Folding Bike Or Electric Scooter? Here’s How To Choose


Folding bikes and electric scooters are both fun, efficient ways to zip around town. They’re cost-effective, easy to stow, and a whole lot of fun.

They’re similar enough to make for a tough choice, but different enough that most people who try both develop a strong preference for one over the other.

Obviously, it’s best if you can actually rack up some miles on a good folding bike *and* a good electric scooter…but that’s not always practical.

Still, you need a fun, safe, and super-practical set of wheels that you *look forward* to riding. That’s why I’ve put together this comparison, based on my personal experience owning and commuting on both.

Folding bikes vs. electric scooters, in brief

Consider an electric scooter if you ride on fairly smooth ground, you want to go faster with less effort, and don’t mind sacrificing portability to do so. Choose a folding bike if you want something very compact (e.g., for transit), you want safety on rougher terrain, or you frequently ride in very wet or cold weather.

Each comes with several major trade-offs, which we’ll look at in detail below.

Note that neither is worth buying for less than about $500. It’s possible to spend less, but you’ll likely end up with frustrating compromises or poor overall quality.

First, let’s look at the most objective comparison…

Which is more portable?

Folding bikes are smaller than electric scooters when are folded, so they’re especially more portable on public transit. Most commuter-friendly bikes and scooters are similar in weight, but longer-range scooters are 15-30 lbs heavier

For instance, here are the folded dimensions of a typical 20″ folding bike (Dahon Mariner), ultra-compact 16″ folding bike (Brompton), longer-range electric scooter (Ninebot Max), and mid-range electric scooter (Xiaomi M365).

Brand & ModelWeightFolded LengthFolded WidthFolded Height
Dahon Mariner (folding bike)26 lbs25.6″12.6″31.1″
Brompton (folding bike)25-27 lbs
(depending on config)
23″10.6″22.2″
Ninebot Max* (scooter)41 lbs45.9″18.6″21.0″
Xiaomi M365 (scooter)27.6 lbs42.52″16.9″19.3″

* The Ninebot Max G30LP is about 3 lbs lighter, but with shorter range

There’s more variation out there, but these are typical models that urban commuters might realistically choose.

Although electric scooters are easy to store in a hallway or under a desk, they can be difficult to fit on crowded buses and trains. They collapse to a slightly lower height than folding bikes, but their additional 15″-20″ in length is usually too much to fit under a seat.

Folding bikes weigh about the same amount as short- to mid-range electric scooters. If you need longer range, meaning consistently 20-30 miles or more on a single charge, then a scooter will be 15+ lbs heavier due to its larger battery.

If you have several thousand dollars to spare, then it’s possible to get a folding bike down to 20 lbs or less, which is much lighter than any production electric scooter.

Which is faster?

Electric scooters are faster than folding bikes, or any other non-electric bikes, for that matter. Depending on the model, they can sustain 15-30 mph on flat ground, if not more. That speed is certainly possible on bicycles, but it’s hard work.

Mid-range electric scooters usually top out around 20 mph. As the rider gets heavier or the road turns uphill, that number will drop significantly.

Fit cyclists can ride that fast for an extended period, but it’s a serious workout. Typical city cycling speeds are around 12-15 mph. If you need to travel faster for more than a quick burst, then get an electric scooter.

Which is cheaper to own?

The overall cost of owning a bike or scooter comprises more than the purchase price. We’ll look at that below, of course, but also see how ownership/maintenance costs, lifespan, and resale value factor in.

Upfront purchase price

Folding bikes and electric scooters have similar prices for similar quality levels. Decent ones start as low as $300-$400, but plan on spending about $600-$900 for one that will stand up to daily use.

You can get all the bells and whistles for about $1,500-$2,500 with either. It’s possible to spend far more yet, but there are diminishing returns above roughly $2,500.

Cost of ownership may be slightly lower for electric scooters, but their maintenance issues tend to be more sudden and severe than with bicycles. That’s true of electronics in general.

For those same reasons, folding bikes have longer lifespans and better resale value.

Ownership & maintenance costs

It’s probably cheaper to own and maintain an electric scooter than a folding bike. That’s largely because dedicated scooter shops are rare, so most maintenance is DIY. However, scooters may be more expensive in the long run if electrical issues arise.

Plan on about $50-$100/year to maintain a folding bike that you ride daily. That covers DIY replacement of simple wear-and-tear parts like the chain, cassette, and brake pads. You’ll occasionally spend more for tires or other larger parts, but probably not every year.

If you’d like a bike shop to do the work, then add another $75-$150 for 1-2 annual tune-ups. Rates vary quite a bit by city, however.

Electric scooter maintenance costs are harder to predict.

On the one hand, parts cost less than you might think. For instance, tires are the only major wear-and-tear part. They cost about the same amount as bicycle tires, although they’re frankly a nightmare to replace(!). Even an original Ninebot Max wheel + motor assembly is about $120 as of writing.

(With so many fly-by-night scooter brands out there, it’s wise to buy from an established one. Otherwise, parts availability could be a problem later on.)

On the other hand, electric scooters are relatively new, and changing rapidly. The jury’s still out on how long their electronics last, which means the long-term cost of ownership is basically unknown.

Finally, you’ll need to pay for electricity to charge your electric scooter. Fortunately, it’s a trivial amount: just a few dollars each year in most places.

Most commuter-oriented electric scooters have a battery capacity of 250-500 Wh. At current US energy prices of about $0.13/kWh, that’s just $0.03-$0.07 for a full charge. If you charge it after every work day, of which there are about 200 per year, then the annual charging cost is around $6-$12.

Resale value & lifespan

With regular maintenance, a folding bike can last nearly forever. That’s especially true with a steel-frame model, since they don’t inherently fatigue and wear out like most aluminum ones.

It’s too soon to say how many years an electric scooter can last, but the answer is almost certainly: fewer than a bicycle. I’d guess that 3-5 years is the most we can reasonably expect, in light of their fatigue-prone aluminum frames and complex internal electronics. But most aren’t that old yet, so we simply don’t know for sure.

Regardless, used folding bikes hold their value better than electric scooters. That’s true even if both are equally well maintained. It’s hard for buyers to judge the condition of electronics in general. That uncertainty means more risk and therefore—in my experience—quicker depreciation.

Which is best for bad weather?

Folding bicycles are not susceptible to water damage, so they’re the better choice for regularly wet conditions. A few electric scooters can resistant heavy rain, but not are truly waterproof in the way that a bicycle is.

I strongly recommend pneumatic tires on electric scooters in general (here’s why), and all the more so in rain, where solid tires really struggle.

But no matter what you’re riding, there’s still less traction on wet ground. Plan on slower cornering and a longer stopping distance, period.

If you need to ride through snow and ice, then either one may work. Studded tires exist for folding bikes and scooters alike, although availability is hard to predict. And, as mentioned above, electric scooter tire replacement is not a fun process.

However, think twice about riding an electric scooter on salted or sanded roads. Traction aside, I hate to think of where all the grit will end up (or how in the world to get it out!). Salt and sand also take their toll on bicycles, but it’s easier to diagnose and replace the worn parts.

Batteries and weather

Ambient temperatures affect electric scooter battery capacity. If you ride in 35° F or even 45° F weather, your scooter’s 30-mile range (for example) could fall to 15 or 20 literally overnight.

What’s more, temperatures below freezing or above perhaps 110° F are a no-no. Different batteries have different temperature limits, so check with the manufacturer if in doubt.

Of course, that’s not an issue with a bicycle. If you need something both portable and truly impervious to all weather, then a folding bike is the easy answer.

Which is legal in more places?

Bicycles are allowed in more places than electric scooters, and the laws change less often. Generally, bicycles can go anywhere scooters can, but scooters aren’t allowed everywhere on all bicycle routes.

This varies by city, so look up the laws wherever you live/work before buying.

There may even be different electric scooter laws in within the same city! For instance, I recently lived near a city-owned multi-use path that allowed scooters. Just half a mile away, still within city limits, it connected to an identical county-owned path that forbade them!

Electric scooter legality will probably get simpler in the next few years, but as of writing, bicycle laws are more consistent and usually more permissive.

Finally, you cannot fly with an electric scooter due to the safety hazard of their batteries. Third-party shipping is an (expensive) option, but it’s easier to bring a bicycle.

Which is safer?

Folding bicycles and electric scooters are both safe when ridden responsibly on smooth pavement. However, bicycles have larger wheels that handle obstacles better, so they’re safer on imperfect terrain. Bicycle brakes are usually more powerful and predictable, too.

And without a throttle, they reduce the temptation to ride too fast for your ability or surroundings.

Wheel diameter is the main safety factor. All else being equal, large wheels don’t hang up or get knocked off course as easily as small ones. Most electric scooters have 8″-10″ wheels whereas most folding bikes have 16″-20″ wheels, so there’s an enormous safety difference on rough terrain, potholes, and typical urban debris.

In my experience, there’s a huge handling improvement from the 8″ solid tires on entry-level scooters to the 10″ pneumatic tires on better ones. It’s mentally draining to have to worry about tiny obstacles, so I strongly recommend the largest possible scooter wheels (usually 10″) for trips longer than about a mile.

However, both are far less smooth or predictable than even a 16″-wheel folding bike. For perspective, unforeseen half-inch obstacles like pebbles or sidewalk cracks felt quite jarring on a scooter but inconsequential on a bicycle.

Folding bikes aren’t more dangerous than regular ones, but you do need to take extra care with weight limits and clamp tension. The hinges bear a lot of very concentrated stress, so keeping their clamps appropriately tight is essential for safety. It’s not difficult; it just takes more attention than the folding clamp on most scooters.

There are other important factors in electric scooter safety, so read this guide to learn about some less obvious ones.

And, on bikes and scooter alike, make sure you’ve internalized these safety tips before riding around town.

A quick note on brakes

Bicycle brakes are standardized. Well-adjusted rim brakes are plenty powerful for city use, and some folding bikes even come with disc brakes. All of these work great when properly maintained.

Electric scooter brakes are much less standardized, as covered here in detail. Some scooters have a single electronic brake, which is fine at walking or jogging speeds, but lacks the power or modulation you need for faster riding.

Other scooters have a mechanical front brake plus electronic or mechanical rear brake. This is a powerful set-up that works well at all speeds. Again, check out this brake overview to learn more about how these options affect your ride.

Ease of riding

Beginners may find electric scooters easier to ride than folding bikes. Balance comes more naturally, and fitness doesn’t matter. However, scooters handle less predictably, so new riders may feel less steady than they would on a folding bike at similar speeds.

In other words, it’s easier to get going on a scooter but harder to ride safely for extended period.

Part of that is the wheel and brake factors we covered above. Another part is because the throttle creates a slight mental disconnection from your movement. It may sound strange, but without the physical effort and feedback of working for speed, it takes a more conscious effort to stay in total control.

The flip side of the coin is that electric scooters don’t require much strength or stamina, even for long distances. It can be surprisingly fatiguing to stand in place for more than 15-30 minutes, but that’s nothing like the fatigue of cycling up a hill!

Posture is a big part of riding comfort. Folding bikes can’t accommodate very tall or swept-back handlebars, so you’ll ride with at least a modest forward lean. That’s comfortable for most people, but can aggravate existing neck or back issues that you wouldn’t suffer on a regular upright city bike.

Electric scooters, of course, keep you standing perfectly upright. That’s universally comfortable, plus it lets you use your legs as shock absorbers to compensate for the small wheels and (sometimes) lack of suspension. But the lack of movement can get uncomfortable on longer rides, so try to occasionally reposition your feet on the deck when you come to a stop.

Range

Folding bikes and electric scooters are equally good for typical urban or commuting distances. However, cycling gets tiring after 5-15 miles, depending on your terrain and fitness. Electric scooters may be better for longer trips, but their range may fall when riding under 50° F.

Now, this assumes you have battery power (or charging access) for the trip back home! A tired cyclist can simply rest or slow down, but you’re out of luck with a drained electric scooter battery.

But what about very long distances, perhaps 30+ miles at a time?

Contrary to popular belief, folding bikes are perfectly good for long distances, as long as they fit properly. They use higher gear ratios to compensate for smaller wheels, so they’re no slower than a regular bicycle. Some people even tour on them!

But that’s not a realistic distance for daily cycling. I’m sure some people do it, but for most of us, it’s simply too slow and exhausting.

If you regularly travel 30 miles or more in a single day, then consider a long-range electric scooter (here’s a link to my personal favorite). An electric bike is also worth considering, but more on that in a bit.

Finally, electric scooter range decreases with temperature. There are minimum and maximum battery operating temperatures, as noted earlier. But even within that window, your battery capacity (and therefore your range) may drop by 30%-50% in the 40s (F) and below.

The fun factor

With all these technicalities out of the way, let’s cut to the chase: folding bikes and electric scooters are both a lot of fun to ride!

It’s a blast to accelerate at the push of a button on a scooter. It’s also satisfying to see the terrain you’ve conquered under your power on a folding bike. They’re complete different experiences, but both are far more fun than a car stuck in traffic!

Now, that’s all moot if your goal is quick trips to the store or a faster “last mile” from a subway station. In that case, “fun” boils down to whichever is a) easier to stow and carry, then b) easier to jump on and ride.

For most people, that’s an electric scooter…but city buses or other tight quarters might necessitate a folding bike instead.


4 convenient alternatives to consider

Electric scooters and folding bikes can get most people to most places in the city (and beyond). They’re terrific for commuting and errands, but if you choose well, they’re also fun for weekend cruising.

Still, it’s possible that neither is the right choice for you. Below are four alternatives that are worth considering, and just might deserve a spot on your shortlist.

Shared scooters & bikes

Shared electric scooters (and bicycles), are perfect for short, infrequent trips. They’re also the best way to test the waters if you’re curious about scooters, but not completely sold.

Assuming, of course, your city actually has them.

However, there are two caveats to keep in mind:

  • They tend to be in terrible condition. Sketchy brakes, broken throttles, you name it. Some are fine, but others will leave you with an unfairly bad impression of the riding experience.
  • Financially, it’s worth buying an electric scooter if you ride more than 1-2 round trips (2-4 rides) each week. The fares add up fast than you might think. (And I suspect rates will rise sharply as venture capitalists get tired of burning money by subsidizing rides, but that’s another story.)

Electric folding bikes

If you need the steady wheels of a folding bike with some motorized assistance for big hills or long distances, then an electric folding bike may be just the ticket.

You’ll still get exercise, too.

The main drawback is the folding e-bikes are much heavier and more expensive than regular ones.

At around 38.5 lbs each, the Brompton Electric and GoCycle GX are among the lightest around. They also cost well over $3,000 as of writing.

Granted, you could spend 1/3 to 1/2 that amount on a Lectric XP or RadMini 4. They’re terrific deals, plain and simple. They also weigh 60 lbs, and are even larger than an electric scooter when folded.

They’re either the best or the worst of both worlds, depending on your priorities.

Mini velos

Perhaps a bicycle is perfectly appropriate for your needs, but it’s just slightly too large for our narrow stairwells or cramped train/subway bike storage.

A folding bike would solve that problem, but if you don’t need something that compact, then you might not want to sacrifice frame stiffness or tire and component selection.

In that case, consider a mini velo. They’re essentially standard, non-folding bicycles with smaller wheels: usually 20″.

They’re a bit hard to come by, but a few stock models (and a few frame sets) are on the market as of writing.

Read this guide for more information and some cool models you might not have heard of.

Adult kick scooters

If you rarely travel more than one or two smooth, flat miles, then an adult kick scooter may be the right compromise.

It’s smaller, lighter, and cheaper than anything we’ve discussed. They’re a piece of cake to transport and are easy to hop on and go.

Prices can range from under $100 for an adult-size Razor (I like the A5 Air) to several times that amount for a “foot-bike” like the incredible Swifty.

Frankly, kick scooters are a lot of fun. But kicking is less efficient than pedaling a bicycle, so they wear out their welcome after a mile or two. They’re best for short commutes and nearby errands.

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