Once considered a niche form of transportation, electric scooters are now everywhere in the form of services like Bird and Lime, and that’s prompted some people to look into buying their own. This guide will help you decide whether an electric scooter makes sense, what to look for when shopping for one, and issues to be mindful of, such as maintenance and legality.
First, what is an electric scooter?
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Scooters come in two main varieties.
Bogdan Petrovan / Android Authority
The type of scooter rented by companies like Lime is a stand-up scooter, also known as a folding or kick-scooter, though only some models actually require a kick to get going. Electric kick-scooters can often be more practical than sit-down scooters. While they require add-ons for storage, the ability to fold down the stem makes it possible to fit them in tight spaces like public transit or a car trunk. They’re also allowed to travel on sidewalks and park paths in some cases, and some of the tougher models can go off-road.
Lines can blur. Some stand-up models have optional seats, and sit-down models occasionally resemble mopeds or e-bikes more than a Vespa.
Read more: Electric bikes vs electric scooters vs electric mopeds vs electric motorcycles — What’s the difference?
Should I get an electric scooter?
There are several factors to consider before choosing a scooter over other forms of transportation. The first is weather — while some scooters will work in snow, you’ll need to adjust your speed, clothing, and equipment, for instance by swapping in studded/off-road tires. Even then it can be risky, and some conditions simply won’t allow riding — you’re not going anywhere in a foot of snow. Scooters are only truly suited to clear skies or light rain. Depending on your model, you may need to do extra weatherproofing to protect the battery and circuitry.
Conditions also include roads and traffic. While many scooters are able to cope with cracks and potholes, few are capable of highway speeds, and even then highways aren’t the safest place to be. You should probably step up to an electric car or motorcycle if highway driving is a must. Some people aren’t comfortable riding in heavy traffic at all, and of course, lighter scooters are only designed for sidewalks, park paths, and bike lanes.
Legality is a huge factor. While sit-down scooters are typically legal everywhere in the world, many governments have yet to realize the potential of stand-up models, often resulting in misguided or scattershot laws. Some cities, states, and provinces will look the other way — but others are notoriously harsh, such as London, where people’s rides are regularly confiscated. Still other places will prevent you from riding on paths or sidewalks. If you move internationally and bring a scooter with you, you could be forced to register and insure it, even if it was previously free of red tape. Do your research before buying anything.
Legality is a huge factor.
You should also be sure you have a person or repair shop you can bring a scooter to if it breaks down. Scooter shops are less common than bike shops, and some may outright refuse to repair stand-up models. The ones that do will probably have to order in custom parts, so you may be without a ride for a week or longer. It’s possible to repair stand-up scooters on your own, but not everyone has the time and money.
Read more: The best cheap electric kick-scooters of 2021
Consider your use cases realistically. Though a scooter is perfect for commuting and errands in urban environments, it can (potentially) be a bad choice for the same things in suburbs or rural areas. Electric bikes and motorcycles are typically better there given features like pedal backup and/or bigger batteries.
Things open up considerably if you’re just interested in having fun, since scooters have next to no learning curve. Even then however you should be prepared for the fact that higher-end models are big and heavy, making them difficult to get home if they break down or run out of power. Electric skateboards and unicycles are superior if you need maximum portability and can afford the time to learn to use them. Many stand-up scooters (like the Unagi One) are built to be easy carries, but sacrifice range, speed, and the ability to handle rough terrain.
Xiaomi Mi Electric Scooter
What to look for when shopping for a scooter
When ordering online, always prefer brands with polished websites, long warranties, and a robust support system if things go south. It can be tempting to buy stand-up scooters off sites like Ali Express at bargain-basement prices — a lot of designs share the same Chinese parts after all — but you’re taking a gamble that your vehicle will be shipped on time and intact, never mind quality control or getting support. Some of the more reputable stand-up electric scooter brands include:
For traditional sit-down scooters, the simplest way to find reputable brands is to browse in person at a dealership. You’ll get a chance to test ride different models, and you’ll know where to take your scooter for repairs. Some dealerships may even have riding schools to help with licensing.
Read more: The top things to know when you shop for an electric scooter (e-moped)
In terms of specs, the first thing to check is always range. Determine the furthest distance you might ride in one direction — you’ll want more than double that unless you plan to charge for a few hours midway, say while you’re at work. In fact, you may need more headroom if you plan to ride in cold weather, since freezing temperatures can cut battery life in half. Likewise, be aware that many stand-up scooter manufacturers calculate their range based on a certain body weight and speeds of 20mph (32kph) or less. You’re going to burn through battery a lot faster when riding at 30 or 40mph.
In terms of specs, the first thing to check is always range.
Top speed should be a focus if you’re worried about commute times or plan to get on roads with cars. If you only plan to ride on paths, sidewalks, or bike lanes, a scooter should be fine if it can reach about 20-30mph (32-48kph). On roads you’ll want a scooter capable of 30-40mph (48-64kph) or more in order to keep up with traffic, depending on local speed limits.
More important than speed in some instances is whether a scooter has single or dual motors. A single-motor scooter is fine for most scenarios. Dual motors come in handy when climbing hills, going off-road, or towing cargo, although you’ll pay for the privilege.
Suspension is typically only a question mark on stand-up scooters. While riding on smooth surfaces, you can get away without it. On anything rougher you’ll feel uncomfortable at best, and in worst-case scenarios, you might damage your scooter or lose control. Just a few scooters are suitable for true off-road riding, like the Kaabo Wolf King, which has motorcycle-style hydraulic suspension.
Segway Ninebot MAX
In terms of tires, it’s best to choose scooters with tubeless pneumatics whenever possible. These are less puncture-prone than tubed tires while still offering air cushioning and a solid grip on the road. There are puncture-proof airless tires, but the tradeoff is a bumpy ride, and they’re slippery on dirt or wet surfaces. Both tubed and tubeless pneumatics should be primed with sealants like Slime, FlatOut, or Armor-Dilloz to prevent flats. Make sure any sealant is compatible with your tire type.
Durability and waterproofing should always be high concerns. No scooter is intended for heavy rain or snow, but there should never be worries about light rain or splashes seeping into the electronics. You can use wraps or silicone sealant to protect parts that don’t have to fold or open. One of the few stand-up scooters that’s certified waterproof is the Emove Cruiser, which ha s an IPX6 rating. You’ll also want fenders to keep your clothes clean and protect components.
Scooters with a plastic base should never go off-road, since they’re virtually guaranteed to crack open at some point.
Bright lights and a horn are standard on many sit-down scooters but not necessarily stand-up ones. People hoping to ride the latter at night or in traffic need to make them a priority, and add turn signals if they’re not integrated. All of these features can be added as aftermarket upgrades, in a pinch.
Security matters because of how relatively easy it is to steal a scooter — ultra-portables can be carried off in one hand, and even a Vespa can be loaded into the back of a pickup truck. All models generally require heavy-duty wheel and/or frame locks, such as one of Kryptonite’s New York Fahgettaboudit chains (yes, that’s the real name). More expensive electric scooters come with metal or NFC keys, sometimes paired with alarms, disablers, or GPS systems. A removable battery is a plus, although that can potentially shut off power-based security measures. Folding scooters should be taken indoors if they’re not unwieldy.
It’s surprisingly easy to find acceptable brakes, but there are tiers. Electronic braking is alright, mechanical discs are better, and the best option is hydraulics. Be aware that hydraulic brakes need to be periodically refilled, and that brake discs can eventually warp or wear down.
Also read: 10 of the most expensive electric cars in the world
Traditional sit-down scooter picks
The Vespa Elettrica costs a staggering $7,499, but has those signature Vespa aesthetics, plus 62 miles of range and 147.5 pound-feet of torque, which is more aggressive than many motorcycles. The standard model tops out at 30mph (48kph), or you can spring an extra $100 for a 45mph version.
With a 20mph (32kph) top speed. the Segway eMoped C80 can’t ride in traffic, but it’s also much cheaper than an Elettrica at $2,200. Segway even includes bike pedals, technically making it an e-bike, though the truth is that police and bystanders are going to give you dirty looks if you ride anywhere but the street. The main attractions — aside from price — are a 47-mile (76-kilometer) range, and some very smart security. The scooter automatically locks when you step away, and you need a phone or NFC card to unlock it in the first place, much like a Tesla. If someone tries to steal it, there’s a built-in alarm and GPS locator.
Segway eMoped C80
Ultra-portable scooter picks
The E-TWOW GT ($1,049) looks like a rental scooter, but packs a considerable punch, hitting speeds up to 25mph (40kph) and a range up to 23 miles (37 kilometers). It includes regenerative and rear-disc braking, and it’s one of the cheapest scooters you can get with a mobile app for controlling functions like locking. Crucially, the GT weighs just 26.5 pounds (12kg) and uses airless tires, making it one of the most convenient models for people who don’t have stringent range or weather requirements.
The Unagi One ($840-$990) is pricey relative to its performance, with a speed of 20mph (32kph) and range of 15.5 miles (25km ), but the $990 E500 version is one of the cheapest dual-motor scooters you can find. It folds quickly, uses airless tires, and has anti-lock electronic brakes. It also coincidentally weighs 26.5 pounds (12kg) like the E-TWOW GT.
Mid-range stand-up picks
For many people, the best stand-up scooter to start with is the Segway/Ninebot KickScooter Max ($950). Its 18.6mph (30kph) top speed is disappointing, but it makes up for it with 10-inch “self-healing” pneumatic tires and up to 40.4 miles (65 kilometers) of range — specs you’d often have to pay hundreds of dollars more for. A mobile app toggles features like locking and cruise control. In fact, apart from speed, the only other issue with the Max is that it’s not equipped to go off-road.
For many people, the best stand-up scooter to start with is the Segway/Ninebot KickScooter Max.
A big step up from the Max is the Apollo Explore ($1,399). It tops out at 31mph (50kph) with 34 miles (about 55 kilometers) of range, and for light off-road duty — as well as a generally smooth ride — it combines 10-inch pneumatic tires with spring suspension. It also offers disc brakes and a wide, grippy deck. Be warned though that with 1,400W of peak power, the Explore is a small taste of the high-performance world. You need to be physically prepared if you mash the throttle or slam on the brakes.
The Emove Cruiser ($1,399) is a great everyday commuter. In addition to IPX6 waterproofing, it has suspension, 10-inch tubeless tires, and “hybrid” hydraulic brakes. Its headline feature is the 62 miles (100 kilometers) of range, which beats some scooters twice the cost. It can even handle loads up to 352lbs (160kg), which suits it to heavy riders.
Picks for urban speed demons
The VSETT 10+R ($2,790) is one of the best-looking scooter designs, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It has not one, but two 1,400W motors, which can propel it up to 50mph (about 81kph). At those speeds, you’d better have a steady hand and body armor. Thankfully it can be driven at slower speeds too, giving it a range anywhere between 50 and 90 miles (around 80 to 145 kilometers). It also has perks like an NFC key, turn signals, and IP54 water resistance, so it can be a fantastic commuter for those willing to spend — and lift its 79lb weight if they need to go up stairs or take a train.
The Currus Panther ($3,599) is similar to the 10+R in specs, with a 50mph (81kph) top speed and range hovering around 75 miles (120 kilometers). It takes one look however to tell that it’s built like a tank, sporting a huge deck, an indestructible stem, and fat, tubeless tires using off-road treading. Its dual motors deliver up to 5,400W of power, which means beginners should start elsewhere.
If the Panther is a little crazy, scooters like the Dualtron Storm ($4,490) are downright overkill. Its motors can put out an absurd 6,640W, pushing speeds as high as 55mph (89kph) or more. You might legitimately take it on the highway where laws allow. Range nominally goes up to 80 miles (129 kilometers), yet the kicker is that it has a swappable battery, so you can buy a second battery and double your distance. Combined with features like turn signals, it’s practically a stand-up motorcycle.
Appropriately, the undisputed king of off-road scooters is the Kaabo Wolf King ($2,999). The vehicle uses twin forged stems and hydraulic suspension, with an option for street or knobby tires. On YouTube, you can find videos of people jumping the King’s predecessor, the Wolf Warrior 11, off tracks meant for dirt and mountain bikes. In fact, the King could just as easily be on our speed demon list, since peak power climbs to 6,720W with a top speed of 60mph (97kph). It also has some of the brightest headlights on any scooter, and a loud horn meant to be heard in dense traffic. The thing keeping its price under $3,000 is a 50-mile (80-kilometer) max range.
The VSETT 11+ ($3,199) uses twin stems and hydraulic suspension similar to the Wolf King, but in a package like the 10+R, including speeds up to 53mph (85kph) and a range between 50 and 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers). That also means turn signals and an NFC key. Its most controversial feature may be its Captain America aesthetics, which probably don’t play well outside the US.
The sky’s the limit
If you have no problem spending Vespa levels of money but value performance over comfort or style, one option is the Weped SST ($7,299). The scooter has a staggering 30KW of peak power, which takes it up to 70mph (113kph) — faster than we’d ever recommend riding. Range can stretch to about 80 miles (129 kilometers), if only at much slower speeds.
Perhaps the craziest scooter of them all is the Rion Thrust ($8,500). While its range is 45 to 50 miles (72 to 80 kilometers), its speeds can exceed 80mph (128kph), thanks in part to a mix of aluminum and carbon fiber construction. It’s so fast that even Rion doesn’t recommend flooring it on public roads.
Electric scooters: FAQs
Q: How hard is it to learn to ride a stand-up electric scooter?
A: For simple riding, the learning curve is almost non-existent. Once a scooter is moving, it tends to self-stabilize so long as you keep your hands and feet planted and don’t do anything dramatic. Steering is a matter of turning the handlebars and leaning in on tight corners.
Things only get complicated — not necessarily hard — with high speeds, traffic, and tackling wet or rough terrain. A lot of people aren’t prepared for the acceleration and braking of better scooters, which can potentially throw them off if they’re not braced for it. Similarly, riding in traffic requires a lot of situational awareness, since other vehicles won’t necessarily see you and even the biggest scooter tire is going to bounce higher off a bump than a car.
Q: Which is more practical, an electric scooter or an e-bike?
When in doubt, go with the e-bike. E-bikes are not only better supported, but often better equipped for carrying cargo and passengers. If a bike’s motor breaks down or runs out of power, you can still pedal it home.
The main advantages of a scooter are performance, and in the case of folding ones, portability. You won’t find many e-bikes that can break 30mph (48kph), and if you don’t have a safe place to park or charge, portability can suddenly dwarf every other issue.
Q: What can I do to prevent my scooter from being stolen?
If it’s an option, never park in dark or isolated areas for extended periods of time. That could mean as little as 10 to 30 minutes, since it doesn’t take long to lift a scooter into a truck bed or ride off once any locks have been cut. Chances are theft won’t happen that quickly, but the risk is there.
You can mitigate threats by using heavy-duty wheel and/or frame locks, like Kryptonite’s New York Fahgettaboudit chain mentioned earlier. No matter the brand you choose, don’t skimp — some thieves are equipped with grinders and lockpicks, and only the toughest products will slow them down. Use multiple locks if you can afford it. Always lock your scooter to something immovable, and buy an alarm system if your model doesn’t come with one. Take your battery with you if it’s removable and won’t disable security systems.
Q: What sort of safety gear do I need?
A: If you’re an adult familiar with your scooter and riding at 30mph (48kph) or less, you can probably get away with any MIPS-equipped bike or skate helmet unless laws demand otherwise. Helmets with a visor are preferable for blocking out wind, rain, and bugs, one popular option being the TSG Pass. Kids and newcomers should add knee and elbow pads, at least for their first few rides.
Over 30mph the potential for injury rises rapidly. At 40mph (64kph) or more we’d insist on wearing motorcycle-grade body armor, and an equally tough helmet. However unlikely an accident might be, a crash at those speeds can land you in the hospital, and even some slower wrecks can cause bleeding, sprains, or fractures.
One of your best defenses is visibility. Make sure your scooter is well-lit at night or twilight, ideally supplemented by bright clothing. Headlights should clearly illuminate what’s ahead without blinding drivers or pedestrians.
Q: What can I do to maintain a stand-up scooter on my own?
A: From the get-go we’d recommend using a sealant to prevent flats — be sure to pick the right type for tubed or tubeless tires. You can also add tire liners, but this isn’t mandatory, especially since it can be hard to do on some scooters.
Before riding for the first time it’s vital to make sure every bolt and screw is tight, since a lot of scooters ship with literal loose ends. You can use Loctite to keep things in place if they don’t need to move. To aid with weatherproofing, you may want to use silicone on some crevices and wraps around cables. You can use zip ties to bunch cables out of harm’s way.
From the get-go we’d recommend using a sealant to prevent flats — be sure to pick the right type for tubed or tubeless tires.
To prolong battery life it’s best to avoid charging to 100% or using fast chargers. You may have to make exceptions, of course — sometimes there’s no choice but to maximize range or juice up in a hurry. You won’t automatically ruin your battery so long as you give it a break whenever you can. When not in use, both the battery and scooter should be kept in a warm, dry place.
Whatever you do, don’t use a hose to wash a scooter unless the vehicle is certified waterproof, and even then you should only spray down the deck. As a rule, you should stick to rags and water, later drying with a towel.
Check bolts, screws, tires, and brakes once a week during riding season. Oil metal parts as needed. Keep spare parts around, particularly if they’re model-specific. For air-filled tires, you’ll want a portable electric pump with a pressure gauge. Bring the pump and tire replacement gear on rides.
Q: Is it safe to take a passenger?
A: On sit-down electric scooters the answer is yes, so long as there’s enough seating. For stand-up scooters the answer is generally no, since it tends to throw off riding off balance. You can, however, tow a pet or child in a trailer.
Q: What are my options for carrying cargo?
A: Scooters tend not to have much room. For carrying locks and maintenance gear, you may be able to use built-in storage on a sit-down model, or a handlebar bag on a stand-up. Anything more will probably demand a large backpack or a tow trailer.
Q: Can I take a folding scooter on a plane?
A: No, at least not anything worth riding when you land. While ultra-portables can theoretically get around size and weight limits, restrictions on battery capacity are simply too tight. In the US, for example, the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t allow carry-on batteries rated over 100Wh, or checked batteries over 160Wh. Even the Unagi One is rated at 282Wh.