My 37 Minutes with Honda’s Rideable Attaché Case
The Motocompacto is silly, impractical, and a lot of fun.
Ever since moving back to New York City a year ago, I’ve gotten really into e-biking. The city upped the number and quality of e-bikes in its bikeshare program, and I’ve been
taking full advantage. But the e-bikes are so popular, they aren’t always available, and I’ve been wondering if it might be time to invest in my own ride.
Enter the Motocompacto. Honda’s new whimsical, seated e-scooter immediately caught my eye when I saw a story announcing its pending arrival in September. I live on the third floor of a building with no bike storage, so I was intrigued by the possibility of folding up the Motocompacto and carrying it up the stairs. And at $995, it was cheaper than most e-bikes on the market, which tend to range from $1,200 to $3,000. Also, just look at it.
Courtesy of Honda
But also ... just at look it. Why does it resemble a suitcase? Can you ride around on it without feeling completely silly? And why did Honda, which doesn’t even have a fully electric vehicle yet, make this thing?
The scooter became available for purchase Wednesday at Honda and Acura dealerships around the country, and I jumped at the chance to find out.
I already knew the Motocompacto had a fun, retro backstory. It was inspired by the
Motocompo, a badass miniature motorized scooter that Honda sold in Japan between 1981 and 1983 as an accessory to another sweet Japan exclusive, the Honda City. But there’s a lot more to the story, as I found out when I arrived at the test-drive site in Manhattan on Wednesday, and met with Jane Nakagawa, the vice president of the research and development business unit at Honda, and Nick Ziraldo, a design engineering manager who led the product development.
Nakagawa told me the scooter was initially pitched for an annual contest at the Honda design studio. The concept was the McDonald’s Happy Meal — or rather, the collectible toy inside that lures children. A designer of the Prologue, Honda’s upcoming entry in the electric vehicle space, wanted to find a way to make Honda’s EVs stand out in a crowded field. “He said, ‘what if the Motocompacto was the toy, and the burger was the car?’” Nakagawa recounted.
It’s not the cleanest analogy, because the Motocompacto won’t be a free accessory to the Prologue. Then again, the scooter really is very toy-like. My colleague, Jeva Lange, pointed out that it looks like one of those ride-on suitcases for kids.
Anyway, when the idea reached Ziraldo, who typically works on vehicle accessories like trailer hitches and roof racks, he was smitten enough to take it on as a passion project. “I’ve been developing this as a second job at night after my kids go to bed,” he told me. When I asked him if it was exciting to see the Motocompacto out in the real world, he lit up, and said it wasn’t something he ever expected to happen in his career.
He recalled the first time he rode the prototype that most resembled the final product. It was icy outside, so he took the scooter down to the vehicle safety lab where they crash cars. “I waited until everybody went home, and then in the dark, I was riding around by myself on this thing, and it felt fun. It felt like a Honda to me for the first time.”
When I hit the bike path in Manhattan next to the Hudson River, I could see what he meant. At first I felt a little unstable. I’m used to the bulky, heavy, e-bikes, and the Motocompacto is narrow and ultra-light by comparison. But unlike the e-bikes, which tend to lurch forward when you first start pedaling, the acceleration was smooth. I also felt a lot more safe and comfortable on it than I do on a stand-up scooter. Within a minute I was cruising, totally at ease, and grinning like a little kid.
The scooter has two modes, and the speed is controlled by a throttle on the handlebar. The first mode caps the speed at 10 miles per hour, the second at 15. It’s not slow, exactly, but it’s slower than the 20 miles-per-hour that the electric Citi Bikes can achieve. I wondered how it would fare going up a hill, or bumping along one of the city’s more torn-up streets — especially since the body rode so low to the ground. And as Citi Bikes sped past me, I did feel a bit silly.
Ziraldo said they capped the speed at 15 mph because if it went any faster, you’d need a license and registration to drive it, according to regulations for this class of scooter. The bike also only has a range of 12 miles on a single charge. That would probably be enough for my needs, assuming I’d remember to be diligent about charging it. (A full charge takes about 3.5 hours.) But most e-bikes and scooters on the market have a range closer to 30 miles, if not more.
As for portability, I found it a bit laborious to pack up and then reassemble , though I’d probably get the hang of it with practice. Ziraldo, a seasoned pro, had it down to less than 30 seconds. The weight — just over 40 pounds — also felt heavier than I’d hoped, but manageable.
The most befuddling aspect of the design was the lack of storage space. Ziraldo suggested that you could stow a water bottle or laptop in the narrow slot in the body of the vehicle. The problem is, that’s where the seat and handlebars go, so you’d probably have to take everything out if you wanted to fold up the scooter upon arrival.
Which leads me to the question of who, or what, is this rideable attaché case for? Though it checks a lot of boxes, I came to the conclusion it wasn’t quite rugged or all-purpose enough for life in New York. I could see it being a fun option for a ride to school in the suburbs, or getting around a more sprawling city with better maintained roads. Ziraldo thinks it will be helpful for “last mile” trips, like the distance between one’s house and a transit stop, or a parking garage and a final destination. He also thinks of it as the “perfect campus commuter.” That’s probably the scenario that felt most realistic to me.
I got the impression that the team at Honda prioritized making a winsome little ride over more practical matters. “In the end, there were certain non-negotiables,” Nakagawa told me. “That overall shape was non-negotiable, and the fact that everything folds into it was non-negotiable.”
There’s nothing wrong with making a showpiece or a plaything, but the Motocompacto seems more primed to become a supplement to driving than a serious alternative. And while the scooter will certainly appeal to adults, I suspect the product might be more successful with a younger audience. “In fact, we’re kind of excited that it could be the first new Honda for a 12 year old, you know, without a driver’s license,” Nakagawa told me. “That’s something we’re looking forward to.”