I rode a Micro Scooter to work. Here's what happened
Fed up with traffic jams, bicycle punctures and public transport, Irish News Digital Production Editor Neil Crossey threw convention to the wind and tried commuting on a push-along scooter
Am I mad? Commuting on a push-along scooter
I’m gliding along the Lagan Towpath, the morning breeze gently helping me on my way. I overtake a woman walking her dog who shoots me a look that's a mix of irritation and bemusement as her cocker spaniel strains at the leash to try and chase me.
A cyclist does a double take before breaking into a wide grin. “Woah, bro,” he shouts in a strong Australian accent. “Be careful, dude!”
The cyclist isn’t shouting because I’m in his way; he's just surprised at my method of transport. For the past three weeks, I've been travelling my three-and-a-half mile morning commute on a push-along scooter.
It sounds insane and it probably is but I've tried pretty much everything else. Childcare arrangements meant I had to drop the kids off at the exact moment the bus was pulling away from my stop so that didn't work. Driving meant paying a fortune in parking charges. Jogging required a shower and a change of clothes - which I had to carry on my sweaty back all the way to the office. Walking took too long. I used to cycle but the threat of an accident put me off. Then there were the punctures. Many, many punctures. Broken glass seems so prevalent along certain sections of Belfast's cycle network that it might as well be a cosmetic feature (admittedly, the glints of light along the road on a cold, winter's morning can look quite beautiful).
Then there was the endless bike maintenance. To be honest, when the chain on my much neglected, over-sized BMX-style single-speed finally snapped (almost landing me in A&E) I was actually relieved. I admire anyone who commutes using a bicycle and can make it work. If you are able to ignore road raging BMW drivers zooming inches from you at 50mph and still muster up the enthusiasm to clean your drivechain of an evening then hats off.
So, in a last ditch attempt to avoid driving to work and the Kafkaesque mental anquish that is rush-hour traffic in Belfast, I researched adult scooters. Previously I'd dismissed them as over-priced novelties for hipster parents who wanted to impress pampered children with names like Humboldt or Violina. Having seen a few people scoot-commuting in Belfast though, I decided it was worth a try and hopefully better than two hours of walking each day.
Scooters are significantly slower than bicycles but are lighter and fold up into small spaces
Teenagers may find me hilarious as I zip past but scooting is a whole lot of fun. Ever notice how happy kids are on a scooter? Trust me, it’s the same for adults.
There's practically zero learning curve and as soon as I first put my foot on the scooter I was able to build up a decent pace on the footpath. Within about five minutes I had the hang of switching feet regularly; one to push along the ground while the other rests on the deck.
It's pretty vigorous exercise too. Google Maps tells me I'm doing my journey inside half an hour. That's jogging pace for me but it's a lot less sweaty than running or cycling so no time lost with a full change of clothes at the end of my journey.
Also, the scooter collapses at the touch of a button and folds up into a tiny space under my desk. No heavy chain lock to carry around or scrambling to find a safe space to leave your bicycle when you should have been sitting in the office 10 minutes ago. Also, weighing around 4kg, it's pretty easy to sling on your back and carry around so it would be a breeze to take on public transport.
The scooter folds into a tiny space under my desk
Like any mode of transport that involves wheels, there are a few safety concerns. Firstly, as I discovered while scooting home in a relentless downpour, the wheels get a bit slippery on wet ground. Also, the brakes on my scooter don't do rain - they stop working altogether when they get wet so I've found it best to get off and walk down hills while it's raining.
Perhaps it should go without saying, but scooters really aren't built to go on roads. Aside from being illegal, a scooter rider is likely to be even more vulnerable alongside cars and buses than a cyclist. Sticking to the pavement is a must. Having checked with police, they said scooters are ok to use on pavements but stressed the need to be mindful of pedestrians, who have right of way.
Given the uncompromising nature of the hard, rubber wheels, scooters do need a flat-ish terrain to be most effective. Going uphill can be a struggle but not impossible (no pain, no gain). On the other hand, going downhill is a whole heap of fun. Just remember to keep your foot hovering over the brake.
Bumpy ground is more difficult. There's one section of the Lagan Towpath, for example, that has glorious, smooth asphalt I can practically float along. Unfortunately, cobblestone dividers break up the ground every 20 feet or so. It's basically five seconds of smooth scootering separated by a short blast of teeth-chattering vibrations.
Cobblestones: the enemy of the scooting commuter
This is where scooter choice is key. Micro Scooters sent me one of their Flex Deluxe models which has a skateboard-style, wooden deck that provides plenty of give when going over rough surfaces. An all-metal scooter would be like a pneumatic drill on cobblestones. At £199.95 the Flex Deluxe is expensive but having travelled a total of around 80 miles on mine, it does appear to be bombproof. As with bicycles, durability is something to consider if you are serious about using a scooter as a daily commuter.
As unusual and even hair-raising as commuting has been, the highlight of this whole experiment has been leisure time. Never have my children been so happy to see me each evening. I could have driven home by car a million times and never seen them standing at the window, helmets on and noses pressed against the glass ready to take to the pavements. Already old pros with their Micro Scooters, Child One and Child Two have been very excited about Dad's new wheels and the three of us have been cruising the streets in what's become a sort of pre-school, safety-first version of a skateboard gang.
Hanging out with one of my posse while taking a break from practising fakies
Overall then, my scooter experience has thus far been positive. It's early days and weather has been kind - I doubt it would be a sensible choice in more extreme winter weather - scooting in icy conditions would be foolhardy and terrifying. The low maintenance and surprisingly little effort needed to cover short to medium distances are major pluses. While scooting hasn't taken off properly as a means of transport among adults just yet (at least not in Belfast), I can imagine it being a handy alternative to cover the last mile or so after parking the car or getting off the train near the city or town centre. Just try and avoid the cobblestones.