It was only a matter of time. As local, state, and federal laws struggle to catch up with the explosion of electric bicycles, more companies are leaping into the gray area with fast, powerful ebikes that look a lot like mopeds and motorcycles.
It’s not hard to see the temptation. Even if you love riding motorcycles, the bureaucracy is irritating and expensive. Regulations differ from state to state, but you usually have to get an endorsement, pass a course, and pay additional registration and insurance fees.
For the moment, you don’t have to do any of that with an ebike. Many states don’t define any rules for them. Depending where you live, you can still hop on an ebike with no qualifications whatsoever, just like I did with Juiced’s Scorpion. I don’t know how many people out there are 5 feet tall, want a moped, and don’t want to get a license. But however big that weirdly specific market is, Juiced has nailed it.
The Scorpion looks … well, it looks like a moped. It has huge, 4-inch-thick, puncture-resistant tires on a step-through frame with a big, padded seat that is 31 inches tall. It’s short enough that I, at 5’2″, can rest both feet comfortably flat on the ground at the same time.
But, it is not a moped. It’s a class 3 ebike, which means that it only provides assistance when you pedal, and will stop providing assistance once it reaches 28 mph. That’s a higher speed limit than the more common class 2 ebikes, which normally top out at 20 mph. In many states, class 3 ebikes have more restrictions than the other ebike classes, like age limits on who can ride them.
The bike has a powerful 750-watt hub motor with a twist throttle and cruise control. I got it up to 18 mph, which felt almost too fast in gray, drizzly Portland weather, with oil-slicked residential roads and slippery bike lanes. It has a 52-volt battery with over a range of over 45 miles; I put 15 miles in and it barely made a dent.
The pedals theoretically turn a 7-gear Shimano freewheel system, but the bike is so short that pedaling would be incredibly awkward if you’re much taller than I am. It also has five assistance levels, which you control on a tiny LCD display. You can adjust the level of assistance from level 1, all the way up to Sport and Race modes. Even when set on the lowest level of assistance, with the chain set on the largest gear, just rotating the pedals once or twice got me up to 15 mph.
In addition to both front and rear suspension, the Scorpion also has a perfunctory rear rack that is useless for traditional bike panniers and can be swapped out for an additional passenger seat, an enormous motorcycle-style integrated headlamp and taillight, and hydraulic disc brakes.
I rode the Scorpion around my neighborhood for two weeks, where its existence presented me with a number of physical, legal, and philosophical dilemmas. I’ve come to believe that the laws that regulate different motorized vehicles merely codify what most people intuitively feel to be correct.
For example, I often cut across the park by my house when I’m aboard my beloved Surly Cross-Check. No one blinks an eye. But when I switch to a tiny motorcycle with a glaring headlamp the size of a dessert plate, I suddenly look and feel like a lazy, arrogant, entitled asshole.
A man actually stood in the middle of the path and glared at me as I approached. And he’s technically right. It’s illegal to ride motorized vehicles in public parks in Portland, Oregon.
It’s a shame, because the Scorpion is really fun to ride in the mud. The sit-back position is awkward for single-track or anything that requires technical maneuvering. But it has front and rear suspension, enormous boingy tires, and a tremendous amount of power. I took it briefly on a few dirt and gravel trails, and it was fun to pretend I was on a dirt bike, bouncing around and skidding out. Although, having written that out, I now realize why motorized vehicles aren’t allowed in many of these places.
Unlike ebikes that carefully calibrate the level of electric assistance in correlation to different levels of pressure on the pedals, the Scorpion just adds as much as power as it can get away with. Juiced feels about electric assistance the way I feel about Tony Chaceres’ seasoning—just sprinkle more on! It’s fine!
This approach mostly works, except on big hills. Even when I put the bike in the biggest gear, I feel virtually no pressure on the pedals. You can’t lean back like an easy rider on a bike up a 20-degree hill, or you’ll tip over backward. There’s just no way to look cool when you’re wildly spinning your wheels in order to trigger the appropriate level of assistance.
Finally, the Scorpion weighs 77 pounds with the battery attached. It’s almost 20 pounds heavier than the Tern HSD, and it’s a pain to maneuver around my yard and house. However, it does weigh a lot less than a motorcycle, so there’s that.
The Scorpion is fun, but it’s not a very useful or versatile bike. You can’t take it on technical trails. Its storage rack and pedals are mainly for show. It would probably be uncomfortable to ride if you’re tall, or if your commute to work has a lot of steep-grade hills.
And it’s styled to look like a moped. That’s different than an ebike like the RadRunner, which still looks like a bike. Depending on your state, you might be opening yourself up for a world of hassle if a cop or disgruntled passerby wants to ticket or report you for driving an unlicensed, unregistered motor vehicle—especially if you’ve given in to temptation and are riding it in a place where you probably shouldn’t.
But if you’re a smallish person who has always wanted a moped, doesn’t want to pay for gas, and has long been afraid of dropping a 400-pound vehicle on your foot, the Scorpion is super fun and not crazy-expensive. Just be mindful of the laws where you live, and try to take it out on a beach for me. It’s available for preorder now, with an $800 discount that will end on December 22. Delivery is expected in April of 2020.