Electric Scooter Buying Guide
Scooters come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s something essentially child-like about a scooter no matter what it looks like. From simple kick scooters to full-body mopeds, you can’t help but think of these as whimsical human-powered toys.
Thanks to battery, motor, and computer technology advancements, scooters are now not only something you mess around with for fun, but actually a viable transport option.
I know that all eyes are on these fancy new self-balancing electric vehicles, but zipping about on an inline two wheeler has a charm that those (very expensive) toys simply can’t match.
If you feel like having some retro-future cool in your life, here are the things you should keep in mind before laying down your Benjamins.
It’s hard to define exactly what makes a scooter a scooter, or what separates them from bicycles, but the key feature that all scooters share is a step-through design. Basically this means that both of your feet are on a flat deck, whereas on a bicycle or motorcycle you straddle the side of the thing like a horse.
Among scooters you have a choice of styles. There’s the now classic kick scooter, which has no seat. You stand on it, something made possible by its extra-high handlebars. Of course, electric versions of these scooters don’t require you to kick. Often these little guys will be light in weight and have a folding design making them easier to transport.
Kick scooters have seated versions as well, but as you can imagine the seat is quite high, leaving you with the option to stand up and not letting your legs bend much.
There are also more serious, beefed-up versions of this design that may look the same at first glance, but have enhanced equipment such as big pneumatic tires, front and rear suspension, and big beefy motors rated up to 1000W in power.
Of course they have price tags to match, but the big boys are not necessarily the better choice. If you’re looking for something that will fold up into a locker or shoulder-slung bag, then the big guys are not the best idea.
Finally we have moped-style scooters and sit-down scooters that look like Vespas. The moped ones have pedals and the electric Vespa-like scooters don’t, but otherwise they look just like their gas-powered equivalents.
If you want more speed, more versatile terrain handling, creature comforts, and road gear like headlights, then you’ll want to go for the big boys and leave the folding kick scooters at home.
There are still a lot of electric scooters on the market that use lead-acid batteries – the same kind of battery that cranks your car engine to life. It’s one of the reasons that scooters cost so little compared to, for example, hoverboards. Unfortunately, lithium battery technology is superior in almost every way when it comes to powering an electric vehicle, especially when it comes to charging times. While a lithium-powered scooter can be fully charged in three to four hours, a lead-acid battery may take an excruciating twelve hours to fill up for a 40-minute run time. They also weigh much more, which is bad for obvious reasons, and don’t hold as much energy per pound.
Some scooter manufacturers are offering lithium upgrade kits for their products and, if you want more than just a cheap toy, then lithium is what you want in general. Just make sure it’s a top brand like Samsung or LG with the right certification and charge protection systems. We don’t want any unplanned fires, now do we?
Not For the Heavies
Electric scooters have some of the lowest weight capacities you’re likely to see with personal electric vehicles. “Adult” scooters start at the 150-pound mark and will have frame geometry too large for young children. Some of the beefed-up, serious scooters can handle up to 300 pounds but, in the main, you can expect a maximum capacity of just over 200 pounds for the higher-end, adult-oriented models.
Speed and Range
Getting the right scooter has a lot to do with scouting out your intended route or playground. Pay attention to the distance you need to cover between charges. In other words, if you can’t charge up at your destination then you need to count both directions against the estimated range. Remember that any inclines, as well as your weight, can reduce your actual range. Manufacturer’s ratings in this regard tend to lean towards the optimistic side.
Speed is not necessarily a big issue, depending on where you want to ride. Some scooters are fast enough for limited road use, depending on your local laws. More likely you’ll be using sidewalks and bike paths. In these cases, outright speed may not be the best thing anyway.
Wheels and Suspension
Scouting your route is once again top priority when considering wheels and suspension. At their most basic, scooters can have small solid-rubber wheels and no suspension at all. This is perfect for smooth, level terrain. If it’s OK for a skateboard to roll there, this sort of scooter setup should also be OK.
If you want to ride in the real world then there are definitely road surfaces and sidewalks that are appropriate for scooters with solid wheels and no suspension, but your observation of the route will determine that.
If the route’s surface is uneven you definitely want broad pneumatic tires, and possibly suspension for the rear and maybe also the front wheel. Of course this adds cost, but it beats a supremely uncomfortable ride or eating dirt because your scooter can’t maintain contact with the surface of the road or pavement.
Hit the Brakes
Some scooters can hit nearly 30mph, so you also want adequate braking. Even basic scooters have a single small disc, but for larger, faster scooters you want one big disc or front- and rear-discs. If it’s possible, look up the model on YouTube and see if someone has done a braking test. Of course, brake performance also depends partly on tire and suspension quality; keep that in mind as you make a decision.
This is the last, but certainly not the least, important issue to consider. You very much get what you pay for when it comes to electric scooters. For $200 to $300 you’ll get a great toy that may even do for some light commuting, but it’s only around the $1000 mark where you might consider leaving your car at home. Keep this in mind when deciding what you want the scooter for.
Scooters Fo’ Life
Scooters may not be the sexiest way to get around, but don’t underestimate how much fun they can be or how useful the right scooter in the right place is. As long as you keep an eye out for the important factors I’ve listed here, you’ll be A-OK!