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Detroit Scooters: How to Navigate the Scooter Scene in 2019

A primer on the electric scooter scene in metro Detroit

Bird Scooter in Detroit

A Bird scooter is neatly parked in downtown Detroit

It has been just over one year since the Bird introduced the electric scooter to Detroit, Royal Oak, and Ann Arbor. Mystique surrounded these little vehicles as people struggled to figure out how to start them, how to ride them, and how to end their cross-town rides.

Fast-forward to September 2019 and there are not only Limes and Spins (two additional scooters) but now there are even electric bikes that are slowly making millennials and Generation Z rethink the idea of riding a tricycle with a rear basket. The entire electric “last-mile” economy has become so popular that many do not understand how to ride Detroit’s electric scooters.

First, let’s look at the different scooters and their best qualities:

BIRD

Advantages: Classy, built with the best materials (or at least it seems that way)

Disadvantage: Some have been used so many times that the break, bell, or accelerator don’t work

My personal favorite, the Bird is usually a dependable scooter with an easy-to-use app and the first to offer random discounts – they waived the $1 start-up fee over Labor Day weekend. Also, as the first scooter to take off in Detroit, Bird was the only scooter I rode for the first few months despite people flocking to them as the craze started.

LIME

Advantages: Largest frame and has a fun jingle when you start your ride

Disadvantage: Cheapest materials

Rumors have swirled that all scooters can drive a maximum of 15 miles per hour, and Limes have a speedometer to show you as much. Sometimes you can even squeeze the most juice out of them and top out at 15.3 miles per hour. Limes look massive with their huge steering column, but the material feels cheap when you drive over that small pothole and feel the plastic crack underneath you. And don’t underestimate the jingle! It’s sure to turn your sour mood into a goofy smile.

SPIN

Advantages: Smoothest ride, generally no defects since they are the newest

Disadvantages: Most expensive

The newest player in the scooter game, Spins offer an easy, quality ride. I have admittedly taken a Spin fewer times than its competitors, but they have substantial tires and they all have that new-scooter smell. With a dizzying array of mobility options, Spin may be the cleanest option despite charging a few more cents per minute.

Regardless of the scooter you choose, you should heed these tips before taking your first ride on an electric scooter in Detroit, or else you may end up in a world of hurt.

  1. Ride in the streets, not the sidewalk. This is technically a law but many riders do not follow it. Sidewalks are constantly congested and there is nothing scarier to a pedestrian than a big Lime zinging past them without warning. Streets are much easier to navigate, (as long as you scoot with the flow of traffic) though there are some drawbacks…
  2. Watch the street in front of you and don’t try to hop train tracks. Detroit, Royal Oak, and Ann Arbor all feature plentiful train tracks (or the QLine if you’re in the D), but it is not worth trying to fly over them. Instead, slow down and use your foot to stabilize your scooter as you cross them. Additionally, potholes are big problems for scooters, even the massive Limes. They are not pleasant and not worth the risk.
  3. Look for streets with bike lanes. If you are lucky enough to be spinning somewhere with a bike lane, take it! Scooters are perfect candidates for bike lanes and they give you some much-needed space from traffic.
  4. Make sure to check the battery life of the scooter… and your phone. Before riding, make sure the scooter and your phone both have at least 20%. Once one of them dies, you are out luck. With scooters, it will slow down progressively and then eventually come to a halt. If your phone dies, the ride ends too.
  5. Finally, don’t be afraid of the scooter! Scooters are like dogs – they can sense the fear! Not really, but if you ride with authority, keep both feet on the board, and keep both hands on the handlebars, you will do just fine. People live in fear of scooters but they are easy to use once you get the hang of them and they are eco-friendly.

Detroit’s electric scooter scene is new within the past year, but it is easy to become a pro. Just download an app, hop on one that you see nearby, and you’ll be on your way.

Other Let’s Detroit posts you might like:

Prefer biking? Check out our lists of favorite bike trails from Jason Hall and Tracy Besek.

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