.

What about an electric skateboards? They’re all the rage these days. Even if they seem a little “how do you do, fellow kids”, they’re actually super cool. The two most popular names, Boosted Boards or Queensland’s own Evolve, are definitely not for the faint hearted. A guy I know has the Evolve Carbon GT, and it’s basically the Ferrari of electric skateboards, with carbon fibre construction and an insane 1500W behind each rear wheel. Unfortunately, the Evolve Carbon GT, being the Ferrari of electric skateboards (after seeing it you’d want nothing else), comes with a price tag to match; the all-terrain model comes in at a touch under $2000, and for that money you could get a very sweet bike indeed. So cross electric skateboards off the list, too.

Which is where the Xiaomi M365 comes into play.

The M365 was perfect. Not overly flashy, but capable enough of getting me from A to B. It was the cheap and cheerful alternative to whatever else I was thinking of buying, and for a while there, was the thing for personal transport. I can only begin to describe what it felt like, scooting around the local neighbourhood, on my way to the shops to pick a few things up, or feeling the wind in my face after a long day at work. When it was good, it was great. That’s “ecstasy”, or at least was.

Unfortunately, long-term reliability issues made the M365 less appealing than what I originally thought it was going to be. I ended up clocking less than 200KMs on that thing, which seems like a terrible shame for how much I spent on it. While it’s entirely possible that later revisions have fixed the problems I (and many others across the world) have experienced, that’s kind of the price you pay for being an early adopter of a new and groundbreaking method of personal transport from a company with no proven track record in the field.

What about a regular skateboard? Too pedestrian.

A longboard? Too impractical.

A Segway? Too nerdy, even for me.

An electric bike? Too expensive.

A Vespa? Good heavens, no.

In light of any real options, it looks like the jury’s still out on what the most suitable of personal transport is.

In terms of daily commutes, I’m pretty lucky. It’s a short 2.5 KM walk between home and work. If I don’t feel like walking (which is, if I’m honest, all the time, even when it’s not 30ºC before 9am), work is just one train stop away, and living closer to the CBD than my work is means that I’ve never had to deal with the hell that is a packed train during peak, as fun as my colleagues tell me that sweat-pit sardine experience is.

All of this will change next year when I move. My daily commute via public transport will go from 15 minutes to somewhere in the 40 minute range, and to make matters worse, I’ll have to switch transport methods along the way; either taking a bus then a train, or a train then a bus, or two busses. This particular public transport debacle probably could have avoided if I chose a better location to buy my own place, but eh, that’s just how it goes. It’ll have to do.

I figure if I’m going to invest in some kind of personal transport to make my daily commute a little easier, I might as well do it now while I have an easy commute. Unfortunately, even though my commute will take longer, I shouldn’t be paying any more for it after I move, so I might as well get something now so it can start paying for itself while I have an easy commute, instead of next year when I have a terrible commute.

My head says I should get a bike. It’s the practical, sensible option. I’ve got most of the bits I need for practical commuting and some I don’t, including clip-in pedals and shoes, and would really only need a rack to store a change of clothes in two and from work.

On the other hand, my heart wants an electric skateboard. It’s the cool, fun option. There’s no risk of suffering from heat-related injuries during my everyday commute, I don’t have to worry about bike maintenance or the potential of a flat when I’m halfway into my ride, and if I buy an Evolve, at least I’ll have some kind of local warranty if things go wrong.

All I know is, I’ve been thinking about this on and off for the past few months, ever since my electric scooter died, and I’m still no closer to a decision. That’s agony.

The Xiaomi M365 Electric Scooter, Part II: Electric Boogaloo

This post is part two of my experience with the Xiaomi M365 electric scooter. Reading part one is recommended, but not necessary.

As much as I enjoy scooting around on the Xiaomi M365 electric scooter, I find it very difficult to recommend to someone who wants to pick up something for personal transport. Some of it has to do with quality control, some of it has to do with design flaws, but ultimately, the reliability just wasn’t there for the model/revision I purchased back in January 2017 (more on this later).

It’s February, 2017. I’m barely a few weeks into electric scooter ownership, a total of 70KMs on the clock, when I scoot right into my first show-stopping issue: a flat rear tyre. At first I have no idea what’s wrong. I’m minding my own business, enjoying the joys of personal transport and riding along, when suddenly the back feels sluggish. It isn’t until I get home that I realise that the rear tyre is looking a little flat. I don’t even own a bike pump, so I can’t see what the issue might be.

She’s flat, Jim.

A quick trip to the local bike shop and I now own a bike pump. But there’s more bad news: while the tyre inflates, as soon as I inflate it to a certain point, it deflates again. Kinda weird. I’m no mechanic, but at this point I’m thinking it’s the inner tube — there’s no signs of a puncture or any other kind of damage on the rear tyre itself, so it must be the inner tube, right?

Tyre, wheel, and inner tube. Getting them apart was a feat in and of itself.

I get no help from the place of purchase (unless you’re counting “take it to the local scooter repair place” as help), so I pick up a few inner tubes I think will fit from Ali Express. A few tyres, while I’m at it, just in case. A few weeks go by; shipping from China is slow, and I am impatient. I set aside a weekend to do the deed, and following an afternoon of the ugliest work I’ve ever done, I get the rear wheel of the scooter, the tyre off the wheel, and replace the inner tube. The replacement valve sticks out a little more than the previous one, but it’s nothing that isn’t fixed by a cable tie.

One repaired rear wheel, now with cable tie to prevent the new valve from contacting the chassis.

Not exactly a heads-up display, but works in a pinch for working out where I want to go.

My suspicions were right; some kind of split in the inner tube that only opened when it was filled with air was preventing it from inflating all the way. Probably a manufacturing defect, but we’re back in business, and that’s all that matters. And for a while, everything is great. I get a case for my iPhone and a little velco, and pretty soon I have my own on-board computer that I can use for navigation.

I’ve started noticing that the range indicator has become less and less inaccurate over time. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to affect my actual range – even with 0KM showing, I can still scoot along, just more slowly than normal. I pass it off as the battery needing calibration or something. Then it happens — with 100KMs on the clock, I run into my second show-stopping issue. One day, the scooter just stops turning on. And with no way to turn it on, there’s no way to charge the battery.

Unfortunately, things get a little complicated here as now electricity is involved, and I’m no electrical engineer. I open up the scooter anyway, and nothing seems particularly broken that would indicate a major fault with the battery. I get the retailer involved again, and this time they’re nice enough to send out a replacement battery. I discover the product page for the electric scooter now has a warning about only using 220V mains to charge the scooter that definitely wasn’t there when I purchased it back in January. I wonder why the warning was added, and theorise that the higher charging voltage has worn the battery down somehow. Nothing on the internet I can find indicates what kind of an effect higher input voltage would have on a universal power adapter (which definitely says it’s compatible with Australian 240V mains), so I can only speculate.

Weeks pass. While I’m waiting for a replacement battery to arrive, I find a French blog about the Xiaomi M365, including detailing issues about the battery and fuses. I discover that people other than myself have had issues with the battery; fuses that have failed, or faulty connections which mean the proper voltage isn’t provided to the electrics, which means the scooter doesn’t turn on. Hundreds of pages on a Spanish forum say that there’s a design flaw within the regenerative braking system which results in a fuse blowing if too much current is passed to the battery at a time, or when current is passed to the battery when it’s already full. There’s plenty of useful stuff there too, including all of the mods people have done to their scooter, but none of it is particularly helpful. I will point out the 149-page unofficial user’s guide PDF that they’ve put together for the scooter, featuring all kinds of information from people who have taken their scooters apart and put them back together again. It’s entirely in Spanish, but there’s enough photos that you should get a good idea of what you’re looking at.

At the end of May, the replacement battery arrives. It’s basically identical to the one I pull out of the scooter, with the important distinction that this one actually works. With a working battery in the scooter, I take apart the old battery and test it using instructions from the Spanish forum. It seems normal enough — the output is 42V, the fuse seems to be intact, so perhaps the battery cells themselves that are dead.

I take it pretty easy on the scooter for a few weeks, only riding it to and from the Valley on weekends for one of my weekly grocery runs. The thrill of riding the electric scooter is now tempered by the anxiety that this will battery will likely fail as well. I contemplate buying a voltage converter so I can charge the scooter using 220V. But a good quality one is about $200, and you can understand my hesitation on spending even more money on something that has already had so many issues with less than 200 KMs on the clock. For now, I’m just thankful that the scooter is back in the land of the living.

It’s September, and I’m riding the scooter into work on a bright Saturday morning. I brake to come to stop at a pedestrian crossing 200 metres from work, and while I’m almost stopped, I suddenly lose all braking power. I don’t notice something is wrong until the light turns green; I push off into the pedestrian crossing, press the accelerator, only for nothing to happen. I try pressing the power button in the middle of the road, but nothing happens. She’s dead, Jim, and I spend the rest of the 200m kicking my scooter along, and cursing the time I decided to buy an electric scooter.

By this time, you can probably understand I’ve had enough. The scooter doesn’t turn on, and frankly, I don’t care. It’s probably a blown fuse, thanks to the issue that decides to pass power to the battery when you’re braking. If I wanted to, I could probably swap the controller board from my old battery into the new battery, but I’m finding it hard to muster up the motivation to spend time and energy on a product that has already proven to be unreliable.

For what it’s worth, there’s speculation on the internet that later revisions of the M365, or versions with a certain firmware, have fixed the issue where the regenerative breaking will attempt to push more power to the battery than it can handle. As far as I’m aware, I was using the latest scooter and BMS firmware available, and still managed to (probably) blow a fuse on my battery, so I’m not sure how much stock you can put in that speculation. It’s also possible that I got a second dud battery, but the manufacturing dates on both batteries differ by about six months, so I’m not sure what else would have made a difference in terms of reliability. And plus, it was working fine for a few weeks, even if I was only riding it once or twice per week.

It was fun while it lasted, but maybe I’ll just suck it up and buy a bike next time. Or an electric skateboard – but that’s a story for another time.

The Xiaomi M365 Electric Scooter

The Xiaomi M365, all folded up.

Here’s something interesting about the M365. Xiaomi advertises that there’s an app you can connect your electric scooter to, to see your current speed, the remaining mileage, and other current trip statistics. One page of the completely Chinese manual says you can download Xiaomi’s own app or use something called “Ninebot”.

I couldn’t find the Xiaomi app in the Australian App Store when I went to look, but I found the Ninebot app on the first go. It’s pretty basic, but does let you rename your electric scooter and adjust the level of regenerative breaking. But hang on a second, this all seems very weird. How does a Chinese manufactured and marketed scooter, with not a word of English in the user manual, works with an app that has near-perfect English? Something doesn’t add up here.

After doing a little internet sleuthing, I discovered Ninebots were originally manufactured by a Chinese company as a kind of personal mobility device. They’re kind of like Segways, except a little more discreet and don’t have the traditional Segway handlebar design. Still, none of that explains how the M365 is able to connect to the Ninebot app. Did Xiaomi reverse-engineer the app to such a degree that every feature works perfectly with their own electric scooter hardware, down to the regenerative braking setting and the cruise control mode?

As it turns out, Ninebot is a Xiaomi-backed company. It’s perhaps one of the simplest explanations for why the M365 works with the Ninebot app; being the parent company and all, you’d hardly want to go to the trouble of developing an entirely new app when one of your subsidiaries already has something that does exactly what you’re after. It’s not perfect (the Ninebot app doesn’t recognise my M365 as an valid Ninebot), but there’s nothing that I’m missing out on that I can see. My KMs even count towards the weekly and overall distance travelled leaderboards.

What does all of this have to do with Segway? Well, Segway complained to a US trade commission that several Chinese companies were infringing on its patents. They complained in September 2014, and not a year later, they were acquired by the Xiaomi-backed Ninebot in August 2015, which is all pretty hilarious when you think about it.

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