If you’ve found shared scooters useful or simply fun, then you might have contemplated buying your own.
There have never been more excellent choices on the market. From ultra-compact to huge and high-speed, there’s a model for every rider and scenario.
If you’re sold on an electric scooter but unsure whether to purchase one, then read on for my perspective after owning a couple of them.
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Here’s whether it’s worth buying an electric scooter
It’s worth buying an electric scooter to save money vs. rental/sharing costs or to avoid car use. They are also worth it as an e-bike alternative when budget or storage space are limited. However, electric scooter maintenance can be tricky, and dedicated repair shops are still uncommon. You should also consider a monthly shared scooters pass or private rental in some cities. Still, a standard bicycle or adult kick scooter is more cost-effective for short or flat trips.
There’s a balance of financial and practical considerations, plus the fact that you can buy much higher-quality scooters than you can rent.
Of course, this assumes it’s the right type of vehicle for you in the first place.
If that’s what you’re contemplating, then start with this article on whether they’re good for commuting (or most other practical uses).
Advantages of buying an electric scooter
Owning your wheels brings benefits. Long-term cost and guaranteed availability come to mind immediately. Some other advantages are less obvious but still important.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the best reasons to take the plunge.
Your own scooter is always available
Sometimes you’re ready to hop on and go, but the usual nearby spots are devoid of wheels.
So you end up browsing multiple apps, then walking blocks only to find out the last scooter is only available because it’s practically beaten into a pulp. You might as well have walked in the first place!
If that’s a common hassle, then buying your own is the easiest way to fix it.
Renting is expensive!
At the time of writing, most shared scooters cost roughly $1 to unlock plus $0.15/minute to ride.
For a 5-minute trip, that’s $1.75. That translates to about a mile of real-world travel, or less with some red lights.
We’ll call it an even $2 per ride for a round number.
If you use one for practical purposes like shopping and nearby appointments, that might mean two round trips (four total rides) for an average of $8 per week. More in the summer and less in the winter, perhaps, but still in that ballpark.
Over the course of a year, that’s roughly $400 in fees.
It’s likely that most trips are longer than a mile, especially if you ride a scooter as a car or transit replacement (smart move!).
In any case, $400/year is a conservative figure if you use shared scooters regularly.
It may be cheaper to buy your own
$400 is also roughly the price of the Xiaomi M365 (here’s an Amazon link), one of the most popular electric scooters on the market.
That means breaking even within a year, or just a few months for many folks. And it’s pure savings from that point on. Granted you’re still on the hook for charging it at home, but that shouldn’t exceed 5 or 10 cents a day.
A significant upgrade would be something like the Ninebot Max at roughly $800, or $550 for its shorter-range Max G30LP sibling. (I’ve noticed especially frequent price changes and promos for Ninebots, so compare Amazon and Segway directly before buying.)
Anyhow, that’s roughly double the price and therefore double the break-even period. It’s also a much longer-range vehicle with important safety features like larger wheels and better brakes.
But before we get lost in the details, here’s the point.
Consistent renters usually come out ahead when they purchase a solid but entry-level model. Higher-mileage renters will come out ahead even on significantly upgraded ones.
There’s usually a little bit of resale value, too. It won’t be much if you’ve ridden hard for thousands of miles, but it shouldn’t be $0, either.
Finally, it’s only fair to mention that some unlucky customers end up with lemons that don’t fail until just after the warranty period.
It’s rare, but not unheard of.
It’s also a reason to stick with large and reputable brands even when no-name scooters are functionally similar.
You generally can’t rent high-end models
Lots of us have longer, steeper, rougher, rainier routes than rental scooters are made for.
It depends on where you live and which share operators are available there. I’ve personally seen better shared models in “hot” markets like San Francisco. But on the whole, rentals are better equipped to dash across the neighborhood than to make heavier-duty trips.
And that’s assuming they’re in decent condition, speaking of which…
Personal scooters stay in better condition
Thomas Hobbes famously described life in the state of nature as “nasty, brutish, and short.”
He unwittingly prophesied the lives of shared electric scooters, too.
We all know that shared anything gets trashed. It’s a shame, and doesn’t give you a ton of faith in humanity, but shared scooters take a particular beating.
More often than not, it’s a tall order to find rentals in good condition. All the more so when you’re in a rush.
That’s fine if you don’t care about things like, you know, predictable brakes.
With such a low bar, it takes only bare-minimum maintenance to keep your personal scooter in vastly better shape, even as you rack up the miles.
Electric scooters aren’t hard to ride when properly maintained. Public rentals, hanging on by a thread, are another story.
Disadvantages of owning an electric scooter
Purchasing is a convenient and cost-effective way to have a well-kept electric scooter at your service. You can probably tell already that I tend to recommend it.
But renting does have some major advantages, andI’d be remiss not to cover them. Here are some reasons why you might still be better off not buying your own.
You need to store it at your destination
Even if it’s frustrating to find a shared scooter where you want it, it’s liberating to park and leave it (almost) anywhere after your trip.
Whether your destination is transit, an office, or something else, you’ll need a way to store it. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.
For example, most electric scooters are too big to take aboard and impossible to fit in onboard bike racks. Now, a higher-end scooter (or any bicycle) might let you cut out transit altogether and simply ride end-to-end. Some folks opt for a regular Razor-style kick scooter, a folding bike, or a standard bike when good transit racks are available.
But if all those are out of the question, then a shared scooter is a great choice after all.
You need to know when you’ll ride it
Most of us owners don’t have a fleet of gig workers to schlep our wheels around in the middle of the night. If we want it, then it’s on us to think about it ahead of time.
Although purchasing is a good deal for regular riders, that assumes a little planning. You won’t realize the savings if your trips are mostly impromptu.
In that respect, it’s no different from utilitarian cycling. A little planning goes a long way…but a little planning is indeed necessary.
Electric scooter maintenance is complicated
Even though the whole category is pretty new, some models have far better maintenance records than others. Likewise, some have abundant spare parts whereas others require some sleuthing.
But in the unlucky event that your own scooter needs non-trivial work, it could be a problem
A bicycle is simple, purely mechanical, and intuitive to work on. Practically everything you need to deal with is out in the open. Sure, it’s another matter to deal with suspension or hydraulic brakes or newfangled electronic shifting, but those are outside the scope of everyday repairs.
Electric scooters are more like black boxes. Few of us understand electronics well enough to fix them, let alone to have good intuition about what’s wrong. They’re hard to monitor and harder to fix.
Still, I want to emphasize that brand-name scooters generally hold up very well. Major problems outside of warranty are not the norm.
And that’s good, since dedicated repair shops are unfortunately rare.
Scooter lifespan is hard to predict
Speaking of maintenance, it’s hard to predict when or how electronics will fail. You just can’t see all the working parts.
There’s also obsolescence. Electronics progress rapidly each year or two. For instance, a relatively bad scooter today uses battery technology that didn’t exist a decade ago, or was prohibitively expensive if it did.
Given the pace of change, you’ll likely want to upgrade after a couple years even if the vehicle itself still works perfectly.
Think twice about buying for seasonal use
It’s easy to get excited about electric scooters after a couple rentals on a sunny summer afternoon. That enthusiasm leads to a purchase. Cold autumn rains come, enthusiasm wanes, and your purchase hibernates.
If you’re accustomed to riding scooters or bicycles in the not-so-inviting seasons, then that won’t be you. But if you’ve always traveled by car or transit when it’s cold and damp, then off-season riding might be more unpleasant than you’d expect.
It’s totally doable, from personal experience. And leaving a scooter unridden all winter isn’t the worst thing. It might even be necessary in sub-freezing weather. Just make sure you know what you’re signing up for!
Bottom line: is it worth buying an electric scooter?
It’s worth buying an electric scooter if you’re confident that you’ll average at least a couple round trips each week.
Furthermore, it’s worth buying a mid- to high-end scooter if most trips are longer than a few miles.
Additionally, consider whether your trips are predictable enough to actually use a scooter you’re responsible for bringing and storing.
Finally, consider whether you’re OK with a small but real chance of electronic failure. It’s unlikely but cannot be ruled out.
If you can’t answer “yes” to all the above, then here are two other alternatives, besides renting one trip at a time.
Two great alternatives to buying
A handful of scooter companies offer monthly subscriptions in select cities.
Rates are very reasonable, and you get the benefits of ownership without the maintenance requirements or upfront price.
Only a few companies offer subscriptions as of writing, but I suspect we’ll see more in the near future.
But I’d be remiss not to state the obvious: bicycles and kick scooters are affordable, active alternatives.
As fun and exciting as electric scooters are, there’s a beautiful simplicity to the humble bicycle. (Or kick scooter, for very short trips.)
They’re healthfully active, they can be great deals, they’re weatherproof, and they’re easy to repair and use for decades if you’re so inclined.
Whatever you purchase or subscribe to, it’s almost certain to save money–and availability headaches–compared to frequent rentals.
If buying makes sense, then the next question is what. I believe the Ninebot Max (and Max G30LP) is the best value for practical riding. Check out my review here to learn why.