Zach and Wen Schieffelin think a lot about how people travel through the city. The two managing partners of Carbon(-) (pronounced “carbon negative”) have long had the matter of personal transport in their purview. In 2001 the couple launched Vespa Soho on Crosby Street in Manhattan. Five years later it was the largest Vespa dealership in the US. A couple of years later, they opened McCarren Motors in Williamsburg, a shop initially envisioned as “Vespa Brooklyn.” But because they were not able to secure an exclusive dealership with Vespa in the area, the shop was eventually realized as a provider of a more diverse selection of two-wheeled, motorized vehicles.
Carbon(-) caters to the needs of a city that is becoming increasingly crowded and increasingly sold on more efficient forms of transportation. By carefully and extensively sampling everything from electric bicycles, to scooters, to no-gas motorcycles, to regular bicycles, many of which have not been available in the United States until now, Zach and Wen have positioned themselves as expert curators of modern, environmentally-friendly transportation vehicles.
“Our job is to try everything, and sell only the best of the best,” says Zach. “Because within any given product segment, there’s a huge range of quality.”
Carbon(-) breaks down its transportation offerings into three categories: “Less Gas,” “No Gas,” and “100% Human.”
The “Less Gas” group is comprised mainly of gas-powered scooters like the Kymco, an Taiwanese-crafted vehicle that Zach and Wen rate “Best of Breed” for value. The Vespa, the duo’s top scooter pick for design, will not be carried at Carbon(-), although the store is a certified Vespa parts and service location.
A scooter’s emissions are significantly lower than those of a car. The gas costs are negligible for a rider whose typical use pattern usually involves a regular inter-borough commute and the running of errands a few days a week. For a vehicle so compact, parking is a breeze. And Zach insists that with the proper gear, you can ride all year round.
In the “No Gas” category are the electric bikes and motorcycles. These vehicles utilize lithium-ion batteries (just like cell phones) that easily charge from a standard wall outlet, and they have the amazing benefit of being totally silent. Zach, who jokes about being a polite hell-raiser (“May I raise some hell please?”) notes, “When you’re riding an electric, you never bother anyone.”
In addition to being gas-free, electric bikes present no fire hazard, and they can be taken indoors. They’ll give you the push if you don’t feel like huffing up the brutal Williamsburg Bridge incline, for example. And if you ever run out of charge, well, it’s a bike! Put feet on pedals and push.
“They’re a good fit for where technology is today, and the application of those technologies,” says Zach.
Carbon(-)’s “100% Human” category is proof that regular ol’ bicycles can be just as trustworthy as their motorized counterparts. Many of the bicycles are based on classic European designs. The Amsterdam from Electra Bicycle Co. is a sleek, hand-pinstriped model with a fully enclosed chain guard (so your pants don’t get caught), a skirt shield (to prevent your clothing from getting caught in the spokes), and a generator lighting unit (no batteries required). Electra’s Ratfink Cruiser looks like a souped-up chopper, with low seat, high handlebars, and a shiny grass-green frame. As with the motorized bikes, all of the accessories are geared toward practicality and easy transport, including panniers to accommodate groceries, back-end platforms to bolster larger items, and seats to carry small children in comfort and safety.
Bicycles are the most affordable category at Carbon(-), with prices ranging from $500 to $1,200. Gas-powered scooters are priced from $1,600 to $7,000. And the electric bikes range from about $2,500 and up, topping out at the $10,000 Zero Motorcycle. These prices may cause some sticker shock at first, but Zach and Wen make compelling arguments about the practicality and cost-effectiveness of even the more luxurious two-wheeled vehicles.
“With a gas-powered scooter, one can finance, insure, and gas up for the price of a monthly metrocard,” says Wen. “And a metrocard doesn’t have value in and of itself.”
They will construct your payment plan, insure you, and even send you down the block to Sharky’s Driving School to test for a motorcycle license, which is required for all gas-powered vehicles that go above 30mph, even scooters. They’ll outfit you with the perfect accessories—jackets, gloves, add-on compartments. And they’ll service your bike every couple of months. You’ll have ongoing support from a boutique bikery who keep you in the environment-friendly fast lane.