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Electric Scooter Buying Advice

The Ninebot KickScooter
By Nick Miley ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Wednesday June 12, 2019

Do you need help picking the ideal electric scooter for yourself or a loved one? Or, are you interested in getting some information about the zippy, two-wheeled machines that have taken your city by storm? If you're reading this, then the answer to at least one of these questions is likely yes. Here at TechGearLab we know how confusing and, at times, frustrating product research can be; especially if all you really want to do is go scootering. Rest assured, the buying guidance we provide here is derived from our extensive experience testing and analyzing these products. More to the point, our consumer advice is laid out in a simple, step-by-step format that asks and answers all the right questions. Our aim here is to pass the knowledge from our extensive product reviews down to you so you don't have to learn the hard way. For a comprehensive, side-by-side look at the top nine products on the market, including our Editor's Choice, Top Pick and Best Buy awards, please see our Best Electric Scooters of 2019 review.

It might seem obvious if you've ridden one of these scooters before (even for a few minutes), but some people might be wondering: why are these dang things so popular? Electric scooters solve a lot of problems, and unlike many problem solving activities, this one is fun. A lot of people living in congested cities and bustling tourist towns need convenient, compact, inexpensive transportation, yet they don't want to get sweaty riding a bike, or have to develop a particular skill that is needed for say skateboarding.

Electric scooters check all of the boxes above, and in doing so essentially eliminates The Last Mile Problem belabored by public transportation analyst. Compared to a car, they are very inexpensive; although we wouldn't describe them as cheap. Compared to a skateboard or bike (including electric models) they are easy to use. And, they easily fold-up for stored in a closet, cubicle or car trunk.

That is not to say that scooters are not without downsides. Many cities have laws regulating their use, and they pose safety concerns as well. Laws in your locale should be investigated. Also, personal protection devices - such as a helmet, knee and elbow pads - should be worn in the event of a fall.

Okay, fine print aside. Let's climb up into the decision tree for purchasing one of these puppies.


Ripping  cruising or commuting? There's a scooter for you.
Ripping, cruising or commuting? There's a scooter for you.

Step 1: How do you intend to use your Electric Scooter?


If you've read this far then you probably have a good idea of how and where you want to use your future scooter. You might be thinking to yourself man, I sure would like to lower the amount of money I spend on taxis. Or, It'd sure be fun to rip one of these guys around the skate park! Still, others may have both a commute and some recreation in mind. The good news is that many of the models on the market can do both, but there are some important items to consider for both usages.

Let's start with commuting. An important question to answer is how far you intend to commute? Based on our testing, higher-end models have a maximum flat ground range of ~12 miles before the decrease in power tapers the pace to a crawl. If your commute is longer than say 40% of the max mileage, then you'll need to charge the battery before your return trip.

Long commutes may be somewhat taxing on the body. Each bump and crack in the road will start to add up as you absorb these impacts in your hands and feet. Some products sports pneumatic (air-filled) tires, which go a long way to mitigate this issue. Additionally, commutes in heavily congested areas will require increased stops; both expected and otherwise. In this scenario, having a dual brake system (for example an electric motor brake in the front and a fender brake in the rear) is a real advantage as they increase braking power and offer redundancy in a critical safety system.

There are a variety of ways to ride a scooter  and there is a scooter best suited to your style.
There are a variety of ways to ride a scooter, and there is a scooter best suited to your style.

Recreational applications can place fewer demands on an electric scooter. Why might that be? Well, for starters, the rider doesn't have the predefined distance requirement of the daily commuter. A super powerful brake system might not be needed either as usage is often narrowed to off-street travel, say on a bike path or in a park. Concerns of comfort may not be as high on the wants list as you can stop riding if the experience becomes uncomfortable. However, given the option, having a comfortable, powerful and long-lasting ride it's preferred regardless of the intended use.

An additional consideration that applies to both commuting and recreation is portability. It might be hard to imagine, but at some point, you'll have to get off your scooter, at which time you'll have to transport and/ or store the thing. Most models' steering column folds down over the deck, becoming a handle. Still, others can be rolled on a single wheel when in their folded position. Consider how much you'll be carrying the scooter, the trunk space you'll have available to transport it and the home and office space you'll have to store it.

Step 2: Topography and Road Conditions


The next questions you'll want to ask yourself concerns the terrain and surface conditions where you intend to use your scooter. Again, this becomes more important for the commuter or everyday user, but the recreational rider should consider them as well. If you live in a relatively flat area like Chicago, then topography might not be that big of a concern. However, if you live in a hilly city like Seattle, then you'll want to pay close attention to how the scooter you're looking at performs on steep climbs and, more importantly, how well it does slowing descents.

Like topography, road surfaces are a less obvious, but nonetheless an important consideration. What do we mean by road surfaces? Here we're less concerned about the construction material (like concrete) than we are about the condition of that material. Here are some things to ponder: do the roads you intend to ride on have rough surfaces? Exposed aggregate? Loose debris? Do they have lots of cracks, bumps or potholes?

Pneumatic or solid tires? These differences make a big difference in user experience.
Pneumatic or solid tires? These differences make a big difference in user experience.

The focus of these questions isn't to be overly critical of all the surface streets in your area. Rather, you simply need to acknowledge that if your roads are rough then the features that help mitigate the feedback delivered to the hands and feet should be considered. The main feature to focus on here is wheel type: look for larger (wider and taller) pneumatic tires. The inherent give of an air-filled tire acts as a dampener that reduces vibration and jarring. Pneumatic tires also get a better grip, particularly on loose surfaces, as they conform to the road when weighted.

Step 3: Budget


Last, but certainly not least, are budgetary concerns. The price spread across the scooter market is fairly wide. Getting yourself onto a low-end model will cost you three to four hundred bucks while the higher-end models will be a couple hundred more. However, with the information we've provided, you can isolate the scooters that have the features you want without getting stuck paying for features you don't particularly care about. We suggest that you outline the most important features based on your intended use and the specific conditions in your area. The suggested outline might look something like the following example:

Let's say that you're primarily going to use your scooter for commuting to and from work in conjunction with a train ride. Round trip you'll spend 4 miles a day on the scooter. Let's also say that your city is fairly flat and the surface streets are reasonably well maintained. You'll need to carry the scooter in and out of the train station and then fit it into the elevator at your place of work, where it will be stored in a broom closet. Oh yeah, you also have some wrist issues from a fall you took skiing some years back, and you don't want to aggravate that old injury. Finally, you are willing to spend five to eight hundred dollars because you'll save at least that much in a year on tolls, parking, and insurance by using a scooter during the week instead of your car.

You don't have to spend a ton of money to get a performance scooter if you look for the specific features you want and avoid the ones that are not as important.
You don't have to spend a ton of money to get a performance scooter if you look for the specific features you want and avoid the ones that are not as important.

Based on what this hypothetical consumer has described they really don't need a high-end scooter. The commute mileage is well within the battery life of most models. The topography in their area is predominantly flat, so hill climbing power isn't a requirement. That may also pass on a dual brake system, which is a requisite for steep hill descents. However, having two brakes is a nice safety redundancy. They do need to focus on scooters that are reasonably lightweight and compact. Scooters with the ability to roll when in the folded configuration would be nice, too. Despite the road conditions being fairly smooth in their area, pneumatic tires are still a good idea; they're just more comfortable and grippy.

Referring to our Best Electric Scooters of 2019 review, our hypothetical consumer would find that there are a number of competitively priced models fitting this description.

Bells and whistles. Kickstands are nice.
Bells and whistles. Kickstands are nice.

There are several other little goodies sprinkled on the scooters that are worth considering as well. Some models have lights, both to illuminate the ground in front of and below the rider. This is an important consideration if you think you'll be scootering in the dark. Dashboard displays indicating battery status, speed, lights, and gear are also available. A few models even offer an app that pairs with the scooter to monitor performance and safety. Finally, several models come with a handlebar bell which, while not hi-tech, is quite useful for politely announcing your presence when approaching pedestrians from behind.

Anatomy of an Electric Scooter


Most scooters on the market are intentionally simplistic in design, but that doesn't mean that the subtle differences aren't significant. Below is a break down of the different components that, collectively, make up a scooter's anatomy.

Batteries


Most scooters now utilize lithium-ion battery technology . Why? Because these batteries are safe, light, reliable and have relatively short recharging times. There is at least one scooter on the market that uses a sealed lead acid battery, but we don't recommend it.

Brakes


There are three types of brakes generally employed on these machines. These are disk, motor, and fender brakes. In most cases, these brakes will be paired as disk + motor or fender + motor.

Electronic Motor Brake


This frictionless brake system reverses the magnetic polarity driving the motor to halt it instead. This process is regenerative and will put some energy back into the battery.

Disk Brake


The GOTRAX GXL's rear disk brake offers reliable and consistent stopping power.
This system makes use of a rotor (attached to the hub of the wheel) which spins through a caliper housing pistons and brake pads. When the brake system is triggered the pistons push the pads against the rotor. The resulting friction slows the spin of the wheel. Disk brakes are robust but need to be maintained.

Fender Brake


The Ninebot ES2 employs a simplistic yet powerful rear fender brake.
In most cases, the fender housing the back wheel of the scooter is hinged where it meets the deck. When the fender is stepped on by the rider it contacts the tire producing friction. The more pressure that is applied, the greater the braking power that is generated.

Deck


The standing platform. It comes in a number of different configurations.


Fenders


Wheel coverings that prevent the spraying of mud, water, and other debris onto the rider. Rear fender can double as a brake.

Handlebars


Single handle dual brake system (front electronic  rear disk) makes for powerful and reliable braking.
The cross piece capping the steering column used to direct the front wheel. Due to the numerous devices mounted here (such as brake levers, bells, screens, etc.), the handlebars are often referred to as the cockpit or dashboard.

Steering Column


The Razor's single disk brake is operated by a hand lever.
The upright member that attaches the handlebars to the front wheel. The steering column often folds flat over the deck, making it a carrying handle for transport.

Suspension


The Ninebot's solid rubber tires and the mono-shock atop the front fork.
A number of the scooters on the market utilize suspension (a damping mechanism such as a spring) where the front wheel connects with the steering column. This can reduce vibration from uneven road surfaces.

Tires


Generally speaking, there are only two types of tires being used on scooters: pneumatic and solid rubber. While some models use honeycombed rubber, for all intents and purposes they feel and perform like solid tires. Solid tires require no maintenance, but they offer a rough ride. On the other hand, pneumatic tires offer a much smoother, grippier experience, but they can deflate if punctured, torn or over-warn.

Flying with an Electric Scooter


Our research has not uncovered a scooter that folds up to a size that would qualify it as a carry-on bag. However, some of the models with lithium-ion batteries are compliant with the FAA's regulations for batteries in the checked baggage compartment. If you plan to fly with your scooter, it will behoove you to check out the watt-hours (Wh) of each model's battery and cross check that with the FAA's regulations. Those models with batteries over 100 Wh require airline preapproval; anything over 160 Wh is prohibited.

Brakes  bells  and lights; some add ons add safety.
Brakes, bells, and lights; some add ons add safety.

Safety Concerns


Many scooters available today have cruising speeds of 10-15 mph. While this doesn't sound that fast, it is enough to get your attention if you fall or run into something. Accordingly, we recommend that, at a minimum, you wear a helmet when scootering. Additional personal protective equipment such as knee and elbow pads are not excessive.

Conclusion


We hope that you have found our buyer's guide useful and informative. It is the product of many hours of research, testing, and analysis. This document is meant to convey general information about a class of products. However, if you want detailed information about specific electric scooter models, please check out our comprehensive electric scooter review.


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