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Electric scooters: your complete guide

Electric scooters: everything you need to know
Image credit: Shutterstock (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Electric scooters are springing up in cities around the world, often without warning or explanation. They're a fun, convenient way to get around, but there are a few facts you should be aware of before hiring one (or taking the plunge and buying one yourself), so read on and enjoy safer scooting.

Whether electric scooters are legal depends where you live. Some cities have decided to welcome electric scooters, some insist that companies register before scattering scooters around the streets, and some have banned them outright. The law is complicated and changing all the time, so check out our complete guide for the full picture: are electric scooters legal?

Which companies hire out electric scooters?

The biggest names in electric scooter sharing are Bird, Lime, Lyft, Uber (under the name Jump), Scoot (now owned by Bird), Skip and Spin.

Those aren't the only players, though, and more are popping up all the time as new markets open up. Germany and Italy, for example, will soon legalize electric scooters, and startups in both countries are champing at the bit to make a name for themselves.

Electric scooters

Image credit: Shutterstock

How do you ride an electric scooter?

Most electric scooter sharing services work in a similar way. Start by downloading and installing the app on your phone, creating an account and setting up a payment method. You can then use the app to find scooters near you (and often their battery level too), and unlock one. You'll typically be charged a fee for unlocking the scooter, with an extra charge for each hour or minute you spend riding.

To ride an electric scooter, start by releasing the steering column by flipping the latch near the base and extending the column. Once you're happy, lock the column.

Some electric scooters have a power button, while others are activated when you begin moving. To get going, stand with one foot on the platform and kick off with the other, as though you were riding a conventional scooter. After that, you can accelerate using a throttle controlled using your thumb, and stop using a bicycle-style brake lever on the handlebars.

When you're done, you'll need to park the scooter and use the app to end your ride. Depending on which scooter sharing service you're using, you might need to leave it in an assigned service area or a dock, or you might be free to park anywhere it won't be a nuisance. 

It's best to take the scooter for a few slow test runs somewhere quiet until you've got a good feel for how it handles, and are confident that you can steer around obstacles, and stop safely.

Electric scooter latch

Image credit: Shutterstock (Image credit: Shutterstock)

How fast do electric scooters go?

The top speed of an electric scooter varies from a sedate 11mph to a frankly silly 40mph. Some cities only permit electric scooters that travel below a certain speed, and others classify speedier scooters as road vehicles that need to be registered, taxed, insured, and fitted with brake lights and indicato, so make sure you check the top speed if you're thinking of buying one.

If you're using a scooter from a sharing scheme, its top speed will probably be approved by local authorities, but it's a good idea to check before scooting. Here are the top speeds for all the big scooter sharing companies:

  • Scoot – 30mph
  • Skip – 18mph
  • Bird – 16mph
  • Lime – 15.5mph
  • Lyft – 15mph
  • Spin – 15mph
  • Uber Jump – 15mph

What's the range of an electric scooter?

Range anxiety is a common complaint for electric car owners, but it's not quite so bad with electric scooters; it might be heavy, but if you run out of juice, you can always carry it.

To avoid a flat battery spoiling your fun when using a scooter share scheme, check the charge level using the app before checking one out. Here are the ranges of all the big players' scooters when they're fully charged:

  • Uber Jump – 40 miles
  • Lime – 37 miles
  • Skip – 30 miles
  • Scoot – 20 miles
  • Bird – 18 miles
  • Lyft – 15 miles
  • Spin – 15 miles

Do I need a helmet to ride an electric scooter?

It's always a good idea to wear a helmet when riding an electric scooter, and in some cities it's illegal not to. It won't save you in a head-on crash with a car, but most scooter and bike accidents are low speed, and it could save you a nasty smack on the head if you lose your balance or snag a wheel in a pothole. It's also illegal to scoot bare-headed in some cities.

Lime is handing out 250,000 free helmets to users who complete its Respect the Ride pledge, and Skip riders can request a free helmet by filling out an online form.

Scoot riders can ask for a free helmet too by submitting an email address, but only if they live in the San Francisco Bay area.

Man wearing helmet with electric scooter

Image credit: Shutterstock (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Spin doesn't provide freebies, but does give a discount on folding helmets, which are easy to carry around. Uber offers 20% off Closca helmets using the code CLOSCALOVESJUMP.  

Bird doesn't provide helmets for their scooters, free or otherwise, but advise that you wear one.