How New Electric Scooters Could Change Transportation

Fast and energy-efficient

Key Takeaways

  • New designs and better batteries are driving the boom in electric scooters. 
  • Honda’s new U-BE electric scooter is a new electric scooter for the Chinese market that will cost just $475. 
  • The pandemic has increased interest in scooters by forcing commuters to look at alternatives for public transport.
Someone riding a stand-up, electric scooter in a busy city.

supersizer / Getty Images

Electric scooters are growing in popularity, and new technologies could make them a viable alternative to gas-guzzling cars. 

It’s not just stand-up scooters that are booming. Honda’s new U-BE electric scooter is a new electric scooter for the Chinese market that will cost just $475. 

"With the majority of commutes in the US being under 10 miles, people no longer feel as inclined to take on debt for a depreciating asset like a car, that could be replaced by something just as effective for a fraction of the cost," Jeff Lawrence, the marketing director of electric vehicle manufacturer GOTRAX, told Lifewire in an email interview.

Bargains on Two Wheels

The Honda U Be can go up to 50 miles on a charge and offers a seated position. The U Be even has pedals in case you run out of power. There’s a 350-watt motor that can take the scooter to speeds up to 15 mph.

These are boom times for electric scooters. According to a report released by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, Americans took 86 million trips on e-scooters in 2019—a 123% increase in rides year-over-year.

In the US, stand-up scooters are far more common, thanks to the aggressive expansion by well-funded scooter-sharing companies like Bird and Lime, Julian Fernau of FluidFreeride, which makes electric scooters, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"Since 2017, scooters have just started showing up in cities all over the US, enabling everyone to try the new way of moving around for just a few dollars," Fernau said. "This positioned scooters as a viable option for personal transport vs. being regarded as just a toy for kids."

The pandemic has also boosted interest in scooters by forcing commuters to look at alternatives for public transport. 

"While the benefits of an electric scooter are obvious to everyone who has tried one, the pandemic has furthered that development in cities," Fernau said. "Just like bikes which saw huge demand, scooters help avoid crowded public transport." 

Electric scooters also beat bikes for convenience.

"With improving motor and battery technologies, scooters have become cheaper, more reliable, longer range, and more powerful and overall, more attractive as an option for transportation."

"The size and weight of electric bikes make it hard to bring them indoors, and locking them outside runs the risk of theft," Lawrence said. "Scooters fold down and easily fit under your desk, a closet, or just about any other storage space in your office or home."

Tech Advances for Scooters

In 2009 Israeli designer Nimrod Sapir created the first electric scooter as we know them today, marrying Li-ion battery technology with a brushless hub motor, Fernau said. For the first time, Sapir’s design created a genuinely portable electric scooter by reducing weight and removing the chain drive standard on lead-acid battery-powered scooters before. 

"A lot of companies built on that innovation," Fernau added. "And with improving motor and battery technologies, scooters have become cheaper, more reliable, longer range, and more powerful and overall, more attractive as an option for transportation."

Even the basic form of stand-up scooters are improving, Warren Schramm, the technical director of design consultancy Teague, which works on scooters, told Lifewire in an email interview. "New scooters are structurally stronger than their predecessors and have more surface area both to stand on and to contact the ground," he said.

A business person riding a stand-up, electric scooter by a waterway in a city.

martin-dm / Getty Images

"Longer wheelbases and better regenerative braking make the scooter feel more stable and less like a toy."

GOTRAX recently introduced rear suspension on some models, wider decks, and more robust motors for hilly areas. "We’ve made some changes to our overall design as well with a goal of making riders more comfortable for much longer commutes, including cruise control, stability, and rear-wheel drive," he added. 

But the most significant advance users can expect in the coming years is the battery technology that powers electric scooters. Cheaper and larger capacity lithium-ion battery technology will transform scooters, Fernau predicts. 

"The technology to develop batteries is getting better and is driving down the cost, even with the global shortage of parts," Lawrence said.

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