JackRabbit review: If a scooter and an e-bike had a baby

Sit-down comfort without the pedaling

James Trew / Engadget

In a world where most e-bikes are trying to blend in, JackRabbit, well… stands out. In fact, it’s unique enough that you’re either going to love it or at the very least be curious. As a pedal-free e-bike, it’s aimed at those in the market for a scooter rather than an electrified road bike. But, unlike a scooter, the JackRabbit can handle more than just paved sidewalk while remaining about as portable. All this to say, the JackRabbit bike is a curious proposition, but don’t let its quirky looks deceive you.

First, let’s back up a little. The JackRabbit is an electronic bike, but it’s categorized as a scooter in some jurisdictions. Thanks, in part, to its size, at 48 x 21 x 39 inches (122 x 53 x 100 cm) it’s comically/helpfully small. There are no pedals, chains or gears – it’s throttle mode only, like a tiny electric motorbike. At 24lbs (11Kg) it’s also pretty light. The advertised range is 12 miles, the top speed is 20mph delivered by a 300W motor / 150Wh battery combo and it will cost you $1,200 new in a range of four spiffy colors.

As alluded to above, comparing the JackRabbit to most other e-bikes doesn’t really make sense. This is something you’ll want to ride for short to moderate distances or for that famous last mile. It can fold down to a degree (you can pop out the handlebars and invert the front wheel) at which point it’s only slightly less portable than most scooters. That said, lugging it around is a little bit different – it doesn’t fold down as small, but you can also wheel it over/up things instead of just carrying it.

Maybe you really just wanted a bike that did all the work for you, in which case, that is this. For example, if your commute is up to five miles each way across town, and you normally ride a bike, the JackRabbit could be a viable alternative if you want something that can cut through traffic but won’t mean showing up at the office needing a shower. Oh, assuming you’re under 6’2” that is (the maximum height according to the company).

Or, if like me, you live in an apartment block and maneuvering a full-size bike downstairs with a small elevator is just straight-up hassle, the JackRabbit is a pure delight. No kidding, I have to stand a regular bike on end and hope no one’s waiting downstairs as I barge the door open with the front wheel. With the JackRabbit, I can actually just ride into and straight out of the elevator if I want.

The JackRabbit looks like a regular bike, until you realize there are no pedals!
James Trew / Engadget

The first time you take the JackRabbit out, the center of gravity takes a little getting used to. Especially once you hit higher speeds which can make the ride feel a little invigorating – in the most danger-fun sense of the word. But it doesn’t take long before you’re settled in and starting to think about what street obstacles you can try to bunny hop off of/over.

From there on out the ride is pretty smooth, though there are a few things to keep in mind. While the top speed is 20mph, it’s hard to get there in anything other than optimal conditions. The acceleration isn’t slow, but once you get to around 15/16mph it tails off enough that you need a clear road ahead to hit that top speed. This is still an improvement on the previous JackRabbit that seemed to take even longer to get there.

Inclines are also not the JackRabbit’s forte. If you hit a modest gradient at a good speed you shouldn’t have any problems, but once things get steeper and/or you hit them slower you might have to help finish the job with your feet, like a kid on a balance bike. It’s not the most gracious thing, but you shouldn’t have to get off and push – unless you live somewhere like San Francisco. That said, this latest JackRabbit does a much better job of the model before it, so that’s something.

Some other quirks of the JackRabbit’s size include your feet occasionally rubbing against the wheels, tight turns definitely require a little more forethought and I do wonder the addition of footrest pegs on the front wheel too might give an alternative riding style – almost putting you in a slight “chopper” seating position.

But as much as the unusual dimensions of the JackRabbit present some minor challenges, they are also what makes it so much fun to ride. There’s something about its slightly “dirt bike” aesthetic that makes you want to deviate from the well-paved sidewalk and into more adventurous terrain. I live near a very long park that has everything from railway sleepers to block-paved cycle paths to small dirt tracks and gravel – the JackRabbit loves ate them all up.

I also discovered that it can fit in the back of my small hatchback without any folding – it sits perfectly with one wheel behind each seat making it easily transportable, too. You can fold it down somewhat if you need to. The handlebars pop out easily and there’s a clip to hold them while the front wheel folds inwards. It shrinks the profile down enough if you either want to take up less space on the metro or simply stow it somewhere when not in use.

It actually didn’t take long before I found myself just taking this thing out for fun rather than as a means of getting somewhere. Although it had already usurped my scooter and regular-size e-bike as a means of transportation, I was now just using it for the fun of the ride, too.

And then that’s when it happened.

The JackRabbit ebike has a handlebar mounted LED display and throttle.
James Trew / Engadget

Three LEDs to indicate battery power is not enough. I found this out about a mile away from home where, with one shiny LED remaining on the handlebar-mounted throttle, the JackRabbit suddenly lost most of its power. I pressed my thumb down in vain only to remain at a crawl – I had been having so much fun I had drained the battery and the three-LED power indicator clearly isn’t detailed enough to let you know you’re really in the danger zone.

Luckily, where I live is very flat and I was able to push my way home without too much trouble. It turns out you can pump like a skateboard with one foot if you really don’t want to get off and walk this thing home. Worst of all, I had mentally calculated that I was well within the claimed 12-mile range, and tracing the route out on Google Maps suggests it was a shade over six miles.

I subsequently discovered that each LED appears to remain on as you accelerate until it’s about to drop down to the next one. At which point the LED remains lit unil you apply the throttle and it dims. This is a way of letting you know you’re at the lower end of that section of the battery indicator. So it’s slightly more informative than just three LEDs, but it’s still not a great indicator of remaining time or range.

I spoke with JackRabbit about this and we did some back and forth which included checking the battery with a voltmeter to make sure it wasn’t faulty. The company’s own testing is, like most of these things, done without going full speed and with a payload a bit lighter than me it seems. So my full-throttle approach and extra weight seem to be enough to drag down the range somewhat.

For me, it’s less about the actual range (although that’s a factor) but more about having detailed information. Most scooters will give you either a numerical percentage of battery remaining, or a higher resolution graphical indicator. So for me, it’s more about not having the information I needed to know I was about to empty the proverbial tank.

From the side, the JackRabbit looks like a tiny mountain bike.
James Trew / Engadget

Thankfully, the batteries are removable and they are portable enough that you could definitely slip a spare into a backpack. But at $200 each, that’s a reasonable spend just to relieve some anxiety. It’s also slightly frustrating that if you have the previous JackRabbit, the battery from that won’t work on the latest model, despite being nearly identical.

If there was another small addition that might help here, it would be regenerative braking. Right now, the JackRabbit doesn’t have it, but with just one rear brake to speak of, it seems something that might be easy to implement and enable a modest saving of power, especially as most inner-city commutes require a fair amount of stop-starting anyway.

The above might sound like there are still quite a few areas for improvement, but the JackRabbit remains about the most enjoyable electric ride I’ve tried in a long while. It’s form factor is going to sing to some users while being a little impractical for others. But that’s true of scooters, bikes and any other form of transportation. The JackRabbit just presents another option. I would also strongly consider how many inclines are on your route. For the most part cities with moderate inclines, they shouldn’t present a challenge but hillier locations won’t be as much fun.

But if you don’t want/need a full-size bike and you find scooters uncomfortable or impractical this is a refreshing alternative. Throw in the fact that you can also cover terrain that scooters can’t (or fit places where most bikes won’t) and the JackRabbit really does make a good, if specific, case for itself. The fact that it’s wildly fun is just an added bonus.