Which motorized personal mobility device should you choose for your daily commute to work? Here is our comparison. You no longer need a car to get to work every day, and public transport is not your cup of tea.
Now you have to choose between the various “soft” modes of transport: muscle bike, electric bike, electric scooter, or other.
We’ll make it easier for you today by arbitrarily eliminating all the other personal transport devices to keep only two: the electric bicycle and the electric scooter.
Why this choice? Because it is the one that constitutes the vast majority of use cases and, therefore, this is where most decisions are made.
All over the world, personal electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular for getting across a city without getting stuck in traffic jams. In addition, they also avoid the measures that cities are actively taking to reduce car use, such as the Low Emission Zones (LEZs) that are becoming more common in all cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants.
Electrically Assisted Bicycles, a few reminders of basics
An electric bike is very similar to an ordinary bike, except that it has a motor, a battery, a speed or cadence sensor, and sometimes a screen or display mounted on the handlebars. The engine is housed either in the crankset or in the hub of one of the wheels, front or rear.
The majority of electric bicycles are pedal-assisted. That means that the motor only engages when the rider pedals and cannot be driven without the help of the legs. However, the level of assistance is adjustable and can be switched off completely.
The other significant type of electric bicycle is the electric throttle bicycle, which allows you to stop pedaling while continuing to propel yourself. This type of bicycle is common in the United States and China but not in Europe (although there are still many such models, especially in Milan), where an e-bike must be equipped with pedal assistance to be classified as an e-bike.
The position of an e-bike’s electric motor gives a clue to its type and has inherent advantages and disadvantages, as follows:
Mid-drive motor: Often used with pedal-assist e-bikes, a mid-drive engine is ideally placed to measure the rider’s pedaling torque. It is more efficient than a hub motor. In addition, the central position helps to keep the bike stable. On the other hand, this type of motor is more expensive and perhaps a little less “lively.”
Rear hub motor: Found on electric bikes with pedal assist and throttle, rear hub motors are cheaper than center drive motors and can be fitted to many bikes. Hub motors are more prone to overheating on steep hills than central drive motors, as the latter benefit from the bike’s gearing.
Front hub motor: This is a rare form of e-bike motor as it is not integrated with the transmission, making it more challenging to communicate with the rider. The Brompton folding e-bike uses a torque sensor in the crankset that measures the rider’s movements and transmits them to the front hub motor. We are not fans of this configuration, which also impacts the bike’s overall balance and the front wheel’s grip.
How an electric scooter works
Electric scooters are equipped with an accelerator, a battery, and an electric motor. Unlike a scooter without a traditional engine, the driver does not need manual work to move. Still, for safety reasons, it will be necessary to use the leg to start the engine to prevent the scooter from going off by itself.
As with an electrically assisted bicycle, the motor of a scooter can be located in several places. In this case, it will be integrated into the front or rear wheel. The riding feel is slightly different with a front or rear motor, as if you are being pulled or pushed, but the net result is the same.
A front motor probably balances the scooter’s weight a little better, but this is at the expense of a bit of traction when climbing (the same disadvantage exists in electric bikes with front hub motors). Therefore, it is common that when accelerating on wet roads, for example, the front wheel skids or slips, which can lead to a fall. Ideally, the machine should be equipped with traction control like a car!
Once the basics are in place, the next step is determining your best choice. That is where the exercise becomes delicate because this choice will depend on various criteria that are personal to you and which will not be the same according to the uses and different other parameters. So let’s look at this in detail.
Climbing any hill with an electric scooter won’t be a problem anymore, but it will still require some effort and will work your thighs and your cardio, which is good for your health (as long as you don’t exceed your limits).
There are two possible scenarios with an electric scooter: it climbs or stalls as soon as it goes up a bit. So you’ll need to carefully choose your scooter’s power, especially torque if you have serious hills to climb. For example, Xiaomi Mi Electric Scooter 3 will do the trick for most riders, and so will many other brands and models.
You should know that the speed limit for an electric scooter is 25 km/h (15.5 mph). Therefore, if you are overtaken by an electric bike that goes like a motorbike, it is a speed bike, an e-bike that complies with the regulations for a moped (45km/h or 28 mph, number plate obligatory, gloves and helmet as well, must ride on the road, prohibited from using cycle paths).
As for electric scooters, it’s a bit vaguer. While most cruise at around 25 km/h (15.5 mph), say between 20 and 30 km/h (12-18 mph), some are monsters of power, real little motorbikes disguised as scooters that can reach up to 80 km/h (50 mph). They are expensive, heavy, dangerous, and officially banned. That does not prevent you from finding many physical or online shops that sell them. Go make your own choice.
Even if the latest generation of electric scooters have become safer, with better road holding, better tires, shock absorbers, and actual brakes, the balance at 25 km/h (15.5 mph) is still more precarious and unstable than on an e-bike.
A pothole, for example, can be fatal on a scooter, whereas it may be less of a problem on an e-bike. But, on the other hand, in case of a fall, you are closer to the ground and may have a tiny chance of being less injured than when falling from the top of a heavy electric bike… But don’t try.
Ease of use
Unless you’ve never ridden an e-bike before, the ease of use of an electric scooter and an e-bike is about the same. After a few minutes (or, at worst, a few rides), both are relatively easy to use.
Beware, however, of the apparent ease of the scooter, which can play tricks on you, particularly in emergency braking or if you hold the handlebars incorrectly (without being tense on them). The e-bike’s electric assistance can also surprise you with its instantaneous arrival of torque that propels you forward, sometimes against your effort, when you are stopping or going around an obstacle.
An electric scooter is generally easier to transport, store, or park than an e-bike. That is true if you choose a lighter, lower-end model. In addition, most scooters are foldable, whereas most electric bikes are not, although there are some mini folding ones, such as Brompton.
In addition, parking your electric bike at the office is not always allowed, whereas storing your folded scooter next to you is usually not a problem. The importance of this aspect on a commute to work depends mainly on your route and whether it involves other modes of transport. For intermodality, the scooter is unbeatable.
The apparent advantage of a pedal-assist electric bike is that you can turn off the assistance and increase the range indefinitely by leg power. You can do this on flat roads, for example, where the extra weight of an electric bike has little effect on speed.
That said, electric bikes still have more range than scooters, assuming the pedal assist remains on at all times. That depends mainly on the capacity of the battery. Electric bikes generally range from 50 to 100 kilometers (30 to 60 miles), whereas an electric scooter will make between 10 and 30 kilometers (10 to 20 miles) at best. Of course, other factors, such as the weight of the rider and the nature of the route, also come into play.
Depending on your use, you can expect the battery to last between 2 and 5 years, whether it’s an electric bike or scooter. Most batteries are lithium-ion, with an estimated life of 500 complete charge cycles. At this point, they will only retain about 80% of their initial charge.
A charge cycle is counted from 0 to 100%. So if you charge your electric bicycle or scooter when the battery is half empty, that’s half a charge cycle. You can travel thousands of kilometers on either type of vehicle before replacing the battery.
If you consider the ability to turn off the pedal assist on an electric bicycle, the battery will last longer than the one on a scooter.
The impact on fitness
A significant advantage of the e-bike. Depending on your level of assistance, you will be doing more or less, but you will still be active, using your lower limb muscles, heart, and lungs. Even with assistance, this little daily exercise can only benefit your health. With an e-scooter, none of that, just a push and wait for it to happen.
With few exceptions, electric bikes are more expensive overall. For example, a decent electric scooter for commuting will probably cost you between 300 and 600 $/€, while electric bikes generally average between 1,500 and 3,000 $/€.
The type of electric vehicle best suited to your commute depends mainly on the nature of your work and travel.
An electric scooter is for you if you need to arrive at work feeling refreshed without increasing your heart rate or sweating.
But in some circumstances, an e-bike is the best choice for a commute. For example, let’s say you want to use your commute time to stay fit and get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week; in that case, the e-bike is better.
In addition, an e-bike is inherently more autonomous and is more ‘all-terrain.’ Therefore, it is ideal for making long journeys with varied terrain and pavements, whereas a scooter is more suited to urban “intra-city” trips.
In summary, choose an electric bicycle for exercise, the environment, and long journeys, and an electric scooter to facilitate intermodal travel and keep calm and clean.
The ideal? Have both!
Riding, testing, and writing about e-bikes since 2017