Winging It On an Electric Bird
I just spent an extended lunch hour careening down the streets of downtown Minneapolis on an electric scooter and nothing will ever be the same—my life, your life, urban mobility and that persistently challenging last-mile problem faced by delivery companies and transit services.
For the uninitiated, scads of battery-powered scooters under the brand names of Bird and Lime have been deposited in urban areas across the country in recent weeks—in many cases without municipal approval or permission. In response, cities are fighting back with licensing rules and cease-and-desist letters. These rideshare motorized scooters are the next riff on shared bike services that have been around big cities for years.
Shared bikes and scooters make it dramatically faster and more fun to get to the other side of town, but these motorized scooters open so many cans of worms it’s hard to know where to begin. I love speed and danger, but the possibility for injuries, collisions, lawsuits and outright chaos from open-source scooters is very real. All you have to do is try one out for yourself.
Getting started is easy, download the app, punch in your credit card digits, scan your driver’s license and look at the map to locate the scooter nearest you, in my case, a Bird. Thanks to an article in the local Star Tribune newspaper, these Birds were a hot commodity on the streets of downtown Minneapolis. It took my editor and I nearly 30 minutes to locate two available scooters, but once we did the skies parted and our hearts began to race.
Behind the tiny handlebars, it’s hard to describe the visceral feeling of danger and excitement weaving down sidewalks among pedestrians, down bike lanes and among vehicular traffic. We probably didn’t follow all the proper rules and regulations, but we tried to protect life, limb and property as we zoomed around the city. Next time, I promise to wear a helmet and read the terms of service a little closer.
Like a poor man’s Tesla, these Birds make no sound whatsoever, but there’s a chintzy bell you can ring to alert pedestrians the future is approaching from behind. Editor Beth Ewen was wearing a fit-and-flare dress, wedges and a cross-body handbag that all weren’t ideal for e-scootering, but we may as well have worn canary yellow suits given all the eyeballs we attracted. You push off with your feet, depress the tiny throttle on the right side of the bars and away you go—up to a claimed top speed of 15 mph.
Fifteen miles per hour in a car is nothing. On a bike, it’s a leisurely cruise. Piloting a miniature scooter, it’s somewhere between exhilarating and death-defying. Each block was a new adventure, and we gathered at each red light to laugh hysterically.
Suddenly, the whole city was our friend. Prince resurrected on a purple bicycle would have attracted similar fanfare. Smokers, salad eaters, food-truck customers, old ladies pushing carts, little kids in the park and besuited businessmen alike laughed, smiled, pointed and asked us questions. Was it fun? Yes! Where did we find ours? Somewhere over there! Is it dangerous? Hell yes! There are few places where you get this much excitement without signing away at least a portion of your personal safety. Best wishes to Bird and Lime’s legal teams, as they will need it.
Concerns about distance and time melted away on our scooters, replaced by thoughts like, “I hope I don’t knock out my teeth,” and “Are those cops going to give us tickets?” Nothing is more fun than getting away with something, which the Birds delivered in spades.
Stopping to catch our breath, I checked the map on the app and noticed somebody had taken a Bird several miles away, near the northern border of the city. What an adventure they must have had. After 35 minutes of ecstasy, we parked our hogs on the fringes of a busy plaza outside an office building and were automatically charged $6.35. Onlookers swarmed to ask questions, and by the time we checked the scooters back in, their next customers had claimed them and scooted away.
Our instant celebrity faded, but our heart rates remained elevated and we were doused in sweat. We stepped into the nearest full-service restaurant to gather our thoughts and chug some iced tea. The implications for adventure were endless—strolling along the riverfront on a crisp fall day, riding bike trails through the forest during a thunderstorm, or having tacos silently delivered to your front door. Also, what will happen at bar time this coming weekend with electric scooters lying around for the taking?
It’s a shame some of these scooter brands are dropping them in cities without permission or approval. Something this fun and this dangerous can’t possibly last in the USA, but I can’t help place myself on Team Scooter. Minneapolis has never felt so fun and friendly, so maybe the risk is worth the evolutionary consequences.
As a powersports junky and motorcycle owner, I’ve been waiting for this day my whole life and I just didn’t know it. Hopefully the Minneapolis City Council also has a few closet adrenaline junkies or, at the least, really crafty lawyers who can find a way to allow people and electric scooters to coexist in peace and harmony.