Electric Scooter Vs Electric Bike: Which one is right for you?
- Read Time: 14 min
We know that electric scooters are popular. We see them more or less all around the globe and recognize them as a practical tool to get from A to B without breaking any sweat.
That e-bikes are also popular and many have found a use for them, was made very obvious to this writer some years ago when I was out on my daily Strava challenge, doing my best impersonation of a professional Tour biker.
Here I was doing about 20+mph (35 kph) on the flat, cruising as it were when I saw an elderly gentleman up the road at some distance. I noticed I didn't seem to catch up as fast as I would normally expect. Add to the confusion that his pedals were not revolving at a high cadence, and, he was on a lady's bike. A regular bike! I had to up my tempo considerably to start catching up quickly. But still, the old man was hard to catch. What the hell? Now I was committed. I went for a spurt in what was part anger part amazement. Who is this guy? Maybe he's an ex-pro biker or something. Well, once I was next to him...that's when I saw he was on an electric bike. And was probably 75 years old.
This was some years ago before e-bikes were that common, and I realized that it was quite astonishing that this gentleman gave me a run for my money.
Now, of course, I see e-bike riders every day. As well as e-scooters.
So what should you get, if you are thinking about joining the personal electric vehicles club?
Well, it depends on what your intended use is and what you can accept as far as a comfortable ride goes. Also to consider are things like storage capacity, physical effort, and so on.
Both have their specific pros & cons. Let's go through them.
Comfort & Convenience
As far as best comfort goes, sitting down is always going to win. A conventional bike is a comfortable way of traveling and electric bikes are the same albeit a bit heavier. Bigger wheels and a bigger frame can handle obstacles and potholes in a way most electric scooters can't. Your seating position gives you good control over the bike and for longer distances, this is the best option.
That doesn't mean that electric scooters are uncomfortable though. Some are very comfortable, with high-grade suspension systems and air-filled tires. But standing up is never going to be the same as sitting down and longer rides might be more tiring.
And for the comparison here, we will focus on stand-up scooters vs e-bikes.
Electric bikes being bigger also means they are not as portable or easy to store as electric scooters. Even if you get a foldable e-bike.
The area where the electric scooter dominates other vehicles is in its convenience and practicality. Being able to quickly get to your destination on busy city streets, then bring your electrical vehicle into your office or apartment, and place it in a corner is something the e-bike can't compete with.
Some e-scooters are ultra-light and even if some e-bikes are not exactly super heavy, their shape and form don't allow them to be folded into a package as the electric scooter can.
This is an area mostly referring to the electric bike.
Some of them offer various riding options to choose from.
- Manual pedaling
- Electrical pedal assist
- Throttle control
So for example, riding on a long straight flat road, you can pedal as on a regular bike if you feel like it.
Reaching that dreaded hill, switch to throttle only.
Or choose to use electric pedal assist. It is a medium for your pedaling and the motors provide additional help with each rotation.
The average electric scooter also has different riding modes but they don't include the physical element.
Speed & Range
The average e-bike and e-scooter have about the same speed, which is around the 20 mph (32 kph) mark. But there are significantly many more electric scooters that can do 40-60 mph (65-96 kph) than e-bikes. The fastest e-bike on the market at the time of writing is the Guinness book of records holder Delfast, which has a top speed of 50 mph (80 kph) and looks more like a motocross than an e-bike.
It costs around $7000 and weighs 154 lbs (70 kg). Not exactly portable or nimble. And there are quite a few options of e-scooters at a third of that price with the same top speed.
One would think that bikes would be much faster since, in the analog form, they are. But it is a bit more complicated than that.
Electric bicycles are more heavily regulated than electric scooters and the electric bike companies seem to follow the rules better. In the US, electric bikes are limited to 20 mph (32 kph), Class 1 & 2, or 28 mph (45 kph), Class 3. New York is an exception to this rule with its stipulated 25 mph (40 kph) top speed allowed for e-bikes.
The majority of the "normal" e-bikes will be faster than the average lightweight e-scooter. To keep the weight down, e-scooter manufacturers will focus on smaller batteries and smaller wheels and motors.
Stepping up into the slightly bigger league of e-scooters turns the table around.
However, this is not a big concern, or at least it shouldn't be if you ride mostly in city traffic and amongst all kinds of other road users.
The e-scooter is very sleek and practical. It allows you to navigate around obstacles in a way that a bike can't. Riding an electric scooter at top speed, even if it's only 15 mph (24 kph) in a busy city, is not going to be viable for many minutes.
Electric bikes, due to their larger frame which can house bigger batteries, have longer range and might be a good option for longer commutes. A larger battery will take longer to recharge though.
The e-bike is popular in low-density areas where there are roads, trails, and longer distances to travel.
For now, most e-scooter users live in larger cities where the distance is shorter and the need for top speed is not as relevant as practical portability and swiftness amongst other city inhabitants.
On one single charge, with no extra batteries, and no pedaling (for the bike), the average range for the average e-scooter is around 20 miles (32 km). The e-bikes will manage 20/35 miles (32/56 km) depending on the size of the battery.
The one thing to keep in mind is that the bike offers the possibility of pedaling which can increase the range a lot. This is not possible on an-e-scooter.
All other things are the same. Rider weight, hills, and at what speed you ride will all affect the range.
"Cheap" or budget electric bicycles start at around $1100. A budget e-scooter can be found at half that and even lower.
The price for e-bikes increases quite dramatically when you expect higher quality and if you need something above a standard commuter. If you f.e. want an off-road or MTB e-bike, expect to pay at least $5-6000 and upwards of $10 000.
$5000 will get you a phenomenal electric scooter.
Battery Capacity & Motor Output
The e-bike is a bigger PEV also means that they allow for larger battery packs and larger electrical motors. These are both advantages when considering an electric scooter or an e-bike. Longer battery life is a detail to be considered when comparing the two.
The electric scooter is a more compact personal electric vehicle and as such, it has limitations on what types of electrical components the construction can accept.
Most scooters will have a smaller battery compared to an e-bike and thus, shorter battery life and lower range.
But, when it comes to motor power, the electric scooter comes to its forte. Many electric scooters have dual motors and produce brutal power with thousands of Watts on hand ready to be unleashed.
Many are first-time electric scooter riders whose eyes widened in shock at the brutal acceleration and top speed they just experienced on a properly powerful electric scooter.
An e-bike is basically a regular bike with a battery and motor added. Sold through local bike dealers, many bike-related issues are easy to fix for them. Flat tires, broken spokes, chains that need replacing or tightening, and so on.
And the fact that they are sold by a local dealer will mean help and service is easy to get, even if it will cost a bit.
In addition, many e-bike manufacturers are companies with decades of experience in building bikes which adds to the overall quality.
The electric scooter, (although an old invention dating back to the beginning of the 1900:s), is a relative newcomer to the personal electric vehicle market.
The various manufacturers are younger companies and the infrastructure for e-scooter dealers is nowhere near the bike-related ones.
Although some distributors offer great support, the overall verdict for durability and service will go to the e-bike. For now.
Safety & Brakes
Gathered data on safety seems to favor traditional bikes and e-bikes over e-scooters. But the data is far from complete. Several large studies however show a significantly higher accident rate for share scooter riders than for bike riders.
Not surprising at all since many share scooter riders are notorious for not wearing helmets as well as riding in a manner, let's be generous and say, is not the safest or best practice for that type of vehicle.
There was a study done in November 2019 in the US by the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). It showed that e-bike riders were more likely to suffer internal injuries and be hospitalized whereas e-scooter riders suffered more concussions.
E-bike injuries were also more than three times as likely to involve a collision with a pedestrian than either scooter or traditional bike injuries, the researchers report in the journal Injury Prevention.
Most significantly, the study found injuries from e-bikes, in particular, were more serious. The reason for this is not explained anywhere. But let's assume that maybe it is easier to "jump ship" from an e-scooter when something goes wrong compared to a bike. You sit higher on the bike and are not as free in your movements when something goes wrong.
The braking on both types of vehicles is similar. Drum or disc brakes, hydraulic, sometimes mechanical, are well developed, and stopping power should not be the issue if you ride responsibly.
If exercise is what you're looking for, then forget the electric scooter, the e-bike wins.
On an e-bike, you always have the option of pedaling, regardless of what riding mode you choose or how much assistance it offers.
Some studies indicate that e-bike riders get more exercise than standard bike riders do because they tend to ride further and more often.
And if you are serious about your exercise, try pedaling a heavy e-bike without the motor engaged up a hill, that will do it.
Imagine if you will, that a big city, such as New York f.e. only had electric cars or e-scooters and e-bikes allowed in the city center. What this would mean for the air and emissions is easy to understand.
In 2017, The U.S. Department of Transportation conducted a study that showed nearly 60% of all vehicle trips were less than 6 miles (10 km).
Think about that for a second. People fire up their car for a 6-mile journey. That's not even good for the car, barely getting warmed up, let alone the environment.
The e-bikes and electric scooters are good for the environment. Period. Sure, their analog counterparts are even better, but, most people will not want to put in the manual labor required to pedal or kick yourself forward. So personal electric vehicles are the thing.
The battery technology and recycling still have some way to go, granted, but at the time of writing, there is nothing better on offer. And for shorter commutes or trips such as 6-10 miles, the e-scooter starts to edge the e-bike out by quite some distance.
It is as close to the hoverboard in Back to the Future II as you can get.
They are more maneuverable and easy to learn how to ride. If you can't ride a bike, it takes more practice than jumping on an e-scooter. They need less space and are more portable. You can fold them in a way that an e-bike can never compete with.
And that being so, you can bring it into places and store it in a corner minimizing the risk of theft. Approaching the place you left your bike last night is always done with some trepidation if it is still where you left it. Especially expensive bikes. And all e-bikes are expensive in a relative sense.
Maintenance is another area where the e-scooter needs less attention than the bike. Mostly due to its lack of chains and sprockets that needs lubrication and tightening from time to time. The battery and motors are similar, if not the same, and they need the same attention when it comes to recharging and storing properly.
The e-scooter is also cheaper compared to the average e-bike. You can get a lightweight electric scooter at $400 and even below that.
Electric Bike Advantages
The e-bike's advantages are quite strong and will always tilt some users in their favor. For one thing, you can always pedal even with an empty battery. Some would argue you can kick yourself forward with an empty batteried e-scooter as well but, it is not the same. If you don't believe me, try it, I have. It is much more tiring and best to avoid.
Larger wheels also mean bikes can handle obstacles and potholes less dramatically than the average e-scooter.
Loading capacity and the possibility of bringing things with you is a mega win for the bike. Adding a basket to the front as well as using the rear packet holder is a practical and easy solution. The only way of bringing something with you on an electric scooter is to wear a backpack. And don't try riding it one-handed. It was never meant to and it feels super dangerous and unstable.
When is the Electric Scooter the Better Option?
If you need a last-mile solution and maybe you travel by bus, subway, or train for parts of your journey, the e-scooter is a no-brainer. Even if you drive your car for parts of the trip and park outside of congested areas, you can fit many e-scooters in the trunk and take them for the last part of the trip.
When is the E-bike the Better Option?
For longer-range journeys that don't require portability as a factor, the e-bike will be the one to choose. You sit down, the range is usually longer, you can pedal, the larger wheels can handle various terrain easier, and you can bring groceries with you.
The biggest obstacle for many people might be their mindset. If you haven't tried either an electric scooter or an electric bike, you don't know what you're missing out on.
Once you do, you quickly get used to the benefits and start getting reluctant to take the car for shorter trips. Getting from A to B within a couple of miles on an electric scooter, jumping in the local store to get what you need is so fast. I have on numerous occasions noticed one of my neighbors heading for the same local store in their car while I go on my electric scooter. We arrive approximately at the same time, but when it takes time for them to park and walk to the store, I am already halfway done. I exit way before them and watch them from my office window since I got home before them.
Of course, I live in a smaller town, it is about 2 miles to the nearest supermarket and our speed limit is 25 mph (40 kph) which is my electric scooter's top speed.
The money you will save on gas, as well as the benefits for the environment is good enough reason to get into the PEV community.
Whether you choose an electric scooter or an electric bike is a matter of preference and personal choice. You won't regret it.