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Ola S1 Pro first Test Ride review

S.Muralidhar | Updated on November 15, 2021

An electric scooter that has the power to disrupt the 2-wheeler market? Yes. But, dominate it for years to come? That depends on many factors.

That the electric mobility market is likely to be dominated by e-scooters is a no-brainer. And the market is expected to witness a deluge of new brands, mainly from the start-up community, entering the fray with a mind-boggling variety of electric 2-wheelers. Many of them are likely to be scooters because they assume that motorcycle buyers are enthusiasts and may take longer to give up their ICE (petrol) obsession. But, the assumption that scooter buyers are mere commuters and that they won’t hesitate to make the switch to battery power is undoubtedly wrong. The convenience of riding them may drive the current popularity of automatic scooters. But a lot of young riders are passionate about their scooters and enjoy riding them sportily.

That is precisely the demographic that Ola Electric will be targeting with its S1 and S1 Pro e-scooters. These are not the first electric two-wheelers to come to market, though all that hype surrounding the launch may have left a few of you wondering what the hullabaloo is all about. The last few years have witnessed a few significant new e-scooter launches that have already opened the eyes of buyers to electrics. Start-up e-mobility brands like Ather and Okinawa, and even e-scoots from traditional ICE two-wheeler makers like TVS and Bajaj, have given buyers a taste of the possibilities. Ola, though, is saying that it will be a disruptor because it will turn, not just the hardware and software, but the entire ownership experience of an e-scooter, on its head. Allow me to explain the ecosystem you will face if you consider buying an Ola Electric scooter.

Disruptor’s Ecosystem

First, pretty much everything about the ordering process will be online. There are not going to be any dealers or even service stations (at least initially). One has to go to the website and place orders, and make payments. According to company officials, everything will be centralised and the scooter will be packed and shipped on a truck to your residence when delivery is due. The orders have been classified into three categories - Purchasers (who’ve paid a large advance), Reservers (who have made a token advance) and all the others who have evinced interest. This hierarchical classification will be the basis on which you’ll be offered a test ride of the new scooters. So it will be a while for the curious amongst you to get to swing your leg over the S1 or S1 Pro. Test rides are being organised in a phased manner in various cities in locations like Malls and other designated locations.

 

Post-purchase, service intervals are likely to be much longer than ICE scooters, but if the S1 twin you own needs repairs or service, you will need to fix an appointment using the Ola Electric app, and a technician will arrive at your doorstep to fix the scooter. I have no clue how they will scale up this level of personalised service if and when the numbers run into the millions. Company officials also claim that the S1 and S1 Pro diagnostics can detect problems and automatically send back messages to the central server, which may trigger a service request even without the owner’s intervention.

 

So, for now, there is not going to be a dealership, experience centre or service station that you can go to. You have to wait for your turn to be called for a test ride, delivery or service/ repairs. The charging infrastructure is also going to be set up in a phased manner. Ola officials say that their proprietary socket and charging stations that accept that will be set up in major public places, IT Parks, shopping areas etc., in addition to the swank charging station tower that the company had released pictures of. You will be able to charge the S1 and S1 Pro at a wall socket at home too, with the help of the charging cable that’s being offered with the scooter. Charging time could vary between four and a half to six and half hours depending on the state of charge and whether it is the S1 or the S1 Pro with the bigger battery.

Now, let's take a look at the scooters themselves and how they perform. Here is my first impression after riding the S1 Pro.

Design and Build

The first-ever test ride of the S1 Pro had to be organised in a closed-off gated community area outside Bengaluru city limits. So, while I can say that we motoring journos managed to spend a couple of hours with the scooter, it wasn’t entirely in real-world conditions. But considering the extremely high interest, it possibly would’ve been impossible to take ten of them out on the streets.

 

The S1 Pro’s design is sinuous and sleek, to put it simply. We have seen enough pictures of the scooter by now, yet seeing it in the flesh gives me a sense of how clean and shapely the design is. There is an undeniable sense of modernity and a metrosexual charm to the design. It certainly feels gender-neutral, and that should be a good thing going for the design given how it is likely to be a choice amongst men, women and those that identify themselves as either. A headlamp that reminds one of a Disney character, the minimalist, thin LED turn indicators and the narrowing of the profile in the middle and the wide rear give the S1 Pro a modern scooter character. The body lines flow from the handlebar down and along either side, creating an aerodynamic profile. Footpegs and the side stand also fold away into neat cuts in the body panels to give it flush, aerodynamic surfaces. The 12-inch alloy wheels and the wide 110/70 MRF tyres they are shod with give it a sporty and focused-on-youngsters look; the single-fork front suspension and the mono-shock at the rear add to this impression.

 

It is still a practical scooter with a wide seat especially constructed for pillion riders who sit sideways. It is also about 74 cms long (about two and a half feet). Another feature of the S1 Pro that women riders will appreciate will be the 792mm saddle height. The ground clearance is an adequate 165mm. The curved battery pack is located under the floor of the scooter enabling it to take the shape of the scooter. It is also sealed and completely waterproof while featuring air flow channels for cooling. Another practical feature is the 36-litre under-seat storage space. It can accommodate a couple of open-face helmets.

Features

The Ola S1 Pro that I was test riding sported a glossy black paint job, but it is available in myriad other colours. The fit and finish quality are quite good, and the chosen materials are also very appealing. The large digital screen that doubles up to deliver a selection menu, information display and instrument cluster gives rider the first introduction to everything about the scooter. The switches and selectors that we are used to seeing in the traditional scooter have been thrown out the window, and in their place there are rubber buttons. While they are waterproof and sturdy enough, unfortunately, they are not backlit and engaging them may take a bit of getting used to. These buttons include the main power on, mode selector, play/ pause, headlamp on and high-beam, turn indicators, horn and the cruise control setting, doubles up as the reverse gear selector.

 

Just under the wide handlebar is a storage binnacle that also houses two speakers. Ola Electric officials tell me that music can be played onto the speakers via a paired smartphone. In future, the speaker can also be used to create customised sounds to warn pedestrians. Many such features and others, including cruise control, will be delivered via OTA (over the air) updates using an embedded SIM and pre-selected service provider. So, the cruise control function didn’t work in my test mule since it is still in beta stage. The reverse function worked fine, but only let the S1 Pro crawl backwards at about 3kmph. The trick is to twist the throttle in the wrong direction; and the mode is only meant to assist the rider in taking the scooter out of a tight parking slot. It is impossible to do a slalom in reverse like the official video may have had you believe. The digital display also features navigation, which Ola officials say will (in the near future) display a special map developed in-house, giving directions to shortcuts and routes that may only be accessible for a scooter.

 

Performance

The Ola S1 and S1 Pro feature an 8.5kW electric motor (peak power); the rated motor power is 5.5kW. The motor has been mounted just ahead of the rear wheel. The difference between the two scooters is the battery capacity - 2.98kWh for the S1 and 3.97kWh for the S1 Pro. The other difference is the number of available drive modes. The S1 gets Normal and Sports, and the S1 Pro gets one more - Hyper mode. So, the rated top speed is 90kmph for the S1 and 115kmph for the S1 Pro. And the rated battery range is 121kms for the S1 and 181kms for the S1 Pro. Of course, real world range is likely to be lower and depends on your driving style and road/ traffic conditions.

 

My test mule S1 Pro felt as quick as it is rated five seconds for the 0-60kmph dash I was looking forward to. In Hyper mode, the scooter feels seriously quick, with all of that 58Nm of peak torque being available from standstill. The difference in performance between sports and hyper is narrow, it is clearly much quicker than usual, probably from throttle mapping. At a 125kgs kerb weight, it is not exactly a light scooter. Considerable weight savings must have been had from the compact tubular frame and the ABS body panels, but none of that translates into a hesitant ride. Suspension set up with a single fork at the front and a mono-shock at the rear offer a good ride quality over the partly loose gravel tarmac that I rode on for the test ride. But, a longer test ride on regular city roads will be needed to reveal more. The battery’s position under the floor lowers the centre of gravity and helps improve stability when taking turns and corners.

 

Bottom Line

The battery socket is at the rear, just below the tail-lamp and charging it at a Ola Hyper charger can deliver a quick 75kms charge in 18 mins. Ola Electric officials say that the S1 and S1 Pro are almost entirely manufactured in India, with only some electronic components and cells within the imported battery. The battery management system is proprietary and developed in-house. So, pricing power will certainly be Ola’s forte; what with the massive ‘future factory’ and its planned ginormous output.

But Ola’s scooters will have to deliver on the whole digital ownership experience-centric to the scooters’ appeal and will need to be the differentiator compared to competitors. The hardware is sorted, but now the digital side needs to deliver. The possibilities are endless. There’s already some of that jazz on-board - the scooter doesn’t have a stem lock, instead it unlocks by detecting the rider’s smartphone and the embedded App. You can even set up different profiles for other riders in your family by connecting their phones. The App will be the bridge between the user and the ecosystem. So aside from the generic risks of over-dependence on the digital, Ola’s ecosystem needs to be free of bugs.

The other thing that Ola has got spot-on is the pricing. Depending on subsidies, including state governments incentives, the prices could range from about ₹85,000 to ₹ 1.1 lakh.

Published on November 15, 2021

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