I ride a lot of electric kick scooters here in New York City, and no one has ever smiled fondly at me as I zip around town. I get the occasional, “How fast does it go?” when I’m on the burlier scooters, but that’s it. Riding Honda’s new Motocompacto, however, was a heck of a different experience. My 6’4″ frame on this tiny, cute, seated scooter drew smiles from joggers, cyclists, and folks walking their dogs near Hell’s Kitchen. (Someone did still ask me how fast it goes.)
The Motocompacto was born out of an annual Honda design contest, says Jane Nakagawa, vice president of the research and development unit at American Honda Motor. The contest was a chance for any employee to propose a product for Honda’s lineup. Roughly three years ago, an employee sketched a modern-day reenvisioning of the original Motocompo from 1981, a tiny gas-powered scooter add-on that fits in the trunk of the Honda City subcompact car. Nick Ziraldo, design engineering manager at Honda R&D Americas, was proposing a similar idea when he saw the sketch and brought the concept to life, spearheading the project.
That leads us to the Motocompacto, a tiny electrified version of the original that can pack down to the size of a suitcase, grab-handle and all. It costs $995; has a top speed of 15 miles per hour, thanks to the 250-watt motor; and weighs 41 pounds. With a 12-mile range estimate, it’s not the type of scooter you’d use to replace your whole commute, but it’s a handy last-mile solution you can easily carry onto public transportation without dinging people along the way.
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A Suitcase With Wheels
The Motocompacto looks pretty much like a suitcase when it’s all folded up. The white plastic shell seems like it will get dirty fairly quickly, but Honda made it purposefully plain so that anyone can customize it however they want. Slap a sticker on! Paint it! Honda wants you to do to its Motocompacto what many people have done to their reusable water bottles.
The unfolding process is quite daunting at first. I watched as a spokesperson began pulling out latches, whipping out the wheels, lifting the handlebar, and doing a bunch of tiny maneuvers to fully convert the Motocompacto into riding mode. They did it in less than 30 seconds—Ziraldo did it even faster—but on my first attempt, I got confused and had to ask for help. There are a lot of steps! But as the team assured me, do it a few times and you’ll quickly get the hang of it. If you don’t unfold it properly, there are sensors baked in that will indicate any issues on the display and prevent the scooter from moving.
Photograph: Julian Chokkattu
Weight is this thing’s weakness. At 41 pounds, it’s not terribly heavy, but you don’t want to haul it around for more than a few blocks. You can unfold the handlebars and roll the Motocompacto alongside you, but you’ll still need to carry it by the handle when going up or down stairs. When it’s unfolded, you can utilize the inner space to store a few items, like a phone or laptop, though you’ll have to take them all out when you’re closing it up.
The ride itself is surprisingly comfy! Nakagawa says the Motocompacto was tested by people of varying heights and sizes, and as a certified tall man, I didn’t have any issues putting my feet on the footrests. The seat was nice and wide too. I watched as folks smaller than me rode it, and it seemed to suit them just fine. I imagine I looked the funniest, like an adult riding a kids’ trike.
One thing to note is that while the Motocompacto supports up to 265 pounds and should get riders under that limit to its 15 miles per hour top speed, it seemed to hover at 12 mph for me (I’m 235 pounds). There are two speed modes: Mode 1 is restricted to 10 mph and requires you to kick off to start moving; Mode 2 doesn’t have any requirement—push the throttle and it’ll take you to the max speed. Honda launched an app on iOS and Android that you can use to customize your default mode and see the battery gauge, and it expects to add more features down the road.
The solid tires have dampeners to alleviate bumps on the road, but you still want to avoid potholes. This thing is not built for anything bumpy, and I even slightly skidded on a wet, wooden bridge. (The scooter itself is thankfully IPX4 water resistant.) That said, you won’t have to worry about flat and smooth roads, paths, or bike lanes. Ziraldo says the Motocompacto was designed to be user-repairable, with Honda selling spare parts, and you can have a Honda service center deal with any issues you don’t want to handle yourself.
I don’t expect someone at my height and weight to get anywhere near the 12-mile range estimate. I would guess it can achieve maybe half that. But when the battery does run out, it’s nice to see that the Motocompacto can fully recharge within 3.5 hours. Most kick scooters take six to 12 hours to go from zero to full.
Honda advertises that anyone 14 and older can ride the Motocompacto, but I wouldn’t put anyone under 16 on it. (Make sure they have a helmet!) Some states, like New York, also have age restrictions, so check your local laws.
At $995, you can buy more powerful scooters that go faster and cover greater distances, but none of them have the charm of the Motocompacto. Also, none of those turn into a suitcase—a practical magic trick. “Our first product was a bicycle with a motor stuck to it,” say Nakagawa. “The origin of Honda is a two-wheeled product, and it’s still in our DNA. [The Motocompacto] is a natural fit. I think it’s just nice to provide a little joy into everyone’s lives.”
The Motocompacto goes on sale today and is only available in the US. Nakagawa says that since there’s a lot of interest in the design, Honda isn’t ruling out bringing it to other countries.