Electric scooter sharing is bad business and a public nuisance. Venture capital funded companies like Bird that have dumped miniature EVs in cities are already getting chased out of San Francisco and Austin. But if you don’t care about any of that, the things are really fun and cheap to ride.
Our weekend contributor Bradley Brownell tested some Birds in SF in April and hated it. But I’ve just had my own Bird experience here in LA, and I have to admit, I really enjoyed myself and will be sad if the silly little scooters get stripped from our streets.
It all started a few weeks ago, when I noticed a change in my west Los Angeles neighborhood: sidewalks were suddenly littered with little scooters. Soon after, so were the streets, especially in areas popular with allowance-having adults and Instagram models. I found myself dodging intoxicated bros and bras whizzing across both lanes of Abbot Kinney Boulevard on the reg, to which I could only address with a shaking fist and something like “damn kids!” because my truck’s horn is broken.
But secretly, I thought the scooters looked really fun. And behind my stoney sneer was a deep yearning to join the feckless idiots buzzing across bike lanes and dinging cute little bells mounted to the scooters’ handlebars.
So in the privacy of my own office, while my fiancée wasn’t home, I made a Bird account. I uploaded my credit card, a picture of my driver’s license, agreed to a scary stack of terms and conditions that could have said anything, and promised to myself that I too would soon be among the Birds.
Of course I forgot about the silly scooters again almost immediately, actually until last night, when I stumbled out of Solo with some friends and thought “forget this walking home banthacrap, where are the Birds at?”
Don’t worry, I did walk home because biking, scootering or operating anything with wheels while you’re buzzed is real dumb. But today? Oh yeah, today was my day.
The conditions were perfect for Bird riding: sunny (as usual) warm (as usual) and I didn’t want to move any of my cars because they were all in prime street parking spots.
I live right next to a bike highway, which is a little three-lane road parallel with the train tracks and real road for small wheeled vehicles and pedestrians, and said highway happens to run from the corner my apartment/office is on to the grocery store I like.
Opening my Bird app revealed a whole nest of the things in the gross convenience store parking lot across the street from me, so that’s where my adventure began.
Pushing the “Ride” button in the app activated my phone’s camera, which captured a picture of the QR code on the scooter, and informed me it had a 99 percent charge. Zoom.
Confirming my selection cost me $1.00, and I was informed I’d be billed $0.15 a minute after that. I was also forced to promise I was over 18, wearing a helmet, would obey local vehicular rules and had no passenger.
“Close enough,” I chirped to nobody, giving the Earth three big kicks of my flip-flop while pegging the scooter’s thumb throttle. And a second later–momentum!
The scooter sailed to what felt like a modest bicycle pace and I headed–Ouch–off a small curb and toward the afore mentioned bike highway.
The next curb I had to hop was huge and though I tried to make the Bird pop a wheelie, I was unsuccessful and picked it up to avoid turning its front wheel into the shape of a taco.
Once I had the bike lane to myself, I could let the little Bird really stretch its wings.
Bird scooters are not public utility-grade vehicles, nor are they some kind of special proprietary tech. They’re actually Xiaomi M365 Mi Electric Scooters, which you can buy on Amazon for about $500.
Xiaomi claims the 26.9-pound vehicle is propelled by a 250 watt motor with a top speed of 15.5 mph. The things are supposed to be able to go 18.6 miles on a charge “under specific conditions.”
There is no suspension, and the wheels feel like they’re made of solid rubber.
On a smooth, clean strip of pavement the Bird felt just fast enough to be fun. Slaloming between the painted lines on the trail had me giggling like a dunce, even as the front fork shuddered in protest. The thing had clearly had a hard life of being bashed and brutalized despite the fact that it couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old.
The bell worked, and I even had the occasion to use it as I moved to pass a jogger. Ding ding, bitch. I’m screaming by and I’m not even sweaty! Well, I was a little, but only because I hadn’t showered in a couple days. Not because I was physically exerting myself in any way, which, can you imagine?
When I got to the store, I parked by the bike rack, which seemed like the most logical place to put it, and used the app to “lock” it again thus relieving myself of responsibility for the thing.
After a quick lap of the deli aisle, I stuffed some lunch meats into the pouch pocket of my toothpaste-stained hoodie, paid for them, and exited the store wondering if my Bird had buzzed off without me or what.
Once you park a Bird, you don’t have to deal with it anymore. That also means you can’t count on it still being available for your return trip. Somebody could have easily snatched the one I’d ridden and gone wherever. But lucky me, the Bird was still ready to be re-borrowed and so I turned it back on to buzz home.
The one-mile round trip cost me $3.20, took about four minutes each way, and used 15 percent of the scooter’s battery. The Xiaomi two-wheeler is fun, but feels heavy. And not in a robust kind of way, just in a “this is made of cheap plastic and steel” kind of way.
It felt more like digging an old toy out of a cousin’s basement than riding the transportation solution of the future, but I was satisfied with my Bird experience and I think I’m pretty much this company’s perfect customer.
My neighborhood businesses are close enough to walk to, but nicer to drive to. But I hate driving down the street, because I hate giving up street parking for my obnoxiously large fleet of vehicles. I don’t mind spending a couple bucks to feel a nice breeze on my trip to the stores, and I’m responsible enough to obey most of the road rules and not leave a scooter in the middle of a thoroughfare.
So I’m cool with the Birds nesting near my apartment, but I’m not about to count on this as the mobility solution of the future because I can’t imagine how this company is making money. Oh well, let’s enjoy them while they’re here and get the hell out of my way if you hear the bell, baby!