Could an electric scooter be just as good as its petrol-powered counterpart for your everyday commute? We rode an Ather around Bengaluru to find out
Story: Joshua Varghese
Photography: Saurabh Botre
One of my worst nightmares is waking up one day with enough money to buy my dream motorcycle only to find that it is illegal to use vehicles powered by an internal-combustion (IC) engine. Gives me the shivers. While I pray that day never comes, my pragmatic side argues that I stand to gain nothing by stubbornly sticking to petrol-powered two-wheelers even for my everyday commute. Especially when I spend most of my time on the road counting the number of seconds until I get the chance to inch forward. These adventures are usually limited to the same route every day, with an occasional detour for a dinner plan. Do I really need a petrol-powered two-wheeler for this?
The next choice is, of course, electric. An electric scooter is easy to use, convenient, silent, and even free of vibrations, but will it be able to deliver in terms of performance and range to match its IC engine counterparts? Bengaluru-based EV manufacturers, Ather, claim to have a product that does exactly that: the Ather 450.
Ather’s CEO and Co-founder Tarun Mehta told us that the company’s name has been derived from “Aether” which in Greek mythology refers to the primordial deity that personifies the pure air that the gods breathe. True to their inspiration, Ather have designed their 450 with a pure, no-compromise approach.
Visually, the Ather 450 boasts of a futuristic design language. The white bodywork and sleek outline make it seem as if it just rode out of a sci-fi comic book. The only other elements of style on the scooter are green patches on the rear, highlights on the wheel, and an exposed section of the frame just beneath the rider’s seat. All the lights on the Ather 450 are LED and they have been seamlessly worked into the panels; taking up only as much space as necessary. The workmanship is exemplary because all the panels fit together neatly and gaps are barely visible; a perfectionist’s dream. It would also be a perfect prop if you decided to attend a Star Wars convention as a Stormtrooper.
A seven-inch capacitive touchscreen (that works with firm input) takes care of all the information the rider needs. In addition to the tachometer, speedometer, and battery level indicator, it also displays distance to empty (quite accurately) and is even capable of storing digital copies of your driving licence and other documents. The most useful feature is definitely the Google-supported map. It displays the Ather Grid and also supports real-time navigation; quite like the system we are used to in our smartphones. It does update location a smidge too slowly at times and
I did miss a few turns on account of it, but the Ather 450 can receive and perform over the air (OTA) updates and this problem could become a thing of the past.
Given my previous experience with electric scooters, I expected to feel cramped on the Ather 450 too. I was pleasantly surprised to find the seating roomy and comfortable; a touch on the sporty side, though. The stepped seat is long and wide enough to seat a couple comfortably as well.
An IP67-rated, 2.4-kWh lithium-ion battery provides the juice for everything on board. Neatly tucked away under the floorboard, it aids weight distribution and mass centralization. Motive force comes from a BLDC motor that develops a peak power of 5.4 kW (7.3 PS) and a maximum torque of 20.5 Nm. The motor is mounted on the frame as close to the battery as possible along the centre line of the scooter to aid mass centralization, reduce unsprung mass, and enable efficient cooling. The power reaches the rear wheel through a pair of carbon-fibre belts wrapped around a double reduction ratio (7.8:1).
The frame is made primarily of aluminium while the steering column is made of steel. Suspension at the front is handled by a telescopic fork and the rear is taken care of by a monoshock that is mounted directly on to the swing-arm.
The flat line of torque allows one to pull away cleanly from standstill without any fuss or vibration. On the road, the Ather 450 is a well-balanced, agile scooter that tips into corners easily and changes direction with minimal effort, drawing grip from MRF Nylogrip Zappers. Furthermore, the connection between brain and bitumen could not get any better than this because the Ather 450 responds smoothly and predictably to every inch of throttle input.
While the front suspension is well-damped for compression and rebound, the rear monoshock does bounce back rather quickly at low speed. Fortunately, at higher speeds it is not noticeable and the scooter remains confidently planted when powering through a corner, even with a pillion on board. Anchor-dropping duties are handled by disc brakes at both ends. The front gets a 200-mm disc bitten by a triple-piston Bybre caliper while the 190-mm disc at the rear is handled by a single-piston Bybre unit. The brakes have great feedback and bite and come equipped with the safety net of a combined braking system.
During my 100-plus-km-long ride, I drained the battery twice and never once did the Ather 450 fail to live up to its claim. The clever digital battery management system makes sure the scooter performs consistently until 15 per cent of battery. Then you cannot use Sport mode any longer but the 450 will still continue to run at a top speed of 40 km/h for another 10 km. After charging the scooter for an hour using the Ather charger, I was able to extract a solid 55 km (predominantly Sport mode) under hard riding. That is quite realistic considering that Ather claim a range of 75 km in the Eco mode.
One of Ather’s strongest points is the Ather Grid, their own charging infrastructure spread throughout the city of Bengaluru. It charges the scooter from 0 to 80 per cent in less than one hour and full charge is achieved in two and a half hours. From a standard outlet, it charges to full capacity in four hours 18 minutes while 80 per cent charge requires two hours and 40 minutes.
After the recent slash in EV pricing, the Ather 450 could be yours for an on -road price of Rs 1.14 lakh. (Steep? Maybe not in the long run.) This includes benefits such as the installation of an Ather charger at your house and a one-year subscription to the Ather Service Pack. They also have a lease programme. Do check their website for further details.
During my time on the Ather 450, I enjoyed the lack of vibrations, climbed flyovers with ease, and even overtook a few motorcycles on the highway with a high-pitched whine from the electric motor for company. In retrospect, the only thing I missed was the sensory feedback from an engine but it is something I can do without during my daily commuting. I am pretty convinced that the Ather 450 makes a strong case for itself as a daily commuter. The catch? They are currently active only in Bengaluru and Chennai.
We also interviewed Ather CEO and co-founder, Tarun Mehta. Read about it here.