Walking outside my comfort zone – bike? push/kick scooter?

This walking-around-a-strange-city has its pluses and minuses. Plus: I got to see Denver’s downtown pedestrian zones and how they’ve set up the 16th Street Mall with plenty of trees and benches. Minus: My phone was dead, so I didn’t have GPS, and I hadn’t fixed and brought my MintyBoost yet, and I didn’t have a physical map. I missed my stop on the way back and ended up walking an extra 4.5km. Easy enough to plan for next time. On my next trip, I’ll definitely bring a power supply!

While walking around, I thought about what would make exploration easier. GPS and offline maps are definitely big ones, which probably means just making sure that I can recharge my smartphone on the go.

The thing with walking is that if you make a mistake or you miss a stop, it takes a long time to get back on track. On a car, you can swing around quickly and be halfway across town in a few minutes. On a bicycle, you can still cover a lot of ground. Walking? Trudge trudge trudge trudge. In the dark, this can be a little scary.

Walking also means I can’t cover that much ground. I know I can take a taxi, but I find it hard to shake the idea that taxis are a luxury. ;) Public transit is good, but the schedules can be tricky. CoPilot Live for Android shows me where the nearest bus stop is. As long as I keep the last bus times in mind, I’m pretty okay with asking for directions and waiting a bit at stops.

Reasons why it might be worth hacking this:

It would be really awesome to reduce anxiety. I get fidgety if I’m walking by myself and there are few people around. Public transit schedules tend to have gaps, and sometimes it’s hard to find a place where I can get a cab. (Which of these roads will lead to a hotel? Hmm.) If I’m on a bike, I can cover more distances myself, with the trade-off that I’ll just be worried about accidents. (Bright lights, reflective tape, road caution, helmets?) Even a push scooter might get me quickly from a silent patch to someplace with more light and/or people.

It would be great to not take cabs to client sites. Yes, I know, it’s a business expense. But I still take public transit whenever possible, even if I don’t benefit from the savings. Part of it is being aware of the moral hazard of a company expense account (when you change your behaviour knowing someone else is footing the bill), and part of it is fighting the hedonic treadmill (when you get used to a level of consumption).

It would be great to see more of the places I stay at. Might as well, I’m there already. I’m an odd sort of traveller, though. I’m not driven to take my picture beside famous landmarks. I don’t collect knick-knacks. I occasionally meet up with people, but I’m also fine connecting virtually. I do like checking out thrift stores. I can’t stand paying retail, and browsing through people’s donations gives me a little idea of what people are like.

I’m probably looking at two or three solo trips over the next year and some light use back home. No big deal – the null option (listed below) might still be cheaper.

How can I cover more ground and reduce the cost of making mistakes?

What about renting bikes? Most cities have bike rentals. I’m not sure if I can generally take advantage of them – time, familiarity. Well, maybe a handlebar mount for my Android, and spare power in case I need to charge up? If the weather forecast didn’t call for thunderstorms this week, I might’ve borrowed a bike and used it to get around.

What about a folding bike? Two of my friends take folding bicycles with them on trips. That might work, too, because then I won’t have to think about rental hours or availability. I tend to pack light. My travel clothes fit in my carry-on, which means I can keep the suitcase for the bicycle. A bicycle would give me better range and might come in handy if I can’t hitch a ride with a coworker. Would a folding bicycle be worth the investment? It will primarily be useful for solo air travel, and I don’t plan to take more than two or three such trips over the next year. (Note: Watch out for airline fees!) It may also be useful for subway or bus-assisted trips – not the one to work, but maybe when visiting friends. If it’s light enough, I might also use it for short trips in spring and fall, when my town cruiser is hung on the bike rack.

How can I test this idea?

  • Bikeshare program: Cheapest, if available. Will need helmet and lock. May have a hard time adjusting bike height. Dependent on bike sharing locations – usually only downtown core.
  • Rentals: Inexpensive for trips shorter than 1 week. Dependent on bike availability, rental shop hours, and location.
  • Bringing bike over: $100+/trip + bike packing materials. May be difficult to get from the airport to the hotel with a bicycle and a suitcase. Larger van, more costly?
  • Shipping bike over: Some people ship their bikes by FedEx or UPS. This is a little scary, though, and requires that I find a mailing store for the way back.
  • Folding bike: $400-500, maybe more? Might be easier to lug, though. Airline bike fees might mean that renting would be cheaper. Plus side: it will be my height, and I don’t have to worry about different brake systems.
  • Taxi/bus: The null option is worth keeping in mind, given the few times I might want a bicycle. This is really about making sure I have emergency power for my phone, the phone number for local taxi companies, and enough cash in case they don’t take credit cards.

What about push scooters? Other people swear by them, as they fold up smaller and are lighter than even the lightest folding bikes. A folded-up scooter is less bulky than a folded-up bicycle, and many models can be rolled along like strollers or shopping carts. Pushing myself might be interesting given the flat shoes I typically wear, though – I might change into a pair of sneakers. A push scooter would primarily be useful for getting around town on solo trips in conjuction with public transit. It might also be useful for going to the library or to the grocery store for quick trips, and for getting to the subway station when I’m not biking to work (when rain is expected, or if my bike’s still up on the rack). I walk to the supermarket or library about twice a week, but this is usually a social walk with W- and J- too.

How can I test this idea?

  • Check out the push scooters in Toronto. Check prices, feel, etc. Rainbow Songs (Roncesvalles) sells the Xootr Mg Push Scooter with fender/brake for $243.78. It’s ~$229 in the US, so it looks like getting it in Canada will be fine, although the US will have more choice. There’s also the Razor A5, which Toys R Us sells. Advantage of being short: I can raid the teens’ scooter lineup, although the perks of grown-up scooters look tempting.
  • Check scooter prices in the US. Plan to spend an extra day looking around, perhaps? Maybe I can visit friends and have stuff shipped.
  • Walking. The null alternative to a scooter would simply be more walking, maybe with extra power for my phone/GPS or a separate GPS unit with longer battery life. Extra power for phone seems like a better bet, so that I can call a cab if needed – and I’ve got the MintyBoost for that, I just need to fix the electrical short.

If the forecasted thunderstorm lightens up, I’m going to take the bus down into Boulder tonight to check out some of their thrift stores and to try the dining options along Pearl street. While there, I can think about which of the options would have given me the most benefit.

Hmm. Thoughts? Experiences? Advice?

2011-05-17 Tue 14:37

  • Joel Garza

    HI, Sacha.

    If you are considering a push scooter, see if you can find a place to check out a Trikke. It offers the foldability of a push scooter while allowing you to propel using a “carving” body motion. They are more expensive and somewhat larger than push scooters, but certainly less than a folding bicycle. Bicycles are still faster, and Trikkes don’t do well in loose gravel or wet surfaces due to the motion of the front wheel. The riding experience is awesome, though, much as I would think skiiing a downhill slalom or ice skating would feel (neither of which I have attempted or mastered).

  • Susie Blanco-Leng-ay

    I admire the thought process on this one.
    Check out what’s your company’s budget for covering clients.
    Knowing what’s allowed will free you from guilt. Besides, companies would like to make sure their people come in top shape when meeting clients.

    You can always go back to the thrills of travelings your way.

  • http://oryxandcrake.wordpress.com Tania Samsonova

    I love the idea of getting outside one’s comfort zone and off the hedonistic treadmill… Thank you, that’s definitely something worth thinking about. Thanks, Sacha.

  • Kathy Chua-Grimme

    Sacha,

    I think the folding bike is your best bet. I’ve seen a lot of people here get around with the same. KLM doesn’t charge extra for shipping bikes (even standard ones) for as long as you don’t go over your baggage allowance.

    http://www.bikefold.com/bike_friday_pocket_8.html

    This one folds into a suit case! Ta da! :)

    Of course, bike rentals – like the ones they have in The Hague and Amsterdam are usually the most ideal. Get a lady’s bike, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s a little bit taller since you can step down gracefully.

    I still think bicycles are the way to go. They’re clean, they’re green, and it Manila – you can lord it over the sidewalk unless you’d prefer dodging jeepneys and buses. Everywhere else, there may be a bike lane or hopefully drivers are nice enough not to play patintero with your life. :)

  • http://coevolving.com David Ing

    @sachac I have multiple bicycles that fold/collapse for bicycling. While others may suggesting renting a bike at the destination, I’m shorter than average, and therefore find the average bicycle doesn’t work for me.

    After taking a Dahon 20″ wheel folder on a trip to San Fran, I had the opportunity to route through London in 2003 and picked up a Brompton bicycle (which folds uniquely with 18″ wheels). This was combined with an Airnimal cases (that works well, with two side clasps making up for the front clasp that won’t stay shut). The Brompton is sufficiently light and easy to set up, so that it’s fun to ride in travel destinations.

    I do have a Bilenky bicycle that disassembles rather than folding, that is a serious touring bicycle. This isn’t so likely for business travel (although it was fun for a lap around Beijing).

    Economically, it’s hard to justify any of these alternatives for personal use on business travel, as the hardware is expensive. My thinking is that if I’m going to be on an exercise bike the hotel gym when the weather outside is fine, I should take the opportunity to see the city while I can.

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      David: Thanks for the tips! I may shelve the purchase idea for now, as I only have a few trips coming up, but it’s great to hear about the options. I tend to not hit hotel gyms much. I pack too light, although I do walk a lot whenever I can. =)

      Archie: I sometimes forget to check my schedule before accepting meetings, too. =) Wouldn’t it be nifty to have a Lotusscript agent that reviews your calendar, blocks off before- and after-meeting slots, and warns you of conflicts?