Fold 'em up or break 'em down, and toss 'em in the trunk — and go!
Electric scooters are a great option for people who are partially ambulatory, whose muscle weakness is not progressing quickly and who just want some help getting around.
But people with disabilities may not be best served by heavy scooters that can’t readily be lifted, or that require a special vehicle or lift to transport them.
In this case, a more viable alternative may be a travel or transport scooter.
These are typically smaller-sized scooters that can be easily disassembled into several pieces and fit neatly inside a car trunk or airplane cargo hold. The heaviest piece usually weighs less than 40 pounds.
Travel/transport scooters generally aren’t used as a full-time method of transportation, but for visits to the mall or grocery store, or on vacation where a portable transportation option is needed, says Pat O’Brien, marketing manager for the scooter manufacturer Golden Technologies.
Depending on the rider’s muscle weakness, a caregiver or friend may be required to handle disassembly, storage in vehicles, removal and reassembly of a travel scooter.
A tale of two scooters
|Josh McDermott on one of his rides.|
Josh McDermott, 18, of Walden, N.Y., has a dual perspective on travel scooters because he uses two different three-wheel models, both products of Pride Mobility. McDermott, who has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, can walk, with care.
He uses a Go-Go travel scooter to get around his high school campus and classrooms. “The only downside is that the scooter only gets 13 miles to a charge, and if you go up a hill, its range will drop to about half that,” he said.
McDermott’s 14-year-old brother Zach can easily disassemble and store the Go-Go, but when the family goes camping, McDermott moves up to a larger Legend scooter. Although it can’t be disassembled, this model “goes over rocks — some pretty good-sized ones — and good-sized hills.”
What to look for
Most travel scooters break down into five or six parts. Depending on the manufacturer, a single part could weigh up to 60 pounds, which, for some people, is a deal-killer. Potential buyers should be sure to check scooters’ “heaviest part” rating ahead of time.
In order to remain relatively light, travel scooters often skimp on amenities that would be standard on heavier scooters, such as suspension systems to smooth out the ride. The best way to determine if a scooter’s suspension is adequate is to take it for a test drive. If it proves too jarring, some models offer an optional suspension upgrade.
One of the more recent scooter options on the market is the TravelScoot. The diminutive rig takes weight reduction (35 pounds, with lithium-ion battery), disassembly (comparable to a two-wheel scooter) and compactness to new heights (it fits in the overhead bins on aircraft). Limitations include the fact that its maximum range is eight miles, and there’s no reverse gear.
Three vs. four wheels
According to Mobility Scooter Reviews, 80 percent of all travel scooters sold are three-wheelers.
The main reason for three-wheelers’ popularity is their ability to get around in tight places, thanks to a shorter turning radius. This allows freer movement around the house and out shopping.
Three-wheel scooters can be used outdoors as well, but usually aren’t as stable as a four-wheeler on uneven sidewalks, rough roads or grass fields, said O’Brien. They also are prone to tipping over when turning quickly.
Conversely, four-wheelers aren’t as maneuverable inside, especially in tight places like bathrooms.
One manufacturer has devised a way around the tippiness issue.
|The Rascal Balance has a pair of stabilizer wheels to help correct for sharp turns.|
The Rascal Company’s new three-wheel Balance scooters feature “self-centering stabilizer technology.” Two half-size stabilizer wheels on either side of the front wheel hang down about half an inch above the ground. If the rider takes a turn too sharply, centrifugal force aims the stabilizer wheels in exactly the same path as the front wheel, and the stabilizers drop down.
When the rider recovers from the turn, magnets above the stabilizer wheels pull them back up off the ground.
“Three-wheelers’ lack of stability scares some people off,” said Mike Flowers, Rascal’s chairman. “Our Balance scooters essentially become four-wheel scooters at any reasonable speed. It’s a solution to having to choose between the maneuverability and comfort of a three-wheeler and the stability and safety of a four.”
Other factors to consider when buying a travel scooter include:
Weight capacity. Travel/transport scooters have a comparatively lower weight capacity than heavier scooters, usually ranging from 250 to 300 pounds. Remember that the listed capacity is for the entire load, including the person and any cargo.
Battery range. Depending on their weight and battery power, scooters can travel from seven to 30 miles before the batteries need a recharge. Some manufacturers offer a larger battery option to boost range and/or speed.
Battery charger. Most scooters have an integral battery charger that can be simply plugged into a wall electrical outlet. Others have to be moved to where an off-board charger is located — a potential downside if power runs low somewhere away from the charger.
Top speed. Some travel models top out at three miles an hour, while others can do more than six.
Steering mechanism. Hand controls can be part of short stubby handlebars; a joystick that permits one-handed operation; or what Pride Mobility markets as its Delta Tiller, with wrap-around handles and a push-pull throttle lever that responds to finger pressure. Some tillers can be moved forward or backward into several different positions to make controls easier to reach.
Seat options. Travel scooters tend to have rather utilitarian seats, in the interest of keeping the total rig lightweight. Options to look for include variable seats widths, low or high backs, or headrests. Some seats, like Amigo’s Travelmate, swivel a full 360 degrees. More comfortable aftermarket seats are available on some models.
Leg room. This can be a problem on scooters, especially the travel kind. Generally, three-wheelers tend to have more leg room than four-wheelers. But some models, like the four-wheeled Zip’r Xtra, offer an extra-length chassis that can comfortably accommodate taller riders.
Tires. Pneumatic (air-filled) tires usually offer a softer ride than solid rubber ones.
Cargo room. Because most travel scooters are bare bones units that can’t accommodate much more than the mass of the rider, carrying things can be a challenge when shopping. Golden Technologies’ LiTEWAY and Golden Tech scooters, among others, provide valuable storage capacity in the form of wire baskets affixed either beneath the seat or to the front of the tiller.
When you’re ready to buy
Once you’ve found your model, there are a few extra considerations before you buy.
Merchant’s reputation. Mobility Scooter Reviews recommends that prospective scooter buyers look to see if the Better Business Bureau (BBB) logo is displayed on scooter sales companies’ Web sites. If it is, visit BBB records (by clicking on the logo) to review a merchant’s record of compliments and complaints, and whether it responded to complaints satisfactorily. Also check to see if the merchant has a 1-800 number and e-mail access that can be used to answer questions/resolve problems.
Medicare reimbursement. Mobility Scooter Reviews says only about 50 percent of the scooters on the market are eligible for Medicare reimbursement. Given that the price of higher-end scooters can approach $2,000 (and some are twice or three times that much), this may be a critical consideration.
Refund policy. Some firms have an “all sales final” policy when it comes to scooters. Others have a policy of refunding all or part of the purchase price within 30 days — but only if the scooter has not been used and still is in its original packaging. Carefully check this out in advance.
Warranty. Ditto for warranties. Some manufacturers warrant their products for one, two or three years, subject to limitations. Others offer a limited lifetime warranty. Know before you buy.
For travel scooter resources, see InfoQuest.