The brakes in the electric scooter are one of the few critical components. They are the major (and often, only) safety feature of every scooter out there.
Oftentimes, the brakes stand between a fun ride and an accident or an injury. That’s why it’s important for us as owners to be familiar with how they work.
How to brake with an electric scooter
Braking with an electric scooter is more than just a matter of pressing the brake button or lever. Proper braking technique for a scooter involves shifting your entire body’s weight to the back, including bending your knees slightly and leaning back with your buttocks a bit, almost like you’re preparing to sit down. You can also pull on the handlebars a bit to slow down even quicker. When braking that way, the scooter loses acceleration and momentum the quickest, without losing balance at all.
If your scooter has brakes on both wheels, you should typically try using the rear wheel brake first, and use both brakes only if you want the shortest stopping distance. In general, you should not brake with the front wheel brake first, or solely with it, as that increases the chances of your scooter tipping over, and you risk a serious injury.
If your scooter has a rear fender foot brake in addition to other brakes, you should use that brake last, as it has the least stopping power and is often used as an emergency brake only.
Electric scooter brake types
|Brake type||Brake performance||Reliability||Maintenance required||Price|
|Cable disk||Very good||Very good||Some||Medium|
|Semi-hydraulic||Very good||Excellent||A lot||Medium-high|
|Electronic/regenerative||Average||Very good||Almost none||Low|
|Rear fender foot operated||Poor||Average||Almost none||Low|
Cable disk brakes
Cable disk brakes, or just disk brakes, are the most common type of brakes found in electric scooters today. They provide a good balance of solid braking power, low maintenance, and affordable prices.
How do disk brakes work?
Disk brakes include a rotor that’s connected to the wheel, with calipers attached to the frame of the rotor. The calipers have pistons, which push the brake pads to create friction against the rotor when the brake is engaged. The calipers are connected to the brake lever with cables, and when you press the lever, the calipers push the pistons, which in turn push the pads, and your scooter comes to a stop.
Rotors are usually made from stainless steel and are very durable, but the pads of the brakes are subject to a lot of friction, which generates a lot of heat, and that wears the pads off. That’s why they need to be checked frequently, and occasionally replaced.
Cable disk brakes advantages
As the go-to braking system, cable disk brakes are the most versatile brake type, and one of their biggest advantages is the familiarity of most mechanics and repair people with them, the availability of resources on how to adjust and fix them, and the overall availability of parts and components.
Another important advantage they have is their usually strong braking power and performance, but probably even more importantly, the relative simplicity of adjusting them to fit your needs. Most cable disk brakes can be adjusted for sensitivity, and that gives you a lot of control over your rides.
Since they are pretty common, disk brakes are often mass-produced, and don’t drive the price of the scooter up too much. Also, because of their widespread use, they are a tried-and-tested braking system, with proven reliability in all types of conditions.
Cable disk brakes disadvantages
Cable disk brakes are probably the most well-balanced braking type for electric scooters, and as such, they don’t really have any obvious disadvantages. They do require some maintenance, and will probably require replacement at some point, but that’s the case for most mechanical brakes that provide serious stopping power.
How to adjust my disk brakes?
Cable disk brakes may need to be adjusted as they get older.
If you start hearing some friction or rubbing sounds coming from the wheel, the brake disk may be rubbing against the pads or the wheel, and it may be time to adjust your disk brakes.
This will typically involve adjusting the position of the brake pads with an allen key until they no longer touch the disk.
In most scooters, you will not need to disassemble the brake. See this video for a great walkthrough.
When should I replace my brake pads?
As a rule of thumb, you should measure the thickness of the brake pad with a caliper. The brake pad should be at least 1 mm thick. If it’s smaller than that, you should replace it. Also, consider replacing them if they look too old or worn out.
Hydraulic brakes in electric scooters work as a closed vacuum system of hoses, lines, and reservoirs, all filled with special hydraulic oil. Technically, they also involve a rotor, the same as cable disk brakes do, but they are almost always referred to as just hydraulic brakes.
How do hydraulic brakes work?
When you engage the brake by pressing the lever, the lever pushes a small piston through the hose. Oil is a liquid, and liquids cannot be compressed, so the oil ends up pushing the calipers, which move the pistons in the brake, which then push the braking pads towards the rotor attached to the wheel. That creates friction and slows the movement of the wheel. When you release the brake, the fluid goes back in place (remember, this is a closed system, operating as a vacuum), which releases the brake pads.
Hydraulic brakes advantages
Hydraulic brakes have the best stopping power out of all brake types. That makes them the safest brake type for electric scooters.
Also, they are very reliable and rarely suffer malfunctions, which further solidifies them as the safest braking type.
And, as other mechanical disk brakes, they are often simple to adjust and set to the desired sensitivity level you require.
Hydraulic brakes disadvantages
In general, hydraulic brakes provide the best stopping power, but because of the liquid involved in the mechanism, they may require a bit more maintenance, also known as “bleeding” the brakes.
Also, since they are mechanically the most complex out of all the brake types, and require a good degree of engineering, finishing, and testing to get right, they will typically drive the price of the entire product up. That’s why they’re often reserved for more premium models, and are rarely found in budget scooters.
Are hydraulic brakes worth it?
Whether hydraulic brakes are worth the extra money and effort in maintaining them comes down to personal preference. They do provide the best braking performance and reliability, so if you value safety, they will definitely be worth it. Personally, I’ve found that solid cable disk brakes can do a good enough job for me, and while hydraulic brakes are certainly smoother and perform better, I probably wouldn’t consider them a requirement when I’m looking for a scooter (although, if I’m considering a premium scooter, I would definitely want it to come with hydraulic brakes).
Are hydraulic brakes better than cable?
Hydraulic brakes will almost always be better than cable brakes in terms of performance, reliability, and durability, and safety. The only possible exception here is comparing the best-quality cable brakes with the lowest-quality hydraulic brakes.
Are hydraulic brakes easy to maintain?
Out of all the brake types, hydraulic brakes are the most difficult to maintain. Still, the process can be relatively straightforward if you have the right tools and a little bit of know-how.
Semi-hydraulic brakes are a mix between cable and hydraulic brakes. Like hydraulic brakes, they also involve a closed system of hoses and reservoires and pistons, but the portion of the brake circuit between the lever and the caliper is a cable. With similarities to both hydraulic and cable brakes, semi-hydraulic brakes provide a great balance between good stopping power and lower maintenance.
Drum brakes are made out of a drum and a backplate assembly, attached to the wheel of the scooter. The drum is usually made from cast iron, which is very durable conducts heat well. This is one of the rarest brake types in electric scooters.
How do drum brakes work?
The drum is attached to the wheel and rotates along with it. The backplate stays stationary, and is where the other components are attached.
It also includes brake shoes, which play a similar role to brake pads. They are made from material that is good for creating friction, also known as the brake lining, fitted over the outer surfaces of the brake shoes. The final element of the drum brake is the cylinder with the pistons, which are pushed by hydraulic pressure when the brake is engaged. The pistons push on the brake shoes, which bring the brake linings in contact with the drum, thus creating friction and slowing the movement down. When the brake is released, the retaining springs pull the shoes down, and bring the entire system back in the original position.
Drum brakes advantages
One of the major advantages of drum brakes is that they require very little maintenance.
Also, the internals of the brake are protected by the drum, so they are isolated from water, dirt, and the elements, which can significantly prolong their lifespan.
Drum brakes disadvantages
Drum brakes are not as strong as disk or hydraulic brakes, and that’s the primary reason why they’re rarely found in scooters today.
Also, they are somewhat heavier and bulkier than other brake types, and add a lot of volume to the wheel, and a bit more weight to the scooter in general.
What is difference between drum brakes and disc brakes?
Disk brakes and drum brakes have several differences in how they work, but more importantly, disk brakes will generally provide better performance and shorter braking distance, while also allowing for more adjustments and easier repairs, while drum brakes will typically require less maintenance and may be less prone to defects.
Most budget scooters today will come with electronic brakes. Usually, dual-drive scooters (scooters with motors in both wheels) don’t have electronic brakes.
How do electronic brakes in electric scooters work?
Electronic brakes work by cutting power to the motor. Since the motor of the scooter is integrated with the rest of the wheel, once it stops receiving power, it quickly loses momentum, but it also develops a lot of friction that eventually stops the wheel movement. They always operate on the wheel with the motor.
In some scooters where the electronic brake system isn’t the primary brake system, you may have the option to turn it off, and in some models you can regulate its strength level.
Regenerative braking (energy recovery)
The majority of scooters with electronic brakes also come with the regenerative braking feature, also known as the energy recovery feature, or KERS (kinetic energy recovery system).
The moving scooter already has kinetic energy, and the regenerative braking converts that energy into electricity used to slightly recharge the battery.
Energy recovery is almost like free lunch for scooters with electronic brakes – the momentum of the moving wheel is already there, and it already generates a bit of energy, so why not harvest some of it?
In practice, regenerative braking doesn’t really recover a lot of battery. Estimates vary, but even the most optimistic prognosis on how much energy can be recovered by regenerative braking suggests that the range can be extended 5-10% at best.
In most scooters, especially modern models with apps and customizable features, the level of energy recovery can be set to fit your preferences, or you can turn it off completelly as well.
Electronic brakes advantages
The major advantage of electronic brakes is that they don’t really require any maintenance on your end. If something goes wrong (which will be very rare, and usually a motor problem rather than a problem specific to the brakes), you will probably want for an expert to look at your scooter anyway.
Also, since electronic brakes usually just come with the motor instead of being considered a separate feature, they don’t really drive the price up that much.
Finally, electronic brakes usually come with the energy recovery feature, which is always nice to have.
Electronic brakes disadvantages
Electronic brakes are not very strong, and don’t really provide a good braking distance. They are often meant to be a support braking system, and are not a replacement for good cable or hydraulic brakes.
Rear fender foot brakes
Several electric scooter models today come with the foot-operated brake. This type of brake is usually found in budget scooters.
How do rear fender foot brakes work?
Rear fender foot brakes work on the simplest principle out of all the scooter brake types. By simply pressing the rear mudguard with one of your feet, you create friction between the mudguard and the rear wheel, which slows down and stops the scooter.
Rear fender foot brakes advantages
The only real advantage of rear foot brakes is their simplicity, which will result in them barely requiring any maintenance at all.
Rear fender foot brakes disadvantages
While rear fender foot brakes operate on a simple principle, they are not as reliable as you might expect. They don’t provide a lot of stopping power, and are almost always meant to be used as emergency brakes in case some of the primary brakes malfunction. Using them also involves a bit of a learning curve, as it’s not exactly easy to maintain your balance while having one of your feet press backward.
Also, because their underlying mechanism is quite crude, they are prone to defects, mostly the fender breaking off, or sometimes getting stuck.
All in all, in some scooters, it’s better to have the rear fender foot brake than not to have it, but in general, the best scooters don’t really require them as they have other stronger braking systems, and many scooterists are not really big fans of this brake type.
Anti-locking braking system (ABS)
The anti-lock braking system, or ABS, is an additional feature of some brake systems, that prevents the wheels from locking and skidding when using the brakes, and allows you to retain steering control while braking. It is an automated, electronically calibrated system, that can adjust the pressure on the brake pads if it detects that the vehicle is about to lose steering control or wheels are about to lock (it does this by monitoring the individual speed of every wheel of the vehicle, and partially releasing the brakes if it detects different speeds).
ABS is commonly found in cars and other vehicles, but a lot of scooters employ it as well. While not a braking system per se, it is a very useful braking-related feature that can prevent accidents, and is a very useful feature in a scooter. Many scooters with electronic brakes will also include an ABS, and oftentimes, you can even adjust it or turn it off completely in case you don’t want to use it.
The details of how exactly ABS works are a bit more complex, and outside the scope of this article. In case you want to understand the concept of ABS and how it works in more depth, check out this video.
Front brakes, rear brakes, and brake redundancy
Every brake operates on one of the wheels, so we can have front-wheel brakes and rear-wheel brakes.
Typically, electric scooters will have either just rear brakes, or both front and rear brakes. Having just front brakes would be unsafe, as braking with just the front brake when riding fast increases the chances of the scooter tipping over and the rider getting injured.
Scooters that have more than one brake system are said to have “brake redundancy”. Like all mechanical systems, brakes can sometimes malfunction, and you don’t want your entire safety depending on just one brake system. That’s why brake redundancy is an excellent safety feature, and the more different brakes a scooter has, the better.
Between the two wheels, and the several different brake types, there are many possible brake system configurations. Some of the most popular brake configurations are:
- just a rear disk brake
- rear disk brake and an electronic brake in the wheel where the motor is
- rear and front disk brakes
- rear and front disk brakes, and a rear fender foot brake
- just an electronic brake in the wheel where the motor is
- semi-hydraulic brakes on both wheels
- fully hydraulic brakes on both wheels
Are front brakes more effective than rear brakes?
Front brakes provide more stopping power than rear brakes. This is because the center of gravity shifts forward when we brake, so additional force and pressure are already applied and transferred to the front wheel, and by using the front brakes that advantage is maximized, resulting in more friction and shorter stopping distance.
Which brakes wear out first?
The brakes you use more will wear out first. Typically, the rear brakes will be more frequently used by most people, and you will find that you need to replace them more often. However, if you use both brakes equally, you will find that you need to replace your front brakes first, as they are subject to more pressure and friction.
Besides the front vs rear brake, there’s another dimension related to the brake systems in electric scooters, and that’s the control used for engaging the brakes. There are three main methods of activating a brake:
- regular button
- thumb button
Levers are the most common way of activating the brakes, especially disk, drum, or hydraulic brakes. Buttons, including thumb buttons, are usually used for electronic brakes, although sometimes a single button can be used to activate more than one braking system at the same time.
Electric scooter brake upgrade
Upgrading the brakes on your electric scooter does involve a bit of technical know-how. It’s not exactly rocket science, but you will need some basic skills in mechanics, a little patience, and the proper tools.
The most common scenario is upgrading standard mechanical cable disk brakes to hydraulic brakes. You need to make sure that your upgraded brakes will fit your scooter first, otherwise the entire process might be an exercise in futility. Since most scooter models don’t have upgraded brakes specifically made from them and coming from the original manufacturer, I usually don’t recommend newbies to try and do this – in most cases, you’ll be better off simply getting a better scooter, as hydraulic brakes can be quite pricey.
Anyway, if you decide to perform the upgrade, you can rely on the experience of previous scooterists that have done that before. Roughly speaking, replacing the brakes is just a matter of removing the old brake system and installing the new one. Of course, it’s rarely that simple, and something always doesn’t go according to plan, but still, if the brakes fit the scooter in the first place, it’s then juts a matter of patience.
This video does a great job of walking you through the process of installing hydraulic brakes on a Xiaomi M365 step by step.
How to check scooter brakes?
You should regularly check your brakes, and ideally, you want to check them against the initial baseline performance.
For a basic check, it’s enough to just ride at a slower speed first and test whether the brakes work, and then try the same at progressively higher speeds.
For an advanced diagnostics check, it’s recommended to take note of the braking distance when stopping from full speed. Do this when you first unpack the scooter, before you adjust the brakes or ride the scooter too much. That way, you will have a good baseline of the optimal level of performance that the brakes can provide. When you want to perform the detailed check, just measure the braking distance again. Ideally, both distances should be the same, and if they’re not, you may need to consider replacing your brakes.
Best electric scooter brakes manufacturers
Many electric scooters, especially popular budget ones, come with a simple brake configuration of a mechanical disk cable brake and an electronic brake. In the majority of these cases, including for super-popular brands like Xiaomi and Ninebot, the disk brakes are generic. While usually solid and of decent quality, they don’t come from established brands that deal with brakes primarily.
The electronic brakes simply come from the same manufacturer as the motor, as they’re more like an additional motor feature rather than a distinct braking system.
Now, in higher-end scooters with hydraulic brakes, there are several well-known and respected companies that specialize in brakes. Sometimes, these are manufacturers of bicycle brakes, but as with many other shared components, the underlying mechanism and operating principles are similar, and these manufacturers can translate their vast experience successfully and provide high-quality brakes that work flawlessly for electric scooters as well.
The best manufacturers for high-quality brakes for electric scooter brakes are Buckloss, Zoom, and Nutt.
Electric scooter brakes FAQ
These are some of the most commonly asked questions around electric scooter brakes.
Do electric scooters have brakes?
Every electric scooter has one or more brakes. If a scooter doesn’t have any brakes on it, something is very wrong with that scooter and you should most definitely not buy it.
How common are electric scooter brake defects?
Brake defects are not a very common type of electric scooter defect. They account for just 0.4% of all serious defect types reported in the first year of the scooter’s usage.
Which is the front brake on a scooter?
If the scooter has only one brake, it will usually be on the rear wheel, and the brake lever on button can be either on the left or the right handlebar. If the scooter has two brakes, the front brake lever or button will typically be on the left handlebar, unless it’s a scooter purposefully made for left-handed people, in which case the front brake might be on the right handlebar.
Which is the rear brake on a scooter?
In scooters with brakes on both wheels, the rear brake lever will usually be on the right handlebar. If the scooter has just one brake (usually the rear one), the brake button or lever will typically be on the left handlebar.
What is the best type of brakes for an electric scooter?
Hydraulic brakes provide the greatest stopping power and performance overall. They are frequently considered to be the best type of brakes for an electric scooter, and that’s why they are usually found only in the higher-quality and more expensive scooters.
Do electric scooters have regenerative braking?
Many electric scooters have regenerative braking (between 40% and 50% of all models). This feature is almost universally present in scooters with electronic brakes.
How long do scooter brakes last?
In general, expect that you may need to change your brakes every 400 mi / 650 km on average.
How long the brakes of an electric scooter last will mostly depend on the brand and the quality of the brakes. Top-quality hydraulic brakes coming from world-renowned brands like Zoom or Nutt can last for more than 1000 mi / 1600 km (they will require maintenance in the meantime). On the other hand, cheap Chinese no-name brakes on a $200 scooter can wear out or malfunction after 100 mi / 160 km.
Other electric scooter safety features
Besides the brakes, electric scooter safety depends on a few other qualities and features.
The most important is the overall build quality of the scooter. That will play a direct role in the ride’s stability and the overall performance of every part individually but also the scooter as a whole, which greatly impacts safety.
The electronics and the circuitry of the scooter is also critical, since malfunctions of the motor or the battery mid-ride is definitely not good for safety.
The tires are another feature of the scooter that affects safety, although in a more limited way than the other factors. In general, it’s better for scooters to have pneumatic tires over solid ones, as pneumatic tires provide more traction, and the chances of slipping and falling are much smaller, especially in wet weather or when riding on slippery surfaces.