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Many kick scooters, including those for adults, have very small wheels:

Kick scooter with small wheels
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The wheels are much smaller than bicycle wheels. Some kick scooters have larger wheels, but those are relatively rare:

Kick scooter with larger wheels
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Or, for an example with full "bicycle sized" wheels:

Kick scooter with full-sized wheels Source: Wikimedia Commons

I have not had the opportunity to try kick scooters with all types of wheels, so I cannot speak from experience which one rides best. However, I would imagine that the ride is more stable with larger wheels. What are the main reasons that many kick scooters have tiny wheels? What are the advantages of larger vs. smaller wheels on kick scooters?

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    NB the top picture is an electric scooter; not all the same arguments apply. Especially note the two brake levers. It's also a rental version, with different economics to a privately-owned one - hence the presence of things like lights and front suspension (which presumably works out better to the rental company than a bigger wheel) as well as the dual brakes
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 12:49
  • It's probably not a coincidence that the English name for big-wheel scooters is "kickbike", given that they're intermediate between a bike and a scooter
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 12:50
  • My 1920's kick scooter also had small wheels (and a rear-wheel brake). Whatever the answer, it's not just a modern phenomena.
    – david
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 23:21
  • @david Although the kick scooter in the third image in my question is undated, it does not look brand new either. It seems that for both old and new kick scooters, most have small wheels, whereas a small minority have big wheels.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 7:04
  • Given that your first photograph is of an electric scooter, and not a kick scooter, which did you really mean? (Yes, electric scooters can often technically be propelled by kicking, but in reality, that's about as common as someone peddling a moped.) Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 7:48

6 Answers 6

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I have seen a couple in real life with big front wheels (24"+), and they do seem like they would be a nicer ride on real roads, however:

  • big-wheel scooters don't tend to fold
  • even if they did, you might not be allowed to take them on public transport. This is a major factor as scooters are good as a last-mile means of transport, being a little quicker than walking.
  • similarly, scooters are widely tolerated in pedestrian areas, e.g. on pavement (sidewalks). Put a bike wheel on it and you might attract unwanted attention, as (unpowered) scooters may fall into a grey area in the law where bikes are definitely forbidden.
  • little scooter wheels often have solid or foam-filled tyres. While these can be used on bike-type wheels they're a pain to fit and costly.
  • many scooters are so cheap that they're meant to be replaced when a single part wears out. A spoked wheel with a pneumatic tyre has more to go wrong and costs more so you end up needing to repair it (even just punctures) or throw stuff away.
  • punctures are a hassle scooter riders don't want to deal with
  • the portability of a folding small-wheel scooter means you can take it into many workplaces etc. with you. It won't get stolen but you don't need a lock.

But I think the biggest issues are cost of manufacture:

  • the small moulded or cast wheels on a typical scooter are really cheap to make. They're going to cost a similar amount to manufacture as a bike's front hub, with the solid tyre being moulded on top. A bike-type wheel as used on the big-wheel scooters pictured additionally needs a rim, spokes, an expensive machine or human to assemble it and a tyre & tube. I'd expect it to cost roughly 5x as much.
  • on top of that, the frame would be more expensive as it involves more metal
  • a big back wheel would need a proper brake, rather than the combined mudguard/footbrake on many models, as that would come up too high to use

This translates to purchase price. A basic adult scooter costs about as much as a pair of reasonable bike tyres, or a bike lock and helmet. So the financial barrier is much lower.

Stability on smooth ground isn't a problem with small-wheeled scooters, but they're at risk from potholes etc. That's partly due to the wheel's ability to roll over obstacles, but partly due to the location of the centre of mass close behind and well above the fulcrum formed by the front axle. Using a bike front wheel helps with the first and third factors, but the user's bodyweight is still rather close behind the front axle. This is one area where electric scooters benefit from the heavy battery being low and the motor being low and at the back.

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    I can from personal, unplanned, experiments confirm the issue with the center of mass. Ahem. Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 21:41
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    @JörgWMittag that's my biggest worry about widespread adoption of electric scooters because at their higher speeds it risks serious injury even for sensible users (who currently seem to be a minority anyway) given the state of our roads
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 5:01
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    I've pushed over 10 000km on various skateboards. I've tried footbikes a few times, with medium and large wheels. Somehow, I kept kicking into the rear wheel and almost crashed a few times. The concept is nice, and once the thing is rolling, it rolls forever. It wasn't for me, though. Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 16:33
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    Related: Big wheels are going to be heavier than little wheels. Often a scooter (especially one without motor) is meant to be lightweight, so you can carry it much more easily than a bicycle. Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 17:34
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    Foldability is a big deal. I used to use a scooter daily when I lived in a city with smooth paved sidewalks. I would use it to get to the metro stop, fold it up and get on the train, then use it again for the last leg of the journey, skipping the bus. Part of the way involved folding it up (takes a couple of seconds) and going up some stairs. At work I'd just keep it under my desk. If it's as big as a bike, there's little point in not just riding a bike instead.
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 20:36
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If you're going to buy something as big as a bike why not just buy a bike?

Bikes are better than scooters. You can go faster with less effort. Now, some people will want a scooter for some reason that isn't about practicality, efficiency, speed, etc. Which is all good, but it's not much of a market. So mass market kick scooters all need to offer something that you can't get from a bike: size, foldability, cost, etc. That means bike sized scooters are simply excluded from the market regardless of their ability as scooters.

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    +1. The reason I nearly got one was that it would be easy to carry by bike+train. The other adults I've known to use them have always wanted that level of portability, though being able to get away with using it on the pedestrian pavement rather than the road was another factor for at least one.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 5:04
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    Bikes aren't "better" than scooters... they are simply different. In many situations, bicycles are more practical, efficient, and faster, but in a good number of situations the opposite is true. You also need to consider that often scooters are less expensive to manufacture and to ship, and require minimal (or no) assembly before being used. I have used both bicycles and scooters extensively, and each offers a different set of benefits. Of course, on this site, claiming that "bikes are better" will obviously yield a handful of cheap upvotes. Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 7:45
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    Never tried, but I strongly doubt it. But top speed with minimal effort is rarely the purpose of a kick scooter. It's like why you'll never see a monster truck in a Formula 1 race, and why you'll never see a Ferrari in a monster truck race. But if you know of such races, please do invite me, because those sound like great spectator sports! Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 8:14
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    @ JackAidley exactly. If by "better" we mean "faster for less effort" than a bike's drivetrain will always win. If "better" = "more suitable" then a folding scooter or indeed a good pair of running shoes may win. As this isn't English.se I propose we accept the semantic ambiguity in the meaning of a common word, meaning that you and @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket can both be right - bikes are better, and they're not
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 8:51
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    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket Surely the point is that a bike is better in most ways than a scooter with bike-sized wheels. There might be some benefits remaining from the lack of a drive train, but a lot of the advantages in cost, ease of assembly, etc, which you attribute to scooters are a direct consequence of, or at least massively increased by, them having small solid wheels.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 11:57
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The argument I often hear about scooters is practicallity: people buying them are usually constrained when it comes to storage. Either at home, or at destination where they are taken in the offices to avoid theft and damage risk. To bring them at destination, you also typically need to take them in an elevator (with the handle bar folded).

A scooter with bike wheels will then be much less practical for this application: on top of the wheel size, you also need some space for the handle bar folding mechanism.

About the ride quality, small wheel size doesn't seem to be an issue in practice: they are mostly ridden on hard surfaces, and are quite manoeuvrable. In some areas, they can also share the bike infrastructure, which is generally good enough for this wheel size.

This only applies to owned scooters, not the shared ones. The shared ones were historically derivated from these, that being said.

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A kick bike costs (very roughly) five times more than a scooter. Until recently, scooters were mostly for kids. This is not only a very cost sensitive market, storage space in family households is usually at a premium. Many people need to transport kids to parks for play - so portability of scooters is a significant factor. Thinking back to when my kids were younger, even if offered to gave me Kickbikes for the kids, I would have turned it down due to the logistical problems they would have created over traditional scooters. I

In more recent years scooters have become popular for recreation (skate parks and other places where skaters hang out - where larger wheels hold no advantage) and 'last mile' transport.

When the benefits of a large wheel scooter become compelling, the situation is competing with a bicycle, which people are more familiar with.

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    Yup. Most people I see with scooters are using them for the "last mile" use case, where they carry them in the trunk of their car, in their backpack, or in their hands for the vast majority of the trip. That would be somewhere being very annoying and impossible with large wheels. I heard that in Seoul, there is a "taxi" service which will drive you home in your own car, then the driver moves to the next customer using an eScooter they carry with them. Again, totally impractical with large wheels. Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 21:45
  • @JörgWMittag there's something similar in some UK cities. I don't know how that works given that it predates the boom in e-scooters, which are still mostly illegal here anyway (the only legal ones are part of licensed rental schemes but illegal ones are common). I suspect they technically used a small folding e-bike despite using the word "scooter"
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 15:52
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Why do many kick scooters have such small wheels?

The one you've pictured is electric and possibly a rental. Small wheels mean you only need one gear ratio and the speed range will suffice for the masses. It also makes it cheaper to produce and cheaper to fix.

Slap a big wheel on there with just one gear and the user will have to push-start it to overcome the resistance. The battery will die quicker unless you can maintain top speed for extended periods.

Most people aren't looking to hit dangerous speeds like your Footbike Columbia picture. Could you imagine the impracticality of requiring your customers to have spandex and a helmet for safe operation of your product?

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I think most scooters around now are designed primarily around the idea of doing tricks and spins etc. Can't really imagine too many people at the skate park with 24 inch wheels going upside down.
Disclaimer to that, as with bikes there are of course cheaper versions that look the same but are not suitable for anything too extreme.

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  • I've never seen a scooter with handles at a skateboard park.
    – arp
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 22:11
  • The vast majority are designed as cheap city transportation, trick scooters are an extremely tiny percent
    – eps
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 18:17

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