In this post I’ll provide some basic general information on electric scooters, for anyone interested in them. Including both advantages, as well as the disadvantages and risks to consider with using an electric scooter.
- What are electric scooters?
- Pros and cons of electric scooters
- Technical characteristics of electric scooters
3.1. Batteries and range
..3.1.1. Battery characteristics
..3.1.2. Lithium-ion batteries
..3.1.3. Nickel-Metal-Hydride (Ni-MH) batteries
..3.1.4. Lead (SLA) batteries
3.3. Electric motor
3.4. Controller of the electric motor
3.5. Chasis – frame
- Environmental aspect of electric scooters
1. What are electric scooters?
Electric scooter is like a scooter (kick scooter) many of us have used as kids, but with an added option of running using a built in battery powered motor.
The term electric scooter is often used in its shorter version (i.e. not “electric kick scooter”) so it can get confused with scooters (as a type of a motorcycle) that is run on batteries.
The main (intended) purpose of electric scooters is getting around, usually in urban areas, on paved roads.
2. Pros and cons of electric scooters
Before going over the technical aspects, I’ll give a short list of pros and cons – for all those considering buying an electric scooter. Detailed explanations will be given in the following chapters, for those (still) interested. So here is a list of advantages and disadvantages of electric scooters compared to other available urban means of transport.
Advantages of electric scooters:
- Small dimensions – easy to pack and carry to a flat, office, public transport… unlike a bicycle.
- Faster than going on foot, while more practical than public transport, especially for shorter distances (up to 10 km), unless the weather is bad.
- Avoiding traffic jams – though bicycles do this as well, if not better.
- Easy to go up hill, without sweating – because of the electric motor.
- Affordable price compared to electric bicycles of decent quality (pedelec).
- No sweating, even when going up hills.
Disadvantages of electric scooters:
- Doesn’t provide recreation that walking, or cycling provide (though this could be a plus for those doing hard manual labour). You are just standing – which is very similar to sitting, in terms of damage it does to the spine and health in general.
- The wheels are very small, which can be dangerous in case of any road bumps, or potholes.
- If pneumatic wheels are used, fixing a flat is a very tedious job. Unlike with fixing a flat on a bicycle. While using a “full rubber” wheels makes the ride very uncomfortable, even with shock absorbers, primarily because of the very small wheels.
- Because of standing with one foot behind the other, both frontal and rear, as well as the side profile of the vehicle is very small – harder to notice. Add to this a relatively high speed, compared to walking, along with the total lack of movement of either legs, or arms (like pedaling on a bicycle). I wrote about the importance of lateral motion for getting the attention of drivers’ peripheral vision in the article on cyclist traffic safety. These things are invisible!
- For any kind of efficient motion, you need a charged battery – unlike with a bicycle, where, even with electric bicycles, propulsion using “only” pedals is very efficient. So that’s another thing to be thinking about.
- Controlling a scooter is a lot harder than controlling a bicycle for example. Sharp turning and hard braking take a lot of skill and concentration – and even then they are inferior to an average bicycle.
3. Technical characteristics of electric scooters
Now I’ll explain all the important technical aspects, like batteries, brakes etc, divided into logical entities (if that is a proper English term – not a native speaker).
3.1. Batteries and range
There are various types of batteries with different characteristics (price, capacity, charging time…).
3.1.1. Battery characteristics
Good batteries should be as small and light as possible, with charging as fast as possible and storing as much electrical energy as possible (which translates to going faster and further using the electric motor). Important characteristics of batteries are the following:
- Weight to capacity ratio.
- Resistance to high and low temperatures (working temperature range).
- Longetivity and the number of charge-discharge cycles they can handle (all the batteries deteriorate in time and after many charging cycles – some faster, some slower).
- The amount of self-discharge (when not in use – the lower self discharge, the better).
- Charging speed – to 50, 80 and 100% capacity.
- Price per capacity
Batteries used with electric scooters come in three major types:
- Lithium-ion (Li-ion).
- Nickel-Metal-Hydride (Ni-MH).
- Good-old Lead (SLA – Sealed Lead Acid), similar to those used for starting most cars.
Differences between these battery types, along with a lot of first hand experience, are explained in the post about batteries. Here, I will give a brief overview of characteristics and differences:
3.1.2. Lithium-ion batteries
Simply put: the best and the most expensive. In addition to the standard Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, there are two more sub-types:
- Lithium FerroPhosphate (LFP, or LiFePo4) – with greater longetivity and more stable cells compared to the “ordinary” Li-ion batteries. They are even more expensive.
- Lithium-Polymer (LiPo) – they are made in “puches”, not in cylinder-cell shape that most other batteries are mad in, so are easier to pack into smaller spaces, which is useful for a small electric scooter. Charging needs to be controlled, or they can become unstable and flammable.
3.1.3. Nickel-Metal-Hydride (Ni-MH) batteries
Compared to Lithium-ion batteries:
- They don’t explode, not catch fire in case of bad charging
- No problems if fully discharged (as long as there’s no reverse polarity).
- Longer charging time (slower charging).
- Less tolerant to extreme temperatures (dropping in capacity).
- Lower capacity for the same weight.
Ni-MH batteries are cheaper than Li-ion, but have worse characteristics, when all the pros and cons are weighed.
3.1.4. Lead (SLA) batteries
The cheapest and the worst. Heavy (low capacity to weight ratio), with outer temperature affecting their longetivity and capacity.
Depending on the type and size (and weight) of the batteries, electric scooters have a range from 10 to 100 kilometres (also depends on the terrain, speed and the rider’s weight) with one battery charge.
Brakes used come in a wide range:
- Disc brakes (both mechanical and hydraulic).
- Drum brakes.
- “Foot brakes”, where the rear wheel mudguard is pressed against the wheel using one’s foot, like on old kick-scooters. These types of brakes were us
- Electric brakes – with versions that charge battery (to a very small degree) when braking, as well as without that function.
I’ll write a few lines on each brake type. When explaining pros and cons, as well as characteristics, it is understood that the brake in question is a good quality make (model), regardless of which brake type is being discussed. Here it goes:
Disc brakes, of all the listed, have the best performance (both braking power and, more importantly, modulation). In a separate post I wrote in detail about the advantages and disadvantages of disc brakes. In short, when it comes to electric scooters, disc brakes are susceptible to brake disc (“rotor”) damage in case of a fall, or when carrying/storing the scooter without caution (generally: watch out to not bump the disc against anything, ever).
Drum brakes are the most robust, unaffected by the weather (and road conditions), but have the worst modulation. That is: braking force is “self increasing” after a certain point, which can easily cause a wheel to lock and slide.
Foot brakes require one foot to be placed on the rear wheel mudguard, which limits the choice of standing on the scooter. They are the slowest to activate (compared to other, hand-actuated brakes) and harder to modulate than most other brake types. In addition to that, their performance decreases significantly when the road (i.e. the rear wheel) is wet. These are only available for the rear wheel, of course.
Electric brakes are mostly set with several pre-chosen levels of braking power (from 1 to 3 for example). When that is set, they work in an on-off mode. No modulation. Perhaps they aren’t all like this, but one should check. Those that are can only be used for slowing down / controlling the speed, not for any real hard braking.
Of all the noted, for electric scooters, disc and drum brakes (in that order) are the best.
In the post about bicycle braking technique, I wrote about the importance of the front brake, as well as about the irrationality of the fear of “flying over the bars” when using the front brake. With scooters, primarily because of the heigh and position of the bars relative to the front wheel, that fear is no longer irrational. It is a risk.
Because of the weight distribution when braking, the rear brake is less effective, while the front brake imposes a risk of tipping over the front. Conclusion: (electric) scooters are not very efficient with braking. Have that in mind.
3.3. Electric motor
For electric motors, the most important characteristic is power, expressed in watts (W). But there is a catch. The shown wattage represents how much electrical power a motor can consume. Motors that use a lot of power usually can also deliver more power to the wheel, but some motors are more efficient (so delivered power is closer to the consumed power), while low quality (cheaper) ones can be a lot less efficient.
That is not the end of catches (“gotchas”). There’s also a difference between the “peak” power and “sustained”, or “continuous” power. Sustained power is the maximum power what motor can produce (and consume) for a long period of time (until the battery runs out). Peak power is the maximum (very) short term power consumption, that is often 3 to 5 times greater than the sustained power – and is often printed on brochures next to “Power: “. Yes.
Most modern good quality electric scooter motors are of brushless DC type (without brushes, run on direct current). Brushless motors are both more efficient and durable. They are more expensive (control unit especially is more complex and expensive).
Motor’s power affects both the acceleration and the top speed. Many have electronically limited top speed, with a powerful motor being used to allow a heavy rider to go up hills with no problems. While others are able to reach up to 80 km/h (50 mph). Most, even the ones with weaker motors, can go around 25 km/h on flats.
3.4. Controller of the electric motor
Although often an overlooked item, controllers are of crucial importance for safe and effective riding of an electric scooter. Poor quality controllers can suddenly stop working in the middle of a ride (or on a climb), or prevent the motor from delivering stable power (when that is required) – “playing” with the throttle even when the rider is not.
3.5. Chasis – frame
Because most electric scooters are designed to be foldable (for easy transport), it is of crucial importance that the folding and locking mechanism (and hinges) is of good quality. So that it is easy to lock/unlock (fold/unfold) and so that it holds the scooter firmly “in shape” when it is ridden.
Of course, the frame should also support the rider’s weight, even when riding on bumpy roads, without twisting, or breaking.
Electric scooters usually have a noted maximum weight carrying capacity, usually up to 100 kilograms (220 lbs). Heavier riders should pay attention to this when shopping.
Some frames also have a suspension. This makes the ride a bit less uncomfortable, but it air filled tyres and wheel diameter are still extremely important, as explained in the next chapter.
Electric scooter wheel sizes range from 5 to 12 inches. Depending on the model.
If it is very important that the scooter is as small as possible, you can opt for a model with smaller wheels (though it is advisory that the roads travelled are of good quality and that the scooter has shock absorbers – “suspension”).
Still, if it is possible, look for models with a larger wheel diameter – at least 8 inches. Larger wheels make ride more stable and comfortable, because bumps and potholes won’t have an exaggerated effect, as shown in picture 3 (exaggerated, to explain the point 🙂 ).
In order to prevent punctures, some electric scooters come with solid (“airless”, “full rubber”) tyres (i.e. not pneumatic, not filled with air).
Pneumatic tyres come both with tubes and in tubeless (no inner tubes) versions. Such tyres provide better grip (important for cornering and braking), lower rolling resistance and a lot more comfort, nicely damping all the smaller road irregularities.
The problem with pneumatic tyres are punctures – fixing a flat on an electric scooter is a tedious job, as this video nicely demonstrates: fixing a flat on an electric scooter.
Some people try to prevent this using all sorts of “tyre sealants” (Amazon affiliate link). I’m not a big fan of these – they are messy, need to be replaced regularly (they dry out in time) and valves can sometimes get clogged when using these sealants. Plus, they don’t offer a 100% puncture protection.
4. Environmental aspect of electric scooters
Most of electric vehicles (including the scooters) is advertised as eco-friendly. I’m not so convinced. Production of batteries, as well as their recycling and disposal, is very toxic and harsh on the environment. While batteries, even the rechargeable ones, don’t last very long: 3 to maximum of 5 years, before they are fit for replacement. Walking, cycling, even public transport are a lot less harmful for the environment.
Whether one likes them or not, electric scooters are here to stay. They are practical, convenient and relatively cheap.
I would definitely advise considering other means of transport, primarily bicycles. But if you are planning on buying an electric scooter, look for a good quality brand and model and be cautious. I explained the problems with steering and braking. Keep that in mind. Make sure you are well lit, visible and don’t go very fast where you can’t see very far, or when pedestrians, cyclists, or cars are likely to come in your way.