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 new skill that is needed for say skateboarding.
Electric scooters check all of the boxes above, and in doing so essentially eliminate The Last Mile Problem belabored by public transportation analysts. 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 storage 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.
Step 1: Who will ride the Electric Scooter?
The first consideration when purchasing a scooter should be the size and age of the rider. Many people purchasing these machines for themselves have a good idea that their kids will want to cruise them around as well. Or, perhaps they are looking for their kids exclusively. Whatever the scenario, size matters. Most of these scooters lack adjustability, and as a result, they can be difficult for younger/ shorter riders to access the handlebar comfortably. Moreover, the controls on the handlebar, such as the brake lever, may also be difficult to get a smaller hand around as the gap between the lever and grip may be too wide. The scooters that do have adjustability — like the Glion Foldable Dolly — only have it in the steering column, which will raise and lower the handlebar height but does not address the issue of hand size.
On the other end of the spectrum are large and/ or heavy riders. All scooters have a load limit and these limits vary depending on the motor and battery used on the scooter. So, if you're a retired NFL linebacker and want to take advantage of a scooter's full potential, then check the max load specs on scooters such as the MEGAWHEELS S5 and the Glion Foldable Dolly which support loads in the mid-200 lbs range.
Step 2: How will the Electric Scooter be used?
If you've read this far then you probably have a good idea of how and where the scooter you're shopping for will be used. 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 with the kiddos! 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 such as the Xiaomi Mi M365 and the Glion Foldable Dolly have a maximum flat ground range of ~13 miles before the decrease in power tapers the pace to a crawl. If your commute is longer than say 40% of the max mileage of the scooter, 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. The Xiaomi Mi M365 and GOTRAX GXL Commuter 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, the dual brake system of the Ninebot KickScooter by Segway ES2 is a real advantage as the electric motor brake in the front and a fender brake in the rear dramatically increase braking power and offers redundancy in a critical safety system.
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 where obstacles are more predictable. 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 like our Editor's Choice Xiaomi Mi M365 is 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 — like a dolly — 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. If space is an issue and/ or you think that you'll be carrying the machine quite a bit then you can't go wrong with the Glion Foldable Dolly as this model tackles these issues head-on.
Step 3: 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. The Ninebot KickScooter excels in the ascent and descent categories as a result of its powerful motor and dual brake system.
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?
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. Both the GOTRAX GXL Commuter and the Xiaomi Mi M365 have robust pneumatic tires that eat up inconsistencies in the road surface reducing vibration and adding purchase.
Step 4: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The standing platform. It comes in a number of different configurations.
Flying with an Electric Scooter
Our research has not uncovered a scooter that is compliant with the FAA's regulations for lithium-ion batteries in either the carry-on or checked baggage compartments (anything greater than 160 watt-hours is prohibited). If you need a scooter following air travel it may prove useful to investigate whether one of the ever-growing numbers of scooter rental services is available at your end destination.
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. Moreover, if you are concerned with a child going to fast, one may select a scooter that has a lower maximum speed.
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.