Before You Buy: Questions to Ask Your Electrics Retailer

Whether you buy your electric rideable online or from a brick and mortar retailer, there are several important questions you need to ask to figure out if a specific model is right for you.  The familiarity you’ve gained with electric bikes and scooters will help you have meaningful conversations with retailers. You’ll go into the conversation with a strong foundation of knowledge already in place.

Below are some tips and pointers that will help you navigate the electric vehicles marketplace, so you can find the perfect ride at the best possible price.

Purchasing an Electric Scooter: What to Ask Sellers and Retailers

1. Will it be comfortable to ride?

Whether a scooter ride is comfortable or not comes down to terrain and how it’s handled. Electric scooters with suspension and air-filled tires provide the most comfortable ride. As with other e-rideables and e-vehicles, both air-filled tires and suspension systems help absorb shock from bumps, dips, cracks in the pavement, etc. Flat, even terrain isn’t found in many places, so both features can be essential for comfort.

Another thing to look for: Is the stem height-adjustable?

2. What kind of braking system does it have?

Knowing how a scooter stops moving is every bit as important as knowing how it starts. Reliable braking systems are needed to stop scooters safely and, if needed, quickly. Scooter brakes usually employ technology like front and rear brakes, v-brakes, and disc brakes. In general, scooters that feature front brakes only are a no-go. While this type of braking system can bring a scooter to a stop, sudden braking can be dangerous and even cause you to fall off. Scooters with a single braking system, front or rear, can’t stop as fast as those with dual brakes. Scooters with both front and rear brakes provide the best stopping power. Dual v-brakes or dual disc brakes are the best choice.

3. How ‘smart’ is it?

Most modern e-scooters come with built-in displays and apps. Scooter apps often use Bluetooth® to connect and allow you to see information about the scooter or your trip. The usefulness of a scooter app is debatable, given that Bluetooth® is a known smartphone battery hog. Displays are another story. Ideally, the right electric scooter will have a display that shows info like battery life and riding or “speed” modes. The display should also be backlit and bright enough to see on a sunny day.

4. How powerful is the motor?

The motors on eRideables vary from model to model. Typically, an electric scooter will range between 250 and 350 watts. Some of the more specialized and expensive e-scooters might sport a 500-watt motor. The motor’s power will have a direct effect on several key elements of an electric scooter’s performance, including the most commonly asked question: How fast will it go?

But the motor also affects other important aspects of commuting, namely, how it handles inclines. So, when talking about the motor with the seller, ask if it’s a high-torque motor and what the scooter’s climbing capacity is.

The power of the motor will also have a direct impact on another important question:

5. How much weight will it support?

The heavier the rider, the harder the electric scooter’s motor might have to work. Some of the lower-watt motors might not be able to efficiently handle the weight of heavier riders.

Remember: Rider weight affects the overall performance of an electric scooter, but most noticeably, its max throttle speeds and mileage per charge. Simply put, if you or the intended rider weighs over 200 pounds, you might not get as much distance as you expected out of one charge.

When picking out an e-scooter, check out the rider weight limit and avoid those where your weight falls very close to the maximum limit, especially if the scooter’s motor is only around 200W. For comparison, a 200-pound rider on a 250W scooter isn’t going to get the mileage a 150-pound rider on a 350W scooter would.


6. Is it portable?

You may be thinking: “Of course it’s portable. It moves, doesn’t it?”

When we mention portability, we’re really talking about you moving the scooter. How easy is it to carry around? Can it be stowed under your desk at work? Can it be stored in a small closet? Considering that anything with a motor and battery will be heavier than its non-motorized counterpart, portability is an important factor to keep in mind.

Most scooters – traditional and e-scooters alike – fold up. This is great for portability. But not every folding mechanism is the same. Levers are common and not difficult for most to use. Some scooters use a slider or push-button mechanism and are also easy to fold but often need to be locked into place afterwards. That extra moment of time is something to consider if you might be using the scooter every day.

The weight of the scooter is also an important detail. If your residence isn’t on the ground floor, you may be lugging 15, 20, or even 30 extra pounds up and down stairs a couple times a day.

Purchasing an eBike: What to Ask Sellers and Retailers

When you start talking to eBike retailers, here are the ten most important questions you should ask:

1. Does the bike have a hub motor or a mid-drive motor?

As discussed earlier, mid-drive motors are in many cases the better of the two, primarily because they work in coordination with and take full advantage of the bike’s gears, thereby maximizing power and efficiency. A mid-drive motor’s lower center of gravity also tends to produce a more natural, better-handling riding experience.

2. How powerful is the motor?

The power of an eBike’s motor, much like the motor of an electric scooter, is described in terms of how many watts it generates. Most electric bike motors fall somewhere in the range of 250 – 500 watts. How powerful a motor you need depends on a couple factors. For example:

Will you be riding in an area that doesn’t have a lot of steep hills? Do you weigh less than 200 pounds? If so, then a 250-watt motor should be more than enough.

Will you be riding in a hilly area a lot? Do you weigh more than 200 pounds? Then you’ll want to look for a high-torque, 350-watt motor.

The US Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) is looking to adopt guidelines for e-rideable classes 1, 2 and 3, measuring a 170 lb. rider on a flat surface as a way to consistently gauge range for these personal transportation devices.

For city commutes, a 350-watt motor is perfect for regularly tackling steep inclines. But for getting around on campus, a highly efficient 250-watt motor might be more than enough.

(This is why it’s important to know your needs and objectives before you start your search. Need a refresher? See “Why Go Electric?”)

3. What type of electric assistance does the bike provide?

The main thing you want to know when asking this question is whether the bike offers electric assistance only while you’re pedaling or if it also offers fully motorized riding.

If you know there will be times when you want to stop pedaling and let the motor take over, then be sure the bike you’re looking at offers a throttle-only or power-only riding mode.

4. What’s the maximum throttle speed?

In most places in the U.S., electric bikes cannot legally go faster than 20 mph, but beneath that threshold there is still some significant variance in the speeds different eBikes can reach.

The speed you need your electric bike to travel depends on where you live, how quickly you’d like to ride, and how heavily you plan on using the bike’s motor. In general, eBikes capable of hitting at least 15 mph prove to be the most efficient and helpful for riders to complete commutes and run errands quickly.

5. How do riders engage and control the motor?

Electric bikes come with a variety of instrumentation to trigger and control the motor, including push-button throttles, finger throttles, twist throttles, even software throttles.

Understanding exactly how an eRideable engages the motor is an important factor in determining whether it will give you the kind of riding experience you’re looking for.

6. What type of gear system does it have? Physical gears or software-based “speed modes”?

Does the eBike have a single gear or multiple gears? An eBike with a single gear might limit your ability to fine-tune how you ride. Your riding might also rely more on the motor.

Like a traditional bike, multiple gears give you more riding options. It might make climbing hills easier.

Software-based “speed modes” mimic physical gears by limiting the max throttle speeds. Electric bikes with this sort of set up are single geared and rely on a high-torque motor to conquer steep inclines.

7. What type of battery does the eBike come with?

Currently, lithium batteries are the go-to choice for eBike manufacturers. They are the lightest, most efficient batteries to use on eRideables. There are non-lithium ion batteries out there but they tend to add weight to the rideable. If you’re looking for extra portability — quick fold and easy carry — a Li-ion battery would be the route to go. Some new models use sealed lead acid in their battery systems.

8. What’s the electric bike’s range?

Once you know that the bike you’re interested in uses a high-quality lithium battery, it’s important to figure out what the vehicle’s range is. In the electric bike industry, this is generally described in terms of how many miles a rider can go before needing to recharge the battery.

The range of the battery you need depends on the type of riding you plan on doing. If you plan to use more motor power than pedal power, then you’ll be using your battery’s charge quicker and will therefore need a vehicle with a longer range. If you plan to pedal a lot and use the motor assistance only periodically, you can probably do fine with a shorter range. The length of your rides similarly impacts the type of battery you need. If, for example, you have a long daily commute, then you probably need a longer range than someone who only goes a few miles each day. In short, be sure the range of the eBike you’re looking at will conveniently cover the distances you plan to travel.

9. How long does it take to charge the battery?

This information is helpful in figuring out more concretely what the actual experience of using an electric bike will be like. This will also help you figure out if a specific eBike model realistically fits your lifestyle and how well it meets your riding needs.

10. What sort of warranty does the eBike come with?

One of the great things about riding an eBike is that the majority of repairs can be done quite easily using conventional bicycle parts by a mechanic at your local bike shop. However, because electric bikes also include their own unique components, most obviously the motor and battery, it’s a good idea to buy an eBike with a strong warranty—just in case anything goes wrong. Shoot for an eBike that comes with a 12-month comprehensive warranty.

Electric scooters and e-bikes have proven to be incredibly convenient and fun ways to get around, for everything from leisurely rides in parks to daily commutes around campus. Finding the right electric scooter or ebike can be daunting. But now that you’re armed with info from this guide, you’re nearly ready to buy.

But since there are few actual physical showrooms that sell eBikes, most of the purchases will happen online. That’s why it’s important to ask the right questions before making a purchase. Doing so will ensure that when you do finally buy your own eBike, you’re getting the one that best meets your unique needs, interests and expectations.


After You Buy

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