Unagi Model One Review: A Light and Portable Urban Scooter


Earlier this summer, my already low opinion of scooter shares was cemented by the news that more than 50 rental scooters had been pulled from the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. In theory, I understand that any type of electric vehicle is better than a car, but riding a vehicle with a lifespan of just one to two months seems too wasteful.

Testing Boosted’s Rev changed my mind and made me realize that e-scooters could be premium vehicles instead of flimsy toys that end up at the bottom of a river. Unagi agrees: After a successful Kickstarter campaign last fall, the company recently began shipping its first flagship, the Model One.

In contrast to the beefy Rev, Unagi’s Model One is much lighter, slimmer, and more portable. I’ve been riding the dual-motor version of the Unagi for the past week. Overall, I still think the utility of an e-scooter is a little limited, but I do think it’s a fun niche.

It Takes Two (Motors)

Right away, there’s a big difference between the Model One and the Rev. The Rev weighs a back-busting 46 pounds and came in a box so big that I had to struggle to get it through my front door. The Model One is a comparatively light 24.24 pounds, and it arrived in a package that I could hoist with one hand.

Marek Dziekonski

The Model One’s sleek frame is made of aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber, with a grippy, 5-inch-wide deck—my women’s size 7.5 shoes fit fine, but bigger feet might have to squeeze a little.

Topping the 7.5-inch wheels are a set of eye-catching “tires” that are comprised of a perforated fan-like frame that’s been coated in rubber. You’ll never have to worry about flat tires with this design, but in practice, these rigid rubber discs have very little give—if the road is at all cracked or bumpy, you’ll feel it in your back teeth.

On the handlebars, you’ll find the simple console. A power button turns the scooter on and off. A thumb paddle on the left controls the brake; a thumb paddle on the right serves as the accelerator. There’s also a small tab to toot the most annoying horn on the planet. The tinny, high-pitched electronic squeak sounds like the noise an iPhone would make if it had a “you’re on fire” alert. Another small tab on the handlebars toggles between the ride modes: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

There are two models of the Unagi: the single-motor E250 and the dual-motor E450. The company loaned me the more powerful model, which has one dedicated motor in each wheel. On this model, you can switch between single-motor and dual-motor mode, and I really liked this feature even if it’s not particularly intuitive. (I had to read the manual to figure out how to do it.) If you have a long commute, it makes sense to switch it to single-motor drive and the low-intensity “beginner” ride mode to conserve the battery. The scooter has an estimated range of 15.5 miles, but I rode it for six miles on the lowest settings and used only 20 percent of the battery.

Switching it to double-motor mode unleashes more punch. Single-motor mode has an instant maximum power of a mere 500 watts, while the dual-motor reaches up to 900 watts. On clean, smooth roads in dual-motor mode, I quickly got up to 15 mph with no problems.

And while the Model One straight up Bartleby’d me on even modest hills in single-motor mode (“I’d prefer not to!”), dual-motor mode was able to get me up most of the steeper hills around my neighborhood. I did have to floor the throttle to get it to go about 7 mph up a 20 percent incline, and I’m guessing that anyone bigger than me (a 5′ 2″ female) would probably have trouble going uphill.

And of course, dual-motor mode uses the battery much more quickly. One steep hill in dual-motor mode wore down the battery by 10 percent in less than 20 minutes. However, Unagi’s CEO David Hyman pointed out to me in an email that the vast majority of scooter trips are under three miles. If this applies to your commuting trips, as it does mine, then one full charge would probably be enough juice for several days of dual-motor scootering.

Itsy Bitsy

In many ways, a lighter scooter like the Unagi is much more versatile. When the handlebar stem is folded, it’s easy to carry with one hand. I don’t struggle with carrying it in and out of my house or putting it in the trunk of my car. I felt fine using a bike U-lock on the handlebar stem when I dropped something off at my kid’s school. It also fits into a grocery cart in a pinch, although I recommend being careful not to smash your bag of cherry tomatoes.

But as with other scooters I’ve tested, the utility here is limited. With the Unagi’s small and stiff wheels, I found myself puttering around cracks that I might’ve otherwise powered through. It has drum brakes instead of discs, and it’s rated only IP54 to protect against limited dust ingress and water splashes. Without disc brakes, I wouldn’t feel safe riding it in rain anyway.

And unfortunately, it suffers a bit from the Segway problem—I look and feel a little silly and conspicuous while riding one. Despite upgrades like the subdued gray aluminum and carbon frame, it just doesn’t look that different from the garish rental scooters that always provoke (in other people, not me) an irresistible urge to chuck them off a nearby bridge.

As far as scooters go, however, I think the Unagi occupies a useful middle ground. It has a little more juice than the Xiaomi M365, but it’s significantly lighter and more affordable than the Boosted Rev. If you’re looking to shave a few miles off your car’s odometer without puttering like a putz, the Unagi Model One might be the right e-scooter for you.

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