As an anxious person, I am often stuck in endless loops of worry. If my phone drops below 30 per cent, I panic. If the laptop refuses to charge during a busy work day, I meltdown. There seems to be a constant need to be around a plug point, and it is exhausting. Which is why I’ve always preferred two wheelers powered by good ‘ol fossil fuel — if everything runs out of charge, I know my scooter will get me home in one piece.
Having said that, we’re on the heels of an EV revolution, and some of us do care about Polar Bears (even if it is from afar). So maybe, the right thing to do is to switch to a “cleaner” alternative? But what about my mental health? Does it have to be a toss-up between doing the right thing and taking care of myself? Perhaps not. Recently, I was given the keys to the Gen 3 Ather 450X, an e-scooter, and was asked to climb Bengaluru’s Nandi Hills. A place far from any socket imaginable. Did the extended range of the battery help calm my anxieties around going off the grid? Let’s find out.
Having Designs On Function
First things first, let’s take a look at all that’s new with the 2022 model. It’s not much, barring a few additions like, wider mirrors, an (optional) sidestep and wider tyres. Even the colour scheme remains unchanged, so you might have some problem distinguishing the old one from the new. But for me, it is not a dealbreaker. Why fix something that isn’t broken, right?
I’ve always compared Ather’s design philosophy with the iPhone’s. I know one shouldn’t compare apples to oranges, but in this case, the Apple to Ather comparison seems fair. Apple’s approach has not only disrupted the world of industrial design, but has also helped them establish a benchmark for premium goods. On the surface, their products certainly look a notch superior to their competition’s, but it would be foolish to assume that function has superseded form. Ather imbues a similar ethos, where it is built from the ground up by a group of engineers, such that every design element serves a purpose.
Overall, it still features a clean-cut look, but with sporty accents to make it look “meaner”. The 450X may not be a headturner on the road, but you’ll still recognise it in a crowd. Or at least I could, when a review unit passed me by among a sea of scooters.
Godspeed To The Ather
For context, my daily driver in Pune was the TVS NTorq, and my ride here in Goa is the Aprilia SR 150. Both are spectacular in their own right, but with their drawbacks.
I have been riding performance-focused scooters for the last three years now. So, on a scale of 1 to 10, my expectations from the 2022 Ather 450X stood around “meh”. That changed the moment I rode it and thought — this is pretty fucking fantastic. I started in the smart eco mode, puttering around rural Bengaluru on the way to Nandi Hills. Despite its limited throttle, the battery-saving mode still allowed me to cruise around comfortably at about 40kmph, which was good enough to overtake slow traffic.
For all the love I have for the Aprilia, its suspension setup has probably given me a permanent backache. The NTorq isn’t too different either, especially on rough stretches. Even though my experience was limited to an extremely patchy tarmac, the suspension setup felt like a breath of fresh air, making sure my back doesn’t feel a thing even if I missed an unexpected pothole. The telescopic forks at the front and the mono-shock unit at the back tackled the rough roads delightfully, too.
But things kicked into gear (geddit?) when I switched to the ‘warp’ mode. I have never experienced acceleration like that on any scooter. The 450X started gaining speed as fast as the rising fuel costs, but never once did it feel unstable. While there are other petrol scooters which are faster, they often feel like malfunctioning massage chairs at higher speeds. The Ather 450X Gen 3, though, sat quietly and confidently around 90kmph-91kmph, without a fuss. I could’ve stayed there all day, but I had a bigger mountain to climb.
Running up that hill
The serpentine stretch of Nandi Hills is where I first started noticing some cracks. Just like the last-gen model, the e-scooter offers four different riding modes -—Smart Economy, Ride, Sport and Warp. You can switch among them on the fly. The first thing I had to do after starting the climb was to switch from Smart Eco mode to Ride mode. The 40kmph cut-off speed in the former wasn’t cutting it for me at an incline.
Things did improve thereafter, but the real fun came once I slipped into Sport mode. I didn’t dare use Warp mode here, since it is a major battery drainer, and I was at least 20km away from the nearest charger. I would’ve probably been fine, but as an anxious person, the risk wasn’t worth it.
Thanks to the wider tyre profile and trusty discs on both ends (200mm at the front & 190mm at the rear), corners were taken at ease. Although I did feel the heft of the e-scooter in some instances. After dodging Bengaluru traffic, I climbed Nandi Hill with a range of around 60-70km still left in the tank. Enough for a second run and a trip back to the hotel I reckoned, as I made my way down.
There and back again
During my second run, I started from the base of the ghat and made it three-quarters my way up. I didn’t want to go to the top again since most of it was covered in fog and visibility was a concern. I strictly ran the e-scooter on Smart Eco mode during this time, partly due to story reasons, and partly due to my range anxiety.
This wasn’t all fun — at time, I thought the scooter glitched and cut off power mid-acceleration. It wasn’t until later that I came to know that Ather’s onboard system regulates power as per road conditions, riding styles and battery needs. It was a little unnerving experiencing that during an overtake. And to be completely honest, I did miss my petrol scooter then.
By the time I was back, I was left with 30km of range. Enough to go back to the hotel, but not enough to calm my nerves. So, I switched the Smart Eco mode on again, as I rode to the charging station. The return journey was uneventful as I plugged the scooter with less than 20km of charge left.
After a brief 20-30 minute charge interval, I did go for a 20km joy ride again and came back with 12km of range. Overall, I had covered exactly 63.8km, which was surprising! I was under the assumption that the final number would be much less. This is one of the most important takeaways here — while a 60km ride isn’t a big one by any stretch, there’s a chance occasional riders will still feel the journey, especially on a scooter. On the Ather, I didn’t.
The 450X has already proved its mettle in city traffic. There were questions surrounding its weekend feasibility, for which it gets my stamp of approval. But did the bigger battery help with my anxiety around range anxiety? Almost. It might be enough for most people, but for me, right now, it is just a step in the right direction and not the final solution. It’s not you, it’s me, Ather.