Electric cars are awesome, but they aren’t the best tool for every job. You can’t park them on the edge of the sidewalk while you run into a store for just a couple of things. Charging requires dedicated 220V plugs to get good charge rates. To carry just one person a short distance, carrying around 5-7 seats is overkill. On top of that, an electric car is just financially out of reach for many people.
That’s where electric scooters come in. No, I’m not talking about the toy-like electrified kick scooters you see for rent in many cities. When I say scooter, I’m talking about small motorcycles with space in front of you to rest your feet (in the photo).
One company making them, Zoom Electric Scooters, lent us one of its electric scooters so we could test them and see how they stack up in the growing world of EVs in all shapes and sizes.
Scooters Already Own The World Outside the US
In the US, scooters might not seem that useful, but if you check out a country that has widely adopted them, you’ll see just how damned useful they can be for geographically short trips. I spent some time living in Taiwan in college, and scooters are far more common than cars. People can park them under stairwells, up on the edge of the sidewalk, or in many other places that you couldn’t stash a car. Prices are low enough for almost anybody to get one. Gas-powered scooters are cheaper to fuel, and cheaper to maintain than gasoline cars, after all.
In dense traffic, a lack of ability to get up to highway speeds really doesn’t matter. Sure, you could mash the pedal like you’re going to do a 0-60 run, but all you’ll do is get in an accident. For that reason, it doesn’t matter if your top speed is only 30-50 MPH, because you’ll only rarely go that fast. When you get there, they’re easier to park.
In such environments, scooters really shine when there’s a little space to exploit around cars. If cars are blocking the turn lane, you can just go around them and turn, for example. On top of that, Taiwanese cities allow two-wheeled vehicles to filter between the cars at an intersection and occupy a special box at the front. When the lights turn green, it’s not long before the cars are passing you again, but you’ll be weaving between them again at the next light.
Because they use so little energy, scooters were among the first vehicles to be widely electrified. Without expensive battery packs, special charging stations, the cost was right. Most scooter trips are short range, so it made sense even when lead-acid batteries couldn’t provide much range. By reducing maintenance to nearly nothing, it made little sense to NOT electrify them.
Now, with lithium-ion batteries getting cheaper, electric scooters can go dozens of miles before needing a charge. Scooters are ready to go beyond just the big Asian cities. But will they get a foothold in the US?
If Anybody’s Up to the Challenge, Zoom Is.
To get wide adoption in the US, it’s going to take something a little different than it takes in Asia. For one, we have a lot more sprawl in our cities, which means you’re going to need some real range. Zoom has us covered on that, though. With regenerative braking and a 1.5 kWh battery, the scooters claim a 60-mile range, with reports of some customers going further on a charge. I haven’t yet had a chance to test the range, but will do this for a subsequent article.
While the 30 MPH top speed isn’t going to get me on the interstate, it does have some real advantages. First off, a lower power vehicle like this doesn’t require registration in my state, or insurance. Also, I don’t need a motorcycle license (but a regular license is required). For neighborhood streets, though, it’s quick enough to potentially get a speeding ticket.
What it lacks in top speed, it more than makes up for in acceleration. The rear hub motor has some serious snap from a stop, and fairly quickly gets up to 20 MPH. Given that it’s a scooter, with small wheels and less of a gyroscopic stabilizing effect than a bicycle or motorcycle, the acceleration is enough to feel uncomfortable at first. To get from 2o-28 MPH takes longer, but it’s more than enough to stay out of the way of a car if you need to.
Like most scooters, the ride is rather supple. Combined with the heavily-cushioned seat, everything but a big pothole is going to feel like almost nothing. Comfort is definitely the goal with these, and Zoom did an excellent job.
Features & Quality
Another thing that was great was how it arrived fully assembled, with the exception of the rear-view mirrors and a shade for the instrument cluster (which I didn’t install yet). It came on a freight pallet with a metal cage surrounding it. Unpacking was easy, and it took just a couple of minutes to get it ready to go.
One important thing to point out is that this scooter isn’t built like a toy. It’s got a lot of plastic, but it’s thick, heavy, durable plastic. Nothing on the vehicle feels like it’s going to break or fail, or that I have to be careful with it. This is a real scooter for real trips.
Controls were fairly straightforward. Everything is labeled with easily understood pictographs, and everything does what you’d expect it to do. The only unusual things (from a scooter perspective) was the “1-2-3” switch and the “D-R” switch. The numbers are for top speed and power, allowing you to conserve battery by limiting power. The D and R are for Drive and Reverse, allowing you to have a reverse gear–something unheard of with gas scooters.
The only weird thing I noticed is that the battery meter isn’t nearly as refined as the one in my Nissan LEAF. When it gets low, it will still read nearly full when sitting, but read empty when the throttle is twisted. You have to watch for fluctuations to determine whether the battery is getting low.
Lighting on the scooter is impressive. It has a daytime running lamp, with accent circles around the headlights like many late-model cars. Inside the circles are high beams and low beams, allowing the scooter to operate at night safely.
One really cool feature on the scooter is that it has an alarm with a key fob. Once set, any attempt to move the scooter sets off a loud alarm that will definitely get attention. Whether picked, rolled, or pushed, the sensitive alarm will go off. I have yet to see any false alarms, so it’s clearly not too sensitive. I also found that it’s easy to add a chain and padlock for extra security by running the chain between the kickstands while propped up on the rear one.
There’s a cup holder, but you’ll want a drink with a cap or lid. Next to it is a USB port to allow phone charging, and it’s probably a good idea to use the cup holder or run the charging cable to the underseat trunk.
Speaking of the trunk, it’s got plenty of room. There’s no gas tank and no engine, leaving room for a helmet, a purse, and probably more. Access to the trunk is accomplished by inserting the key and turning counterclockwise while pulling up on the seat, so items stored inside are locked up when you leave the scooter unattended.
The battery pack appears to be made up of 6 12-volt gel cells. Three of the cells are located under a removable lid under the storage compartment. The other three are set under the back of the foot platform, sticking out slightly below the rest of the bottom. With the batteries set this low, the scooter is actually more stable than the gas scooters I’ve driven.
There’s a knockout next to the lower battery that looks like it’s made for some sort of charging port, but on this model it’s covered in plastic and serves no purpose.
Stopping power is great. Not only does the scooter have regenerative braking, but it also has fairly beefy disc brakes, front and rear. I’ve yet to try a full-on panic stop, but it appears more than capable of sending me over the handlebars were I to pull just the front brake at full force. But then again, the low-slung batteries may prevent that. Either way, it has far more stopping power than it needs, which is a good thing.
The Zoom scooter I got for review is a great scooter. It has plenty of power, is made well, and was very easy to get started with. It doesn’t seem like something that’s going to let me down anytime soon, and I’ve had zero issues running it.
The website lists it for sale at $2799, but is currently on sale for $1899. If that’s not within reach, the company also offers financing (see its website for details). This is actually a pretty sweet deal, even at $2799, because:
- Very cheap to charge up (15-20 cents per dead-t0-full charge where I live)
- Near zero maintenance
- No motorcycle license required, no registration, and no insurance (at least where I live, YMMV)
- Up to 60 mile range
- Good construction
- Good anti-theft features.
With all that, it’s a very cheap way to get around, and more than pulls its own weight. In fact, I’m going to be asking Zoom what it would cost me to keep this demo model. If you’re looking for an electric scooter or moped, this is a good one to get.