By Jeffrey the Barak.
Why is this article here?
the-vu has been publishing articles about scooters for two decades, mostly written by myself. Lately, reviews and descriptions have been commonplace on YouTube and in many ways a YouTube video is a better way to get information about scooters and scooting. However, there are so many really bad videos with little to no usable information, or videos with text to speech robot voices, from people who have never been near a scooter, that exist purely to place an affiliate link in the hope they will get a click through and earn a few cents. In most real review videos, the producer adds music to the ride section so you never hear how noisy the scooter is, which is usually very noisy. Therefore there is still good reason to write about scooters in a blog!
So, in case you have not found the many excellent videos among all the virtually useless ones, here are some considerations for your next purchase of a kick scooter. As with anything, you have to consider all pros and cons and your own intended use. Despite the many negatives you will read here, any scooter is a good scooter, and you need at least one!
Suspension versus no suspension
Suspension of any kind on a kick scooter will absorb the shock and vibration that would normally shake your bones, rattle your teeth, blur your vision and possibly harm your brain. Many popular urethane-wheeled adult folding scooters now feature some suspension. However, a lot of that absorbed and dissipated energy is stolen from your propulsion input. In short, on a smooth surface, having suspension will make the same ride less efficient and more tiring than having no suspension.
There is a riding technique that can eliminate the need for suspension on all but the worst asphalt. All you need to do is lift your weight out of your heel and balance your weight over the ball of your foot, while wearing athletic shoes. As soon as the weight leaves your heel, things calm down immediately. Suspension will do even more, but it adds weight and failure-prone complication to what should be a simple platform for a pair of wheels.
Air tires versus urethane wheels
Wheel diameter is important for turning a hole or bump from a dangerous sudden stoppage into a mild inconvenience, and urethane wheels are never larger than 10 inches (254 mm). Pneumatic tires can be larger, and fatter. The 12” standard, which is really 12.5”, is a great size for a scooter air tire, but of course they can go up to road bike diameters on foot bikes. Air tires smaller than 12” are unfortunately notorious for repeated and troublesome punctures. If you must go with 8” air tires, try to find a scooter with split rims that come apart for easy tire removal and tube replacement without the use of spoons or levers, and be ready to call a cab if it happens at the far end of a there and back ride.
On a rigid non-suspension scooter, the air tire is your shock absorption, and a hard urethane wheel does not do much, if anything, for shock absorption. The aluminum wheel shod in hard urethane found on all Xootr models does the least for shock absorption.
If you want to go fast on rough roads, then an air tire scooter is going to be necessary, but for slow to medium scoots on typical sidewalks and bike paths, the trouble-free urethane wheel is likely to be closer to your needs, as long as it is not too small. That’s why most scooters have urethane wheels now.
There is of course a third and more rare option, the solid rubber tire, as found on Know-Ped and KickPed scooters. This has some of the properties of each of the above two more common options.
Cartridge bearings versus sealed bicycle bearings, and, plastic or aluminum cores versus spokes
A scooter wheel that has spokes like a bicycle will generally have sealed bicycle cup-and-cone bearings that require no lubrication or they may have the little hole that you need to top up with lubricant from time to time. Spoked wheels reduce weight and absorb some shock, but can also be damaged, warped, require “truing”, etc. It just takes one incident to spoil a spoked wheel. Occasionally a narrow spoked scooter wheel will have convenient cartridge bearings, but usually not.
An aluminum or plastic wheel, whether shod in urethane or a rubber air tire, is certain to feature clean and simple cartridge bearings, usually two per wheel, sometimes four per wheel. These are so easy to replace or upgrade that it makes little sense to ever try to open the shields and maintain them.
A cartridge bearing upgrade makes a large difference to how long a wheel can spin, but you might not notice it much on a two mile scoot. It is still a fun thing to do though, with it being so easy and inexpensive.
Ground Clearance versus low deck
The laws of physics and mathematics apply to everything, including scooters, so you cannot have both a high ground clearance and also a low deck. The closest you can come to this is on the Boardy scooter which has no metal frame and the thinnest deck instead of a frame.
Forgetting the impressive Boardy for a moment, what is this all about? Scooting from a high deck is more tiring, because you have to bend the knee of the leg standing on the deck in order to reach down to the ground and push the scooter forward with the kicking leg. Constantly bending and straightening the standing leg is where most of your energy goes. The leg flex is much more tiring than the actual push or “kick”. So a lower deck is better, except when it isn’t. Bottoming out, where the frame grinds against the road between the wheels can slow you or stop you suddenly and potentially throw you over the handlebars. This is one of the most painful and most embarrassing single-vehicle scooter accidents to have.
A happy medium is always being sought. You absolutely need a low deck to enjoy scooting, so you really should simply watch the terrain ahead and keep your speed down to where you have time to react to anything whatsoever. All riders should at the very least learn to lift the front wheel and ride the back one over the potential ground stopper.
The usual problem with tiny little wheels
So I have wiped clean the wheels on my pro-scooter in order to ride around inside the house to work on very low speed balancing on the tiled floor. When the 120 mm wheels encounter the 3mm edge of a rug at low speed, the scooter just stops. Out in the real world, all kinds of little things are waiting to launch you off your scooter and onto the hard ground.
An unexpected problem with tiny little wheels
The problem I am outlining here is your center of gravity. Even if you only ever ride on smooth and clean concrete, or a hardwood ballroom, surfaces that don’t seem to need large diameter wheels, there is a problem with skate wheels on a scooter. This includes all pro-scooters, and Razor A, A2, A3, A4 etc. The problem is that as far as simple physics is concerned, all of the rider’s weight is in one shoe, which is on top of the deck. If that deck is higher than a line drawn between the axles, then the scooter will always want to topple over. On the Envy Prodigy S8 Street Edition with 120 mm wheels that I currently have, the deck height is 72mm, and of course the center of the wheel is lower at 60 mm. Then add the thickness of your rubber soles.
With larger wheels and angled up rear forks, your deck height is lower than the axles, so you essentially hang between the axles like a hammock, and the scooter always wants to stay up. And this is why pro-scooters, which are amazing for tricks at a skatepark, are not very stable for a ride around the block or down the road. They will always conspire to put you down on the ground as soon as you become complacent and inattentive.
However nothing is that simple. In this photo…
…we see together a pro-scooter with 120 mm wheels beside a Razor A6 with 254 mm wheels. While the much bigger wheels of the Razor will roll over an obstruction that would trip up the Prodigy, with the A6 it is more likely going to be the bottom of the deck that stops the motion, and the tiny little Prodigy has 47 mm ground clearance whereas the A6 has 43 mm. With the lower clearance and longer wheelbase, the A6 will bottom out on terrain that the Prodigy will skate over. Add to this, it is more difficult to lift up the front wheel of the A6 to skip over the problems, an essential survival technique.
So the key to using any urethane-wheeled scooter safely is to ride slowly with bent knees and be ready to step off (wearing rubber soled shoes) and take one to three steps to a standstill. Never rely on having the wits to operate a rear fender brake in time if you are moving fast. By the time you slow to a stop you will likely be well past whatever it was you needed to stop for. If you want to bomb down a hill, you need real front and rear brakes and larger rubber tires.
Head-tube angle, rake (offset) and trail
These are bicycle physics and never mentioned in discussion about scooters. But the reason your adult folding scooter or pro-scooter wants to launch you into space when you turn your handlebars is that the wheel is directly in line with the steering axis, which is sometimes close to vertical. When you turn your bars at low speed on a bike or a footbike with rake and trail, the bike leans the way you want to go, and vice versa your lean initiates a turn at low speed. Without this offset, turning the bars creates an instability. This may or may not have given you a moment of clarity. (At high speed it gets more complicated with counter-steering coming into play to reverse the principle, but scooters don’t usually reach those speeds).
Foldability versus Quietness
Comparing two different things? Not at all. The folding mechanisms on small scooters create rattles. The sound of a rattle is also a small loss of energy that could have otherwise contributed to your forward motion. A solid design or clamped bars make everything nice and tight so the frame gives a pleasing ring rather than a lot of clattering noise. And bars that have adjustable heights can rattle if there is a big gap inside that tube.
If you don’t need to store your scooter in a small space, or carry it to a bus seat or school desk, or fit it in the trunk of a Lamborghini, then a non-folding scooter will always be a better scooter. If you have a rattly folding scooter that you never actually fold, bind it all up with tape to lessen the unpleasant racket.
So despite there being a myriad of choices when it comes to choosing a scooter, it is very difficult to decide where to place your priorities. You cannot usually try before you buy, and also, many problematic scooters have glowing reviews.
Please comment below and I am happy to help you work through your considerations.
Jeffrey the Barak has owned at least nineteen human-powered scooters and five electrics, and ridden many more.