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Honda’s new scooter is also the box it comes in

<i>Peter Valdes-Dapena/CNN</i><br/>Peter Valdes-Dapena trying Honda's new electric scooter
Peter Valdes-Dapena/CNN
Peter Valdes-Dapena trying Honda's new electric scooter

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN

(CNN) — There are lots of electric scooters available today in a huge range of styles and prices. But none of them look like the new Honda Motocompacto.

Honda seemingly took design inspiration from Ikea furniture while it’s still in the box. The Motocompacto’s seat, back wheel and handle bars fold neatly into its body, a flat off-white rectangle designed to slide easily into the cargo compartment of a small SUV like, say, a Honda HR-V. It will fit into other vehicles, as well, but the Motocompacto will be sold by Honda dealers.

Honda’s original micro-bike

The real inspiration was the Honda Motocompo, a tiny motorcycle Honda offered for a few years in the early 1980s. The gas-powered Motocompo folded up into a small red rectangle that fit easily into the back of a Honda City, a teeny hatchback car that, like the Motocompo, was never sold in the United States. It was intended as sort of an offshoot of the car. Once you parked your City, you could slide out the Motocompo and buzz along to your final destination.

The Motocompo tied together Honda’s two worlds of cars and motorcycles. Honda prides itself on having been a wide-ranging “transportation provider” long before that became trendy industry-speak. Honda started as a motorcycle company, and still makes those, plus scooters, sedans, SUVs, a midsize pickup, riding mowers, and a jet airplane.

Despite selling relatively few Motocompo bikes for a few years and never bringing them to the US, the Motocompo has become a trendy collectible here, selling for as much as $10,000 today. Its memory inspired someone in Honda’s California design studio –- someone Honda won’t name because he’s left the company –- to sketch out a modern version.

In the age of lithium ion batteries, making a compact foldable bike is much easier than it was in 1981. In fact, it’s so easy and it’s been done so often it raises the question of “Why bother?” Why does the world need another compact foldable electric bike?

Why now for Motocompacto?

You could just as well ask “Why does the world need another cute, fuzzy kitten?” Because it’s adorable, that’s why. The Motocompacto also has certain advantages. There’s the fact that, when folded up, its slab of a body keeps most of the metal parts and cables that could catch on things neatly stored as if in, yes, a box. Only a portion of the wheels remains exposed, just enough so you can roll it toward an outlet for charging. (At just over 41 pounds, it’s liftable but not exactly light.)

It rides pretty nicely. Once you get the hang of it, which took me only a few minutes –- and I hadn’t ridden a scooter in ages -– it was a lot of fun. Honda’s designers and engineers spent a lot of time, I was told, on getting the angle of the handle bars and the position of the seat and footpegs just right so it doesn’t feel jittery.

For beginners, a setting limits speed to 10 mph but, even when you open it all the way up, the top speed is still only 15 mph. So it’s not super fast, and it doesn’t go very far on a charge. Twelve miles, though, is probably farther than you’d want to go, or else you’d just drive the car it fits into. As you’d expect on a box with small wheels and hard tires, the ride is pretty firm but, on a bike path along the Hudson River, the trip was smooth. It’s easily maneuverable and the speed comes on nice and smoothly using a lever on the handle bar.

As little electric scooters go, it’s a luxury buy. Prices start at $995. You can get seated scooters for less, but they wont look like the Motocompo or be as cleverly self-packaged. Also, they won’t be Hondas, which should give you confidence in its quality.

Also giving you confidence will be the seriously sturdy latches locking the seat, handle bars and wheels in place before you start riding. Plus, sensors prevent the bike from turning on unless everything is properly secured.

For now, there are no color choices. Its buff-colored body comes with a brown leather seat and handlebar grips. Those flat white sides are screaming for decals, though. And your Honda dealer will be happy to sell those to you. as well.

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Article Topic Follows: Technology

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