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Bird Scooters in San Francisco

I was just in San Francisco for a fundraising event for the Tony Hawk Foundation.

It’s another youth-focused cause my wife and I have begun supporting more formally in the last 12 months and I joined their board about 90 days ago. (Will write more about that later).

A few weeks ago, I read Fred Wilson’s post about his Bird Electric Scooter Sharing experience in LA.

When I arrived in SF on Friday, I was excited to find out that Bird Scooters were here as well, although I came to find that the residents seem to be either unaware of how to use them or slightly negative on all the Birds landing here recently this spring. (See what I did there?) I think it’s only been a few weeks.

To ride a Bird, you download the Bird app. It shows you where the scooters are and what their battery life is. Once you find the scooter, you point the cam at the QR code, Apple pay kicks in and you ride off in under 30 seconds. It bills you like a taxi at 15 cents a minute.

Once I realized how easy they were to find and use, I decided that I would use a scooter in lieu of an Uber or Lyft (normal SF transportation) wherever and whenever I could over this three-day trip.

Here is what I have learned in over my three days of riding, which spanned 22.7 miles and only cost me $59.03:

  • Birds are surprisingly nimble, moreso than a bicycle. You can step right off and pick it up or stop. You basically start / stop / change direction so fast your riding “line” is almost like a jogger’s vs a bicyclist’s. On the sidewalk, off the sidewalk, through lights, “jaywalking”, over curbs, etc., like freestyle walking with speed.
  • Thanks to the “jogger’s line” factor, in normal city traffic, this could be the fastest way around town. High utility.
  • Regardless of the utility, it is a very, very cool way to see a city.
  • After 22.7 miles, even in sneakers, my feet hurt. Birds need a bit more of a suspension.
  • It goes about 15 mph and this is fast enough to get hurt. You need to pay attention and probably wear a helmet.
  • I didn’t try to go “up the hill” in SF, but I have to believe it would have struggled. With a hand brake, I would have been fine coming down any major hills.
  • At 8-10mph average, I was only actually riding 2-3 total hours of my 6 billed rental hours. It’s super convenient that you can electronically lock the scooter and “keep the meter running” while you do other things. Half the time I had it parked and waiting for me while I had a meeting or ate while only billing me .15 cents a minute. I also didn’t have to wait for it like calling an Uber or walk to a parking garage as if I had my own car.
  • Birds are safer than a bicycle IMO. At one point I hit a huge pothole on a sidewalk and instead of going over the bars or pancaking (the other bicycle crash) I popped off to the right side and ran out of it. The bars hit and pinched my stomach with my belt buckle but that was it. On a bike there is no way I could get clear of the frame that quickly to stop the wreck.
  • In SF, they have only been there a few weeks most people don’t know how to use them, they are just annoyed they are “littered” everywhere and are a bit of an eyesore. I’d agree they are just left places with mostly no care. My friend Dave B (pictured above and rode Friday with me) pointed out that if the other Birdlers (my word for Bird Riders) just were a bit more thoughtful they could minimize the eyesore factor by parking them next to bike racks or against poles to just generally get them out of the way. Good luck unless SF institutes a fine. #thisiswhywecanthavenicethings
  • The width of the handlebars is too narrow to ride one handed and be stable. I’m sure this is by design to avoid Birdlers texting or using the phone. I tried within the first hour.
  • SF has wide streets and defined bike lanes. I can’t imagine somewhere like Philly having scooters running in parallel with normal bicycles and traffic. I have to believe it would be a bad experience in a more cramped and aggressive urban environment. I think it would be harrowing at worst and not enjoyable or unsuable at best.

Over all It was like I had  this tiny fun rental car that could be parked instantly anywhere, only costing $59.03 for 3 days. It could not go on the freeway, or leave the city but for the SF use case of my weekend it worked for everything but one ride to and from a evening dinner across town.

For a visitor, these were awesome. Fast, cheap, reliable, easy and fun. I’d look forward to exploring a new city and utilizing electric scooter technology there. I know my wife would love this and can’t wait for the first time we Birdle (my verb for riding one) around a new destination.

Birds and other new forms of electric transportation also mean fewer cars. Carbon footprint, pollution and congestion should all be affected positively as more technologies like this come to market.

Lastly, I know it’s early, but i’m sure a city like SF will find a way to curb (regulate) the Bird litter problem and find aesthetic stability in the urban ecosystem.

I’m obviously net positive as a tourist, but even if I were a resident of a progressive city like this one, I’d have to believe that there is enough benefit that the Bird Electric Scooter issues will ultimately be resolved.

More Bird pics on my instagrams if you like.  Chirp.

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