Noise Vibration and Harshness

You’ve Got to Get Back on the Scooter

Making the direct connection between speed and physical pain

Making the direct connection between speed and physical pain is not an inevitability in life, even one spent compulsively operating motor vehicles. But, when the connection is made, it’s just, well, brother, destiny has come calling.

I got my first lesson in big sudden hurt on New York’s George Washington Bridge, one night back in 1982, when I drove my 1967 MGB at 55 mph into the back of a stalled late ’70s Chrysler (My Brave New FaceAutomobile Magazine, Vol.7, No. 8, 1992.) It hurt and pulverized my sweet mug, but no others were injured and after making a miracle recovery I didn’t think I needed any more clarity on the association between speed and pain. But I was wrong.

For only just the other day, I was riding an electric scooter I’d been given for review a few years ago by the U.S. distributor for China’s E-Twow, known in these parts as the Uscooter. It’s a clever little thing, surprisingly useful and I’ve enjoyed it a lot, though I hope I never get to use it in its most perfect application—getting as far offstage as fast as possible the next time something like 9/11 happens.  Call me paranoid. While everyone else is stuck and steaming in traffic in their SUV, the rider of the lowly scooter has a fighting chance of finding the gaps and holes that make a getaway possible.

At first glance, the Uscooter looks more or less exactly like any other stand up scooter, no different than one the Little Rascals would’ve ridden around movie sets in 1930s Hollywood. It works the same as the old push scooters, too, except for the fact that it is collapsible (for transport and storage) and heavier (23 lbs.) because it has an electric motor with a battery pack that can be called on to propel it surprisingly rapidly to a not inconsiderable 22 miles per hour, with an observed range of 15 or 20 miles and a two-hour recharge time.

Fast, fun, and strangely practical, the Uscooter has not been without its quirks. The brakes stop proceedings on a dime—more like an even smaller, old French 5 centime piece, fast enough even to upend you if you’re not careful, with a brake control lever that demands the steadiest of thumbs. Over the course of a couple years of real world experience, however, I figured that I’d mastered that, along with the rudiments of safe, linear, electric push scootering.

Running late one day, I had only pulled the Uscooter from my garage, popped its folding front fork into place, and set off on a half-mile ride to collect my MGA from a nearby garage, when it dawned on me that I’d forgotten my helmet. I always wear one. I lecture other people on the necessity of helmets, especially my children, to the point of torture. Yet this time I forgot mine. And, ironically, but proving nothing, this time, at least, it didn’t matter.

What mattered was that the front fork collapsed unexpectedly when, running flat-out, I hit a small bump in the road two hundred yards from my destination and the scooter folded like it was being put in the back of a high-mileage hatchback.

Except it was still being used—now to send me hurtling at 22 miles per hour onto the pavement ahead of me. It may have been operator error. Uscooter theorized that trying to fold it over the course of years without following instructions, failing to roll it forward while simultaneously disengaging the locking mechanism, I’d damaged it. The fact that I was having to hammer the release should have told me something was up. Good point, I think, but in any event when the fork went south, the front wheel instantly flopped to one side, tipping over the whole shooting match while launching rider headfirst onto the road.

At this time, I was many times blessed. Crashing in place hadn’t meant falling under the wheels of a passing car. Mercifully, I’d had the road to myself for a brief moment. Secondly, I somehow managed not to hit my head or hurt my face.

“So this is what it’s like to crash a motorbike, only I’m hoping not quite as bad!” I found myself thinking in that slow-motion split second when my two-wheeled rig was slowing and I wasn’t. As the tarmac came up fast, I instinctively put my hands out and through some miracle managed to keep my head erect while braking with bare hands and arms, t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, twenty-two to zero in no time.

People ran from all directions asking if I was all right. I bounced up and assured them I was right as rain. Aside from scraped and bleeding knuckles, palms, elbows, and forearms, plus two sprained wrists, two sprained thumbs, and a baker’s dozen of black and blue marks about my hands, arms, legs, and big toes, I was all good.

And so it can be told: flying through the air and striking the pavement is not like crashing a car. It’s a whole new can of peas when it comes to the pain and trauma one experiences. No matter, Uscooter is sending me a replacement, its new Booster model. I expect to love it and hope I have nothing more to say on the matter.