Till recent past, nothing said middle class more than a scooter. The scooter and half face helmet made even Chocolate Boy hero Rishi Kapoor look like a struggling middle class school teacher in the movie ‘Do doonichaar’ and the kid in ‘Ferrari ki Sawaari’ dreamt of lords and Ferrari on his rides on the trusty Bajaj. At the other end of the spectrum though, some of the most well known celebrities have endorsed the modern electric two wheelers, including scooters as the most fashionable and sustainable way to commute.
The Oma Star Li (Li is for Lithium Ion batteries), a new entrant in the increasingly relevant electric scooter segment is a decent looking scooter. One would expect an electric scooter to be flimsy looking and small to save weight, but the Oma Star Li looks rather contemporary and quite like its petrol powered competition. In fact, the total length at 1800 mm is 40 mm more than Honda Activa – the uncrowned king of the segment. It also has a higher wheelbase at 1280 mm. One does notice the light and uncluttered rear though. This electric scooter is powered by a hub motor attached to the rear wheel and with no petrol engine, the rear looks unlike any other scooter and gets a twin-coil type suspension.
The powertrain is not the only distinct feature of this scooter. While conventional scooters have an underbone chassis, Oma Star Li has a Tubular one. Front gets chrome treatment and conventional handle mounted head lights and indicators on the front panel. Five spoke alloys look good. Front wheel gets a hydraulic telescopic suspension and looks well in place. When you see the scooter from a distance, it looks good. However, get closer and all the exposed bits of the chassis and frame especially for foot board takes away that charm. Plastics used are of rather low quality and so is the case with the switchgear. We really hope Lohia Motors works on the quality of switchgears. You are LML, for crying out loud and not new to the industry. Come on.
Till now, barring few bits which looks different, one would feel it is a conventional scooter. However, once you sit on it, put in the ignition key and turn it on, you start getting a wildly different feeling. First, the full digital instrument cluster shows a battery charge gauge, something like the one on your mobile phone – this is essentially the electric equivalent of your fuel gauge. You get six dots to show full charge. It also shows speed, an interesting video game style blinking space highway kinda thing, and temperature. The cluster gets a light for Lohia and Oma Star written on either side of the digital display, and indicator and full beam light indicator on top. Pretty conventional except for Lohia trying to make sure they get some branding in there.
Next thing you notice is – there is no ignition start button. And why would there be? You do not need to ignite anything on an electric scooter. Just turn the throttle and you go. Simple. No gear shifts, trying to do a cold start or kicking in case battery is dead. Because if battery was infact dead, you would call in sick and stay home or call a cab.
As the scooter gets moving, it picks up speed quick but not for too long. It gets to 20 kmph pretty quick, gets to 35 kmph slowly and stays there. I do not think the last time I rode a two wheeler with the throttle pinned all the way for a long time. It is an uncanny feeling if you are not used to an electric powered vehicle. Throttle travel is not much and as the scooter reaches it top speed, you relax as there is nothing more you can do. Initially I found it a little annoying that almost everybody was passing me but once I started to live upto my name (started being patient), I saw the good side of puttering around at low speed. You do not have to zig zag through a maze of traffic, you do not have to worry about someone pulling into your lane as you are passing them – you just go about your business. On an empty stretch, I did want to go faster but I realised, I was kind of enjoying the slow pace, specially if one started off with a short commute in mind.
You see a traffic light turned red in the distance and instead of trying to speed up and make through the maze to get ahead, you simply keep going in your straight line. Most of the times, the light would turn green by the time you get there and you wouldn’t even have to brake. I had a smug smile when I waved to the guy in a chrome wheeled swift who went past me at an inexplicably hasty pace a moment ago. Of course he went past me again and I met him again at the next traffic light. I realised the futility of driving too fast in city with traffic and traffic lights.
One thing which I loved about the scooter was the ride quality. It has probably the best ride of all scooters in the segment. That is due to the telescopic suspension up front and swing-arm mounted coil springs in the back – quite a comprehensive setup for this sort of an application.
Now let’s talk about the limited top speed. For normal commuting in the city, specially during traffic, the limited top speed did not add much to my commute times. Primarily because the average speeds in Delhi never crosses 20-23 kmph – if one drives within rules. With the electric scooter, while it does feel annoying to be riding around only at 35 kmph, if one rides or drives normally, the total commute time might almost be the same. When I say commute, I am referring to the 17 km one way and back commute from Vasant Kunj to Okhla. The total range as per specifications is 60 km. I travelled for about 45 km in a day and it still had about half a battery left so it is safe to assume that the Oma Star li would go on for 60 km between charges. Is 60 km enough? While in a place like Delhi NCR some people commute about 100 km in a day, majority of the people live within 15 km of their work place which means 30 kms in daily commute so they are well covered.
To charge, take off the cap over the charge-in plug located below the seat, plug in the charger, a light comes on the charger to show charging is happening and light turns to green when the scooter is charged. Full charging time is about 5-6 hours. I would’ve liked to see a charging indicator on the scooter and a longer lead as I had to keep the charger inside my mini scooter garage (so that it doesn’t get stolen) converted to store room, and could not see the charging lights. Just one small indicator on the scooter is all I ask for. Battery can be removed and it has a charging port on it, just in case there are no charging points close to where one parks. But battery is heavy and a little cumbersome to remove and put back if it has to be a regular activity.
Is an electric scooter a good enough alternative to conventional mode of transport? Depends really. This is a great green tool for those who do not like to play city Grand Prix, live close to work and is recommended for students as their commute to college or tuition classes is usually even less than 10 kms. It would be light on the wallet, maintenance costs are low and parents can be assured that their child is not zipping around at 80 kmph. This can be ridden without a license too, so, it is completely legal for a 16 year old to ride it. We do think electric scooters can be a good starting point for someone who wants to contribute to a cleaner city and the money they save on fuel can be used for putting plants around the house. There are certain compromises one might have to make for owning this but those compromises should pay off with cleaner air.