Unagi means "eel" in Japanese, and it's a fitting name for a company making shiny, sleek, agile e-scooters.
Depending on the paint job you choose, the Unagi Model One literally glistens and gleams, and with almost all the cabling hidden, the digital display integrated into the handlebars, and other thoughtful design decisions, everything about this e-scooter says premium.
E-scooters are enjoying renewed interest from consumers thanks, in part at least, to the pandemic. They make for an ideal last-mile transportation solution, especially for apartment dwellers or those of us who don't have to commute as far (or at all) these days, and who remain wary of public transport.
But that interest also means heaps of competitors, so what makes Unagi think it can get away with charging nearly $1,000 for its top-end Model One e-scooter?
Make it a double (motor)
Unagi makes the Model One in two variants. There's the single motor E250 model priced at $840, and the dual 250W-motor E500 for $990. I tested the latter. It's possible to switch to single motor mode on the E500, but when I did, I immediately missed the additional power and enabled both motors again. While the E250 can handle inclines of up to six degrees, that E500 increases that dramatically to 15 degrees. Given the price difference, I see no reason to get the less potent of the two.
The Unagi has three power settings numbered one through three (Eco, Standard, and Pro). That's great if you're learning to ride it, aren't in a hurry, or want to conserve battery power. Whichever setting you choose remains set even if you power it off, as does the single or dual motor setting.
You still need to push off to get the scooter moving, but only the slightest push will do it, and that means you won't accidentally make it jump away from you when stationary. Once you've pushed off, press down the thumb-operated throttle paddle on the right-hand side of the handlebar and the motors kick in almost instantly. On the left, there's a matching, brake paddle that also makes the tail-light flash, and for additional stopping power you can push down on the rear-fender with your foot (though this doesn't trigger the brake light).
Can you handle?
The only part of the Model One that requires assembly on arrival is the handlebar, and it's as simple as connecting one cable, tucking it into the carbon fiber headtube, and tightening two screws. Once it's done the seam is barely visible, and the magnesium alloy housing is finished in the same paintwork as the rest of the scooter.
The handlebar itself is a design marvel. Firm, rubber grips flank an embedded LED display that's invisible when it's off, and there's just a single button on the panel. Long-press that button to turn the e-scooter on or off, press it briefly to turn the integrated lights on or off, or double press it to toggle between single and dual motor modes.
The handlebar itself is a design marvel.
Above the brake paddle, there's a button that sounds the high-pitched electronic horn, and a matching one on the right switches between the odometer settings with single presses, or between the three power modes with double presses. The whole thing feels thoroughly thought out and the controls become second nature after a couple of rides. Having both a trip and cumulative odometer is also great for keeping track of how many miles you've clocked up.
Beneath the silicon-topped deck sits the 9,000mAh lithium-ion battery. It's not removable, but Unagi can replace it if you wear it out. On the edge of the deck, there's a covered charging port (charging takes 4-5 hours from the supplied, 67.2W charger) and a kickstand that folds into the left-hand edge and has a small lip so you can kick it out with the toe of a shoe with ease.
On the edges of the front and rear hubs of the scooter there are strips of reflective tape, and both the front and rear wheels have fenders, to keep water splash-back at bay. While the Model One can handle a bit of moisture (it has an IP54 rating, which is good for splashes but not for getting drenched or submerged), we'd try and keep it out of the rain, because wet roads tend to be slippery, and its tires are solid rubber rather than pneumatic, so there's more of a chance of sliding out.
Speaking of tires, Unagi's opted for custom-designed ones that include air gaps that offer some cushioning, but you're going to want to ride with your knees a little bent, especially at faster speeds, because there's no active suspension or tubes to truly cushion any blows. That's an inescapable trade-off. Active suspension or bigger tires (like those on the Razor Ecosmart) make for heavier, larger scooters, and one of the Model One's key selling points is its compactness and portability.
There's no active suspension or tubes to truly cushion any blows.
The Model One weighs 26.5 pounds which isn't the lightest in its class, but the head tube folds flat via a single switch at its base, and then locks into place, making carrying the scooter a cinch. I routinely lugged it up and down the 64 stairs to my apartment without incident, and I've seen people in supermarkets carrying them over their shoulders or tucking them into a shopping cart. I tend to favor putting a basket on the deck and rolling the scooter about the store myself.
That level of portability is a huge advantage in my book because it means you don't have to find somewhere to chain up the scooter, and in turn, don't have to carry a chain or bike lock with you. Whatever your destination, it's compact enough to simply take in with you, which means lower odds of theft... or of accidentally leaving it out in inclement weather.
Unagi rates the Model One for up to 15.5 miles on a charge, depending on rider weight, riding style, route topography, and all the other variables it can't account for. Realistically, I got around 11-13 miles to a charge, depending on how aggressively I rode and whether or not I had the LED headlight on or not. That's still hugely impressive for a scooter that's so compact.
I'd love more granular information on the status of the battery than the four bars the display offers, but I never felt worried about miscalculating... and even if I did, the Model One is compact enough to put in even the smallest Uber or Lyft or take on the subway. Plus, the power brick is the size of a laptop charger, so if you're really concerned you can always take it with you.
Rent or buy
If you're disinclined to lay down $1k upfront, or you want the peace of mind of having someone else worry about insurance, maintenance, and the other annoyances that come with owning things, Unagi will let you rent a Model One. There are two packages to choose from, three months for $117 ($39 per month), or 12 months for $408 ($34 per month). Both subscriptions require a $50 setup fee, and there's an $80 deductible in the case of theft.
There's also a 30-day returns policy on purchases as long as you go with one of the standard colorways rather than any of the custom or premium patterned ones. And if you're in Los Angeles or New York, you can test out an Unagi e-scooter at its Venice or Williamsburg retail stores.
Be warned, though, the custom and pattern options may add $300 to the price tag, but they're also very hot. The custom option lets you mix and match headtube, deck, and handlebar colors like you would when creating a Nike By You sneaker, or choose from patterns like a Space Invader-themed finish or a skull-and-crossbones motif.
At the finish line
With the Model One, Unagi's managed to address many of the complaints people have about small scooters. The design and finish are outstanding, and despite being compact, it's really powerful. Acceleration is great, it chews up and spits out most hills with ease, and the 17 mph average top speed will have you keeping up with (or overtaking) many cyclists.
Unagi's e-scooters are beautiful objects that are equally functional.
My only complaints concern points that are hard to avoid in this form factor. First, the small and solid 7.5-inch wheels mean you have to use your legs for shock absorption or you're going to get back pain — but that's true of any scooter in this category without full-blown suspension. Second, if you're very tall, the one-size-fits-all head tube may be vexingly short for you. I'm only 5' 9", but even I have to bend a little — any taller and I think I'd find the handlebars too low for comfort. But, make the handlebar height adjustable and Unagi would have to sacrifice its enviable, seamless finish. So it goes.
There are plenty of e-scooters out there for half the price of the Unagi Model One, sure, but few look or feel as good. Great design and premium materials cost money, after all. Comparisons to Apple products, luxury cars, or Swiss watches come to mind: Unagi's e-scooters are beautiful objects that are equally functional. And if you're going to use one every day, its cost-per-use could make it feel worthwhile in short order.