Let’s get this out of the way right now: I was robbed.
There is no other explanation as to how I would have finished second in The Tribune’s not-super-scientific test of downtown transit options — scooters, bikes, trains, car share and a brisk walk.
I came in looking like a champion — although maybe not to the same extent as government reporter Ben Wood, who rode GreenBike and showed up decked out like he’d just finished the Tour de France and, I assume, a monthslong regimen of blood doping and performance-enhancing drugs.
I would be riding a Lime scooter, and I sported a glittery root beer-colored motorcycle helmet (safety first!), aviator specs and, for good measure, a luxurious mustache that was meant to intimidate my competition but mostly seemed to alarm parents. Add a Hawaiian shirt because, hey, we’re here to have fun.
I could have passed for the cop in a Village People cover band performing on a third-rate cruise line — you know, the boat where two-thirds of the passengers come down with explosive diarrhea.
In this navy, you can sail the seven seas. And die of giardia.
Next to Wood, the biggest threat to my dominance was fellow government reporter Taylor Stevens. She would be riding a Bird scooter, so pretty evenly powered, but she had an advantage in that I outweigh her by something like 128 pounds.
Beyond that, I assumed digital news editor Rachel Piper’s Lyft driver would take a wrong turn (he did), Lee Davidson, The Trib’s transportation reporter, wouldn’t fare well on TRAX because he and UTA just can’t seem to get along, and the only way managing editor Dave Noyce would beat me on foot is if I stopped for a beer (which I managed not to do, this time).
Things went bad right from the start, which was at the downtown library. The nearest scooter was a block west. I started walking and, halfway there, poof. Gone. Scooped up, I suppose, by someone who couldn’t grasp the seriousness of the competition that was underway.
I doubled back, hung a left and reached a spot where there was supposed to be a scooter, but it wasn’t there. I finally located it, around the corner and a half-block away, quickly unlocked it and was off.
Or so I thought, until I heard a stern warning: “Unlock me to ride me, or I will call the police.”
I suspect she was bluffing, but I didn’t have time for a low-speed police chase. I had a race to win. I had apparently failed to accept Lime’s terms of service, which I read with great care (yeah right), and got rolling.
The scooters — both Lime and Bird, which I rode later — are unexpectedly zippy, a lot of fun and easy to handle, and I was making good time. But even at full throttle, I’d lost too much time. I finished a close second to Wood and his GreenBike.
All right. Not that close. Four minutes.
Sometimes it’s not about winning or losing, though — as a lifetime of losing has taught me. It’s about what you learn, so here are a few things I learned:
You’re sure this is safe?
The ease and speed of the scooters make them so popular, but that also makes them feel more than a little dangerous.
Even if you’re cruising along in a protected bike lane, like I was, headed down 300 South, pedestrians and cars will pull right in front of you. And in those sections where there aren’t bike lanes, you’re completely exposed to traffic. It can be unnerving.
So I don’t necessarily blame people who ride them on the sidewalk, even though the rules are pretty explicit: Don’t ride on sidewalks. Period.
And there’s good reason you shouldn’t. Walking downtown is unpredictable enough already. Having someone silently zipping along the sidewalk at 15 mph is downright hazardous.
On my ride, I still saw dozens of people doing it, but you shouldn’t, and Salt Lake City police need to start cracking down on it before people get hurt.
What the hell-met?
After you unlock your scooter, both the Bird and Lime apps give you some pointers for riding and a key safety tip: Wear a helmet.
I think most people think it’s a punchline for a joke. Aside from the sweet helmet I wore in our race, and the skater helmet Stevens wore, I have yet to see a rider wearing headgear.
Obviously, someone who picks up a scooter on the side of the road doesn’t just happen to have a helmet handy. But it may not be a bad idea, since, as part of the user agreement that nobody (except me) reads, riders assume all liability for injuries and waive their right to go to court. So think about protecting your brain.
Lime every time
For our test run, I tried out both Lime and Bird and I gotta say, I prefer Lime.
I didn’t run into the same problems that my colleague Taylor Stevens did; she tried half the Bird scooters in the city before finding one that worked. But the Lime scooter felt sturdier, more stable, and it seemed to handle a little better than the Bird scooter.
The app was also easier to use — although they’ll both sap your phone battery in the blink of an eye — and I prefer loading up a set block of credit, like Lime does, to the pay-per-ride system of Bird.
A word to Wood
Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali in their first fight, but Ali won the next two and is the Greatest of All Time. I’m ready for a rematch. Anywhere, anytime. Say the word and I’ll be there, only this time without the mustache. You know, to reduce wind resistance.