When your kid is first beginning to scooter, he will probably start out on a Razor A1, A2, A3, B model, Pro model, or similar folding aluminum scooter with adjustable handlebars. These work decently for younger riders when they are first starting out, but once your scooter kid is good enough to tailwhip or if he weighs more than about 60 pounds, then it's time to start considering purchasing a better quality scooter. That's a general guideline, but I'll go into more detail as to why you should upgrade your kid's scooter.
There is no actual designation for different levels of scooters, but for the sake of this article, I'd like to explain the delineations I see in scooters. These are by no means industry standard divisions. These are just how I envision the various types and levels of scooters on the market today.
A folding, or "foldy", scooter with adjustable handle bars is what I would consider, for the purposes of this article, a "level 1" scooter. Level 1 scooters are the cheapest, most entry-level scooters that will work great for young kids just beginning to ride. All of the Razor A1, A2, A3, Spark, Graffiti, and B models, as well as most lesser-known brand folding scooters, are level 1 scooters. These scooters range in price from $19-$39.
A "level 2" scooter would be a foldy scooter that you can modify to lock the folding mechanism. The Razor Pro model is one of the few scooters in this category. While some people have modified the level 1 scooters to lock them from folding, the metal in the folding mechanism really isn't strong enough to support this kind of modification. The Razor Pro model has a sturdy enough mechanism to support bolts to lock the folding mechanism. I refer to these modified Pro models as a "bolty pro". The Razor Pro model is around $79.
Scooters that have been designed without a folding mechanism or adjustable handle bars would be what I would consider a "level 3" scooter. Scooters in this category are the Razor Ultra Pro, the Fuzion Elite, and the Madd Gear (MGP) Pro model. These are typically $99-$120.
Beyond the level 3 scooters are competition-level pro scooters, or what I'll call "level 4" scooters in this article. The reality is that some of the level 3 scooters are competition-level scooters, but they might require modifications before a rider would compete on them. A level 4 scooter is one that either comes complete with competition-level parts or a scooter that has been custom built/assembled to be a competition-level pro scooter.
Pretty much every kid starts out on a folding Razor-style level 1 scooter because they are inexpensive and easy to find. If they don't have one of their own, then they probably will ride a friend's folding scooter. For younger kids, these work great. In fact, they even work great for adults as an executive toy around the office. But once you start riding them at skate parks, you're going to trash them pretty quickly. Even if your kid is just starting out, there's a way that you can save some money on foldy scooters: if you buy your Razor A2 or similar model from Toys 'R' Us, you can usually find them on sale, but more importantly, they sell a warranty for $5. This is only good for one replacement, but you've just reduced your cost of 2 scooters from $60 to $35. After your kid damages the replacement scooter, you'll have to buy another full-priced scooter, but you can buy the warranty on that one too, and get another replacement.
Even if you use the Toys 'R' Us warranty trick, you're going to get sick of buying new level 1 scooters all the time. As I mentioned above, one option you have is to buy a level 2 scooter, like a Razor Pro model, and then bolt the folding mechanism. Having tried to buy bolts at Home Depot to lock a Pro model, I highly recommend you spend a few extra bucks, save yourself the hassle, and just buy Inward Scooters' bolt and plate set. You can choose your color, they look great, function fantastically, and the bolts are high quality.
In addition to bolting the folding mechanism, you can improve the stability and durability of the Pro model by replacing the bars with solid, fixed bars, such as Inward Scooters' T-bars. These are great quality and inexpensive solid steel bars that many scooter kids love. If you're replacing the bars on a Pro model, make sure that you specify that you need your bars with a slit.
While the Pro model with some modifications can get you by, it's really not the most effective and economical way to get your kid into a better quality scooter. You might be thinking, "My kid isn't ready to compete. I don't need to waste money on buying a more expensive scooter," but you'll actually be saving money by buying a higher quality scooter. When my scooter kid first started riding, he rode a Razor A2 for a few years. Wait...let me correct that statement. What I meant to say is...he rode over a dozen (MORE THAN A DOZEN) Razor A2 models! Even if you can find them on sale for $29.99, that's still over $360 in scooters.
Why did he have so many? Before we found out about better quality scooters, he kept breaking the folding mechanisms, the bars, the forks, and the brakes on his scooters because he was doing tricks beyond what they were capable of handling. Our first step in improving his scooter situation came when my wife found that Tite Toyz (the online store for Scooter Zone) sold pre-modified Razor Pro models. We didn't know anything about building or customizing scooters, so buying a Razor Pro model that had already been bolted and had solid steel bars was a great way for us to provide Paxton with a better scooter. (Note: this was before the Razor Ultra Pro was released, so the only pro scooter option at the time was a bolty pro or a TSI.)
While the Tite Toyz bolty pro wasn't anywhere near the quality of today's pro scooters, it was a great intermediate step both in terms of quality and cost.
When Razor introduced the Ultra Pro model scooter, it revolutionized the sport of freestyle scootering for beginner riders as the first level 3 scooter. Now, you can buy a decent competition quality freestyle scooter with a solid, non-folding deck and solid steel bars for less than $100. They even make two versions: the "Hi" and "Lo", which offers the same scooter, but with two different size bars, differing in height and width.
Razor has also released a second version of the Ultra Pro that has a reinforced neck/headtube joint to prevent breakage, which is a good thing since even my scooter kid broke one. Since replacing his original model Ultra Pro with the improved version, he hasn't had a problem. When buying an Ultra Pro, be sure to look for the gusset welded below the neck for additional support.
Since the introduction of the Ultra Pro, other companies have introduced quality, competition-ready scooters around $100. Madd Gear has the Pro model and Fuzion has the Elite, but the Razor Ultra Pro remains the most popular scooter at this price point and skill level.
If you buy an Ultra Pro, the first things you'll want to do is cut the bars to the right height and width for your child, replace the wheels with metal core wheels, and replace the grips with something like Animal or ODI Longneck grips. As important as it is to replace the wheels and modify the handlebars for the right size, I can't stress enough that you should replace the grips. The grips that come on the Ultra Pro are awful and they will give your kid blisters on his hands.
If I haven't alluded to it enough yet, I want to state this clearly: the Razor Ultra Pro is the best scooter for the money for beginner riders. If your kid is just starting out, make the jump to the Ultra Pro as soon as you can financially make the investment.
Once your kid starts competing seriously, landing some big tricks, and getting big air, the quality of the components he rides will become more and more important. A pre-built level 3 scooter will no longer cut it for him. That's not to say that the level 3 scooters aren't great, but he'll want a specific fork, specific bars, specific wheels, etc. and you'll end up building a custom scooter out of a variety of parts from multiple manufacturers. This is where almost everyone ends up, so don't be surprised when you arrive here: a level 4 scooter that you've custom built.
At this point, Razor will likely become the passé scooter brand and your kid will want a deck from Phoenix, Lucky, Madd Gear, District, Zero Gravity, or other top brands. A lot of it is the quality and features that those decks offer, but to be completely honest, there is a certain status attached to having a pro scooter. Don't be surprised if your kid feels peer pressure to upgrade to a certain quality of scooter or a part that his friends are riding. Try to find a balance between helping him express himself and keeping the financial burden of scooter part buying under control.
There is one important thing to remember about more expensive pro-level parts: while they are more expensive, they are also better quality and more durable. That is, a Phoenix or Lucky deck will most likely never break. While consumables like grips, wheels, and bearings will need to be replaced over time, it's unlikely that your kid will wear out or break a high-end level 4 scooter deck, so your money isn't being wasted. In addition, the resale value of level 4 scooters and parts is a lot better than the lower level ones.
Only you can make decisions that are best for your kid, but remember that investing in quality parts and equipment can help keep your kid safe and give him the best possible advantage in his sport. That's not to say you need to buy him a top of the line scooter from day 1, but try to keep the quality of his scooter one step ahead of his skill level so he has room to grow, like a pair of new shoes.
Whatever you do, don't keep your kid on a junker scooter held together by duct tape and paper clips. You're only going to endanger his body, his self-esteem, and hold him back in the sport that he loves. Your child is an investment in the future. You're never going to look back on your life and say, "Boy, I'm sure glad I didn't spend that extra $100 on that scooter and instead kept him riding a sloppy hunk of scrap metal." Support your kid the best way you can and put him on the best scooter you can, appropriate for his level of skill and interest.