News Environment Getting a Kick Out of Kick Scooters They’re convenient and green, but safety is important. By Jim Motavalli Jim Motavalli Writer University of Connecticut Jim Motavalli is a journalist, author, speaker, and radio host who specializes in environmental issues. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Barron's, Environmental Defense Fund's Solutions, MediaVillage, and Wharton School reports. Learn about our editorial process Updated August 31, 2021 03:11PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email Julian Fernau, founder of FluidFreeRide. FluidFreeRide News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive If hearing the word "scooter" makes you think of something like the Vespa Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn rode in "Roman Holiday," well, then you’re not keeping up with the times. Those larger scooters are still out there, but a fast-growing segment for urban riding is the electric "kick" scooter—basically, a skateboard-type platform with folding handlebars. The "kick" refers to the push-off to get the scooter running. Kids (at first, it was mainly kids) have been doing variations on that with human power since the 19th century. The first motorized scooter for grown-up kids (with an air-cooled 155-cc gas engine) was the Autoped in England, debuting in 1913. Students were among the targeted, along with "grocers, druggists and other merchants," as well as "anybody else who wants to save money, time and energy in going about." The handle folded, but with weight over 100 pounds, the Autoped couldn’t be easily carried. Children play with a kick scooter in Belgium, 1936. Wikipedia Soon there were U.S. competitors such as the Skootamota, the Reynolds Runabout, and the Unibus. Amelia Earhart was photographed on one in 1935. But the modern kick scooter had to wait until Swiss inventer Wim Ouboter came out with his lightweight version, the Kickboard, in 1998. Lithium-ion batteries made them lighter still. Still, that’s relative—batteries remain heavy. The OX weighs between 55 and 61 pounds, depending on the version. The Razor, a licensed Kickboard, caught on in the U.S., with an electric motor after 2003. My neighbor’s daughter scooted around on one when she was 12. Segway disrupted the market with its gyroscopically balanced scooter, but it never caught on as founder Dean Kamen intended. Today, however, Segway is a market leader in kick scooters. Its Ninebot MAX offers 40-mile range for $949. Designs haven’t changed that much. The ancient Autoped looked amazingly like the kick scooter I’m currently testing via FluidFreeDrive, an Israeli-developed Inokim OX, with pneumatic tires, adjustable suspension, a wide deck, a brushless hub motor capable of delivering a top speed of 28 miles per hour, and a list price of $1,599. It folds in five seconds, has a six- to eight-hour charge time, and range of up to 37 miles in the Hero version. Cheaper kick scooters forego the pneumatic tires and the suspension, said Julian Fernau, the German native who founded FluidFreeRide, a kick scooter distributor based in Miami. Inokim OX scooter. FreeFluidRide The cheapest kick scooters, such as the Fluid-branded CityRider, are under $1,000 and deliver shorter range and top speed (18-23 mph). They have 350-watt motors instead of the 800-watt unit in the OX. Still, some offer 25 miles of range. Super-premium kick scooters sell for a lofty $4,500. Kick scooters could be said to have really taken off with the urban sharing movement, which dates to 2017, and has vendors such as Bird and Lime, which rent via a phone app. The scooters are dockless, which created a cottage industry of "chargers" who go around and collect depleted scooters and charge them overnight. This rider should be wearing a helmet. Wikipedia Riders are supposed to be at least 18 years old (not easily enforceable) and wear a helmet. The adoption has not been without friction. Consumer Reports in 2019 documented 1,500 e-scooter injuries and eight deaths. Hospitals report regularly seeing patients with head traumas from scooter accidents. San Francisco withdrew its permission for e-scooters, but then relented and now regulates them more carefully. There are e-scooter speed limits in some places, and cities such as Nashville, Atlanta, and San Antonio have restricted them. As Treehugger noted, a solid sharing entry with a safety emphasis is Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Superpedestrian’s Link e-scooter, with a 986-watt-hour battery, 60-mile range, regenerative brakes, and 10-inch wheels. The company, which operates in more than 40 cities, claims a 2,500-ride lifespan, and has set up an elaborate geofencing "pedestrian detection" network to ensure safe scooting. It detects imminent tip-overs and keeps riders off sidewalks, one-way streets, and other no-go areas. It even detects bad parking. Here’s how it works: Fernau said that e-scooter marketing has had a Wild West quality, with many inexpensive made-in-China entries sold on the Internet with little or no support. What you want to look for, he said, are portability power, ride quality, and range. "With solid tires, you’re really going to get a shaking on New York’s rough pavement," he said. Fernau added that some customers want to go 40 mph, but "I would never sell a scooter that goes that fast—there isn’t enough traction at those speeds." I saw many kick scooter users in Manhattan recently. New York is by far FluidFreeRide’s biggest market, accounting for 20% of sales. Fernau said business tripled last year, fueled by commuters who didn’t feel safe on public transportation. Scooting is a social activity. FluidFreeRide If you do go e-scooting, safety should be uppermost, and equipment—including helmet, knee pads, gloves—are vital. Beginners like me should start by riding on a flat surface without power, just getting the hang of balancing on the scooter. When I get to a more advanced stage, I’ll report back.