ACROSS Irish cities, bicycle shops have queues coming out of them. Electric models, while not experiencing quite as much of a crush in demand, are also hot items.
But what about an electric scooter? Is a fully electric version of a moped a trendy, convenient way to get around or does it place you in the same category as your grand-uncle with his trusty Honda 50? Can Dublin or Cork or Galway ever replicate Naples or Lyon or Bilbao?
For most of this month, I've been trying out Niu's MQI+ Sport, a nippy little electric scooter. Compared to high-end electric bikes, it's fairly affordable. It also has some storage and safety advantages, with a decent accompanying app that lets you keep track of your journeys and a bunch of other things.
The range for me was about the same - 80km - as a decent electric bike. Although designed to have a top speed of 45kmh, I got it closer to 50kmh, but no more.
As a rider, the moped handles nicely. Cornering is comfortable. It generally felt stable. There's also room for a second person to sit behind you on the seat, a nice consideration although I couldn't persuade anyone to do it.
It has two driving 'modes'. I spent most of my time in 'Mode 2', taking me to that 50kmh maximum and allowing me quicker acceleration (which, in turn, avoids holding up any traffic).
'Mode 1' maxes out at around 21kmh, and has gentler acceleration than 'Mode 2'.
The quiet electric motor is a gift to neighbours and residential streets. On the other hand, I found that it also presented new challenges. The main one is that I found that pedestrians simply couldn't hear me approaching and would saunter out onto the road without looking.
It's powered by a removable electric battery that sits under the seat. Just take it out and recharge it using any normal electric socket and its charging adapter. I found that it took around five or six hours to recharge it fully.
In my time with the Niu scooter, I found that it had some advantages and disadvantages, particularly when compared to an electric bike.
The biggest advantage was probably road presence. Put simply, you hold your own a lot more on this than any bicycle. I found that I was a lot less likely to be bullied into the gutter or the margins. Cars didn't hang mere feet behind me waiting to squeeze by.
For some reason, cars regard a physically larger two-wheeler as being more 'worthy' of its own road space.
They also have more safety and storage features. The wheels are generally much wider than bike wheels. I found that they handled mean bumps, crevices and potholes in a way less likely to cause me to potentially unbalance.
And you can store quite a lot in the rear carriage box on my test model.
I was able to fit a change of shoes, laptop, jacket and bag in there. It would be quite easy to fit one medium to large bag of shopping. This is much more convenient than cramming it into a backpack.
But there are some disadvantages, too.
The main one, by some distance, is a regulatory and licensing consideration. Unless you passed your car test before 2006 (which I luckily did), you need a specific separate motorbike driving licence for this. Ireland is weirdly isolated on this issue - most European countries don't have such onerous licensing restrictions.
Because it's a motorbike, you also need to insure it. Axa charges €260 for third-party cover, or €360 for comprehensive cover.
So it's a lot more hassle to get up and running than an electric bike.
There are other things to consider if you're buying one of these as something for recreational use rather than as an everyday alternative to a car or a bus.
Whereas it is generally great fun, I found that being on the road at 50kmh among all the cars and trucks at speed gave me a mindset of vigilance rather than casual enjoyment.
There's a thrill from scooting along to be sure, but if you're looking for something that's restful too, this may not be it.
For most of my usage period, the weather was good. But I can imagine that the dark days of winter may bring other considerations. If I was buying one, I'd probably invest in the optional screens for legs and hands.