Take a trip to San Francisco, and you’ll be amazed by the number of e-scooters zipping about the streets. They’re almost as numerous as Priuses with Uber stickers on the side.
They arrived in the city in 2019, and used to be illegal there, but the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency has instituted a system of street-rented scooters, with four companies - Lime, Scoot, Spin and Jump - licensed to operate racks of the two-wheeled machines. There are now thousands of them scattered across the city, and the companies have installed 1,225 bike racks to accompany them.
In Britain, things are catching up, but the use of e-scooters on public land still isn’t allowed, and that includes the roads and pavements. The reason for this is that they’re classified as Personal Light Electric Vehicles, and are therefore subject to laws about their construction - visible red lights and turn signals, plus number plates - and MOTs, taxes and licensing. You can use one however you want on private land, as long as you have the permission of the landowner.
The exception to this is when you’re taking part in an e-scooter rental trial: in these, hired e-scooters can be used within set geographical boundaries, and there’s been great interest in them from towns and cities across the country. The law is still catching up with technology here, and if you’re caught riding a privately owned e-scooter where you shouldn’t, or riding a hired one outside the set limits, you can still be fined (a £300 fixed-penalty notice and, if you have one, six points on your driving licence). You must have a driving licence to hire an e-scooter (£1,000 penalty if you don’t), but insurance is handled by the rental operator, of which there are many, including Voi, Neuron and Tier Mobility. The Metropolitan Police also has some advice for e-scooter riders.
How do e-scooters work?
The typical e-scooter aimed at adults has the same 250W power output as many e-bike motors, just sent to much smaller wheels - the motor generally lives in the rear wheel hub, while the batteries are carried under the deck you stand on, with all the controls up on the handlebars. They are limited to 15.5mph in the UK, and generally have a range of less than 20 miles before needing to be recharged. Disc brakes are not uncommon, though their size is limited by the diminutive diameter of the scooter’s wheels. You’ll often also get a tiny kickstand and some lights, but check for security features like built-in locks.
The final important thing to think about is the weight limit - you’ll need to take into account your clothes and any bags as well as your earthly frame. Voi scooters, for example, have a section in their user agreement that states you will never exceed 100kg when using one. That’s about 15 and a half stone, and with the average UK male weighing in at 13.16 stone (83kg), there’s the capacity to carry a decent lunch in your backpack while you ride.
With that in mind, here are some of the best e-scooters on the market that deserve a closer look.
While not the cheapest model on the market, the Pure Air Pro ticks a lot of boxes for safety. It’s got a sturdy build, which makes it heavier than many of its competitors, but this hasn’t compromised its range too much - it can still get 22 miles out of a full charge.
One other effect of this extra build quality is a feeling of security and safety as you ride, the wheels are a little larger than average, providing a smoother feeling on uneven ground. There’s IP65 water resistance too, perfect for the British summer.
At 17kg, though, this is a lot of weight to carry if you need to fold the scooter down and lug it across station platforms or up stairs.
An immensely popular model that’s a great all-rounder, with a really good range of 18 miles between charges. Its all-black aluminium frame may be a bit dull to look at, but it has a number of design features that make it stand out.
Take the foot platform - it’s larger than on many other scooters, so it’s more likely you’ll find a comfortable foot position. We really like the way the bell doubles up as a latch for collapsing the frame (though you’ll never do it accidentally in motion) and the way the screen is integrated into the handlebar stem looks really classy.
It’s splashproof, with an IP54 rating, and there’s a decent hydraulic disc brake on the back wheel to provide stopping power - the front wheel gets a regenerative brake, to push energy back to the battery. At 14.2kg you’re still going to notice if you sling it over your shoulder, and it’s not particularly compact when folded, but apart from this it ticks all the boxes you'd expect from an e-scooter.
Cheap, light and compact, this is perhaps the perfect e-scooter for the city gent who wants to nip across just a few streets after getting off the train. Like the Brompton bike of the e-scooter world.
Crazy light at 6.5kg, you can almost forgive the slow top speed of 10mph and the limited range of just 7.5 miles - it’s not a scooter to take anywhere without the charger and a plan for how to access a socket.
Its size and cheapness also put it in the frame as a first e-scooter for teenagers - the ride is quiet and smooth, but the solid rubber rear wheel might take a little getting used to as you ride over the bumps.
The E45E’s great selling point is its 28-mile range, 50% more than is typical from such a slender scooter. This has the downside of making it heavier, but it’s an ideal scooter for cross-city zips that might take you out of range of a charging point.
The tyres are foam-filled for ease of maintenance, and there are no less than three brakes - regenerative on the front, a magnetic model on the back, and a foot brake to really slow you down.
Otherwise, it’s a fairly standard grey e-scooter, though the battery pack that bulges out from the upright tube at least adds some distinctiveness.
Looking rather like a balance bike for grown-ups, the 557 is an attempt to make something that looks, feels and rides differently to anything else on the market. We’d say it’s a success, even if it’s not exactly small or light.
Those wheels, so much larger than on the typical e-scooter, iron out pavement inconsistencies nicely, and combine with the motor for a theoretical top speed of 27mph - though that will be brought down by the limiter. The desk is bamboo and the frame aluminium, but the weight of 23kg cannot be ignored. You’ll get 20 miles out of a charge, but you’ll want to begin and end that ride at home.
It’s also four times the price of other models above, putting it out of reach of all but the most enthusiastic e-scooter riders.