Electric Scooters: Easy To Ride…Until They’re Not

Published Categorized as Electric Scooters

You’ve probably noticed how electric scooter riders skew a bit toward the young and adventurous side. There are all sorts of reasons, but a big one is the perception that they’re fundamentally tough to ride.

Truth be told, that’s not entirely wrong.

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So, are electric scooters easy to ride?

Electric scooters are easy to ride in good conditions. They balance easily and have simple and intuitive controls, so no particular skill is needed. However, their small wheels make them hard to ride safely on rough ground. Poor traction is also a challenge in wet weather.

Understanding the quirks of those (relatively) tiny tires is the single most important factor in riding with ease and confidence. We’ll come back to that point later, but first, let’s look at what you’ll find refreshingly straightforward on your first ride.

What’s easy about riding electric scooters?

Balance is a breeze

If the idea of riding evokes memories of falling off your first bike without training wheels, worry not.

Balancing an electric scooter is easy—almost effortless—thanks to a super-low center of gravity and a nimble, upright riding stance.

Unlike our wobbly two-wheeled experiences of childhood, most of us have no problem staying upright our first time on an e-scooter. If you’ve ever ridden a kick scooter, then you’ve already got a great frame of reference.

No fitness needed

E-scooters don’t require any physical fitness. Acceleration is literally at the push of a button, so even headwinds and steep hills are all the same, from the rider’s perspective.

If you can stand in place for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes, then congrats: you’re fit enough!!

Granted, most scooters still require a kick or two when starting from a dead stop. And it helps if you have the strength to carry or maneuver the scooter for storage or parking. Even the most portable electric scooters still weight in north of 20 lbs.

But fitness-wise, it’s not a high bar, and that’s the point.

Whether you’re still building a base of fitness, or just trying to avoid breaking a sweat en route to the office, sometimes it’s nice to let the motor do the work.

Simple controls (and no shifting!)

Most electric scooters have just two controls: a throttle and a bicycle-style brake lever. There’s also a digital display that shows speed, battery life, power mode, and little (if anything) else. My Ninebot Max, pictured below, is a typical example.

Ninebot Max speed, mode, and battery life display

Suffice to say this doesn’t take an advanced degree to decipher. There’s just one lever to go, one lever to stop, and a couple of self-explanatory numbers and symbols.

(Some models do provide separate front and rear brake levers, but they’re no different from what you’d find on a standard bicycle.)

Most brands also provide a mobile app that connects to the scooter. This provides other options and exposes tons of riding data, but it’s mostly for initial set-up. It’s nothing you’ll need to deal with while riding.

What’s hard about riding e-scooters?

Plenty of challenges arise when you use electric scooters in practical, everyday situations.

One—wheel size—is an issue with the vehicle itself. It’s basically a universal challenge.

Most of the rest are more contextual, since the model you’re riding and the situation you’re in will affect whether the experience feels easier or harder.

Small-wheel struggles

The hardest part of riding electric scooters is the roughness and instability of small wheels. Pneumatic (air-filled) tires are better than their solid siblings, but they’re still just 8″-10″ in diameter, and therefore prone to hanging up on potholes, debris, and especially curbs.

It might be a silky-smooth experience in a parking lot or testing area. But on real-life streets…with part of your attention devoted to traffic and hectic surrounding…you’re in for a rougher ride than you might expect.

Traffic troubles

On any given e-scooter trip, you’ll probably need to mingle with at least a bit of car traffic. As with bicycles, riding on the sidewalk is often illegal—or at least painfully slow—and proper bike infrastructure is often missing.

So we find ourselves in the street, “protected” by a few lines of paint (at best).

That’s not the most relaxing experience even if you’ve completely mastered your vehicle of choice. But it’s downright hard to navigate busy urban traffic and frightening intersections all while you’re still getting the hang of a new and slightly twitchy-feeling vehicle.

Bad brake behavior

Braking power and behavior can be unintuitive. There’s a lot of variation between models: one versus two levers, disc vs. drum vs. electronic brakes, and so forth. Few other vehicles have such different brake configurations, so it can be hard to feel immediately at ease when you hop on a new scooter.

This is especially problematic with shared/rental scooters, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.

Range anxiety

It’s sometimes hard to plan your electric scooter trips around your battery capacity.

That can cramp your style. After all, it’s not exactly the pinnacle of freedom and spontaneity.

Unfortunately, it’s necessary.

Unlike an e-bike, which can go indefinitely on pedal power, an electric scooter is 100% out of commission when the battery dies. (Strictly speaking, you could ride it like an adult kick scooter. But they’re heavy, high off the ground, and altogether no fun to ride in that fashion.)

This is no different in principle that watching the gas gauge in your car. But in practice, the range is just a tiny fraction of a car’s, and recharging takes hours, not seconds.

One added issue is that manufacturers’ claimed ranges and your real-life expected range may be very different. However, two tactics can reduce the odds of watching that battery indicator run out.

  1. Take all claims with a grain of salt, and look for several online range reports from actual customers. Pay close attention to the rider’s weight and to any information they provide about terrain, power mode, and average speed. If nothing else, this will help you build more realistic expectations.
  2. Test carefully and extend your rides slowly before traveling anywhere near your range limit. For instance, if you routinely notice that a full battery drops to 50% at around 10 miles, then don’t commit yourself to a 20-mile journey just yet.

Shared scooters bring their own headaches

Many of us first experience an electric scooter via one of the public, shared ones that dot so many cities. Ironically, they’re some of the very hardest to ride. (Incidentally, that explains part of the electric scooter safety issues you’ve probably read about.)

The app is usually simple enough, but you’re likely to find a beat-up vehicle with weak brakes. This can undermine any rider’s confidence, and can be downright scary as a first-timer. Brakes should get gradually more forceful as you squeeze the level, eventually bringing you to a decisive halt. In reality, too many rentals either a) have an abrupt, on/off brake feel or b) have very little braking power at all.

Additionally, many shared scooters (though not all) have small, solid tires with little tread remaining. That adds up to a rough ride and terrible traction, even in ideal conditions.

In fairness, there are plenty of decent shared scooters to try, especially as fleets have improved in the last couple years. But it’s still hit or miss, so try to enlist an experienced friend’s help in choosing one to take for a spin.

Better yet, consider buying or borrowing a personal e-scooter for a more enjoyable experience.

By Erik Bassett

Erik Bassett is the founder and editor of Two Wheels Better. He draws on three decades of cycling and scooter experience to help you find the right ride, incorporate it into daily life, and safely enjoy the journey.