I was never what you might call an "outdoor kid."
I preferred playing GameCube to physical activity. Although I've lived in Portland basically my entire life, I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 12 years old, and haven't done it much since. Coordination was never really my thing.
I do, however, have fond memories of riding my Razor scooter around our cul-de-sac in West Haven-Sylvan. While in college at the University of Oregon, some students would scoot across campus, braving stares and laughter from passers-by. Watching them zip to class, I always secretly wished scooting was socially acceptable—maybe that could be my thing.
Finally, we're getting there.
Last week, e-scooting arrived in Portland. For cyclists already struggling to share the road with cars, having to deal with a whole new vehicle in their lanes may be a hindrance. But for those of us with zero leg strength and a desire for a quick and easy way to navigate the city, these pedal-less contraptions may be precisely the eco-friendly mode of transportation we've been looking for.
So I decided to spend a week giving them a try.
Here's what happened.
Sunday | Northwest 23rd Avenue, 11 am
After brunch at Stepping Stone Cafe, my friend and I fire up the Lime app, find a pair of scooters right outside the restaurant, and begin our adventures in scooting. The kick of the throttle jerks me forward, so I panic and jump off. "Mia, there's a brake lever right there," my friend says.
With more practice, I'm pleased to find the scooters are easy to ride once you get used to that initial kick. As I'll later learn, the Limes are bigger and clunkier than the Birds, but they also have more foot room, which is great for uncoordinated novices like me. Cruising up Northwest 23rd Avenue at about 10 mph—the scooters max out at around 15 or so—I think I'm doing a pretty good job, until a passerby across the street decides to offer some unsolicited scootsplaining: "It's easier if you stand farther back!" Aside from a few incredulous stares, though, our 1.7-mile ride goes smoothly and otherwise harassment-free.
Monday | Northwest Portland, 7:30 pm
Yesterday morning went well enough that my friend and I agree to meet at the waterfront for a relaxing sunset scoot. I'm five minutes away from the destination when she texts me there are no scooters available over there.
Quickly, I pull over, pause the version of "Waterloo" from the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again soundtrack, and scan the Bird and Lime apps for the closest scooters, but it seems the majority of them have migrated across the bridges to the other side of the city. It's difficult to find even one in Northwest, much less two, but I spot a pair at 14th and Overton, about seven minutes away. Of course, they're gone by the time I arrive.
This is my Waterloo.
The last pair of Limes in the area are at 23rd and Everett. We speed over. As soon as we arrive, a pair of bros snatch them. I am tempted to yell that I am a serious journalist and need to confiscate their scooters for important research. Instead, I sprint Ethan Hunt-style to snatch a Bird lying a few blocks away. Heart racing, I pull up the app and scan the barcode. "This scooter is offline due to low battery," it says.
My eye twitches. The tenacity I previously bragged about has been depleted after an hour of this wild scoot chase. We give up and get smoothies.
Wednesday | Pearl District, 12:30 pm
After Monday's whirlwind of frustration, I needed a day off. Wednesday is much more successful. We find a pair of fully charged Limes at 14th and Hoyt. It seems much easier to find available scooters during the day than the evening due to higher demand at night and the fact that "juicers" take them off the streets overnight to charge.
We head to the fancy apartment blocks of the Pearl and scoot around Fields Neighborhood Park. The brilliant idea to ride up a nearby ramp backfires when we see a sign prohibiting skateboarding in the area and assume that means scooters as well, so we hop off and start walking them. We are not scofflaws. (The next day I find out scooters are not allowed in any Portland parks, so maybe we are.)
But at the end of the walkway, we run into a problem. Ahead of us, we spot the scooter's mortal enemy: stairs.
Getting these things down proves to be more difficult than we thought. We make a big show of attempting to lift the roughly 30-pound scooters over and down the stairs. A typical Pearl dweller in a fancy suit watches our sad struggle. "Those look light. Are they heavy?" he asks condescendingly. We invite him to try lifting one. He does it with ease. We scoot away in shame.
Thursday | Southwest King Avenue and Burnside Street, 10:30 am
After a few days riding with a friend, I decide it's time to go it alone. The benefit of riding by yourself is that it's much easier to find a single scooter than a pair. The drawback is that you feel wildly self-conscious—every odd stare I receive from pedestrians burns twice as fiercely.
Now that it's legal for cyclists and pedestrians to use drive-thrus in Portland, I figure scooting through Dutch Bros. would make an ideal mission for my first solo scoot.
The downtown Dutch Bros. is pretty busy, and others in line ask me questions about the scooter. I welcome the chance to prove to these strangers I am not a weirdo, and I give them the whole spiel I've been workshopping on other strangers on the street the past few days. Once it's time to order, the barista has absolutely no reaction to the fact that I'm on a scooter. They serve me my small iced Americano with nothing more than the classic Dutch Bros. Barista Smile.
Then it dawns on me. Unlike Biketown bikes, e-scooters don't have a basket, or a cup holder. I realize I do not have enough hands to scoot and hold a drink. This feels like something of a design flaw, but really it's my fault for not thinking this drive-thru thing through. I feel like a fool. Resignedly, I park my Bird in front of a Taco Bell.
Saturday | Overpass at Southwest 12th Avenue and Montgomery Street, 1 pm
Having more or less mastered the technique of light scooting, I want to take things up a notch and answer the question on everyone's mind—can these things make it up hills?
I remember the steep overpass by a friend's apartment building and pick up a nearby Lime on the Portland State University campus. At the bottom of the incline, I kick off and push the throttle all the way down. At first, it seems to work OK, as I keep up a speed of about 7 mph. But a moment later the front wheel starts wobbling too much for me to keep my balance.
I go back down and try again. This time, I start farther back to gather more momentum. My efforts buy me only a few more seconds before the wobbles begin again. Maybe someone more athletic could manually scoot uphill, but most of us would probably have to walk our scooters. Forget what I said about stairs—hills are the scooter's true mortal enemy.
Despite their failure in the face of inclines, the idea of e-scooters has really grown on me in the past week. If I lived downtown, if Portlanders would stop gawking at riders, and if I had the skill to survive in the bike lanes, I'd absolutely use these things to get around. But those are a lot of ifs.
Perhaps in the future I'll spot a Bird or a Lime propped on the pavement and reminisce about our turbulent, weeklong summer romance. Then I'll continue walking—because I'm holding an iced coffee and do not have enough hands.