By Jeffrey the Barak.
This article was written in 2012 but has been revised and shortened in 2022, because while ten years has brought new categories and new considerations, the original article had a little too much detail. As I begin this rewrite, I am also moderator and admin on a Facebook group called Let’s Kick Scoot, where enthusiasts from around the world share happy posts about human-powered scooting.
As you may have gathered from 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.
Even today, in the United States, scooters are so rare you hardly ever see any. However, 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.
Before the appearance of the Razor scooter in 1999 there were almost no scooters in the US, despite the brief BMX scooter craze of the 1980s. It was the introduction of electric scooters to the public streets that gave a boost to the acceptance and popularity of non-electric kick scooters in the US.
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 several classes of non-electric human-powered scooters.
- Folding scooters with inline skate wheels
- Pro-Scooters for use in skate parks
- Scooters with small solid urethane wheels
- As above but with mechanical suspension
- Scooters with small wheels and pneumatic tires
- Scooters with medium or large sized wheels and pneumatic tires, for cruising or racing
- Downhill scooters
- Dog Scooters
1) Folding scooters with inline skate wheels
The brand name Razor typifies this type of scooter and due to a worldwide craze at the end of the 20th century. They are ubiquitous. The origins of this scooter led to two of the top world brands, Razor (USA) and Micro (Switzerland). It was the availability of the inline skate wheel that made the first tiny folding scooters a possibility. Over the years various sizes have appeared and we put the larger-wheeled varieties into a separate class
2) Pro-Scooters for use in skate parks
After it became clear that scooters are good for tricks, something stronger was needed and so the multi-million dollar pro-scooter industry appeared. With strong, rigid, non-folding frames and very strong components, these small tools can withstand the pressure without immediately being destroyed. Not really practical for a long slow scoot along the road, but this is actually by far the biggest category for adult human-powered scooters. Despite their strength, smooth concrete is needed to get the best out of them, and they cannot be ridden on rough or degraded surfaces. The standard wheel size seems to have evolved to become 120 mm but there are smaller wheels still out there.
3) Scooters with small solid urethane wheels, or adult folding scooters.
We can also call these adult folding scooters, or commuter scooters, although many a child uses them daily. Solid here means there is no air tire (tire US, tyre UK). Examples are Razor A5, Xootr, Micro Black etc. These are commuter scooters ideal for the last mile. You can fold them up and carry them into work, school, train, bus etc., and unfold for that distance between home and station, or bus stop and work.
In the same size category, but with different wheels there are anomalies such as the Razor A5 Air with 200mm air tires, and the Know-Ped with solid rubber 6 inch tires.
Once a hard urethane wheel grows to 180 mm, 200m, 230 mm etc it becomes less dangerous in a micro terrain of cracks, pebbles and bumps. These scooters are very usable on sidewalks and streets, but they have very poor grip on damp or wet surfaces.
Compared to air tires, urethane tires need a fairly dry and smooth road, and they lose much less energy due to the compression of an air tire, so they can be faster or easier over the same course, as long as it remains smooth and dry.
Convenience is the key to their success. They are light weight and easy to fold, so you are more likely to have one with you and therefore use one.
4) As above, but with mechanical suspension.
Usually achieved with a sprung front fork and a lever arm rear fork, this heaver and more complex variation uses the frame to spare the rider from some of the vibrations of the hard wheels. A popular example is the Oxelo Town 9. With extra weight and complications, there is a price to pay, and also some deck heights are too high.
Perhaps with less vibration a rider gets less tired, so they can use that saved energy to squat further for a more tiresome kick.
5) Scooters with small wheels and pneumatic tires
I mentioned earlier the 1980s BMX scooter craze. With 12.5 inch standard air tires, this class of scooter remains popular. Ranging from notoriously poor quality cheap examples from Mongoose, Kent, and similar to high-end, well-engineered shrunk-down Czech foot bikes, the 12.5 incher is a great class of scooter. One interesting variation recently was the Boardy, which uses a flexible plywood board to completely replace the steel frame which would normally link the front and back ends.
6) Scooters with medium or large-sized wheels for cruising or racing, or foot bikes
Once we go up to 14″, 16″ tires and above, we have the foot bike class. Some are for lower speed errands and jaunts, like the American Amish scooters, some are for general recreation, some are for distance touring, and others are for high speed racing.
At first glance something in the larger end of this class may seem like too much to kick, but for those who prefer scooting to cycling, these vehicles are like magic carpets. The perfect conveyance.
Many have a larger front tire and smaller back tire, making them less unwieldy, but high mileage riders will tell you that two large wheels, eg 26″, are the most efficient.
Foot bike racing is quite a thing in Europe, and this sport evolved from kicksleds or snow scooters.
7) Downhill scooters
This is our first niche category. Using one of these to ride along a bike path or down the street would be very tiring with extra weight and a deck that is so high that the road can feel out of reach after half an exhausting mile.
But this extreme clearance and angled deck makes bombing down a ski run in summer less dangerous. As long as you don’t have to ride uphill, this is a fun ride.
This is the class of scooters that can benefit from mud tires, which are an energy liability on street scooters.
8) Dog scooters
For mushing. Your dog can be your engine if your large scooter features the right harness. To bring your best friend into your scooter passion, this is the category for you.
Other types of human-powered scooters
There are of course other things, not any of these eight types, that we might still call scooters. Some have skate-truck based front or rear steering, and are hybrids of scooters and skateboards, eg. Micro Kickboard. Some have levers and pedals that make them like scooters, but are not propelled with a kick as are scooters, so are they even scooters?
Above are my own eight scooter classifications, heavily edited from the original version of this article. Different types for different functions. It is a scooter world after all.
Author Jeffrey the Barak is the publisher of the-vu and has had around 26 scooters at the time of this last edit in 2022.