I tried a bunch of those obnoxious scooters, here’s what I think

Though I work in Silicon Valley, I live in Santa Cruz County away from a lot of the madness. We just recently got Jump bikes in Santa Cruz, but it wasn’t till a visit to Atlanta, and a bit later to San Diego that I was astonished to see those hundreds of scooters lying all over the sidewalks. Lying, not so much–littered.

So of course, I had to try one.

Lime

You know what? They’re pretty fun, and useful.

I stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar in San Diego for the AIAA SciTech conference, held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. The two hotels were about a 20 minute walk apart; the weather was quite nice and fine for walking, but Monday night, January 7th, I had to get back to my room quickly to see Clemson open a can of you-know-what on Alabama.

I kind of arbitrarily selected Lime as the one I would try because a) there were a plethora of them outside the Grand Hyatt, and b) let’s be honest. They LOOK a bit cooler than the other option, Bird.

After downloading the Lime app, agreeing to the terms, and putting in payment details (more on that in a sec), I was able to scan the QR code on the handlebars with my phone, unlock the scooter, and be on my way.

First surprise was that they don’t “just go,” you have to push a few times, then press the right thumb switch to turn on the motor. No big deal, just a little effort. Driving all out, the scooter does about 15 mph.

The good: it got me where I needed to go, in less than 10 minutes. The ride cost $2.50 (though you get a dollar credit when trying for the first time). And again, it was kind of fun–I can only imagine my kids begging to ride one.

The bad: the ride is a little bit squirrely, so if a person isn’t used to riding scooters or even a bike for that matter, they may find controlling the thing takes a little learning curve. The app tells you that you’re supposed to ride in the street in a bike lane, but San Diego apparently has no bike lines downtown, and so I chose to ride in the street. The cars made me a bit nervous, but it made me more nervous to think of dodging pedestrians on the sidewalk. Side note: the apps tell you you’re supposed to wear your own helmet, but I didn’t have one and frankly neither did any one of the dozens of people I saw riding.

Overall, this is a good little piece of tech that is perfect for downtown areas like this.

Bird

The second ride I decided to give Bird a try, since it’s the second most prolific scooter. As far as the actual ride goes, it was virtually identical to Lime, so I won’t talk any more about that. The main difference was in the app.

I would say that the Bird experience was inferior to the Lime one: signing up took longer (it asked for my drivers license, and made me scroll through a ginormous terms of service), the app was similar but not as easy on the eyes, and the scooter took nearly a minute to unlock, even after the clock started ticking.

The one plus on the Bird app was that it let me scan my credit card rather than have to peck out the numbers.

[Side note: after writing most of this review, I discovered that Bird has recently engaged in some dirtbag-ey lawyering, so take that FWIW.]

Wheels

I’ll be honest, I didn’t ride this one, and felt I didn’t need to.

The Wheels scooters look actually more fun than the Lime or Bird scooters, because they’re actually sit-down mini-motorcycle things. I saw several people riding them and it looked like a good time, with performance similar to stand-up scooters.

I refused to ride one of them, though, because on the morning of the third day of the conference, I watched a guy in a suit eat it right in front of the Hyatt. Turns out that the handlebar snapped off as he was coming to a stop. What’s worse was these scooters are so new that they were in the middle of a launch promotion. No thank you.

Lyft Scooters

For Lyft, the app experience was terrible, it was not clear how to find scooters without looking really closely at the map.

When I finally did figure that out, there were only 3 scooters in a 10 block radius, where there were at least 50 of Lime and Bird ones. I gave up trying to find one.

On a later jaunt I found a Lyft scooter, but they blew it because it wasn’t charged enough to carry me at a decent speed even though it was first thing in the morning. Thumbs down.

Razor

I tried the Razor scooter share heading from my hotel to a restaurant to meet a friend. The Razor app experience and set up process was as easy as Lime’s, but I had to walk a couple of blocks to find one as the Razors are much less numerous than the Bird and Lime ones.

Razor also had a different scooter design than the others and frankly, it’s not a good difference. The Razor felt like a rattletrap, shaking noisily with every bump I hit. Another problem is that the throttle and brakes were quite touchy, with the result that I found myself anxious about the scooter getting away from me. I’ll pass on future trips.

Jump Bikes

On the last day of the conference, I decided to give the Jump bikes a try. This is actually the only one of these devices that I had seen before Thanksgiving as they’ve been deployed to Santa Cruz this summer.

First, the app experience. The good is that the app was straightforward and not hard to navigate; it was clear where to sign up and how to find a bike.

A few bummers: a) I had to create a new account (come ON people. The Google/Facebook account linking thing should be standard now!) and b) I had to manually type in my credit card number (other apps linked to my Google Pay or could take a picture of my card and do OCR), and c) unlike, for example, Lime, you have different money accounts for different cities. I had to put $10 down for San Diego (ok, they need to save on transaction fees) but then I went to switch to Santa Cruz so I could do this at home, and it wanted me to charge another $10 to open that account. Saywha’?

On to the ride. Finding the bike was a little harder than finding a scooter, which makes sense because they’re a bit beefier and I’m sure more costly to collect from the street and distribute. Incidentally, Jump offers a small credit if you park the bike at one of their predefined charge points instead of randomly on the street.

Unlocking was also not a smooth experience compared to the others on the list; I tried the app’s QR code scanner but it was a pain to find the QR code (it’s kind of behind and under the seat) and when I scanned it didn’t work. I had to select a bike near me, reserve it, then type my PIN into a keypad on the back of the bike. You then have to pull the locking bar out of the wheel and stow it before getting on your merry way. I assume that I missed some key instruction to tell me a better way, but a good design should make these things self evident.

So why did I go through all this? Because the ride was way better than any of the scooters and felt way safer. The electric assist on Jump, even at the lowest setting, made you feel like Lance Armstrong. Rather than rattling your bones at every crack and bump, the bike just trucks on through very stably. And while I think all the devices are governed to under 15 mph, the bike just felt faster, more responsive to accelerate, and more consistent.

Others that I didn’t get to

We also saw Lime Bikes, Discover Bikes, Jump scooters, and Spin Bikes. I didn’t get to them because most of the time I didn’t feel like riding a bike, and the Jump scooter looked identical to the others.

Where is this all going?

I know three things:

  • This is a really great transportation option for cities with dense, flat downtowns. These things make getting around a city at distances less than a mile or two so much more convenient than either walking, taxi/ride-sharing, or public transit. Cities with hills, cities that spread out, cities with no bike lanes–not so much.
  • The scooters are an eyesore. They litter the sidewalks. I hope they figure out how to fix that.
  • There are too many competitors to allow any of them to make money. Curious to see who comes out on top.

Will I be a repeat customer?

Definitely for the Jump bike, as there have been occasions I needed to get around Santa Cruz without my car or a bike, and for all the reasons above. If I were in a place where scooters make sense, I would probably choose Lime or Bird, whichever was more available but slight edge to Lime.

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