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Elyse and I got a scooter…

March 2, 2021, 10:00 AM

This past Monday, Elyse and I got a Bird Air scooter.  The Bird Air is more or less a consumer version of the Bird scooters that you can rent in various cities.  The main difference is that there is no unlocking mechanism, since it’s designed to have one owner, and it also folds up for easy transport.  Here it is:

The new Bird Air scooter

We got this thing primarily for Elyse’s use, since she doesn’t have a driver’s license, to give her some extra mobility.  It has a range of about 16 miles, and so it will be enough to get her to the Metro and back, as well as run errands in the Montgomery Village, Gaithersburg, and Germantown areas.  To that end, Elyse took the scooter on its maiden voyage, to the 7-Eleven store around the corner from the house and back.  It will also provide some additional flexibility when we’re out on adventures, as she can go off and explore places on her own more readily.  I plan to use it as well as the need arises, though I expect that those occasions to be relatively few and far between.

I took it for a spin today around the neighborhood, in order to get a feel for it all.  To preface this, prior to taking this thing for a spin, I had never been on a Bird or similar rideshare-style scooter.  Additionally, the last time I rode a scooter of any kind was my old Razor-style scooter from college.  That said, after a quick how-to from Elyse, I did pretty well, getting used to the controls fairly quickly and getting up to speed and doing some simple navigation without wiping out.  I had trouble consistently maintaining a straight course and also felt wobbly on turns, but I assume that comes with practice.  I described the ride as “terrifying”, but I’m guessing that I was just too cautious.  However, considering my previous experience with a scooter twenty years ago, I feel like I am justified in being overly cautious.

Some of you may recall that for my sophomore year of college, I bought a Razor-like scooter to bring with me to college.  In other words, this:

My old "Just Go" Razor-like scooter

With my living in Potomac Hall, a building fairly distant from almost all of the academic buildings on JMU’s campus at that time, the idea was to ride the scooter down to the main part of campus where I had my classes.  Starting from the main entrance of Potomac Hall, I would ride past the ISAT/CS Building and across the bridge.  Then, if I was going to the Quad, I would go down the main path through the Village area dorms to the bottom of the hill.  From there, the scooter’s job was done, as it was uphill the rest of the way to class, and it was easier to walk.  If I was going to Zane Showker Hall, I would ride down Carrier Drive to the bottom of the hill, and then it was level the rest of the way, so I’d ride the scooter all the way to the building.  My “A Trip Around JMU – With a Mission” photo set from 2000 covers the route that went to the Quad fairly adequately.

In preparing to write this Journal entry, I went into the Internet Archive and dug up an old page called The Scooter as Transportation.  On this page, I introduced my old scooter, and explained all of the accidents that I got into.  According to 19-year-old me, in the first two weeks of the fall semester, I wiped out six times and ultimately destroyed one of my original wheels on the sixth one.  After replacing my original wheels, I had a fairly uneventful semester as far as the scooter went, save for an additional wheel change due to wear.  The scooter finished out the fall semester with two accidents during finals week.  I had one wipeout where I handed fairly hard, and then the second accident was a spectacular failure of the equipment.  There, the rear wheel broke apart while I was riding down the Village hill.  With no rear wheel anymore, the system failed, and I fell forward, and went down hard.  I ended up destroying the knee of my jeans, scraping up my knee pretty badly, getting cuts on both hands, and getting some abrasions on my upper lip.  Reading my account of the incident from the time, I realize that it could have been much worse, and that I was really lucky that I got away with only minor scrapes.  I’m also amazed in hindsight that I even took the scooter out at all.  I wrote at the time, “The rear wheel’s center had cracked that day anyway, and with only two days of my finals to go (I finished on Wednesday), I determined that the scooter would make it for two more trips – one to Burruss Hall, and one to Zane Showker.”  Translated, I knew that the wheel had damage on it, and I took it out anyway.  What an idiot I was.  In the page from 2001, I was on there trying to justify why I took the scooter out when it was an unsafe condition.  Reading it now in 2021, I realize that there was no excuse for it, that I should have discontinued its use immediately, and not ride again until I could replace the wheels.

In any case, the scooter returned the following semester with new wheels, and went through two more wheel changes in quick succession, both from unexpected failures that fortunately did not lead to injury.  Here they are:

Failure of the orange wheels

Failure of the green wheels

I got better quality wheels after these, but all of the issues that I had eventually killed the enjoyment of it for me.  I eventually viewed the next accident as an inevitability rather than something that could be avoided, and that caused me to fear the scooter.  I gradually reduced my use of the scooter that second semester, and the scooter did not return the following year.

In hindsight, I suppose that my use of the scooter was doomed from the outset, for a few reasons.  First, I was likely taking it beyond what it was designed to handle.  I was far heavier than what it was designed to carry, and that extra weight was ultimately transmitted to the wheels, which were also the weakest things on the frame.  No wonder the wheels kept failing.  Additionally, the way I used the scooter, i.e. going relatively long distances downhill and riding the brake a bit to maintain a safe speed, was likely not something that the scooter was designed for, either, subjecting the rear wheel to a lot of rapid temperature changes from friction.

I also wonder if the design of the brake was a contributing factor to the poor performance.  Here’s the brake:

The rear wheel of the scooter, showing the brake

The brake is that piece of metal over the rear wheel.  What you did is you pressed down on that, which pressed on the wheel, and slowed the scooter that way.  So essentially, the way that you braked was to stomp on the rear wheel.  With that sort of pressure, especially on the steeper Village hill, where I rode the brake to an extent to maintain a certain speed, it wasn’t surprising that I had two sets of wheels fail in the centers.  Add to that my weight at that time, and it was not a pretty picture.

I also eventually came to the conclusion that for what I was trying to do with the scooter, the wheels were probably too small.  The wheels on Razor-like scooters were essentially big rollerblade wheels, and they tended to get caught on small things that a larger wheel would roll over without anyone’s even batting an eye.  If it told you anything, I looked at sidewalk expansion joints and other cracks with suspicion when I was riding that thing, and knew that certain sidewalks were in too poor of condition to even try to run over them with the scooter, because I knew that the wheels couldn’t handle it.

All of that said, I don’t think that anyone could blame me for being a bit fearful while taking this new scooter out for a spin.  Not only was this a new vehicle for me, but it was also my first time using a powered scooter.  And my last scooter experience caused me much trauma that I had never really gotten over.  Rather than making it right and overcoming that fear that had developed at the time, I just discontinued the use of the scooter and set the unresolved fears aside.  And truth be told, when I was riding the Bird Air, I was looking at every single imperfection in the road and trying to avoid it, fearing that I would wipe out if I went over them.  I suppose that the programming that the old scooter did in my head when I was 19 still existed.  But the Bird Air has much bigger wheels, and unlike the Razor-like scooter that I had before, this new scooter is actually designed for what I was asking my old scooter to do way back in 2000-2001 because it was derived from a design intended for bikeshare services, i.e. point-to-point transportation, and it was intended to be a workhorse.  Therefore, it will serve us well in that capacity.

With that in mind, I’m not so concerned about Elyse’s using a scooter.  She is generally a bit more proficient with scooters in general than I am, and she has lots of experience with the bikeshare scooters in particular.  Plus at the age of 24, she’s older and wiser than I was when I was 19 and riding a scooter.  So she’ll be fine, and I have no doubt that she’ll put a lot of miles on that scooter, and we will get our money’s worth out of it.  I’m more worried about me, because I still have unresolved issues that I need to work through when it comes to scooters.  I see a lot of potential in it for me as well, mostly in accessing things with camera equipment in tow that are difficult to reach with the HR-V, just as long as I can get over that trepidation built up from the Razor-like scooter.  We’ll see, I suppose.

Categories: Elyse, JMU, Recreation/Exercise