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Two senior politicians riding scooters
Two senior politicians riding scooters

SocietyNovember 16, 2023

How to ride an e-scooter

Two senior politicians riding scooters
Two senior politicians riding scooters

A surprisingly earnest guide from a concerned onlooker.

I once met a woman who had never sprinted. No hidden meanings, no caveats, she’d literally never run as fast as she could in her entire life. When she told me this some years ago, I said “oh wow, that’s incredible” and “how did you manage that” and any number of relevant follow-up questions, but I have thought about that woman consistently ever since. One thing that is guaranteed to bring her front of mind is when I see grown adults riding e-scooters incorrectly.

Never having sprinted in one’s life when you have the ability to run is quite a feat. But there are people everywhere who have never done things that others find second nature. Just last week I watched a video of a woman doing a box jump (jumping on a box at the gym) for the first time and honestly it looked like she’d never jumped before. And as has been demonstrated by at least two National Party politicians, many people have never ridden a scooter before. 

With the weather heating up and the cost of living rising, e-scooters are looking more and more attractive as a means of transportation around our cities. They’re scattered around the place and available for virtually everyone to use, but they’re also capable of causing serious injury when used incorrectly. So as someone who has loved riding on all sorts of wheeled devices for years, here’s a handy explainer I genuinely didn’t think was needed until now – how to ride a scooter. 

Find your strong side

Before you go anywhere, think about how you stand and what your “strong” side is. If you needed to use a foot to push or to steady yourself, would that be your right foot or your left foot? For most people it’s their right, which means the right foot goes at the back and is ready to be used if needed. A lot of e-scooter accidents occur because the rider assumes that once they’re moving they no longer need their legs. Always be ready to need your legs.

Stagger your feet

Despite the weirdly long laces, this stance is correct

The fastest way to a chipped tooth on a scooter is to ride with your feet together and facing forward. I cry whenever I see this (which is a lot). Think about riding a scooter like you would think about standing up on the bus. Have you ever seen someone standing on the bus, facing straight ahead with their feet together? No, because they’d catapult through the windshield as soon as the bus stopped. Scooters do the same thing (move you forward) so stand facing a little to the side, feet apart if you can, to give your body a lower centre of gravity and yourself half a chance of survival if you hit a rock. 

Standing this way also helps keep the scooter itself balanced, as very much not demonstrated by Nicola Willis in 2019. Note how it was impossible for her to stagger her feet with heels on? Note how her feet are straight ahead and her torso is almost twisted to the opposite side? Disaster waiting to happen (and it did happen).

Another tip: Don’t hang bags from the handlebars

Hold on with two hands

Seems self explanatory but sadly is not. Scooters feel like bikes in that they have two wheels and a straight handlebar, but their weighting makes them a lot harder to keep steady. So as much as you might remember riding around on a bike with one or no hands, don’t try it on a scooter. You will fall off, as demonstrated by Chris Bishop this morning.

But don’t hold on too tight

Despite what I just said, there is also a danger in holding on too much. You need your hands to keep the scooter steady and going in the right direction but other than that, a nice loose grip is the best approach. The harder you grip, the more of each bump you’ll absorb, the more likely your body is to jolt, the more likely you are to topple. By keeping a steady but loose grip, you’ll let the scooter absorb a lot of the little jitters and enjoy a much smoother ride.

Lean back

It’s genuinely concerning how many people I have seen absolutely cane themselves while trying to ride from the footpath to the road, either straight off the kerb or even down the lovely little ramp. And every time it’s because they inexplicably pulled a Sheryl Sandberg and leaned into it. If you’re going down, lean back. If you’re going up a slope, lean as forward as feels natural. But generally, if in doubt, it’s better to have your weight going back as it effectively removes weight from the front of scooter (which is good). Leaning in adds more weight, makes you top-heavy, and makes it incredibly easy to get stuck in even the smallest of cracks.

Stop accelerating, then brake

Again, seems self explanatory but worth reiterating. Much like an automatic car, do one thing at a time. Accelerate, stop accelerating, brake. Because of the smallness of all the levers, it’s easy to forget you’ve been accelerating when you go to brake, which causes sudden jolts of movement and, you guessed it, crashes. Most of the time on the rental scooters, simply not accelerating will do most of the work of slowing down.

If you choose to right a scooter in wet weather (not recommended), the safest thing you can do is brake as little or as gently as possible. Braking clamps your wheels and leads to skidding. Simply riding slower by accelerating less keeps the wheels moving and limits your risk. And on that note: wherever possible, don’t ride on painted lines.

Don’t bots it

Just don’t bots it. Unless you’re doing genuine tricks (and even then it’s debatable), it’s impossible to look cool on a scooter. So don’t try to get there by going faster than you’re comfortable with or taking a risk on a gap or sharp turn. No one cares and no one’s paying attention unless you crash. 

In a dream world, we’d have few cars on the road and lanes reserved all over the city for cycling and scootering. When that day comes, as I choose to believe it will, there will hopefully be a lot of capable riders, feet apart, a little to the side, holding on but not too tight.

Keep going!