By Jeffrey the Barak
Fifteen years ago in this same magazine, in July 2000 to be exact, I wrote an article about electric scooters, as I had just acquired my second and was enjoying it quite a bit. Now, in 2015, things have changed, especially batteries and motor systems, so it is time to revisit the subject.
And the specific vehicle reviewed in this article is the Zumaround Zum. Please note that in this article, in order to make it appear the same in any browser, I am omitting to add the umlaut accent over the letter U. Apologies to fans of the umlaut (ü).
Kickstart Scooters Ltd who operate out of Buffalo, New York (and Toronto, Canada), the sellers of Zumaround, take the three kick scooters currently sold under their brand Sidewalker, and add an electric conversion which consists of a hub mounted electric motor, a controller system in a little frame-mounted bag, and rider controls on the handlebars. In the case of the two larger models, the motor goes in the front wheel, and in the smaller foldable model, it is in the rear wheel so that the front is not too heavy to lift in folded trolley-mode. They also have e-brakes, which just means that the motor cuts off automatically when you apply either the front or rear brake.
As far as electric scooter designs go, the Zumaround setups are the most simple of all, and this has led some people in the online scooter fanatic community to wonder why there is such a price difference between the human-powered versions and the electric. However when you really study the extra components, the price difference is quite reasonable. Especially when you take into consideration that no production scooter model will ever sell as many units as any electric bicycle model.
To illustrate the pricing (at time of writing, in USD):
- Human powered Sidewalker City $369
- Electric Zumaround Maxizum $1650
- Difference is $1281
- Human powered Sidewalker Willy $359
- Electric Zumaround Zum $1250
- Difference is $891
- Human powered Sidewalker Atom (replaces the older Sidewalker Micro) $349
- Electric Zumaround Minizum $1200
- Difference is $851
It is easy to see why this pricing might confuse the buying public. After all, the conversion from folding Atom to rear-wheel-drive Minizum is the most complicated, and yet it adds the least difference in price. A sharp eye will reveal however that the Maxizum has two batteries, for double the range. And then try getting your own kit and coming in at the same price with the same features. Not possible! The batteries, motors and control equipment used are all top quality.
The real trouble with Zumaround pricing is some electric bicycles are appearing at not much over $500, and they seem to give you more for the money. On the other hand, really nice e-bikes cost at least $1400 and many go up to $6000 and above.
To see the complete specs along with excellent pictures and movies for the Zumaround scooters, please look on their website at zumaround.com. You will also see the umlaut there!
When I reviewed the Sidewalker City here in the-vu back in 2003, I was critical of the deck height. At 5.5 inches, scooting the City was exhausting to me because I know that when riding a kick scooter, each extra inch of deck height makes the human-powered ride much more tiring. If you look at scooter riders where they are common, such as in the Czech Republic, or in the USA Amish community, everyone rides on a very low deck.
However, Gideon Tomaschoff of Kickstart Scooters explains that for him the safety afforded by extra ground clearance is worth the extra effort of the higher deck, and many people actually want the extra exercise that comes from reaching further to the ground.
But today we are only looking at the electric versions of these same scooters, and in particular the Willy-based Zum. It is unlikely anyone will ever really do much human-powered scooting on these so-called hybrids. Most riders will not exceed the range of charge and will simply stand and enjoy the ride for almost all of the time, just giving one initial push from a standstill. So a low deck height is not as critical here, and ground clearance for safety becomes more important.
We can reasonably compare these rides to electric bikes that feature only throttle control, and no Pedalec (pedal assist) mechanism. People cruise around on those without ever pedaling much, and the advantage of the scooter here is that you have your whole standing body to act as active suspension, rather than having an uncomfortable saddle kicking you hard in the sit bones as you ride over uneven pavement.
Note again that using the term throttle for the accelerator is borrowed from combustion-powered vehicles. On an electric vehicle the accelerator is more accurately a potentiometer.
Kick scooters have been around for a long time, but they were first noticed by the majority of people in 2000 when the Razor scooter craze happened. Some electric scooters focus on very small, portable, folding designs that are intended to make the scooters portable and convenient, but they can also make them very dangerous.
This is because in order to safely ride along at speeds over 10 MPH, you need pneumatic tires of at least 12 inches diameter. Once you get above 15 MPH, then even 12 inches starts to be a bit too small as you encounter the larger potholes and cracks. So the minimum safe size for going up to the legal 20 MPH limit is probably 16 inches.
And yet if you look on YouTube there are all kinds of tiny wheels going at all kinds of crazy, modified, top speeds. The original Zumaround Zum, with it’s 20 MPH maximum speed and 20 inch tires, seems like a safe ratio for wheel size and speed. Similarly the 12 inch tires of the Minizum are safe enough at it’s 15 MPH top speed.
I am personally very fond of the design of the traditional 12 inch pneumatic-tyred scooter class, but I chose to test and review the larger 20 inch model here, a black Zumaround Zum, because I will be going about three times faster than usual and I am in Los Angeles where roads are, to put it politely, in general disrepair.
The specs of the Zumaround Zum, reviewed here are:
- TIRES: Dual 20” x 1.75” pneumatic, smooth
- RIMS: Aluminum, double-wall rim in front
- HANDLEBAR HEIGHT Max 42” above ground, adjustable 3” down, for riders up to 6 feet 4 inches tall.
- LENGTH 61”
- FRAME Chromoly Steel (same as the Sidewalker Willy)
- E-BRAKES V- brakes, front and rear, cut motor power when applied.
- DECK SIZE 14 inches x 5 inches
- DECK HEIGHT 5.5 inches
- GROUND CLEARANCE 4 inches
- BATTERY: Panasonic rechargeable removable and key-lockable LITHIUM ION.
- MOTOR: 250 Watt, 36 Volt, 8.8 Ah, brushless, DC, geared, frictionless (quiet) situated in the front wheel hub
- SPEED CONTROL: Thumb operated “throttle” (potentiometer)
- MAX SPEED: 20 MPH (32 KPH)
- RANGE: 19 miles (30 km)
- INCLUDED EQUIPMENT: Front & rear fenders, center kickstand, bell, front, rear and side reflectors
- WEIGHT 36 pounds including the battery
- RIDER WEIGHT LIMIT 375 pounds
- Retail price at time of writing: $1250 USD including shipping.
- Available frame colors: Black, Yellow, Blue, Red, Lime.
One fact that jumps out from these specs is, 19 mile range, speed 20 MPH. Does this mean you can only ride this for one hour? Well yes, if you go top speed around a track. But you won’t be doing that. It should be good for a couple of hours between charges assuming you will slow down, stop here and there, cruise at lower speeds, kick now and again etc. In casual recreational use, you could expect to buzz around for most of the afternoon and not recharge.
Now that we have quiet and simple self-contained hub motors inside the wheel that simply spin and move the scooter, and more efficient battery chemistry, electric scooters of today are many times better than they were a decade ago.
The dimensions of the Zum approach those of a small adult bicycle, and yet you can walk it through a dense crowd of pedestrians without tripping anyone over. I tested this twelve years ago at Venice Beach Boardwalk with the even larger City model (like the Zumaround Maxizum). It is better to walk straddled over it than off to one side when the crowd really squeezes in. You can also scoot it at speeds barely above zero, and it will stay upright and stable without weaving and wobbling. And despite this Zum not folding, it will slip into almost any small hatchback car. Sedans with trunks may demand a folding scooter however, so if you have one of those you will be better off choosing the Minizum.
Bicycle laws apply to electric scooters that are below a certain wattage and limited to 20 MPH in the USA. There are some special rules in the vehicle codes for most states that specifically apply to stand-up electric scooters, but in general, if you ride safely and responsibly you can be assured that the police will not bother you on your electric scooter.
Everything comes in one large bicycle box. Assembly was easy and I am the opposite of a bicycle mechanic so most buyers will find it even easier. I needed a Philips screwdriver, a flat screwdriver, a 6 mm Allen wrench, and a 5 mm Allen wrench to complete the job. Tires were easily inflated via the Schrader valves which are always nicer to work with than Presta valves. I personally detest Presta valves!
Operating the Zum
Just like on a bicycle and most larger human-powered scooters, the right hand gets the back brake and the left hand gets the front which means if you have learned to ride a motorcycle first, it will really mess your mind up. I had to mention that first because I can never seem to undo what I learned on a motorcycle.
The deck is covered in a yoga mat surface over a latex foam base. This along with the tires is your suspension. But your own relaxed body stance will give more suspension than any saddle could for a seated cyclist. However one concern is that the base under the soft deck appears to be a thin plywood that might not react very well to water, should you ever get caught out riding in the rain.
Basically, once you have carefully set up the scooter, charged up the battery and double checked all connections etc., you are ready to ride.
To ride, the first switch you have to know about is on the bottom of the battery. It is an on-off switch. Then there is the scooter controller’s power switch, which is a red button beside the thumb throttle. The controller itself is in the stem-mounted bag, and there is no need to open that and play with it. The front wheel (back wheel on a Minizum) will start driving when you press the throttle, so do not turn on the power until you have one foot aboard and are ready to move forward on the vehicle.
Operating either brake will immediately cut the motor, which is an essential safety feature for any electric vehicle.
Once rolling, the 36 pound mass of the scooter and the diameter of the wheels makes it very steady and it has a complete absence of any wobble. And then, at last, it is time to push down that throttle lever with your right thumb.
I was not expecting the throttle to respond the way it does, There is a slight delay before something happens when you first push down. And another unusual characteristic is, if you are coasting along at say 10 MPH for example, and you start to apply power, nothing happens until the throttle lever reaches the point in it’s range of movement where it thinks your speed would be. So you push a little at a time and about halfway down, the motor can be heard starting to whine.
I was very satisfied with the brakes. There is a lot of mass here, 36 pounds of vehicle plus the rider’s own weight. Stopping such a massive lump going at 20 MPH takes a lot of grab, and these are bicycle-style V-brakes, and yet they work remarkably well.
The scooter’s top speed will naturally be well under 20 MPH when climbing a hill, but you will be able to get up that hill by simply standing still, and that includes steep hills that require cyclists to abandon lowest gear and stand up to pedal. Descending a hill will yield speeds in excess of the motor’s 20 MPH limit.
My impressions are this. 20 MPH can be a dangerous speed. Surviving a crash or fall at 20 MPH would not be a certain outcome. So you have to respect the scooter and ride with focus, awareness and care.
I think the best way to enjoy an electric scooter is to forget the maximum speed and keep it around 10 MPH. At 10 MPH you could, in case of trouble, abandon ship, land in a run and stay upright. At 10 MPH you could tumble on the road and not necessarily break a bone.
Let’s face it, we love our adult kick scooters but they can be exhausting to ride, unless you just mosey along, which is really what they are best for, or unless the whole point is to work out on the scooter. If you want to use a stand-up scooter for transportation, then electric has a lot of appeal, especially on a hot day when you are dressed for business. The downside to an e-scooter as large as a Zumaround as opposed to some deadly little tiny-wheeled folding electric scooter is the extra weight, but assuming you will not be trying to carry it for more than a couple of steps, that is no big deal. For me the weight will just make it a little harder to carefully place it in the back of the car when I head out for a destination ride.
Meanwhile an electric bike is often too heavy to plan on lifting unless you really have to. The main trouble with electric bikes is, you have to sit on them and get kicked hard in the butt by the saddle. The stand-up electric scooter is just more comfortable.
This is always the main issue when it comes to any electric vehicle, be it a Tesla sedan, or a Zumaround scooter. You just have to remember to be aware of it, and not get stuck somewhere far away with no charge left, and of course no pedals. I have not tested the range of the Zum, and I don’t yet know how long I can use it at radically slower speeds than full out 20 MPH. Zumaround’s website just tells you the maximum range and top speed and does not get into the details of the variations. Of course we could always ask them what to expect under various scenarios.
I have tried not to overlook any slight negative impressions in this review, but there are very few. My opinion of the Zumaround Zum is extremely positive. Basically, on a nice day, to stand on a magic platform and direct it where you want to go is a great pleasure. If you can borrow or rent one before you buy, certainly do it. But if you have to buy before you try, you will most likely not be disappointed.
At time of publication, Jeffrey the Barak has had at least 15 kick-scooters and 3 electrics.