This month, Revel—the electric scooter rental company—introduced 1,000 of their vehicles to the streets of Brooklyn and Queens (following a small rollout last summer). So on this past beautiful Sunday afternoon, I told my wife I was going for a walk (she does not approve of mopeds), and snuck out to test-drive one around the streets of Park Slope, Gowanus, and Red Hook. Some notes to speed you on your way, if you are interested in taking one for a ride:

  • Sign up is a little too simple—you just download the app, scan your license, and put in a credit card. A map shows you nearby mopeds. Revel recommends you have moped/scooter experience or take one of their free classes, but who are we kidding, most riders are just going to hop on and fire this baby up.
  • This is a terrible idea, for a number of reasons, which will be apparent soon after you start. First, let's assume you've found a Revel, unlocked it with the app, adjusted the mirrors, and taken a complimentary helmet out of the luggage case on the back. Got all that? Good, now you have to know how to rock this two hundred pound moped off its kickstand. Kind of push it forward with your body until you feel the bike drop forward a few inches and hit the pavement.
  • Now, while several people at the nearby beer garden stare at you and point, gently slide the throttle unlock to the left, hit the green lever below it to turn the throttle on, and gently, and I do mean gently, turn the throttle ring on the right handlebar towards you to pull out of the space. Whoops! You've shot forward several feet into the street. Hopefully you've already found the brake levers on either handlebar. While collecting your dignity, and after apologizing to the other motorists who have had to stop to let you in, gently rotate the throttle again to get up to speed, and away from the crowd of onlookers heckling you.
  • This is a good time to think about whether riding a heavy moped with no seatbelt in heavy NYC traffic is a good idea, and whether you are properly insured. While you do that, you may want to adjust your mirrors again, as they tend to slip from their positions in the wind. Also remember to put down your helmet's windscreen visor, otherwise you will be eating a number of bugs.
  • I'd advise finding a very empty street to practice on. I went down to 2nd Avenue in Gowanus, which is totally quiet on a Sunday afternoon. Take twenty minutes to practice speeding up and slowing down, and doing right and left turns. You will notice that the hardest part of operating a moped is when you have to start from a standing stop, and get up to speed with the rest of traffic. I advise waiting for the light to turn with your legs gently extended, feet on the ground, which allows you to balance the bike for the first ten feet, especially if the car in front of you suddenly slows down in traffic.
  • REMEMBER: the throttle is very sensitive so you really need to be careful speeding up from a stop, as you can easily shoot forward.
  • Soon I felt confident enough to drive over to Red Hook, about a mile away, and do speed trials by the Gasworks on Bryant Street. The moped can get up to 30 MPH, which is five miles faster than the local speed limit, and ten miles faster than you have any business going if you value your life. I'm a confident bicyclist, but flooring this thing felt hazardous—if there was any traffic, darting pedestrians, or gravel on the road, it would be easy to lose control and die. On the other hand, the moped gets wobbly if you're going really slow, so it's best to aim for 10 to 20 MPH on most streets.
  • After exploring my mortality for a few minutes, I spent the rest of the ride on less busy streets navigating back to Park Slope. I spotted quite a few people pointing at the Revel—this was the first weekend the scooters were on the streets outside of the original zone in Bushwick and Williamsburg, and people have taken notice of this new mode of transportation. I thought about whether there was a place for the Revel in my normal NYC routine—it feels like a little much for a short ride, where I'd probably still prefer a Citi Bike, which are more plentiful, easier to unlock, and safer to use. But if I had to get over to a more distant neighborhood in the service zone (which stretches from Sunset Park to LIC), and the weather was nice, I think I'd probably try this again.
  • After 50 minutes of riding, I arrived back in Park Slope. Remembering the excitement of the unlock, I decided to find a quiet side-street, and carefully went through the parking process: shift the throttle lock to the right, slowly back the bike perpendicular to the curb, try and fail several times to rock the bike back on to the parking stand, finally get it, return the helmet to the luggage bin, open the app and click to end the ride. I had to do this twice because the first place I parked had street cleaning the next day, and you have to park in a legal spot with at least 24-hours left, so I had to move the Revel across the street. I noticed my head was quite sweaty—they provide hair nets in the luggage case, but I have a feeling these helmets are going to get pretty dank after a few weeks.

Walking back to my apartment, I felt like I'd picked up a new skill. However, I also felt like it's a near certainty that someone is going to get in a serious collision on one of these mopeds in the very near future. Be careful! Consider taking their practice class, and make sure your first ride is off busy streets.

The mopeds cost 25 cents per minute on top of a $1 base charge and a $19 sign-up fee.

Here's a video from Revel providing instructions as well:

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