Half a century of scooting

By Jeffrey the Barak

I may have a few decades of life left, but with my 58th birthday coming this week I thought it would be fun to direct via the keyboard some reflections of riding scooters. This a hardcore scooter fanatic ramble that will only appeal to our splendid scooterholic minority, but here goes anyway.

I have had bicycles and in-line skates, and I have had electric scooters, but nothing has ever approached the satisfaction that comes from the simplicity of a kick scooter. Scooters may be inefficient and exhausting at times, unless you adjust your expectations, but something about two wheels and not much else provides a purity of movement that no other conveyance can provide, with the possible exception of a surfboard. In fact a skimmer board is the epitome of a simple vehicle, and there is now a version of these with a scooter handle on top!

As I have written before, there are certain classifications of scooters and I made an attempt at defining these in my 2012 article here.

Depending on your intended speed, intended use and intended terrain, one or more types of scooter may be more appropriate. But in this article I want to reflect on what I personally have had, and what the scooter did for me.

Growing up in the Sixties, I was in the rare position of having a father who owned part of an amusement park, The Spanish City, in Whitley Bay, England. I liked rides, especially since I didn’t have to pay to ride, and so I had electric racing cars, an electric train and various riding machines at my disposal. I acquired a bizarre appreciation for wheels, rubber tires, and machines that moved people in various ways.

My first scooter was the standard three-wheeled Triang toy that most kids of that era in England will be familiar with. It was a metal toy. There were better scooters around, similar to today’s 12.5 inch adult street scooters, but I actually never had one.

Jeffrey on an old scooter in England
The old English scooter

Something about the simplicity of the scooter, the absence of gears, chain, pedals and saddle, made the concept fascinating. As an adult I bought an antique off someone. The tires were full of Fix-A-Flat and the wheel bearings were probably as inefficient and under-maintained as any on the planet, but I did manage to go a long distance on it a couple of times. And this was in the early eighties when the appearance of urethane wheels and cartridge bearings had brought back roller skating and skateboarding in such a big way.

1988 $50 scooter
The Fifty Dollar Winner

It was after moving to Los Angeles in the Eighties and landing squarely in the Venice Beach bike-path and boardwalk environment that I realized the time was right for a good scooter. Not that there were any others down there. The introduction of the Razor scooter was still in the distant future (1999) and the old BMX scooting scene was in it’s death throes.

I will guess it was in January 1988 when I picked up my new scooter for $50. A Chromed 12.5” white-walled street scooter. And this became my highest mileage scooter to this day. I lived near Venice Beach in Marina del Rey and almost every day I went up and down Venice on my scooter. People started calling me the scooter guy. I never saw another person on a scooter for years.

I had to go to Europe for a little while so I gave it away, but by then it was quite worn out. Loose and creaky with shot tires and bearings.

Back in L.A. I observed the post 1999 scooter craze without ever buying a Razor. It amazes me that when you say scooter, most people will only have the image of a Razor A1 in their head. It must have seemed like a new invention to most people because scooters had been so rare prior to the Razor age. The Razor started a new class of scooter made possible by urethane in-line skate wheels and smooth spinning bearings. As long as the concrete is smooth, the Razor gives a good smooth ride. It’s descendants are the many excellent brands of pro-scooters, high quality and quite expensive. They do not fold so they do not rattle, and they roll even better on high-quality bearings, but the trick riders like their bars low so you cannot exactly stand up straight and take a slow cruise unless you have really long arms for some reason.

scootlounge02
Zappy left, Phat Flyer right

I tried electric scooters, getting a Zappy and then a Currie Phat Flyer. The Currie made it into the-vu in July 2000.  Then in 2001 I was finally drawn back to human-powered scooters where I still remain today. I started with the first of three blue Know-Peds. Sadly a burglar took that away.

Shortly thereafter I bought two footbike class scooters at the same time. A big Sidewalker City, and a Kickbike Millenium Racer. My plan was to test and review both then sell one. The review was published in the-vu in September 2003 here.

That Kickbike Millenium Racer stayed with me for four or five years. It was not really a high mileage relationship, but it was and is the fastest scooter I have had.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sidewalker City (blue) and Kickbike Millenium Racer.

While I had the Kickbike I also bought a Xootr Mg, my first scooter that lacked rubber tires. That Xootr was so fast on smooth concrete, but it vibrated terribly on any surface with texture and it was very easy to fall off that thing. The racket it produced was alarming from half a block away so it did not need a bell. The deck was nice and low but the magnesium rail along the bottom became a brake that would grab uneven pavement and toss you over the bars. I will also never again take a polyurethane tire onto a damp surface of any kind. With that bottom rail and those hard tires, the Xootr Mg is an exceptionally risky thing to ride. I have recently learned that the reason Xootrs are are so fast is mostly due to excellent wheel bearings, and you can throw fairly affordable fast bearings into any small scooter and get even faster rolling results.

KickPed-vs-Xootr
Xootr MG (left) and a Tall KickPed

The Xootr was replaced by a KickPed. This was of higher quality than the Know-Ped I had in 2003, but I made the mistake of following the store’s advice and getting the tall bar version, which was a shame as I am only 5” 7”.

I replaced that with two new blue Know-Peds. I had hoped my wife would ride the other one but she did not take to it. I have a deep appreciation for the visual design of the Know-Ped and it’s cousin the KickPed. Those wheels with their slick rubber tires remind me of racing car wheels.

Peds1

And then in 2013 I imported a Mibo Gepard from the Czech Republic. This was  a happy return to 12.5 inch tires. I have always had nostalgia for the format of two twelve inch tires. That is what scooters are supposed to look like. As a minimalist, this meant I had to sell the Peds and the Mibo got center stage. After less than two years I decided to let a second owner experience the Mibo and it left me at the beginning of 2015. I am such a gear flipper, partly due to a minimalist bent. I feel uncomfortable keeping ownership of more than one of anything at the same time. I cannot collect things.

P1020332So currently this scooter fanatic is scooterless and I am considering in which direction to point my wallet. Perhaps as a compliment to my bicycle, something small just for indoor or smooth surface use, like a higher and wider barred freestyle scooter (minus the intention to do any tricks) or I could just wait and see what comes out.

Jeffrey the Barak is the publisher of the-vu and thinks scooters can be bought and sold on a whim for almost no good reason.

4 Comments

  1. Growing up in an amusement park! Every child’s dream! (If you haven’t already done so, read Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life .”)

    If I still lived in the Milwaukee area, I probably would not have gotten into kick scooting because it was hilly and the parking was easy. Here on the East Coast in the NYC area, kick scooters provide convenient transportation where just about everything else fails.

    I hope people read your other article on the subject in addition to this one, and then, after reading, give several of the models you’ve ridden a try. Kick scooting is fairly inexpensive and a perfect urban sport that gets one from here-to-there without intimidating pedestrians.

    Besides NYC and our area in New Jersey, we have scooted several times in and about Washington DC, along the East Coast, through Florida, New Orleans, and San Antonio. In Europe, we covered every corner in Paris, checked the coastline along Nice, and joined the locals of The Netherlands on small wheels among their tens of thousands of bikes. The best think about kick scooters they are easy to pack and ship. Don’t leave home without one!

    Thanks for the article and your insights.

  2. Thanks for the time warp and sharing your journey. I like seeing photos of the old scooters. Way to have caught on to the simplicity of scooters way before me.

    I’m of the same feeling about smaller wheel footbikes (12-20 in. front, 12-16 in. back). They are smooth-ish riding, light and compact. I ride on trails with walkers and runners. My Sidewalker Atom is very quick to navigate close with confidence and without, seemingly, intimidating anyone. The stem extender/column folds down, so it fits small spaces. It’s not as slick folding as your Peds.

    Going back to your BMX scooter days, I upgraded mine to Skyway Tuff wheels with fast ABEC sealed bearings. I use high pressure Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires. I have about 850 miles on my Atom with this setup in the last 6.5 months. I attached a Profile Design Jammer GT (one side) aerobar to the column and added two water bottle cages and a place for my headlight.

    I agree with Karen about portability. It’s hard to make an excuse not to scoot when I have one close at hand. If I needed to travel farther or faster, it would make sense to invest in a larger footbike.

    Best for you next ride.

  3. Rich-Rally, That is exactly what I would do if I got another 12 incher. Skyways with Bones Reds or similar. Much better than small bike wheels and their bike bearings. And Schwalbe Marathons are excellent tires too. You have to maximize your output when your input is just a kick.

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