“What are your thoughts on the new electric scooters?” I’ve been getting asked this question a lot lately with scooter share popping up in cities around the globe.
The short answer is “I think they’re great!” Anything that gets more people out on micromobility transportation and into the bike lane is a win for the world. If people know what it’s like to ride in the bike lane, they’ll have more respect for everyone using it when they’re driving a car as well.
I still prefer riding my bicycle, but there are many situations where a scooter can be more convenient. Before the whole kick scooter share craze happened, I had an opportunity to purchase one of these electric scooters for cheap, so I thought why not. I rode it a few miles home from work, and then never used it again. For me, the bike had everything I needed and more that the scooter couldn’t provide.
When the new scooter share arrived, I made sure to try them all out: Lime, Bird, Spin, Scoot, Skip, JUMP, Roll, Kick, Pump, Sweat (ok I added a few just for fun). I still use them occasionally, but only if a bikeshare option isn’t available nearby.
I’ve written out a list of features to compare and understand the difference between these two micromobility transportation options so you can make your own decisions about which is better for each commute situation. By the way I did have a Razor Scooter when I was a kid, so it’s not lack of experience 😉
Although the best comparison here is an electric scooter vs an electric bicycle, I sometimes include the non electric bicycle in the comparisons since that is still a viable transportation alternative. I may have to include the kick scooter soon.
WINNER: Bicycle for all but the shortest rides
Because these scootershare and bikeshare companies are new, the pricing model is constantly changing. One thing that isn’t changing is that the bikeshare is consistently cheaper than the scootershare. When I first wrote this article in 2019 the scooters were only marginally more expensive than the bikes. Now in 2020 they are over 2x the price! However, because of details of free to unlock scooters, if your ride is short the scooter may be slightly cheaper.
Using JUMP as a comparison, bikeshare is $3 for the first 20 minutes (which is 15 cents a minute), and then 15 cents a minute after that. Scooters are 33 cents a minute and free to start. This means a ride 9 minutes or less is cheaper on the scooter, but once you hit 10 minutes the bicycle is cheaper, and as the minutes rack up the price difference widens.
If you’re trying to buy a scooter on your own, there are a variety of different options on Amazon, and you probably get what you pay for. There’s so much variety with the bikes and scooters that it’s hard to compare these prices directly. One website called Electric Scooter Expert expands a bit more on all the different types of Electric Scooters available if you’re interested in more detailed information.
Road Vibrations, Bumps, & Comfort
After riding scooters from multiple companies (even those fancy ones with the rear shocks), the road vibrations and bumps are much more noticeable than a bicycle. I feel it through my whole body and my hands. This may be fixed over time with new tech, but right now the bumps are bad. Plus I’m a bit worried about falling in a pothole that is bigger than the wheels.
With so many types of bicycles, the vibrations and comfort varies wildly, but even with a stiffer road bike the ride is much smoother than these scooters. Plus you get to sit down on a saddle.
Bicycles are inherently more stable than scooters. With more weight lower down and larger wheels, bicycles are less wobbly than their scooter counterparts. These larger wheels also make sure that you don’t fall into any potholes. A pothole the size of a mug or cup would be a nuisance on a bike, but it could take a scooter to the ground if the wheel got stuck.
With a more wobbly device like the scooter, you’ll notice less stability when going faster down hills, and it’s significantly more difficult to take a hand off the handlebar. Riding with one hand free may not seem necessary, but I do it all the time to signal to other road users, as well as adjusting a helmet or sunglasses. It’s not fun to have to stop entirely just to safely take off your sunglasses.
As a final thought on stability, I initially thought the gyroscopic effect of the larger bicycle wheels would also affect the stability of the bike vs scooter, but it turns out balancing 2-wheeled devices is much more complicated than that.
Work Output vs Free Exercise
WINNER: Depends on how lazy you are. I prefer the free exercise of the Bicycle
This is probably one of the big reasons other people like the scooters where I do not. Part of the reason I ride my bike is for the free exercise I receive while pedaling around town. Except for the first scooter kick to get it started, you don’t get much exercise while on an electric scooter. Even though you can still push the scooter while it’s moving, it’s not very practical. Let’s face it, no one does that when you have a throttle.
On a pedal assist electric bike, you have to keep pedaling to keep the motor on, so even though there is an electric assist, you’re still getting more than a walking level of exercise while still keeping the sweat away.
Hills can change the dynamics as well. A scooter will go up a hill slower, but you won’t be working at all, where an electric bicycle user will be working a bit harder (with an extended range to show for it!).
Ease of Carrying & Size Footprint
This is one category where the scooter wins hands down. It’s simply a smaller device, and therefore easier to take into a building/train/house/stairs/whatever it is that you’re doing. The issue here is that these are becoming popular as a scooter share, which means you never end up taking these scooters into any of the aforementioned places unless you buy one of your own. So the benefit of this is really just sidewalk space.
As for weight, again not very important when riding, but with scooters the smaller size makes it easy to lift it up and around/over things more-so than a bicycle.
Electric scootershare (Lime & Bird weighed): 27-33 pounds
Electric bikeshare (Bay Wheels & JUMP weighed): 68-78 pounds
Non-electric dockless bikeshare (Limebike weighed): ~35 pounds
Non-electric docked bikeshare (Bay Wheels weighed): 49 pounds
Electric personal bike: ~40-60 pounds
Non-electric personal bike: ~20-40 pounds (depends on the bike and how many security essentials you’ve added to the mix)
Lastly, squeezing through small spaces and lane splitting is easier with a scooter because of the smaller handlebar width. This is nice during rush hour on streets without bike lanes (when all the cars are stopped), but of course you have to be careful!
Because of the tall center of mass, scooters don’t have baskets or any storage capabilities. If you have something to take with you, you gotta bring a bag or backpack. However, it’s probably easy to hang some bags off the handle bars of the scooter since there’s no large wheel to hit. The bikeshare bikes usually have some kind of built in storage basket (some better than others), and a normal bike is pretty easy to outfit with something to carry things or even a trailer.
While Wearing Certain Clothing
I was discussing this article with a lady friend, and she expressed how the scooters were great for transportation when she was wearing a tighter skirt or other clothing that a bicycle can’t easily accommodate. Any kind of clothing that restricts movement, especially of the legs, can make it harder to ride a bicycle. The standing platform of the scooter means that nearly anything you wear will work out.
After discussing this post with a friend who doesn’t bike all the time like I do, I realized another metric that I had missed while writing this comparison. If you haven’t ridden a bicycle or a scooter for a while, it’s easier to jump on a scooter than it is to jump on a bicycle. It’s simply a more welcoming platform on the scooter. All you do is step up and you’re off. With a bicycle you may have to adjust the seat, and when you’re riding a bike properly your feet won’t comfortably touch the ground, which means you have to learn how to move yourself off the seat into a standing position on the top tube of the bike. An easy thing to learn, but something to learn nonetheless.
This is probably another big reason for the scooter craze right now, it’s just easier and more welcoming for people who haven’t thought of bicycles as an easy way to get around, and I welcome that! I hope that after some scooter riding, people may realize that a bicycle is also a viable option that can get them even farther than the electric scooter ever could.
On a non-electric bicycle you obviously have an unlimited range, but let’s compare an electric scooter against an electric bicycle. The electric bicycle will probably have more space for the battery, and with pedal assist the battery will not be fully used up big hills, however the electric bicycle will also likely be heavier. The pedal assist plus a bigger battery should offset the extra weight when considering range, so I’m giving this one to the bicycle.
Range is late in this list because in the common case you will have a full battery when looking for a scooter share or bike share. In the world of the sharing economy, there are lots of people trying to make an extra buck going around and charging up these bikes and scooters, so in general I haven’t seen many with low charge. Whether or not it’s sustainable to have people running around charging and moving scooters and bikes is another story.
Most of the max speeds are not technical limitations, but legal limitations.
Electric bicycle top speed – ~20mph in the US (or 15.5mph in Europe)
Electric scooter top speed – 15mph
Although these speeds are fine for a casual commute, if you ever want to hustle for a green light, even the electric bikes will hold you back. This is actually a big thing keeping me on my non-electric bike, because 15mph is really not that fast.
The scooter does have its perks, but for important considerations like cost, comfort, and stability, the bike wins out. For shorter trips or crowded areas I might be more inclined to use a scooter over a bike, but mostly I’ll end up using them when there’s no bike nearby!
More options for micromobility and alternate transportation is always a good thing, and it’s great that it’s available when I need it. I’ve been using an app called Citymapper (iOS & Android) to help me find out which alternate transportation is closest to me, and it’s made it much easier to manage the crazy number of apps that are necessary to use all these new transit options.
For my parting statement, remember that a non-electric bicycle is still the absolute best for your wallet, for the environment, for your mental and physical health, and for the world. Lots of people already know this and bike to everything every day!
Happy alternate transportation-ing!