Electric scooters are very simple to ride and maintain, and that’s why they are so useful and fun. While they are a modern piece of transportation technology, they are still not very complex in the way they work compared to most vehicles.
This guide provides a very simple overview of how electric scooters work.
How do electric scooters work?
When the rider uses the throttle, electric signals go from the throttle through wires to the controller, which instructs the battery to release electric energy to one or two motors in the wheels. The motor transforms that energy into a movement of the wheels, and the scooter moves forward.
If you want to be confident that you will be able to handle anything that happens to your scooter, or if you don’t want to pay for an expert anytime some small thing goes wrong, or if you’re just simply curious, you can learn a lot about how scooters work in just a few minutes.
Electric scooter components
For the most part, electric scooters are only made up of several major components.
The battery is the heart of every electric scooter. Its voltage, charge, and energy storage capacity will be the dominant factor in determining the most important features of the scooter, which are the overall performance, and the maximum distance it can go on a single charge.
The motor is of equal importance to the battery. Its power and quality will determine a lot about the scooter’s performances, primarily its speed, its torque, its ability to climb hills, and its range to a lesser extent.
The motor and the battery are connected through electric wires, all controlled by the screen and throttle on the handlebar. Their performance is managed by the rider through the controller component.
The rider issues commands on the screen, and through the throttle and brake levers or buttons. The screen is usually an LED screen right in the center of the handlebar, or a small circular screen on the right handlebar, and the throttle control is on the right. Some handlebars also have a brake lever on the left handle.
Some older scooter models have their motors placed in the deck and use chains and gears to turn the wheels. Most of the modern scooters are gearless and have the motors built right into the wheels. These are called hub motors.
It’s quite common for the more powerful scooters to actually have two motors, one in each wheel.
The wheels themselves are an obvious part of the scooter. They come in two basic types – air-filled and solid. Some scooters will also have shock absorbers for a more comfortable ride. We will go into more detail about wheels later.
Either one or both wheels can have brakes. Brakes can be electronic, mechanical (with a disc or hydraulic), or activated by pressing the foot against the rear fender.
All of these components are tightly integrated into a solid frame, usually made up of industrial grade aluminum alloy, or sometimes of carbon fiber. The frame can be visually divided into the stem, which is the front pipe-like part, and the deck, which is the surface on which the rider stands.
Other than plastic and silicone, not many other materials are used in building the scooter.
The frame of the scooter is often foldable.
Most electric scooters have at least one headlight and one or more smaller lights in the rear to serve as brake lights too.
As we can see, that’s not a lot of components, especially given how useful scooters are.
What’s more interesting is how they work together in concert.
How does an electric scooter work?
When the throttle is pressed, it sends a signal to the battery to release power. The battery sends the power to the motor (or motors) through the wires. The motors then produce a movement of the wheels and propel the scooter forward.
Electric scooters can’t go in reverse, and the only way to move is forward, through the throttle. Scooters have one or more brakes that slow down and stop the scooter.
That’s the gist of it. The details are still simple, but a few varieties come into play.
How do electric scooter motors work?
As mentioned before, scooters can have their motors live inside the deck, which requires them to connect to the wheels through gears and chains.
Newer scooters, however, have the motors integrated into the wheel itself, which is a much more robust and foolproof design.
Batteries provide direct current (DC), so all motors in electric scooters are DC motors.
DC motors come in two basic flavors – brushed and brushless.
Brushed motors generate power by two sets of electromagnets. One is cylindrical, and the other one is a smaller magnet inside the cylinder. When the inside is turned, it generates magnetic fields that cause the inside to continue turning and generate power.
Of course, the details of how a brushed DC motor works are a bit more complex.
Brushless DC motors are a more modern technology that is an improvement over brushed DC motors. Brushed motors have an efficiency of about 75-80%, while brushless have an efficiency of about 85-90%.
The way a brushless motor works is almost like an inverse brushed motor. The magnets that move in the brushed motor are the parts that don’t move in the brushless motor. Again, the details of how a brushless motor works are more complex.
It’s very useful to know what type of motor your scooter has.
Brushed motors require a bit more care and maintenance since the brushes wear off over time. On the other hand, some brushed motors offer regenerative braking capabilities, which is a nice feature to have.
Chances are, if you’re getting a new scooter, it will have a brushless motor.
The amount of power your motor will generate will be expressed in Watts (W). Common scooters have between 200 and 600 Watts, but there are scooters that have much, much more.
Keep in mind that if your scooter has less than 300 Watts, it will likely have trouble climbing steeper hills.
The top speed will greatly depend on the motor power as well. While this is not a precise formula by any means, and there will be many other factors that determine the max speed you can get out of your scooter, you can expect 1 km/h for every 10-20 W of power your motor has. This doesn’t apply to the most powerful scooters, but it’s a good estimate for the consumer-grade ones.
One other thing worth knowing – the motor power can vary over time.
Most of the time it is around a certain baseline, and this is what it’s called its real power. This is the power level you will likely get most of the time.
However, at certain times, the motor can exceed that power level and reach much higher ones. The maximum power the motor can reach is called peak power.
Manufacturers can do a somewhat cheap trick and report the peak motor power as its real power. Make sure you double-check that and look at the real power, it’s a much better representation of how much power the motor really has.
If you are interested in learning more about the details (real vs peak power, geared vs gearless, brushed vs brushless), check out the full article on electric scooter motors. Also, if you want a quick way of figuring out what the estimated peak power of your motor is based on the real one, or the other way around, check the real and peak motor power converters.
How do electric scooters batteries work?
Most electric scooters will have lithium-ion batteries. The best scooters will typically come with either Samsung or LG batteries.
The most important metrics about the battery are:
- its voltage, which we express in Volts (V)
- its charge, which we in Ampere-hours (Ah)
The higher the voltage, the more power will the battery be able to supply to the motor.
The bigger the both, the more energy storage capacity will the battery have. We express energy storage capacity in Watt-hours (Wh), and we obtain it by multiplying the Volts times the Ampere-hours.
1 WH = 1 V * 1 AhThe formula for energy storage capacity
These are the simple calculators you can use to convert between these units:
The bigger the capacity, the more range your scooter will have. Of course, it’s not the only factor, but it is the most important one.
While not an exact formula, you can think of it like this: every 10-20 Watt-hours will give your scooter 1 kilometer of range.
Batteries degrade over time, and you will likely need to replace the battery in your scooter every time it gets worn out. This will happen every 3 years on average.
It is also possible to upgrade your battery to a more powerful one, or add an extra battery (or two). This will further increase the range you get to a great extent, and it may also improve speed and general performance as well.
You can learn all the tips and answers about electric scooter batteries in the full battery guide.
How do controllers in electric scooters work?
The controller in the electric scooter is the glue between the acceleration and brake controls, the battery, and the motor.
Whenever you hit the throttle, the signal goes through the wires and through the controller, which tells the battery to release more or less energy to the motor. If your scooter has electronic brakes, it stops the juice from the battery and instructs the motor to stop working.
How do brakes in electric scooters work?
There are three types of brakes in electric scooters.
The most basic one is the rear foot brake, where you just press against the rear fender with the foot to create friction. It is also the least practical way to brake, since it requires you to hit the rear fender with your foot, preferably without looking back. However, not a lot of scooters have this brake type.
Another way to brake is through the old and trusted mechanical brake, which is usually either disc or hydraulic. Scooters like this will usually have a lever on the left handle, which when pressed activates the disc brake on either the front, the rear wheel, or both.
The third and most advanced braking method is an electric brake. These are fairly common, and they work almost as exact negatives to the acceleration process as they stop the motor from producing movement.
Scooters with this type of braking also employ regenerative braking. This braking method refills the battery a little every time it’s activated.
Obviously, the more brakes a scooter has the better, but very few have all three. A combination of disc and electrical braking is a great combination.
How do wheels in electric scooters work?
There are two types of wheels that an electric scooter can have – solid and air-filled (pneumatic).
Solid wheels are not very common.
The upside of solid wheels is that they can’t get punctured and there are no flat tires with them. The downside of solid wheels is that the ride will be more shaky and bumpy. That’s why it’s common for scooters with solid wheels to have good suspenders.
Air-filled tires are the opposite – you can occasionally get a flat that you will have to fix, but they provide a more comfortable ride. That’s why suspenders in scooters with air-filled tires are less common.
Also, air-filled tires are usually less slippery since the rubber provides more friction against the ground. You can also inflate or deflate them to adjust for speed vs control.
Wheels can come in several patterns and sizes.
Wheels for everyday use are slicker and provide a faster ride, while off-road wheels have perforations and holes in them that make them better for handling rough or uneven terrain. Many scooters can support both road and off-road tires.
The size of the tire itself will determine a few things about your scooter too.
If you get a scooter with wide wheels, you can expect better control, increased acceleration, and reduced braking distances. The downsides will include less comfortable rides, increased battery consumption, and faster wear and tear.
The scooter will generally come equipped with tires that fit its intended usage.
Some scooters have a combination of one solid and one pneumatic wheel, but those are not common. A few scooters offer both types of tires, and you can swap solid and pneumatic tires with relative ease. However, for most models, this will not be feasible, and you will mostly be stuck with your initial choice.
Make sure to check out the guide on solid vs pneumatic tires to make sure you make the right decision.
How does suspension in electric scooters work?
Some scooters have suspension systems on their wheels for increased riding comfort and less shaking. It often comes with electric scooters with solid tires, to compensate for the decreased stability and comfort that solid tires provide.
Usually, scooters have either spring arm or hydraulic suspensions. Spring suspensions are simpler, but they work well on many models. Hydraulic suspension systems are more complex and even involve dampers with hydraulic fluid, but this mechanism is usually top-notch and only the higher-quality scooters include it.
How do electric scooter screen and controls work?
Most electric scooters have an LCD screen at the center of the handlebars, and it sometimes has only one button, which is the power button. Other scooters use a circular device on the right handlebar.
You will use the screen for several things. Depending on the number of times and how long you press it, it can:
- power the scooter on and off
- change the driving mode
- show you other information about the scooter, like its battery level
The power button and the throttle are sometimes the only controls the scooter has, unless it has a brake lever too.
Some scooters are started by keys and don’t use the screen to start.
Optionally, the scooter may have a horn or a bell to notify or alert other participants in traffic.
Electric scooter deck
The deck can have a few different properties.
The most obvious one is the size of the surface. Most will be around 40 cm long, and the width will vary between 10 and 20 cm or more. The size of the deck is important for comfort and stability. It should especially be taken into account by taller people, or people with larger feet, they usually have problems with some scooters having decks that are too narrow.
Another important feature of the deck is its height, or rather the distance between the bottom of the deck and the ground. This is also known as the scooter’s ground clearance. Clearance will balance your stability while riding and how tall the obstacles you can cross are. For example, bigger clearance will enable you to not hit sidewalks with your deck and you may even ride over some without stopping, but the tradeoff will be a higher center of gravity, which will make you less stable on your scooter.
Finally, some scooters come with decks that are extra grippy and provide better traction for your feet. This is a great feature to have, and it comes from either rubber bumps, a material similar to sandpaper, or another way to make the deck less slippery.
Electric scooter handlebars
The handlebars are the steering wheel of the electric scooter. You use them to turn and change direction.
Some useful scooters will have the option to adjust the height of the handlebar to better fit your height.
Most scooters will have some sort of covers on the edges of the handlebars, where you actually hold them, usually rubber or silicon. It is important that these are not slippery and provide a strong grip, as that can make your rides not as safe.
Usually, the throttle button will be on the right, and the brake lever, if present, will be on the left. The screen is usually in the middle of the handlebar.
There are not many electric scooter models that accommodate left-handed people and have the throttle on the left and the brake on the right.
Electric scooter lights
Almost every electric scooter will come with at least a LED headlight, and some will come with a tail light that is activated when braking.
Lights are a big drain on the battery, and maybe that’s the reason why some scooters only come with very weak lights.
Some scooters will also have LED lights on the sides or the bottom of the deck.
See my guide on electric scooter lights to find out more about this component.
Optional scooter parts
Aside from the essential parts that pretty much every electric scooter will have, some scooters may have an extra feature or two that can make it much more useful.
For many scooters, seats are an optional addition. You will usually pay a bit extra, but your scooter can become much more useful. Many scooters with seats come with the option to add or remove the seat as you need.
Baskets or trunks
In my opinion, true adult scooters have a basket or a trunk. The ability to use your scooter as more than just a person-transporting vehicle can be invaluable in your day-to-day activities.
However, not a lot of scooters come with a built-in way to install a basket or a trunk. While possible, the process does involve some customization, and for some models, it can be infeasible because of the overall construction and balance of the scooter. You can see some great scooters with trunks here.
How do electric scooters get charged?
Charging an electric scooter is simple, but there are a few steps that make it optimal and can potentially increase the lifespan of your scooter’s battery, and ultimately your scooter:
- let your scooter cool off before charging
- use only the original charger
- charge in a cool, dry room, at room temperature
- charge until full as often as possible
- don’t let the battery get empty
Check out the post on how to charge your scooter to see every charging hack and tip available.
Are electric scooters foldable?
Most of today’s electric scooters will be foldable. Some older models, or scooters that are clearly not meant to be carried (like very heavy scooters) may not include a folding mechanism, and that is a significant disadvantage for those models.
There are a few different folding mechanisms, but the most popular one includes some sort of a latch or a mechanism on the stem that enables it to be folded and attached to the deck. That gives the scooter a much more portable and practical shape, and it occupies much less space.
Maybe surprisingly, but the folding mechanism, which sounds like one of the simplest parts in the scooter, is actually one of the main sources of frustration for electric scooter owners. It can often get loose or completely stop working.
Some models come with foldable handlebars. This is even more useful and even further reduces the volume of the folded scooter.
What are electric scooters made of?
Most electric scooters have aluminum frames, and some have carbon fiber, or a combination of the two. The motors are universally made of copper, steel, and other metals. Other materials used in the manufacturing of electric scooters include rubber, plastic, silicone, and other metals for the rest of the parts.
If you wanna learn exactly what kind of material goes into the making of every scooter, check out the post on what are electric scooters made of.
How to perform electric scooter maintenance?
Electric scooters don’t require a lot of maintenance. Making sure you regularly charge your battery and don’t let it drain fully is the only thing you need to worry about.
That applies to storing the scooter too – don’t let the battery completely drain even if you’re not using the scooter.
If you have a serious defect, one that prevents your scooter from turning on, running, or charging, you will have to take it to a repairman. You can troubleshoot yourself, but with more serious issues it’s much safer to trust an expert.