It will be cool, I thought and pictured myself curling around a Roman roundabout with other urban travelers. Roman neighborhoods would open magically as I wound through traffic on a slim scooter, like an Instagram model or Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday.’ Instead I ended up in the hip Trastevere neighborhood, splayed on the sidewalk beneath a street legal mini bike; the exhaust pipe on top of my ankle while I moaned loudly, “Get it off! Get it off!” Not cool at all.
We inadvertently reserved a small motorcycle, not a scooter, but decided to go anyway. My arms wound around my boyfriend’s waist when we first raced up the busy street. Then within a few blocks, he swerved to avoid pedestrians, the street legal mini bike jumped a sidewalk, and slammed into a wall. It was an inglorious ending but I was lucky. We didn’t hurt anyone else, and defeated, pushed the bike back to the rental office suffering from a few bruises and damaged egos.
Learn from Mistakes and Try Again
I came home determined to learn how to ride a motorcycle on my own. After the first of a three session course the pandemic hit. Now I’ve forgotten much of what I learned. Unless you practice often, mastering a new skill remains a delusion. Hubris had led to the Roman crash. I’m not going to let that happen again and have lowered my expectations. An electric scooter or e-bike will have to do and, as many urban travelers are discovering, in many ways they’re better.
Can’t Wait to Wander
We’ve been cooped up so long. As each destination opens its borders, itineraries and tours have lured us back into the world. Urban travelers will rent scooters and motorcycles like the little electric model I once rode through Budapest. It was a blast and inexpensive. The tour office near our Airbnb apartment gave us instructions and helmets. The main city had pedestrian walkways and bike routes. Scooting around on a weekday afternoon was simple. We weren’t out during rush hour and never left the main district.
Urban Travelers and the Need for Speed
Almost overnight lime green, black and yellow scooters showed up across San Francisco, New York and San Diego. Urban travelers took to the new apps and a free form wild west ensued. Entitled people played chicken with pedestrians then dropped their rentals across sidewalks and driveways. Wheelchair and walker users were blocked on more than one sidewalk in San Diego’s Gaslamp District. More than a few rogue road warriors broke bones and suffered concussions.
Crowds are returning to popular vacation cities which unfortunately means injuries will increase.
“One of the significant factors contributing to motorist accidents is tourists’ disorientation in a foreign environment. This is compounded by jet lag and travel fatigue, unfamiliarity with a hired vehicle, local road rules, weather, terrain, distracting scenery and driving on the wrong side of the road, the last factor accounting for the highest percentage of road crash-related injuries.” – International Journal of Travel Medicine and Global Health.
Here’s a video about the racing skills of Tyler Bereman from the premier of his documentary:
Orientation Is Key
“While many travelers don’t drive while they are out of their home country, it is still important to watch for surrounding traffic as many car accidents include pedestrians, cyclists, and those riding other transportation like: buses or bike taxis.” – Visitors Coverage Blog
Is It Time for Cars to Take the Back Seat?
Flash forward to a world re-thinking clogged freeways and climate change. Scooters and street legal mini bikes make sense – if we can use them responsibly and safely. Many cities are grappling with how to control their popularity, limiting the number of scooters, and requiring liability insurance. Local governments are in good bargaining positions. They’re negotiating scooters for lower income neighborhoods, instituting ‘No-Go Zones to stop use in crowded areas, and pledging to create dedicated lanes.
But government isn’t the only answer. Scooter companies are partnering in new ways as well. Lime and Google have been pilot testing an augmented parking process to help riders find proper parking locations. Using the App, Google GPS can now point riders to their closest options.
“We know our riders feel more confident taking a Lime when they understand where and how to park correctly, and we’re excited to continue working with Google to improve this experience.” – Joe Kraus, President at Lime.
Riders need to step up if we want to continue having the privilege of renting scooter and street legal mini bikes. I always cringe to see two people whizzing down a street on a scooter designed for one, or winding through traffic – without helmets or pads.
As an urban traveler, I’m a fan of public transportation and feel proud when I make my way around new cities. There are times however when a car would be prohibitive, parking is scarce, and hopping on a scooter would work best. In time, it should be good for the environment too.
Street Legal Mini Bikes and Scooters Get A Second Look
As the pandemic recedes, I dream of wandering exotic cities again. But I’m getting ready for the adventure. My boyfriend and I plan to practice on local scooters – the electric ones that are returning to San Diego. I’ll take it slow and build up my confidence. I can’t imagine I’ll ever racing a street legal mini bike through Rome, but can imagine sailing across San Diego as a hometown tourist again.