Across the world, personal electric vehicles (PEVs) have been growing in popularity as a means of commuting. Why are they so popular?
For a start, they’re a great way of slicing through a city without getting stuck in gridlocked traffic. They also avoid the measures cities are actively taking to curb car use.
In this article, we’ll be putting two of the most popular PEV forms head to head as we examine e-bikes vs scooters. Would either of these work well for your commute?
What Is An Electric Bike (e-bike)? How Do They Work?
An electric bike is much the same as a regular bike, except for the inclusion of a motor, a battery, a speed or cadence sensor, and an electric display. The motor is housed either at the bottom bracket (known as “mid-drive”) or in the hub of one of the wheels.
The majority of e-bikes are of the pedal-assist (aka pedelec) type. This means the motor only engages while the cyclist is pedaling and cannot be ridden without any leg power. The amount of assistance is adjustable and can be switched off altogether.
The other main e-bike type is the throttled e-bike, which allows you to stop pedaling and still propel yourself forward. These are common in the US and China, but not in Europe, where an e-bike has to be pedal-assisted to be classified as an e-bike.
E-bike Motor Position
The position of the electric motor in an e-bike gives a clue as to what type it is and has inherent pros and cons, as follows:
- Mid-drive motor: often used with pedal-assist e-bikes, a mid-drive motor is ideally placed to measure pedaling torque from the rider. It is more efficient than a hub motor. The central position helps keep the bike stable. On the minus side, this type of motor is more expensive.
- Rear hub motor: found on pedal assist and throttled e-bikes, rear-hub motors are cheaper than mid-drive and can be retrofitted to many bikes. Hub motors are more prone to overheating on steep hills than mid-drive motors, since the latter benefit from the bike’s gearing.
- Front hub motor: a rare form of e-bike motor because it is not integrated into the drivetrain, making it harder to communicate rider input. The Brompton folding e-bike does this with a torque sensor in the bottom bracket that measures rider input and transmits it to the front hub motor.
The geared front hub motor of the above-mentioned Brompton makes it more efficient at climbing hills, hence it is unlikely to overheat. A direct-drive hub motor is more efficient with speed and momentum, making it a wise choice for flat riding.
Video: Hub vs Mid-Drive Motors Explained
Torque vs Cadence Sensors On E-bikes
The sensor is the device that tells a pedal-assist system (PAS) when to turn on the motor or adjust output.
A cadence sensor triggers the motor after you start pedaling. A torque sensor kicks in when you’re putting enough force through the pedals. Hence, it’s easier to start an e-bike from resting with a torque sensor.
A torque sensor is smoother to use, too, as the motor works in harmony with your effort on the bike. Cadence sensors are cheaper, so they make e-bikes more accessible for everyone.
What Is An Electric Scooter? How Do They Work?
Electric scooters are much like manual kick scooters, except they have a throttle, a battery, and an electric motor. Unlike a traditional kick scooter, no manual work is necessary from the rider to move.
An electric scooter rider presses down on the throttle, causing the battery to deliver power to the motor. This, in turn, rotates the wheels and propels the scooter and its occupant(s) forwards.
As with an e-bike, there is more than one position where a scooter motor may be found. In this case, it will be built into the front or rear wheel, or both.
The feel of the ride is a bit different between front and rear motors, as in being pulled along or pushed along, but the net result is the same.
A front motor probably balances weight a little better in an electric scooter, but at the potential expense of a little traction uphill (the same downside exists in e-bikes with front hub motors). A rear motor is more common in a scooter.
Brakes On Electric Scooters
Electric scooters come with many different types of brakes, including disc brakes (mechanical, semi-hydraulic, hydraulic), drum brakes, foot brakes, electronic brakes, regenerative brakes.
Except for foot brakes, all brakes are controlled via levers on the handlebars. Regenerative braking creates resistance to motor rotation and recharges the battery a little at the same time, extending the range of each charge.
Hydraulic disc brakes are one of the best braking systems you’ll find in an electric scooter, offering strong, modulated braking. Disc brakes in general offer better performance in wet weather than most other types.
E-bike vs Scooter: Comparison
Now that we’ve gazed over e-bikes and electric scooters, which of these machines will work better for your commute? We need meaningful comparisons.
Which Is Faster?
Some electric scooters exist with top speeds of 50 mph, whereas the SWIND EB-01 e-bike can reach speeds of over 60 mph.
In terms of top speeds, e-bikes and electric scooters are fairly evenly matched. The limiting factor is usually the law.
For instance, electric scooters are limited to a maximum 25 km/h (15.5 mph) in most European countries. The same is true for pedal-assisted e-bikes, so beyond that speed, you’d have to be doing all the work yourself.
Which Is Safer?
According to Consumer Reports, Inc, e-scooter riders sustain more injuries per mile than cyclists. Not all cyclists are e-bike riders, but they ride in the same spaces and wear the same protective gear. Does that make them the same? Not quite…
A regional German report from Munich (translated here) says that e-bike riders are 3.7 times more likely to be killed than regular cyclists in traffic accidents. However, that figure is heavily skewed towards elderly riders.
Since many e-scooter riders injure themselves on their very first ride (40% according to Consumer Reports), it’s probably fair to say that e-bikes are slightly safer than e-scooters among people of commuting age.
Video: E-Scooter Safety
Which Is Easiest To Use?
Unless you’ve never ridden a bicycle before, an electric scooter and e-bike are about even in their ease of use. On a scooter, you only have to stand still once the vehicle is moving. Momentum will help you stay upright, just like it does on a bike.
Those early moments of familiarity aside (or lack thereof), both types of machines are simple enough to operate. You’ll be happy on either within a few hours.
Which Is More Portable?
On average, an electric scooter is more portable than an e-bike. That’s if you choose a lighter, lower-end model. Most e-scooters are foldable, whereas most e-bikes are not. And they fold into a narrower shape if not less compact.
The importance of this on a commute is largely contingent on the route you’ll take and if it involves other modes of transport.
Here are a few weight and size comparisons in relevant products:
- Brompton folding e-bike (6 sp.) – 38 lb. (with battery), folded dimensions: 22.2″ x 23″ x 10.6″
- Propella v4.0 non-folding e-bike (7 sp.) – weight 37 lb. (with battery)
- Xiaomi Mi M365 electric scooter – 27.5 lb. (with battery), folded dimensions: 42” x 17” x 19”
- Apollo Phantom electric scooter – 77 lb. (with battery, dual-motor, spring suspension), folded dimensions: 49” x 27” x 21”
The above illustrates the importance of choosing the right scooter model if you need portability. High-end electric scooters tend to weigh vastly more.
What About Range?
The obvious benefit you have with a pedal-assist e-bike is that you can switch assistance off and extend the range indefinitely with leg power. You might do this on flat roads, for instance, where the extra weight of an e-bike has little effect on speed.
With the above being said, e-bikes still have a range, assuming you kept pedal-assist switched on all the time. This depends largely on battery capacity. Typical e-bikes can last between 20 and 50 miles, though long-range models can exceed 100 miles.
In the US, throttle-only riding would give you a lower range than pedal-assist. A realistic figure would be around 20 miles max, again depending on battery capacity. Other factors like rider weight and terrain come into play.
Electric scooters that are light enough for typical commutes have a similar range to e-bikes being ridden by throttle only. You can expect 12 to 20 miles per charge.
Summary Of Range
Various e-bike and e-scooter ranges are summarized below for your convenience.
- Typical e-bikes: 20 to 50 miles of pedal assist
- Long-range e-bikes: over 100 miles of pedal assist
- E-bikes ridden throttle-only (US): up to 20 miles
- Typical e-scooters: 12 to 20 miles
- Luxury e-scooters: 50 miles (usually over 70 lb. in weight)
Which Type Will Last Longer?
In either an e-bike or an e-scooter, you can expect a battery to last between 2-5 years. Most of the batteries are lithium-Ion, and these have a predicted lifespan of 500 full charge cycles. At that point, they’ll only hold around 80% of their original charge.
A charge cycle is counted from 0% to 100%. Thus, if you recharge your e-bike or scooter when the battery is half drained, that counts as half a charge cycle. You can ride thousands of miles on either type of machine before replacing a battery.
If you factor in the ability to switch off pedal assist in an e-bike, you’ll have a battery that lasts longer than that of an e-scooter. Otherwise, the two are equal.
Are They Both Legal?
E-bikes are generally more widely accepted in the US than electric scooters. Laws pertaining to either differ wildly from state to state.
US E-bike Laws
Here are some facts relating to US e-bike laws:
- Several US states require ebike riders to hold a license: Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico and North Dakota.
- Some states identify three classes of e-bike, including the Class I pedal-assist (pedelec), Class II throttle-assist, and Class III “speed pedelec”. The latter is subject to a 25 or 28 mph speed limit, while the others are 20 mph.
- The speed limit for e-bikes in states that do not require a driver’s license is commonly 20 mph (32 km/h). A 30-mph limit is normal in states requiring a license.
- Bike helmets aren’t mandatory in many states, particularly in those where the speed limit is 20 mph.
- The state of New York legalized throttle-based e-bikes in 2020. In New York City, riders must use bike lanes or streets with a maximum 30 mph speed limit.
Video: E-bike Classifications
US E-Scooter Laws
Here are some legal facts regarding e-scooters in the US:
- Electric scooters are not street legal in 10 US states.
- You can ride electric scooters on the sidewalks of at least 5 states (Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Rhode Island, and Virginia).
- Mandatory wearing of helmets only applies in a few states to riders over 18.
- Speed limits vary from 15 mph (e.g., Minnesota) up to 35 mph (e.g., Texas). In several states, including New York and Washington, a 20 mph limit applies.
- Many states require electric scooter riders to hold a driver’s license or motorcycle license. Only a few, like Virginia, Texas, and North Carolina, require no license.
Because e-scooter laws are constantly shifting (and e-bike laws to a lesser extent), you should always check current local laws before making a purchase.
In most of Europe, including the UK and France, e-bikes are not allowed to travel faster than 25 km/h (except manually).
Speed pedelecs in Germany and The Netherlands are allowed a maximum assisted speed of 45 km/h (28 mph), but they require a license.
In the UK and The Netherlands, privately owned electric scooters cannot legally be ridden in public. They are legal in other European countries and, like e-bikes, are usually limited to a maximum 15.5 mph speed (25 km/h).
What About Price?
While some e-bikes are cheaper than some e-scooters, e-bikes are more expensive on the whole. A decent scooter for commuting is probably going to cost you $300-$500 USD, while cheaper e-bikes tend to cost $500-$1000 USD.
At the high end of the market, you can spend up to $6000 USD on an electric scooter (e.g., the Dualtron X2). That’s equal to many top-branded electric road bikes, but you can spend $10,000 and much more at the extreme end of the e-bike market.
Which Is Best For Commuting?
It’s impossible to give a single answer as to which type of machine is best for commuting. In Europe, an e-bike has the potential to be faster if ridden by a moderately fit rider. In the US, that e-bike advantage mostly disappears.
The type of PEV that is best for your commute will largely depend on the nature of your job and your commute. We’ll explain.
Reasons For Choosing An Electric Scooter
If you need to arrive at work feeling fresh, without having raised your heart rate and built up a sweat, an electric scooter is for you. Maybe you have to attend meetings soon after arriving at work?
An e-scooter delivers you to your workplace fresher than if you’d walked.
On an e-scooter, you can enjoy the cooling effect of moving through the air without having to earn it through exertion. That’s a summer benefit, as the unmitigated wind-chill effect will make you lose heat faster than a cyclist during the winter.
An electric scooter is probably best if you need to jump on buses and trains during your commute, too. It folds up neatly and takes up very little floor space. Even a folding e-bike has a less convenient shape.
Reasons For Choosing An E-bike
There are circumstances where an e-bike is the better choice for a commute.
Suppose you want to use your commute time to maintain fitness and get in your recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week? An e-bike works for that.
As well, an e-bike inherently has a longer range, not least because you can supplement battery power with leg power. An e-bike is great if you have a longer commute. Your amplified pedaling might even encourage you to take on more miles.
Chances are, you won’t eat through battery life quite as quickly on an e-bike, either, as you always have that option of unassisted riding. That makes e-bikes more environmentally friendly than e-scooters.
Choose an e-bike for exercise, the environment and longer commutes, or an e-scooter for easy intermodal travel and to stay fresh and clean.
Alternatively, if you’re really keen, buy one of each!
Read more: Bike commuting tips guide