Whether you’re already an enthusiast, or totally new to electric scooters, the right one can make your commute downright fun.
And as a frequent commuter, it’s almost always more cost-effective to buy rather than rent or share.
But which one deserves your money?
The best electric scooter for commuting depends on budget, of course, as well as the length, terrain, and weather of your typical commute. Choose right, and you’ll enjoy years of fun, quick, low-stress travel.
For my money, the best scooter will have ample battery capacity, large pneumatic tires, excellent braking, and good weather resistance at a mid-range price. No unnecessarily expensive frills, but a clear step up from bargain-basement sketchiness.
Electric scooter essentials
Like all other vehicles, electric scooters range from cheap and bare-bones to expensive and fully loaded. Whether simple or sophisticated, every worthwhile model has a few things in common.
We’re going to start literally from the ground up with—you guessed it—tires.
All electric scooter tires are either pneumatic (inflatable) or solid, but pneumatic is almost universally the best choice.
Pneumatic tires have a springy quality that gives them better traction and bump/vibration absorption. You’ll enjoy safer cornering (especially in rain), better braking power, and an all-around smoother ride. There’s a good reason that they’re standard on almost every other type of vehicle.
Solid tires require no maintenance, at least until they wear out. But solid rubber doesn’t have that beneficial springiness, so traction suffers in a big way, and you feel every last crack in the sidewalk. Theoretically, their firmness makes them a little faster on perfect surfaces, but that’s not much help in the real world.
(Honeycomb tires are essentially solid tires with sections hollowed out. This makes them softer than truly solid tires, and marginally better all around, but still inferior to pneumatic tires.)
Of course, pneumatic tires can and do get flats. That’s their main flaw.
You can use green Slime tire sealant to help prevent flats. Some scooters have tubeless tires—like cars and some bicycles—which further reduce flats and improve traction.
Solid and pneumatic tires will both wear out one day. At that point, pneumatic ones are far easier to replace. Unlike solid tires, they don’t screw into the wheels or use any other proprietary mounting techniques. It’s not unheard-of to replace the entire wheel rather than deal with the headaches of replacing a solid tire. At the very least, a quick tire swap is helpful when you’ve still got work the next day!
Check out this overview for a much more detailed comparison.
Take a brake
Odds you already know that brakes are the single most important safety component of your electric scooter.
But you might not realize that they come in three flavors, and most scooters use more than one.
Disc brakes are familiar to most of us. They’re functionally identical to bicycle disc brakes; sometimes, they’re exactly the same models. Power and control are excellent. Maintenance is simple, usually just a matter of adjusting a screw to align the pads. Replacement pads are inexpensive, and often just a couple minutes’ work to install.
Drum brakes are what you find in small, lightweight cars. They’re also in the coaster and hub brakes on some bikes. They’re usually less powerful than disc brakes, but still plenty stronger. They’re also impervious to weather, so there’s almost no maintenance. However, that weather-tight design makes it hard to replace brake shoes when the time comes.
Electric brakes are actually just a feature of some motors. After all, electric scooter motors are always inside the wheel. When you pull the brake lever (or even just let off the throttle), it flips a circuit to create resistance in the motor. And, voilà: you’re slowing down! Maintenance is a non-issue, but they rarely have much power.
For commuting—and riding in general—it’s essential to have at least one mechanical brake, if only as a back-up. On cheap scooters, electric brakes aren’t always powerful enough to stand alone. And regardless of price, they won’t work if the motor unexpectedly loses power.
Drum and disc brakes are equally good choices. I’m partial to the familiarity and simplicity of disc brakes, but you won’t go wrong with either.
Electric brakes do have one neat trick up their sleeves: regenerative braking. They can capture some of your kinetic energy and “push” it back into the battery to recharge it slightly. Regenerative braking isn’t quite universal, but it’s the norm on scooters with electric brakes.
For a deeper dive, including pictures of each type of brake, check out this FAQ section.
A weighty matter
Electric scooters can weigh less than 25 lbs or more than 140 lbs—nearly a sixfold difference!
As a commuter, this makes all the difference in the world if you need to carry your scooter.
Some factors are obvious. All-metal scooters with giant, chunky tires on car-style rims will add a lot of weight versus plastic construction and 8″ wheels. Batteries also contribute a lot of weight, but we’ll come back to that topic in a bit.
Meanwhile—and speaking of batteries—extreme temperatures are hard on the battery, so it’s wise to store your scooter indoors. It’s also good to avoid exposure to the elements, of course. This means you’ll end up carrying it at times, even if just a few yards.
Most reasonably fit people can carry a forty-something-pound scooter across a room or up a couple flights of stairs without too much difficult. Keep it under 30 lbs if you’ll need to carry it more extensively.
That might not sound like a lot, but remember that you usually carry the folded scooter by stem, which is wide and difficult to grip.
Going the distance
Batteries are one of the biggest factors in electric scooter cost. It’s important to get all the range you need (with a buffer for unplanned trips, lack of charging access, and long-term battery degradation). But going beyond that is unnecessarily expensive.
So, how much is enough?
All manufacturers provide a range estimate, but take it with a great of salt. They’re usually…optimistic, to say the least.
In real life, you can anticipate 40%-80% of what they claim. Big riders gunning it up steep hills may get even less; light riders cruising at half-speed on flat may get more.
Here is a slightly deeper overview of how to think about scooter range versus commuting needs.
Suspension of disbelief
Everyone likes a cushy ride. And the rougher your commute is, the more you’ll appreciate suspension. These days, many—if not most—electric scooters have at least front suspension.
But if you have to choose between pneumatic tires or suspension, then go with the pneumatic tires. They make a massive difference in traction, which is important for safety and peace of mind.
And if you’ll keep to ~15 mph or less on halfway decent pavement, then you might not even miss suspension all that much.
Some must-have accessories for electric scooter commuters
Your scooter is, of course, the most important (and expensive) part of this whole commuting endeavor. But a few accessories will pay for themselves several times over in safety, comfort, and convenience.
A beacon in the dark
All commute-worthy electric scooters have a built-in headlight and taillight.
Most are plenty bright to help others see you. But after dark, most are too dim to light your path (unless you’re also surrounded by streetlights).
That’s why commutes like my own, with long stretches of barely-lighted bike path, call for an additional headlight.
True, it’s a bit of extra cash. But it’s a game-changer in places like northern US, Canada, and much of Europe, where we spend several months commuting mostly in the dark.
(Pro tip: during the day, set your headlight to a non-strobe flashing setting. This helps you stand out amid cars, glare, and general urban chaos.)
It’s also wise to get a taillight…to wear.
The thing is, your scooter’s own taillight is most like built into the rear fender. That’s fair enough—there aren’t exactly other options—but it’s hard for drivers to see when they’re near you. So, to be visible from afar, just clip a bike taillight on your backpack/helmet/jacket, then set it to a flash or alternating flash-steady mode.
Any mid-range light set will work, but this one from Cygolite is one of the best deals going.
Stash ‘n’ dash
Unlike a bicycle, an electric scooter can’t take a rack to carry your work items.
(Well, some people are trying, but I’d question the stability and safety.)
Backpacks are the cheap, simple, and obvious solution. Besides, you probably have at least one on hand right this minute.
If it’s not already waterproof, then pick up a universal waterproof cover like this one. Consider a high-viz color if you don’t mind sacrificing some style points for extra rainy-day visibility. That’s a pretty good trade, in my book.
And if you’re in the market for a new backpack anyhow, then get one with sternum and waist straps. They keep your load from swinging around while you ride. That’s not the end of the world at reasonable speeds, but is a bit of a nuisance. Besides, it’s hard to adjust the bag without stopping, so make sure you have a snug, secure fit.
By the way, a backpack comes in handy even without cargo. It’s a great place to stash your scooter’s charger, just in case you need to top up at work.
A head start
Skulls and faces don’t win many fights against concrete.
Now, I’m not going to make a case for or against helmets, but I will emphasize that scooters are fundamentally less surefooted than bicycles. Not dangerous, but not as stable or predictable as you might expect. That’s just the nature of smaller wheels, and it gets worse at higher speeds. (That’s also why the best commuter scooters are ones with relatively large tires.)
Plenty of electric scooter enthusiasts use full-face motorcycle helmets. Are they overkill? Perhaps so, if you ride at cycling speeds, but there’s certainly no harm.
In brief: follow your local laws, and use your own prudence beyond that.
Let’s not go pointing fingers
Gloves serve two purposes on an electric scooter. One—which I hope never comes up—is to protect your hands in a fall. Shredding your palms on asphalt is horrendously painful, but easily avoided with full-finger bicycle gloves.
Emergencies aside, you’ll also appreciate the added grip and wind protection. It’s easy to do without gloves during a quick, low-speed jaunt on a warm day. But when there’s a stiff wind on a wet, 40-degree day, it’s hard to even feel the controls, let alone use them.
Shelter from the storm
Riding a scooter feels like standing in a perpetual wind. That means serious wind chill, even at downright balmy temperatures. What’s more, your body doesn’t produce much heat to warm you back up. Unlike cycling or even walking, there’s no real exertion.
You’ll be grateful for a windbreaker at almost any temperature. You’ll probably also want to throw on an extra mid-layer, beyond what you’d normally walk around town in.
The best budget electric scooters for commuting
There’s no sense in paying for features or battery capacity you don’t need. For quick or infrequent trips, a good entry-level scooter will carry you safely and reliably for years.
There are a lot of scooters in this price range, and new brands come and go every year. Some of them are excellent, too.
All the same, the tried-and-true brands are likelier to offer support and spare parts down the road. We’ll look at a couple of them below. Yes, you can find even cheaper options, but things get sketchy fast.
Gotrax GXL v2
This scooter owns the bottom of the cheap-but-decent range, and has for at least a couple years. It’s the most affordable model that daily commuters should even consider.
The GXL includes the essential pneumatic tires and rear disc + front electric braking. There’s no suspension, but it’d be superfluous for the riding the GXL is intended for.
Range is rather limited—as in, you’ll be lucky to break 10 miles in the real world—so it’s best for very local travel.
You can upgrade to their XR Ultra or XR Elite for better build quality and longer range. Is it worth it? Debatable, but probably not. Their prices put you within striking distance of the next pick, which handily beats them on range and (to my eye) style.
This is almost certainly the top-selling scooter globally. If you’re trying out this whole scooter commuting thing, or just following a strict budget, then I’ve yet to find a better alternative.
It covers all the standard must-haves, including a pneumatic tires and a rear disc brake. It’s also an attractive design, and easily one of the best-looking scooters in its price range.
With the M365’s popularity, it’s easy to find both OEM and aftermarket parts around the world. Speaking of aftermarket parts, there’s also a large, active rider community that’s always coming up with clever accessories—if that’s your thing.
Prices change frequently, but are always reasonable (at worst).
The best mid-range electric scooters
Whether it’s range, fancy features, or overall fit and finish, it’s easy to make a case for spending a little more. Under $1000—still cheaper than a year of transit in many cities—opens the door to more refined scooters that should satisfy almost any practical need.
These models are a little more differentiated, too. Mid-range prices give the manufacturers leeway to optimize for different qualities and capabilities that different commuters will appreciate.
Segway Ninebot Max
This is the clear-cut value pick. Not the cheapest, but unequivocally the best bang for your buck.
You can read my full hands-on review for all the nitty gritty details, but in brief, the Ninebot Max deserves its massive popularity.
It lacks nothing—literally, nothing—that a typical commuters needs. Thirty-plus miles of real-world range, 10″ tubeless pneumatic tires, a strong yet smooth front drum brake, good weather resistance, plus great climbing traction thanks to real-wheel drive.
And, cleverly, a charging brick built right into the deck. You don’t need to carry anything more than a basic cable.
At around 40 lbs, it’s a bit of a porky scooter. That’s typical for longer-range models, but worth noting anyhow. Even as a reasonably strong man with large hands, carrying it is no mean feat.
If the Max’s range is vastly more than you’ll ever need, you can also save a hundred bucks and a couple pounds with the Max G30LP. (Note that the G30LP does not have the built-in charger, unfortunately.)
It doesn’t have the suspension and jackrabbit acceleration that some riders seek, but I’d defy anyone to find a better value.
Unagi Model One
The Unagi scooter doesn’t have the range or durability of the other pick in this section. That’s a weird way to introduce it, but hold on.
Because what it does have is the most tasteful and stylish scooter design money can buy. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder…but I don’t know anyone who’d remained unimpressed after beholding this carbon-and-magnesium work of e-scooter sculpture.
More practically, it’s one of the easiest to carry. Weight is a manageable 26 lbs—similar to the budget models above—but the real trick is how the stem tapers to a nice, narrow section that smaller hands can hold.
Now, aesthetics come at a price. And in the case of the Unagi, you’ll pay it in range. Ten miles is optimistic in real life, and big guys tend to run out of power even sooner.
You’re also giving up fat pneumatic tires in exchange for small honeycomb ones. They’re reportedly among the smoothest and grippiest non-inflatable tires out there, and the reduced maintenance appeals to some riders. I have to admit they look cool, too. Still, they just don’t rival the ride quality of pneumatic tires.
Note: Unagi has a unique monthly rental program. It’s a great option if you’re on the fence or just want to minimize maintenance risks. Give it some thought if you happen to live in one of the eight US metros where it’s available.
The best upper-end electric scooters
If you’re ready to drop some cash on bells and whistles, then this is the section for you.
Approach the $1,500 mark and above, you’ll start seeing options with speed, torque, range, and overall build quality that aren’t possible on a tighter budget. They’re obviously up for much more than a trip to the office.
We’re going to skip the ultra-rugged, ultra-fast, or otherwise hardcore scooters. Some are objectively good vehicles, and probably a heap of fun. But for most commuters, their performance and price are past the point of diminishing returns.
Turn the Ninebot Max up to 11 and you’ll wind up with the Cruiser.
Its range? The Cruiser nearly doubles it.
Its mechanical front brake? The Cruiser has discs front and rear.
Its 10″ tubeless tires? The Cruiser adds suspension.
Its IPX5 water-resistance? The Cruiser is IPX6.
Just one caveat: if you don’t like the Max’s weight, then the Cruiser’s 51 lbs is going to be a problem.
Arguably, EMOVE through style considerations out the window with this model. Its chunky, mechanical look doesn’t have the sleekness of the others in the list.
But if your commute (or your weekend fun) calls for extraordinary range, then this is the most cost-effective option in 2021.
The first and only scooter from Boosted (of electric skateboard fame) has been a bit polarizing.
Some folks rightly criticize its realistic range of 10-15 miles. And the lack of suspension is uncommon at this price point. Also, inner tubes?!?
But others point out its impeccable build quality, with IPX7 water resistance and an overall sleek look. The dual motors put out high torque for dashing up steep hills from a dead stop, and the dual electric brakes (plus a rear disc back-up) are trustworthy. Handling at speed is exceptionally steady thanks to a slack, motorcycle-like head angle (which I’d love to see more manufacturers adopt).
In light of all this, is the price tag justified?
That’s a tough call. After all, even the Ninebot Max G30LP holds it own (on everything but torque) for almost a grand less.
But if you have a short yet hilly city commute—think San Francisco or parts of Seattle—then it’s a strong, stylish contender. Of course, you may also need a San Francisco or Seattle salary to fund it.
Your ideal commuter scooter awaits
There’s a big, ever-changing electric scooter market that leaves commuters spoiled for choice. We’ve covered what I consider the most practical, cost-effective, or downright interesting model that most commuter will appreciate.
The Ninebot Max gets my overall recommendation for value, and I consider it the default choice unless your budget, weight, or extreme range requirements dictate otherwise.
But, at the end of the day, don’t sweat the details too much. You’ll develop stronger preferences with experience, and there’s always time to upgrade.
Meanwhile, stay safe and have a blast!