Electric Scooter Brakes Explained: The Ultimate Guide
- Read Time: 11 min
Braking and being able to stop is supercritical in any type of vehicle. And maybe even more so an electric scooter. Even at relatively low speed, standing up on an electric scooter can quickly become hazardous in situations where you need to come to a complete stop as fast as possible.
Apart from having good brakes, you also need the right technique.
First and foremost, never ever ride with your feet parallel. You have less control and balance standing like this. Instead, stand like you would on a snowboard. One foot in front of the other. This is the proper and safest riding stance. When braking, bend your knees, extend your arms slightly and lean back. This is to keep the balance of the scooter as level as possible when you apply the brakes and prevent you from flying over the handlebar.
Understanding and knowing what type of brakes your e-scooter has, and how they work is extremely important.
When choosing an electric scooter, make sure to pay attention to its braking system. Does it have a dual or single brake system? If possible, always opt for a dual system. If one fails, you have a backup.
Types of Braking Systems in Electric Scooters
First things first. Some e-scooters only have braking on one of their wheels. And that might be the front or rear. These types of scooters will not stop as effectively as a dual-wheel braking system. And it will be worse in the wet where traction is even less. Asking only one wheel to stop instead of two will be half as good.
If you still opt for a one-brake system scooter, you might want to try what it feels like if the brake is in the front or rear. There is a difference.
Front brakes provide more stopping power than rear brakes. Because the center of gravity moves forward under braking, pressure is added to the front of the vehicle and transferred to the front wheel. This gives maximum braking power but be careful as strong front brakes on a powerful electric scooter might through you over the handlebars if you are not prepared.
Types of Brakes
There are mainly two types of braking systems on electric scooters, mechanical and e-brakes, short for electronic brakes.
The types of brakes used are, disc brakes, (mechanical or hydraulic), drum brakes, electronic brakes, regenerative brakes (regen brakes), and foot brakes.
Electronic and regen brakes should be viewed as extra help rather than a proper braking system. You should never rely on them only.
When pressure is applied, in the case of an electric scooter by pulling on the brake lever, a piston pushes a brake pad outwards toward the rotating disc that has calipers attached to them, creating friction that slows the vehicle down.
As we know, disc brakes are considered the best for maximum performance and they are being used almost exclusively on everything with wheels today. But some new smaller cars still have drum brakes on the rear wheels. Since the majority of the braking power comes from the front wheels, it is considered sufficient with drum brakes in the rear since they are cheaper to manufacture and still do their job.
Advantages of disc brakes
- They are lighter than drum brakes
- They cool better since the disc is exposed to air
- They don't fade as much as drum brakes under heavy braking, so they offer better resistance
- The pressure distribution is more evenly spread
- They self-adjust
- They are easier to replace
- Excellent braking power
- They are good in both wet and dry conditions
- They are easy to maintain and adjust
- Hydraulic disc brakes have phenomenal braking control
Disadvantages of disc brakes
- They are more expensive than drum brakes.
- More pressure needs to be applied to stop the vehicle.
- Disc rotors can get contaminated. F.e example if some degreaser hits it. This results in squeaking and less bite when braking and requires cleaning them as well as changing pads.
Hydraulic Disc Brakes
A hydraulic brake system is a closed vacuum system with lines, hoses, and reservoirs which are filled with special hydraulic oil. They also have a rotor in the same way as a mechanical cable disc brake has but are still referred to simply as hydraulic brakes.
When you pull on the brake lever, it increases the pressure in the hydraulic lines which are connected to the brake calipers. This causes a piston to push the brake pads onto the rotor disc causing friction that slows the vehicle down. When you release the brake, the fluid goes back in place as this is a closed vacuum system, thus releasing the brake.
There is a reason why this is the standard brake system for most anything out there today on wheels as it gives superior control over your braking.
Semi Hydraulic Disc Brakes
As the name implies, semi-hydraulic disc brakes are a combination of a mechanical and hydraulic system. But Instead of a hydraulic line from the lever to the caliper, this part uses a cable.
This is a good balance between strong consistent stopping power and low maintenance.
Cable Controlled Disc Brakes
On most electric scooters you will find a mechanical brake system. Mechanical disc brakes use a cable to activate the caliper when you're pulling on the brake lever. This shortens the brake cable connected to the brake caliper which in turn transmits the force causing the brake pad to pinch the rotor. These types of disc brakes have a different feel as you might feel more resistance compared to a hydraulic system.
They are popular since they are effective, have solid braking power, are relatively cheap, and are low on maintenance.
Another advantage is that most people can easily adjust them to fit their riding style.
A tried and tested system, reliable in all conditions, they are also mass-produced which keeps costs down.
As with all disc brakes, the rotors are usually made of stainless steel and are very durable. The pads produce a tremendous amount of friction and generate a lot of heat which eventually wears the pads down. They need to be checked frequently and replaced when needed.
Drum brakes might sound "old school" but they are quite effective and require very little maintenance. They are more complex than disc brakes though.
Drum brakes are enclosed inside the wheel hub and have brake shoes or pads that push outward against the brake lining bringing it into contact with the drum which creates friction to slow down the rotation.
The system being fully enclosed protects it against the outside environment with water dirt and dust prevented from entering. This is an advantage in one way but a disadvantage when they overheat. Compared to disc brakes, drum brakes are less good at handling heat. Overheating drum brakes are one reason why they are rarely used on cars anymore since cars are heavier and faster vehicles compared to electric scooters.
Overheating drum brakes on an electric scooter is probably not a big issue though and when a drum brake works as it should, it is almost as effective as a disc brake. So if an electric scooter has drum brakes, it is not bad or "wrong" in any way.
On an electric scooter, they are activated mechanically by cable when pulling the brake lever but there is a cylinder with pistons that uses hydraulic pressure when braking, pushing the shoes into contact with the drum.
Advantages of drum brakes
- Low maintenance, less prone to defects.
- Fully enclosed in the wheel hub.
- Good performance in wet conditions.
Disadvantages of drum brakes
- Not as strong as disc brakes.
- Loose power quickly when overheated.
- Complicated to work on if needed.
- More "bulky" and heavier than disc brakes, adding volume to the wheel.
The simplest version of a brake system on an electric scooter is the rear foot brake, very common on budget scooters. If you've tried a regular kids' kick scooter, then you get it. It is the same principle here. You step on the rear fender pushing it into the tire to slow down the wheel.
It is extremely simple and requires zero maintenance. But be aware as they are not as reliable as you might think. Stopping power is not super strong and in fact, it should be viewed more as an emergency brake rather than a primary source of retardation.
Moving your foot backward and at the same time pressing downwards can also be a bit of a balancing act which is another risk element.
But it's better to have one than not in case there is a malfunction on the primary brakes.
Advantages of foot brakes
- No maintenance.
- Simple to use.
- Very lightweight.
Disadvantages of foot brakes
- Poor performance.
- Requires awkward riding position while braking.
- Even worse in wet conditions.
If you are into motorsport and in particular Formula One, Formula E, or Sports Car Endurance racing, you will be familiar with the expression KERS. It is short for Kinetic Energy Recovery System which is the same as regenerative braking. It is a way of recovering energy produced under braking and storing it in the battery to extend the range.
Regenerative brakes are activated by a switch that electronically couples the motor into the charging system thus creating resistance in the motor rotation. How the system works differs from scooter to scooter. In some cases, it is activated as soon as you lift off the throttle, in others, it is activated by the brake lever or a via a special button.
It is not a very strong braking system in and of itself and how much it actually extends range on an electric scooter is up for debate. Manufacturers do like to promote it as a great mile extender though. A pinch of salt is probably a good idea.
Advantages of regenerative brakes
- Low on maintenance, lightweight.
- Minor energy recovery.
Disadvantages of regenerative brakes
- Lackluster braking performance.
- It may not work when the battery is fully charged.
- Some regenerative braking systems are not very sophisticated and fail.
Electronic brakes basically work in the same way as regenerative brakes except they don't recharge the battery. A switch engages that creates resistance to motor rotation by shorting the terminals to the motor. They are activated by brake levers or a push button. You will feel the scooter decelerate slightly when the system is engaged.
Advantages of electronic brakes
- No maintenance required.
Disadvantages of electronic brakes
- Lackluster braking performance.
- Some electronic braking systems are not very sophisticated and fail.
Mechanical vs Electronic Brakes
Mechanical brakes are far superior to electronic ones at the time of writing. And of the mechanical ones, the disc brake is the winner. Strong in both wet and dry conditions, lightweight, reliable, and easy to adjust and maintain. No wonder most of the professional Tour de France riders have switched to disc brakes from the old standard rim brakes. They would never do this if they were not effective and most importantly, were too heavy as weight is everything in that particular sport.
Electronic brakes are still developing and they are helping, but can't be relied upon to be a primary source of retardation.
Final Braking News
Check your brakes regularly. Dab them slightly at low speed before riding out so you know they are still working as they should and if you have disc brakes, keep an eye on the pads and replace them if necessary.
If you ride often and amongst other road users, you will need to brake a lot and you will also have to be prepared to brake hard once in a while. Make sure to know about your e scooters brakes and choose one with two braking systems.
If you just got your e-scooter, learn the right technique and once you are comfortable, try braking from top speed so you know what to expect. How long your braking distance is and how hard your brakes bite.
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