If you’ve taken a walk in almost any U.S. city recently, chances are you’ve almost tripped over one of those pesky electric scooters lying around. Bird, Lime, and several other companies specializing in app-based “rideables” are dropping battery-powered scooters and bikes all over major metropolitan areas, and technically legal or not, they’re here to stay, and can be a great way of getting around cities that are public transit-challenged… which, unfortunately, is most of them.
But if you’ve never used one of these app-based scooters before, the prospect of zipping around town on an electrified child’s toy can be somewhat daunting. Fear not, dear reader, as using one of these trendy two-wheelers is easy as booking an Uber and significantly cheaper.
Download an app, sign up, and find a scooter
While Bird and Lime are by far the two most popular options, there are several scooter and e-bike operators in cities all over the country, so check what’s available in your city before choosing an app to download.
Once you’ve decided, simply download the app to your phone from the Apple or Google Play store and follow the steps to set up an account. We’ve outlined the process for Bird and Lime in more detail elsewhere, but generally it involves providing a driver’s license, method of payment, and other personal information like email and phone number.
Registration complete, you can now search for scooters near you on the app’s built-in map, and reserving one takes as little as a few seconds. You can either reserve a scooter ahead of time through the app on your way over or pick one up on the fly, and when you reach the scooter itself, simply scan the QR code located between the handlebars to start your reservation.
Prices vary per city, but generally electric scooters cost $1 to start with a per-minute charge of 15 to 20 cents. Be sure to check to scooter’s range as well, as most have a maximum usable range of about 35 miles, so if the one you reserve is low on charge, there’s a chance it may leave you stranded. Rental periods max out at 24 hours, so don’t think you can keep the scooter forever, and the maximum daily charge is $100 for Bird.
Ride (safely) and park (courteously)
All e-scooter apps recommend that you use a helmet while riding, and in most cases, you have to bring your own. Bird offers free helmets that you’re able to request through the app, so it’s harder than ever to justify not using one while riding. If you do choose to go without, that’s your prerogative, but check local laws to see if your city requires the use of a helmet.
Bear in mind that electric scooters are considered motorized vehicles, so you’re required to follow all traffic laws and stay off of sidewalks. Also, for all you Evel Knievel idolizers out there, these are scooters with tiny wheels and certainly not X-Games worthy. Watch out for potholes, rocks, and other obstacles, as the 8-inch wheels will likely not be able to handle hitting one.
Once you’ve reserved and unlocked a scooter, donned your sweet helmet, and set your destination (either in your head or on Google Maps), you’re ready to ride. On all e-scooters, the throttle is located on the right side of the handlebars while the brake lever is on the left. To get moving, put one foot up on the scooter and kick off with the other, and always make sure to keep both feet on the scooter while riding.
Simply gradually press the thumb-operated toggle switch forward to accelerate and squeeze the brake handle to slow down.
Passengers are not allowed on shareable scooters, and generally there’s a weight limit of around 200 pounds. Only hands-free devices are allowed as well, and like I mentioned previously, riding on sidewalks will get you a stern talking to (or worse) from local law enforcement, but bike lanes are fair game.
Park like a pro – not a punk
When you’re finished riding, simply leave the scooter somewhere at your destination, but please, please don’t be a jerk about it. Parking near bike racks is the best option, but if there isn’t one nearby, leave the scooter in a visible area that doesn’t block sidewalks, handicap ramps, driveways, or anything else someone would want or need to access. Just because you can leave it anywhere doesn’t mean you should.
Locking the scooter is the same as unlocking, so just scan the QR code again and you’ll be charged for the time that you used it automatically. Also, some apps require that you take a photo of the scooter’s location so that so-called “chargers” can locate them, pick them up, and charge them so that they can be sent back out on the streets as soon as possible. You can also become a charger if you so choose and receive compensation from the companies for taking care of their rides for them.
That’s all there is to it, so get to riding, but don’t be an idiot about it. And while you’re at it, check out our top 5 U.S. cities for electric scooters.