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Motoring: Green - but pleasant?

The verdict; It may be nippy and pollution-free, but you'd feel foolish on a CityBug in town, say our testers. By Michael Booth The verdict; It may be nippy and pollution-free, but you'd feel foolish on a CityBug in town, say our testers.
The British are hypocrites when it comes to cars. Most of us make convincing worried noises about the environment, or tut loudly upon demand about congestion, but when it comes to it, given the choice, we would rather share a bath with Bernard Manning than a seat on a bus with a stranger. We love our cars (literally) to death and no one, whether a tax-wielding Lord Mayor or Swampy, is going to entice, cajole or wrench us from our cosy cocoons.

Yet every few years sees some new hair-brained invention, designed to cut a swathe through traffic and reduce pollution, burst forth and fall flat on its face. So far, none have made even the slightest dent in the popularity of the car. And I have a feeling that, for all its merits, the CityBug won't either.

The CityBug is an electric-powered folding scooter originally designed to ferry corpulent yacht owners around the decks of their pounds 5m barges. Made in Italy, it is now being imported to the UK and can be purchased for pounds 550, including charger. A 12V 12A battery, which recharges in five hours (using the same electricity as a 100-watt lightbulb), gives the CityBug a top speed of 15mph and a 12-mile range. What's more, it folds in half and can fit in most car boots.

The two CityBugs we tried were terrific fun around the Brooklands Museum complex. With nippy acceleration and a bolt-upright driving position, you feel like you are travelling at quite a rate of knots. Corners are fairly challenging because, although you are going no faster than you would on a bicycle, you assume you can corner just as easily. You can't. Bends have to be taken painfully slowly to stop the fibreglass frame grounding noisily.

At 48lb, you won't be able to carry a CityBug too far, but its main failure, as far as regular commuting is concerned, lies with its suspension. Hit a pothole at speed and you will come a cropper. And the fact that the CityBug hinges in the middle does nothing to help its rigidity on the move.

Our testers (all studying aspects of motorsport and engineering at Brooklands College, Surrey) had plenty of nice things to say about the CityBug, but none were too taken by its style. It is simply impossible to look remotely cool on a CityBug.

Current UK road traffic legislation does not accommodate the CityBug (it's not an electric bicycle because it doesn't have any pedals, but it's not a moped either), so as far as crash helmet and insurance are concerned, you are apparently at the mercy of whichever policeperson stops you. The same goes for road tax, but the importers are lobbying John Prescott to clear up the situation.

Its limitations accepted, where I can see the CityBug working very well is on large factory estates or business parks. It would also be fine in and around residential suburbs, camp sites, harbours or private air fields, and apparently there are already many orders from those who have mobility problems but don't fancy an invalid car. As far as city traffic goes, though, I think I'd still take the Bernard Manning option

CityBug UK: 01276 679558

Rachel Evans, 16, from Byfleet, Surrey. Studying for a Motorsport B-Tec national diploma. Wants to be a Formula One mechanic

"I'd only ever been a passenger on a motorbike so I was a little worried about trying this, but it is very good for people who haven't ridden before. This would be fine for someone with short distances to commute, but otherwise they're just toys. I'd be worried the bodywork would get damaged - it's chipped already. Perhaps with a bigger engine it could revolutionise commuting. They are good for the environment. Personally, I prefer faster motorbikes. I'd love a Harley Davidson. This isn't really cool enough but I think the price is fair."

Zoe Dann, 16, from Addlestone, Surrey. Studying for a Motor Vehicle B-Tec national diploma. Wants to be a mechanic

"Even though I'd never ridden a bike before, I felt confident pretty quickly on this - although it did feel a bit unsafe and wobbly around the hinge area where it folds. Maybe it would be better without the seat. I didn't have a problem lifting it and could carry it a fair distance. I felt safe most of the time, but it's not something I'd purchase even though the price is reasonable. It's not really something for college students to ride around on. I don't think it's possible to look cool on it - my friends would laugh. But for business people around town where the traffic is bad it might be OK. Having said that, I wouldn't personally feel safe on it in traffic."

Ben Langford, 17, from Ewell, Surrey. Studying for a Motorsport B-Tec national diploma. Wants to be a Formula One driver

"If you worked in the centre of a town where there was heavy traffic the CityBug would be absolutely brilliant to get to work on. I was apprehensive before I got on it, but it's very stable once you get going, very comfortable and good value for money. It corners well, nothing to worry about there. I would like a little more speed out of it for use where I live, but then I'm not sure it would be terribly safe. It's probably fast enough for city traffic come to think of it."

Lee Spiers, 19, from Epsom, Surrey. Studying for a Motorsport B-Tec national diploma. Wants to be a Formula One mechanic

"This is brilliant for pottering about in, but I wouldn't buy one at the moment - maybe in the future if I have to commute in a city every day and I need to get through traffic jams quickly. It is safe to ride and you feel confident on it quite quickly once you're used to the controls. The throttle is quite responsive and the brakes pull you up really well, though you can skid a little in the wet if you slam them on. It's not at its best over rough surfaces either - it is noisy when it bottoms out - but little bumps are fine."