Are Electric Scooters the Future? How Do They Actually Work?
If you’re a particular age, then you might have memories of riding a new energy scooter. Those flimsy, two-wheeled scooters that gave you freedom on the sidewalk in front of your house before your acquisition of a bike opened up the whole neighborhood.
Until recently, that image of a scooter as a nothing more than a child’s toy was the one most people carried.
Now, several companies, such as Bird, LimeBike, and Spin, are out to change that perception. They are banking big on the idea that the small, compact e-scooter is a viable personal transportation device.
But is it?
Let’s take a look at where e-scooters are at today, from their fundamental appeal to how they work to their practicality beyond ordinary weekend fun.
Although manual and electric kick- or push-start scooters have both been around for some time, the popularity of the latter has risen steadily over the past two decades.
Perhaps the central development in the design and marketing of today’s e-scooters is children are no longer the primary audience.
Make no mistake, the targets are still young. They just happen to have a different set of priorities.
College students on campus.
Young professionals who live and work in urban environments.
People looking for alternative means of transportation in those same cities.
Each of these groups offer a market segment that tends to eschew the norms and traditions of the past. Zipping around town on a low-speed, zero-emission scooter certainly caters to those demanding alternatives.
With a unifying factor that everyone over a certain age will probably look a little goofy riding one, it’s easy to see the appeal. It also doesn’t hurt that electric scooters come across as simple and easily accessible devices that are even easier to operate.
E-scooters, much like their non-powered siblings are about as straightforward as it gets when it comes to personal transportation devices.
In their simplest form scooters are composed of a narrow platform or deck, t-stem handlebars with a throttle and hand brakes, two wheels (although some models come with three or four), and front and rear suspension. Most scooters are fold-able, and some models also include a seat.
When it comes to variation, scooters are what they are. Alter the design too much, and they become an entirely different form of transportation. However, they do possess a few key areas where a slight difference makes a significant impact on performance.
It begins and ends with the battery.
You’ll find one of three battery types in the manufacturing of e-scooters, Nickel Metal Hydride, Lead-Acid, and Lithium-ion:
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)
A long-term market mainstay, NiMH batteries carry the middle ground between the well-known lead-acid and the newer Lithium-ion. NiMH batteries hold a longer charge versus a lead-acid version but are heavier than the Lithium-ion variety. Ultimately, these work well as a practical, cost-conscience alternative to the pricey Lithium-ion.
The long-standing workhorse of rechargeable batteries, lead-acid batteries have yet to lose their place as the preferred starter for automobiles and the power source for golf carts. Though a bit cumbersome for widespread use, you’ll still find plenty of these weighty and very inexpensive batteries in larger scooters.
The newest battery technology for e-scooters is also the most expensive, but for very good reasons. The Lithium-ion tech is more powerful, holds a charge far longer than either the lead acid or NiMH, and do so in a much more lightweight package. More and more longest range electric scooter are featuring these batteries and as the tech and production improve, so should the price.
The allure of the e-scooter both as a toy and as a potential vehicle for commuting is the simplicity of the whole endeavor. The other facet of its practicality, especially for adult professionals is its limitations.
Due to the diminutive build of scooters, the size of the onboard battery is typically smaller than a cable box, which means the overall performance of the rideable has its limits. Nowhere is this impact felt more than by the capacity, range, and speed.
More so than most other electric rides, a scooters range and speed is dictated directly by the capacity it carries and the terrain it traverses. With few exceptions, most scooter manufacturers provide an ideal set of circumstances to reach optimal range and speed, usually defined as a 165 lb rider on a smooth flat surface.
Rideshare scooters max out at 15 mph. Though most e-scooters can top out at speeds close to 20 mph (with some newer models flirting with the 30- mph mark) rare is the time an adult rider can achieve this mark.