Nothing fazes the scooter bros.
“They’re hating,” Cameron Willis, 32, explained as he glided to a stop on 15th Street NW, “because they don’t have a scooter.”
The arrival of zippy electric scooters for rent in Washington has been met with a giddy embrace from riders like Willis, and annoyance from plenty of others.
“What is it, 2000 all over again with the Razor scooter trend?” wondered Meghin Moore, a 27-year-old Fredericksburg-based freelance writer who was stunned on a recent visit to the capital by the sheer number of fully grown people on scooters. “Not only were they on the street, they were all over the sidewalks, too. I was like, great, scooter gangs are taking over D.C.”
Deposited onto Washington streets a few months ago by three companies — LimeBike, Bird and Skip (until recently known as Waybots) — the scooters can pitch riders up hills with no effort at all. They can zip past cars stuck in the evening gridlock. You can find them with an app, and, because they are “dockless,” leave them just about anywhere when you’re done.
That’s a big part of the grudge against scooters, which on any given day you’ll find leaned against parking meters, tossed in the running path along Rock Creek Park, just sitting out there on a swank residential corner like . . .
“Like litter!” joked a man in the blue button-down uniform of your typical government drone as he and a co-worker hopped onto a pair of Bird scooters a few blocks from the White House.
No names, please, the man implored. But he opened up a bit about why he would spend his lunch hour zipping around on a scooter: for the attention, the stares from the curious, that whisper of youthful recklessness.
“I’m a middle-aged man on a scooter!” he exclaimed.
Which gets at the essential question: Is it the scooters that so irritate their detractors? Or is it the people on them?
As with the stink bug invasion, few of us can pinpoint exactly when electric scooters came buzzing into Washington, only that in bright light of spring, they're suddenly everywhere. Now, scooter bros can be found hogging the sidewalk on K Street in the middle of the day, or rolling up the 15th Street cycle track with their briefcases at rush hour.
“We’ve reached meta D.C. transportation,” said Valeria Ojeda-Avitia, 23, a market research analyst who was dumbfounded by one such grown man careening past her while dressed in a suit.
“It was just too funny,” she said. “He even had papers like he was going to a meeting. Like, he was taking the scooter to a meeting.”
“Next thing you know,” she added, “you’re going to see Paul Ryan on a scooter, going from Capitol South to, you know, the House.”
The scooter wars are raging across the country. In Austin, both Bird and LimeBike launched the two-wheel devices without the consent of local officials and were forced to yank the scooters once the city promised to confiscate them. “There are some legal issues we have to discuss,” the mayor of Santa Monica, Calif., snapped at Bird’s founder days after scooters materialized there with no prior notice. A collision between scooters and a car just two days after the devices appeared in Nashville prompted that city to send Bird a cease-and-desist letter. In San Francisco, residents have taken to Twitter to chronicle helmetless riders and crumpled scooters left sprawled on the sidewalks. Some vigilantes are just throwing them in the trash.
In D.C., rental scooters might not be as plentiful — Lime, for one, won’t reveal the exact number of scooters it has in Washington, but suggests that its fleet is only about 200 strong — and they entered the market with the city’s blessing. Still, “it’s one more thing to dodge as a pedestrian,” Moore said. (At least, she mused, “they’re not hoverboards.”)
Naturally, it was the tech bro that begat the scooter bro. All three of the scooter start-ups competing in the District launched amid high-minded talk of getting us from bus stop to cubicle with “micro-mobility” options, “shared rides” and the very wonky “last-mile solutions.”
And yet it may say something about the target market that each of them landed on a solution that basically resembles a toy — the foot-powered Razor kick scooters that millions of children received for birthdays in the early 2000s and promptly grew bored with. Scooters that, curiously, their fathers started picking up.
Urban men and women began kicking their way to work, disdainful glances be damned. Tom Brady was photographed leaning his 6-4 frame onto the tiny handlebars of a scooter, and the proto scooter bro was born.
Now they’ve gone electric, so there’s no pretending the scooter bro is scooting for the cardio. “It really is the novelty of it,” says Caen Contee, a LimeBike spokesman, who reckons that motorized scooters are only the first zap of an electric revolution. “There’s no requirement to sweat now. All you have to do is jump on and jump off.”
Rashid Bushra doesn't get the backlash.
“The benefits outweigh the bad,” the 24-year-old insisted, as he unlocked a bright-yellow Waybots scooter on a congested sidewalk in Logan Circle. “Scooters have their own little market. They appeal to a certain kind of person, younger people . . .”
They appeal, he added, “to yuppies.”
Whatever that means these days. It does seem clear, though, that scooters are being taken up by a young, urbane and maybe just slightly entitled demographic. Is there a town more densely packed with that type than Washington, where professionals deep into their 30s still belong to kickball leagues and rock grizzly beards and Vans to the office?
“You do feel a little childish,” confirmed Willis, pausing to contemplate what it meant to be a 32-year-old man wheeling around a great metropolitan center on this glorified skateboard.
“It sounds bad,” he concluded. “But it’s fine.”
When pressed about the city’s scooting pains, Colin Browne, a spokesman for the Washington area Bicyclist Association, cheerfully mused that the more ways to get around we have, the better. He thinks we’re just in an uneasy adjustment period that “involves people having to figure out how to behave around each other.”
For all the gripes from the non-scooter people, there seems to be little solidarity among scooter bros, a tribe riven by mistrust and infighting.
One source of enmity is scooter stashing — the practice of docking your ride by an underpass, or in your Petworth apartment, where no other would-be renter can easily find and claim it. Early this month, Misty Summers, 32, of Los Angeles, scooted from bar to bar with a friend in Washington, hiding their rides in the bushes to ensure they could keep them all night. (Riders pay only for the time in active use — a dollar per ride plus about 15 cents a minute. Once a scooter is powered down at the end of a ride, it is theoretically up for grabs again.) Someone tracked them using the app that shows all the unrented scooters on a map. The scooters were gone, Summers said with a frustrated sigh, minutes after she’d hidden them.
Hey, everyone’s doing it, she insisted. Summers pointed to her phone, where a little icon seemed to locate one scooter within a massive building. “This one is in an apartment!”
Feuds can erupt when two scooter bros track down the same scooter at the same time.
“That’s not how this is supposed to work!” a young man yelled at Alexis Farmer, 19, and Destini Ross, 18, when, after following his app, he instead encountered them on the patio of a downtown Shake Shack with scooters by their side.
After a heated discussion, he gave up on trying to claim the wheels. But the two Howard University students looked rattled by the encounter, which was over nothing more than scooters, after all.
T.J. Pierce, 30, whom we found wheeling around on a LimeBike scooter a safe distance from the argument, seemed unconcerned by the frustrations of the scooter life, and its critics.
“There are haters for everything,” he said. “That’s kind of the world.”