On a Scooter, Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

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My guitar saved my spine.

I was scootering along on my new Cruz Ultra Xootr scooter, mentally writing this column about how incredible this new (to me) mode of transportation was, how it was even better than a bicycle in many ways, how it showed how graduated transportation is or should be, how it showed we need to travel at different velocities and in different vehicle sizes, and how thoroughfares should support this, when suddenly I was flying in the air, soon to land on my posterior.

I had bought the Xootr just the night before at Paragon Sports by Union Square for $199, largely to accompany my three-and-a-half year old son who had already (proud parent here) learned to ride a two-wheel Razor scooter, the kind big kids ride. He had learned this because his wise parents had bought him a two-wheel model when he was all of three, rather than the training kind of three-wheel model. And he had taken to it.

At the time of my calamity I was rolling along Sixth Avenue between Sterling and St. John’s Place in Brooklyn toward my son’s school, having gone about a mile and thoroughly delighted with my new mode of travel. You barely had to give a push with your foot, and you were coasting along for a good block or so. It was fun. You didn’t have the feeling, like on a bike, of being trapped with and on this large device. And perhaps best of all, you didn’t feel like you were about to be killed at any moment by large metal objects weighing many times what you did. You rode on the sidewalk, where you were the biggest guy in terms of mass and speed. (More on this later. Or maybe not.)

So there I was, mentally composing, when I approached a broken sidewalk corner at St. John’s Place and Sixth Avenue, right where the sidewalk dipped to go down into the street. Having already successfully negotiated a few cracks and bumps, I decided to risk these. I leaned and pulled back on the handle of the scooter, thinking a slight lift of the front wheel would help me negotiate this rough terrain. Suddenly, without warning, probably just as my back wheel descended into one of the ruts, my scooter flipped up and went flying into the air, the front wheel going vertical and the back wheel going underneath. Now underneath my scooter, I landed on my ass.

Or actually, my guitar. Luckily, in retrospect, I had been scootering along with my Taylor mini travel guitar strapped around my back, open air, troubadour style. I didn’t just want to make a romantic figure. I had been invited to play "Farmer in the Dell" at my son’s daycare center, as the accompanist for their year-end play. Wanting to ride my new Xootr there, but not wanting to carry the case, I thought at the last minute to carry the guitar by itself, solely by its strap.

So when I came down on the broken asphalt, I landed not on my coccyx or L-5 vertebrae, but on the convex bottom side of my guitar. Which came out quite the worse for wear. A corner of it was crushed, two strings broke and a peg popped out. But better it than me.

My crash caused quite a reverberation around me. Drivers stopped and asked if they should call someone. Passersby approached me. This being Park Slope, a mother with a child in a stroller asked if I wanted some Arnica. I accepted it, placing the white pellets under my tongue directly from the case with her admonition not to touch them with my hands. Any port in a storm.

As I sat there feeling what I suspected would be a major bruise, I reflected that my guitar might have saved me from breaking my 49-year-old back. Not a good way to go.

I haven’t spoken much of weighty transportation matters. I still am a very enthusiastic proponent of my new mode of travel. But I rode home much more cautiously. I’ll have to leave for another day debates such as whether scooters belong on sidewalks, the merits of them versus bicycles, and what they say about our need for many modes. For now, I’m content to live to ride another day.

Photo: ephramjames / Flickr

  • Damian

    I don’t know, man — being the “biggest guy on the sidewalk in terms of mass and speed” is maybe not so great for people walking around you. I’m sorry you crashed, but if it had to happen, I’m glad it was solo and not you smashing into some old lady or something.

  • Brooklyn

    ‘You didn’t have the feeling, like on a bike, of being trapped with and on this large device.’

    Well, you must have an ill-fitting bike, and on top of that must not know how to ride very well.

    Scooters suck – small diameter wheels and an inherently unstable wheelbase mean you get taken out by the tiniest crack and seam — sidewalk or street, it doesn’t matter.

    Teach your kid to ride a bike and get there faster.

  • Mark Walker

    The only wheeled vehicles that should be allowed on sidewalks are wheelchairs. There are already too few places where people can safely walk. Please don’t ruin what little we have left.

  • galvo

    i used to love my scooter until i hit a dip in the road on ave C. The xooter bottomed out and stopped dead, i went flying forward on my face my messenger bag that had a lot of video camera gear, including super clamps and mono-pod, swung around and yanked my neck with the momentum of the crash.
    Herniated the hell out of my cervical spine.
    I wish i had been wearing a back pack.
    Bigger wheels and higher ground clearance are needed on these mean streets.
    i found the xooter only safely usable on wide sidewalks with few doorways. In a business district area there are too many doorways and and not enough room to maneuver away as people rightfully step out onto the sidewalk.
    i would like to try one of those full size 700c front wheel scooters.

  • The only wheeled vehicles that should be allowed on sidewalks are Heelys.

  • Max Rockatansky

    I’ve seen a guy buzzing around my neighborhood with a motorized scooter. Looks pretty crazy to me – he’s on the street moving pretty quickly in traffic. I can’t help but think one wrong move (like yours) and the dude is toast.

  • scooterbelle

    I recommend extreme caution with the Xootr on damp roads. I do lots of unwise activities, but scooting in the rain is no longer one of them.

  • Galvo’s comments are very helpful. I’m going to remember them. I hope his spine has healed.

    It’s certainly a legitimate issue as to whether scooters should be allowed on sidewalks. It’s certainy much safer for the scooter rider. It seems to work pretty well here in Brooklyn. I’ve seen few problems, if any. But Manhattan with its crowds would be a different story.

  • GR

    Scooters are tough for a totally urban sidewalk, and perhaps are not ideal for inner NYC. HOWEVER – they can be a godsend for those trying to avoid driving in other parts of the country – suburban areas with a minimum threshold of transit options, to be specific. One can easily bring a xootr on to a train or bus, and then use empty suburban sidewalks to complete the trip.

    Oh, and how not to crash: Just ignore the scooter entirely, and focus on landing on your feet. Its when you try and recover on the scooter that you’ll have issues.

  • priced out of park slope

    Don’t you know, the only wheels that should be on the sidewalk are of the $1000 double wide baby carriages of the other breeders in the Slope?
    Shouldn’t you have been driving your Saab or other high priced “weekend” car to the day care to pick up your spawn, or had you already parked it in that coveted three day long parking spot that you were stalking, as you double parked and read hack guitarist weekly until 11:05 when the street sweeper finally drove by?

  • J. Mork

    Love the misplaced bitterness, Priced. One thing though — there’s no street cleaning in the Slope this summer. Park all you want.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Oh just get a folding bike and be done with it!

    I’ve put at least 500 miles on my Brompton and haven’t once even come close to crashing.

  • dbs

    Alex:

    Glad you survived. You and David Byrne with close brushes in the past couple of weeks…
    http://www.villagevoice.com/music/0823,more-songs-played-by-buildings,458791,22.html

    This alternative-mode story brings to mind your pre-CP doom Segway piece:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/06/27/segway-users-the-other-minority/

    Modes become safe and accepted as they build critical mass.

    Imagine, if overnight, there was a City scooter/Segway share. All the people who are too scared to get run over and/or sweaty might just sign up to this share, and pay a nominal fee to use it, perhaps even within a pre-tax TransitCheck system.

    It could be a private venture of a firm like Zipcar…or a joint venture between ZipCar and DOT or MTA. (Or maybe the obvious existing player: http://www.nysegwaytours.com/ )

    A la Ciclovia, we could have scooter/bike/segway/skateboard/pedestrian streets, but not just on the weekends…24/7/365.

    Nothing on DOTs site about Segways.
    But apparently, though Iris W was not a fan:
    http://inmyowndamnwords.blogspot.com/2005/09/question-for-commissioner-weinshall.html

    Before I get on with my day, some food for thought:
    1) The Taxi & Limousine Commission only regulates ~50,000 vehicles, of which ~13,000 are medallion taxicabs, citywide (or a total of ~200,000 passenger seats citywide…not sure what peak occupancy would look like, but certainly less than 200K.)
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/about/about.shtml

    2) Segways are silent, and quite carbon reductive
    http://www.segway.com/individual/keep-it-green.php

    3) They cost ~$6000 retail. I imagine if purchased on a large scale, the City and/or other investors could get a sweet deal and perhaps even qualify for renewable energy credits.

    4) Before France had Velib, they had a Segway share program to bring people to/and from the train stations. Bravo, intermodal!
    scroll down to middle of this link:
    http://www.segway.com/about-segway/media-center/newsletters/general_009.html

    5) Do we really want to be upstaged?
    by Chicago http://www.segway.com/about-segway/media-center/press_releases/pr_053006.php
    and by Rudy G
    http://www.segway.com/about-segway/media-center/press_releases/pr_010208.php

    6) Well, actually, the NYPD is already on board, ten units strong, great for crowd control, fast response, bike lane and blocked box patrol, and no horse sh*t to clean up: http://www.segway.com/about-segway/media-center/press_releases/pr_051607.php
    (The Segway i2 Police units purchased by the New York Police Department are the newest generation models. The i2 model has a range of up to 24 miles, a top speed of 12.5 m.p.h. and a payload of 260 lbs.)

    7) At a range of 24 miles, someone like me could visit my parents on Long Island, without ever needing a recharge, and without ever needing to set foot indoors. Alex, on a regional level, would the Regional Planning Association consider getting behind a Region-wide Segway share with recharge stations every 20 miles or so?

    8) What other form of transport allows for fencing bouts in the park?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrgWfyi55s8

    9) I am not much for math, and I imagine Charlie Komanoff has plenty on his plate, but if a Segway-share could be inserted into BTA 2.0, as a means perhaps to offset politically-explosive $16 car fee, could that be what pushes the Kheel Plan past the tipping point?
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/06/02/kheel-plan-2-to-revive-free-transit-proposal-for-09-races/

    10) I’ve only Segwayed 2X. The first time I rode a Segway, it was lent to me by a woman with Multiple Sclerosis, on a bumpy farm in Old Lyme, CT. She said she couldn’t walk more than a few feet, and hated putting a wheelchair in a van. But she could stand and hold on and ride just fine.
    Segways seem to be appreciated by ADA, at least to some extent.
    http://www.fta.dot.gov/civilrights/ada/civil_rights_3893.html
    And if some wheelchair bound folks could transfer to Segways, cost of legally-mandated paratransit in MTA budget could decline significantly
    http://www.mta.info/mta/ada/paratransit.htm
    PLUS, it would be much less scary for wheelchair operators to move through Manhattan, reducing demand wheelchair demand on Subway and Buses (which, with all due respect to disabled riders, can really slow down a cross-town bus ride.)

    11) Latest hot-pie news out of Concord,NH:
    Let’s Segway to a new way to get a pizza
    http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080606/NEWS01/806060352
    If I close my eyes real tight, I can see CP-neutral God’s Love We Deliver getting rid of their delivery trucks and never having to agonize over CP user fees and traffic jams again. And we could buy much more local food at the Union Square Greenmarket if it weren’t such a struggle getting it all home on the subway or on a topsy-turvy bicycle.

    12) There has been anti-Segway testimony in the past (i.e. http://www.transalt.org/newsroom/testimony/1910 2002
    and http://www.transalt.org/newsroom/testimony/1898 2003) but times have changed. If it made sense in the current, very ped/bike friendly context I would hope, that “the advocates” would get behind the Segway, as long as pedestrians were not at risk.

    13) Dean Kamen, the Segway inventor, is a card-carrying genius who genuinely cares for the greater good…and I’m sure he could help us figure out how to avoid getting wet on the Segways when it rains:
    http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/view/id/10
    http://www.dekaresearch.com/aboutDean.html

    Again, critical mass is key for safety and awareness, so rapid scale up may be key. There are pilots and then there are pilots!

  • Eric

    Alex,

    Walking along Sixth Avenue on that end of the Slope recently, I noticed a lot of very irregular sidewalk (it’s a pet peeve of mine since a few years ago, the City summonsed me for a small piece of broken sidewalk, and we ended up spending $2000 to replace the sidewalk in front of our home. Everywhere I go, I see sidewalks 10X more dangerous than ours was).

    My point, now that I’d done ranting, is that scooting in that vicinity is probably much safer on the street, cars notwithstanding.

  • DBS, thank you for your tasty and nutritious thoughts on Segways.

  • john deere

    Alex wrote:
    “You didn’t have the feeling, like on a bike, of being trapped with and on this large device. And perhaps best of all, you didn’t feel like you were about to be killed at any moment by large metal objects weighing many times what you did.”

    Alex, I rode my touring bike 50 miles r-t out to Paramus NJ on Saturday, almost entirely on roads, and I experienced neither the trapped feeling nor the “about to be killed” feeling. The first I don’t get at all; riding a bike feels liberating, not entrapping. The second doesn’t usually happen if you practice vehicular cycling that you caricatured last autumn in the “cyclists don’t need to follow traffic laws” article.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    It’s funny, I can feel either trapped or liberated in any mode of transportation. I’ve felt the joy of driving on the open road, the excitement of a fast train, the thrill of riding a bike downhill on a wide-open greenway with the wind at my back, the pleasure of skating “no fears alone at night, sailing through the crowd,” and the quiet satisfaction of Tolkien’s road.

    Conversely, I can be stuck in traffic on a highway (although never as bad as these poor people), I can be stuck on a crowded train or crawling bus. I can feel frustrated about having skates on my feet – or having to schlep them around town. I can even feel stuck on foot, especially in a place with no sidewalks. Interestingly, I don’t usually feel trapped on a bike the way Alex describes, but I can understand how he does.

    Mainly, I think it’s futile to have arguments that go, “Your favorite mode of transportation is stifling, but mine is liberating!”

  • Mike

    I neglected to mention that as a 7th and 8th grader at Holland Hall’s Birmingham campus, I rode the city bus every Wednesday afternoon from 26th St and Birmingham to downtown. I’d spend a couple of hours at Central Library then meet my dad at his office. When I lived in Brookside, I even tried using the bus system to get to Burtek on 15th St. east of Sheridan, but the transfer delays meant it wasn’t worth the hassle.

  • mb

    I recently discovered the fun of a Xootr too (and the dangers as well). I ride a Xootr MG. It is perfect for distances of less than 2km. I did a 1.5km scoot to the subway in 15 mins, a station that was too far to walk and had no direct buses to.

    Of course, I could have done that distance in 5 minutes or less on my Dahon foldie. But I wanted to see if the lighter and less cumbersome Xootr could plug that gap for me.

    I got into a few scrapes on the first few days of use. Bumpy tiled pavements are bad for it, roads too. Smooth pavements are best, and I learned to watch for potholes and raised surfaces too high for its wheels.

    Dooring (not from cars, but from shopfronts) was also something to watch for.

    That said, I reckon the scooter to be a fun and possible alternative for short trips. I am certainly going to experiment with it more.

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