By Jeffrey the Barak.
As you may have gathered from visiting the-vu.com, I am very enthusiastic about the simple and wonderful human-powered vehicle that we call a scooter, and far less enamored with the machines we call bicycles.
But despite appearances to residents of the United States, where scooters are so rare you almost never see any, there are many types of scooter out there in the world. This article is intended to be an introduction to the world of scooters and to help you make that decision to start using one or more on a regular basis.
There are no official classifications for scooters, and some may fit into more than one category, but this is just my own personal impression of what is available. I have come up with seven classes.
- Scooters with inline skate wheels
- Scooters with small wheels and solid tires
- Scooters with small wheels and pneumatic tires
- Scooters with medium sized wheels, for cruising or racing
- Scooters with at least one large wheel for racing and high-speed cruising
- Scooters that are hard to push, but great for downhill runs
- Scooters that are intended to be pulled along by your pet dogs
I do not own many scooters and I also do not own many photographs of scooters, but image searches can help you visualize most of the catalogues of most of the manufacturers. I will throw a few pictures into this article though!
- I recommend this American blog for news and photos: http://scootersport.wordpress.com
- I highly recommend this truly amazing French blog that has a translate button so you can read it in English. It has more photos and articles than any other: http://trottinette-patinette.blogspot.com
- I recommend this Italian webpage for pictures of many current models and is a good starting point for some serious shopping: http://www.avismonopattino.it/monopattini.html
- I recommend this brand-specific site to illustrate low decks. http://www.mibo.cz/en/ (Mibo)
- I recommend this Yahoo! Group for friendly discussion: http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/kickbiking/
- I recommend this lovely and personal American blog by and for scooter enthusiasts: http://www.letskickscoot.com/home/articles/default.cfm
- I recommend this store-specific blog for writings about smaller scooters: http://kickscooterpro.com (NYCeWheels)
Scooters with inline skate wheels
The brand name Razor typifies this type of scooter and due to a worldwide craze at the turn of the century, they are ubiquitous. Grown adults hunch over these small wonders to do acrobatic tricks in skate parks and they even feature in professional sports. Like skateboards, they are just as likely to be used for tricks, as for transportation from point A to point B. For very small children, they are a good first vehicle and can be easier to master than a bike, or even a trike. Aftermarket parts make them extra strong for the tricks and the skate wheels have grown in size from the first models, making them more forgiving on uneven pavement.
These scooters are not very practical for long rides, or rides on broken asphalt or uneven concrete or damp pavement, or for very tall riders. Most types can fold up to a small size that is easily carried around or placed into a locker. With good wheel bearings and a very smooth riding surface, they can go alarmingly quickly.
(edit 2015) These scooters should be subdivided into two classes. The inexpensive folding scooters like the Razor A1, A2 etc, and the Pro or Freestyle Scooters, which do not fold, are heavy-duty, high quality throughout and much more expensive, with the intended use being stunts at the skate park.
Scooters with small wheels and solid tires
These scooters are very handy because they allow you to take longer and more comfortable rides than inline scooters, but usually fold up into a portable and lightweight object that is easy to carry and store. In the United States, the Xootr and the Know-Ped and the customized Know-Ped called the KickPed take the top spots for general ride-ability. The Micro Black and White and the Razor A5 also fit into this class.
Hard tires have a lower rolling resistance than pneumatic tires, but as the name suggests, give a harder ride also. In general rubber tires give a ride somewhere in-between air tires and urethane. Rubber tires like those on the Know-Ped and KickPed are more forgiving and more grippy than hard urethane tires, which can throw you off just for spite, but they are not as soft as pneumatic tires.
The main advantage of this class of scooter is you are much more likely to use it. You can take one that has not been ridden for ages and use it right away, with no tires to inflate. And you can keep one in the trunk of any small car so that you can always ride it when you find yourself in a good spot. Also, if your ride includes a combination of public transportation and scooting, these are easy to fold and take with you to your seat on that bus or train. And there is no need to lock it and park outside of a business establishment. You just take it inside with you.
For these reasons, a good folding hard tired scooter is something that can be recommend for everyone, even if you also have larger scooters in your stable.
Scooters with small wheels and pneumatic tires
This may be my favorite type of scooter, but they are hard to find in the United States and those that you can find, often suffer from their footboards being too high off the ground, and from excessive weight. There is a sweet spot for deck height. Too low and you can bottom out and scrape to a halt, causing a spill, but too high and your standing leg quickly becomes tired from too much dipping and squatting.
For a brief period in the Nineteen-Eighties, these scooters where everywhere and today we call those 80s classics BMX scooters, even if they had the smooth road tires. (Knobbly dirt tires are not much use on a scooter, which has no chain powered drive-wheels, but they can increase safety if you descend muddy trails. Of course not many scooter riders ever do that so the low-friction more-efficient smooth tires are best).
Yedoo (Czech Republic) still sell the 1980s type of scooter today and they are still great to ride. But they and several others, notably Mibo, also bring newer designs into the small pneumatic tires class.
If the scooter is not unnecessarily heavy, and if you do not have a great distance to travel or a need for high speed, this type of scooter with a 12.5″ (approx) tire provides a stable and easy ride with hardly any vibration, and will not stumble on almost any sidewalk hazard. They are great fun for a casual ride out and about, and can still fly down a gradient like a larger Footbike. This is an overlooked category, perhaps because it evokes a period when scooters were losing money for their manufacturers, and manufacturers that do cover it often give us too much weight and a deck that is too far above the road, making a potentially efficient vehicle a pain in the leg.
Perhaps the biggest blow to this class of scooter was ironically the success of inline scooters in 2000. But I think this class will have a resurgence.
At the time of writing, I am looking for a scooter in this class that will meet that sweet spot of weight, height and portability. If I find it, I’ll be writing! Those with a 14″ or larger front tire may fit better into the next category.
Scooters with medium sized wheels, for cruising or racing
Once the wheel diameter goes over 12.5″ we have a heavier class of scooter that is great for long smooth rides, despite the inevitable rise in weight. Some of these resemble our traditional 12″ scooter and others look like bicycles that are missing their upper frames, seats and drivetrains. With the extra weight we really benefit from anything that helps us save energy, so a low to the ground footboard makes any scooter of a given weight, far less tiring to ride. Some manufacturers set their board height at over five inches, and then go on to proclaim it is better due to the ground clearance, but in my opinion they are completely wrong because of the wasted energy that the rider expends by flexing the standing leg to a larger extent.
In this large and varied class we see sporty racers that can almost keep up with the footbikes, and cruising scooters such as those sold by the Amish in the United States, which look like something from decades ago, but have spectacularly low decks. My personal experience of this class was with my briefly owned Sidewalker City. The deck was too high, but it was so wonderful for low-speed cruising. The gyroscopic effect of the larger wheels just made it so stable that virtually no input was required for balance correction, which actually saved a lot of energy and represented a hidden efficiency advantage. But as my 2003 article in the-vu showed, when directly compared to a Kickbike racer, it was inefficient to the point of being exhausting.
Medium scooters can be found from Toucan (Canada), Mission (UK), Sidewalker (Austria), Worker (Czech Republic), Current Coasters (USA), K-Bike (Czech Republic), and many more manufacturers.
Personally I think that besides the gyroscopic balancing advantage of a larger rear wheel, it is not needed for a smooth ride and a smaller back wheel would save weight, so the big-and-little design shown in the beautiful K7 above may make more sense.
Scooters with at least one large wheel for racing and high-speed cruising
Footbike racing is a considerably large sport in Europe and it is growing. Even some Americans are finally catching on and there is a global association called the IKSA that organizes races. These scooters are similar to kicksleds, a form of snow scooter, except they of course have wheels. I owned a Kickbike brand footbike for many years and it was very fast and very efficient. In the USA you can easily buy one from Kickbike USA or Footbike USA (with a capital F). In Europe there are at least eleven brands that I know of and they originate in the Czech Republic, Finland, Holland, France, Germany, and Austria. Yes a lot of Europeans ride and race these elegant extensions to the human body. As far as any non mechanical conveyance is concerned, the racing footbike is probably the fastest way a person can travel on level ground.
Some footbikes (with a small f) are less racy and have higher bars for less of a forward bending stance and mudguards, shopping baskets, bells etc. Most have a reasonably low deck to make the ride less tiring and most have high-end bicycle components to make the glide as effortless as possible.
Scooters that are hard to push, but great for downhill runs
Mountain scooters and gravity scooters. Scooters in this class will wear you out pretty quickly if you use them for street riding. The decks are high, the frames are very strong (meaning extra weight) and some even have a front or front and rear suspension system and disk brakes. They are designed for bombing downhill. Now you may be wondering, how do you get up the hill? Normally riders are driven up to the start, or they ride ski-lifts in the summer and ride down the dry mountain trails with gravity at their backs. We can see lots of videos of riders enjoying a nice off-road downhill drop, but they never show anyone pushing the scooter up a hill!
The Candiian Diggler brand specializes in downhill scooters and they are joined by Belize (Canada), Footbike (France), Kickbike (Finland), Kostka (Czech Republic), Mibo (Czech Republic), Sidewalker (Austria), XH (Germany), and perhaps several more that I have yet to find online!
This is the class of scooters that can benefit from mud tires, which are an energy liability on street scooters.
Scooters that are intended to be pulled along by your pet dogs
Scooter mushing clearly evolved from dog-sledding, but you can do it on a hot night in suburbia if you want. Lets get one thing straight. There is no evidence that this is cruel to dogs. All indications are, dogs in this business absolutely love to pull a person along on a scooter. It rewards their inner instinct that is in their DNA. It is running with the pack, even when it is just one dog and one rider.
Besides specialty vehicles that place the dog in a harness to the side of the scooter, sidecar-style, as covered in the-vu and on most other scooter-friendly websites in 2003 or since, most dog scooters look pretty much the same as downhill scooters. Some have special tie-up points along the front fender or riser, but any scooter can be used for this. All you need is the right dog or dogs. Some dogs will never be into it no matter what you do. And some riders prefer to harness themselves to their dog and not tie up to the actual scooter at all.
In Europe, dog-scooter races follow forest trails for miles and it too is a growing sport. All of the aforementioned mountain or downhill scooters are great for this but a few are actually specialized dog scooters complete with the harness points. Pawtrekker (UK) specialize in dog scooters.
So these are my own scooter classifications. Different types for different functions. Its a scooter world after all.
Author Jeffrey the Barak is the publisher of the-vu and he may actually be turning into a scooter. And he likes talking to water.