Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Your milage may vary.
The Long Version: It's been six months since I first reviewed the Xootr MG kick scooter, and it's consistently been one of the most-viewed pages on `thewsreviews. So here we are, five hundred kilometers and a full summer later, with a second look at this nifty little sport-utility vehicle.
Some of the biggest questions have been about what it's like to ride in the city, how it deals with pedestrians and other obstructions, and what sort of music is appropriate. Aiming to answer all of those and more, I MacGyvered a video rig and hit the free-with-computer editing software.
Introducing the Xootrcam: `thewsreviews with video!
My very first attempt at an edited video (above) is a bit of cruising, showing the kind of speed that's possible on the open road, and ends with a set of streetcar tracks. Personally, I love watching this one: I keep waiting for something to happen, and it just keeps not happening. It's a lot like my photography.
But How Fast Is It?
I use the Xootr Mg for my daily commute, which is about 2.75km on mostly-level roads. On a good day, I can do it in about ten minutes, giving me an average speed of 16km/h-ish. I've used a GPS to get a speed reading while I was moving, and that gave me a result that fluctuated between 16-18km/h, which is especially impressive since I was riding one-handed. (I had to hold the GPS, after all, but it's a dumb thing to do.) So I'd estimate that my actual top speed is about 18km/h on flat ground without obstructions, a rough surface, or a headwind.
In practical terms, I'm much faster than a skateboard or those toy Razor scooters, can usually pass enthusiasts with rollerblades without much trouble, and occasionally pass slow bikes. (Bikes are actually a bit of a nuisance when they're in the scooter lane, because even though they're faster overall they accelerate much more slowly.) Walking the same route takes about twenty-five minutes, and the subway's no faster. So even allowing for the few times I haven't used it, my xooter has saved me seventy-five hours of my life over the course of the past six months.
Two things matter when you try to get a scooter to go fast: kicking speed, how fast your leg can move during the kick, and kicking power, which is the amount of strength that you can put into it. On level ground and without a great tail-wind, it's impossible to travel faster than you can kick. There are no gears or other mechanical advantage, so the faster I go, the smaller the difference will be between my fastest kicking speed and how quickly the ground is moving backward. So going fast is a bit of work, and going faster than that is basically impossible. But going less fast - but still far faster than walking pace - is very easy and takes almost no effort. Like Einstein said, everything is relative.
The upright Scooting posture is pretty harsh in a headwind, and even minor grades are noticeable when moving on wheels with so little rolling resistance. This is where kicking power matters. I actually find that I don't really slow down when I hit adverse conditions, I just work a lot harder to keep up my customary speed. I can't really tell whether that's a trait of the scooter or my latently competitive personality.
If you're looking for athletic training, riding a scooter is something like a cross between climbing stairs and doing lunges on a treadmill. Stairs are actually great conditioning exercise, or looking at it another way, riding a scooter is a great way to prepare for the next power failure in your office or apartment building. Done with enthusiasm scooter-riding can be a respectable workout, but unfortunately my commute is a little too short to have shown any appreciable results.
Life in the City
It's important not to be an idiot in life, and riding a scooter requires more consideration than usual. Take it easy on the sidewalks, don't hog the bike lanes, and remember that the smooth gliding motion of a scooter makes it very hard for drivers to see you and gauge your speed. Remember that pedestrians have the right of way, and are prone to doing odd things, so give them plenty of room. Dogs are often skittish and bark for no reason, so be careful around them too. And if you're on the road, remember to obey the rules that govern vehicles - although one benefit of my scooter is how I can simply step off to claim a pedestrian's rights at a crosswalk. Walking a few extra paces is also a more polite way to deal with crowds and a safer way to approach blind corners.
I've yet to wipe out, and really don't expect to without some significant outside assistance. But when I do need to rapidly transition from riding to walking - what cyclists would call 'spontaneous de-biking' - a few quick running steps is enough to get my balance back. The only real danger comes when I have to lift the scooter at the same time, because if it swings around, 'Ankle Spanker' gets a whole new meaning. It hurts.
If you choose to ride at night, watch out for potholes and anything else that might trip the front wheel, and make certain you're well lit - front and back. In the photo at the top of this article you can see my main LED front light, in white on the underside of the handlebar, and I also have another light facing right for cars in driveways and side-streets. The camera's flash is also picking up some of the reflective tape that I added. This is a great find from the automotive section at Canadian Tire, because it looks black until it needs to do its thing. Nifty and not at all dorky. For rear lights I've added a couple of red LED bike lights to the orange messenger bag that I use while riding.
The scooter's narrow wheels will cut through any sort of sand, no matter how well-packed it looks, so off-roading isn't highly recommended. And when it rains, the brakes do a vanishing act, so do not ride faster than you can walk when it's wet. Despite having the rear fender installed riding in the rain is for emergencies only. I'll happily pay the fee to ride the subway instead.
There is an optional rear-brake-and-fender kit available, which I bought several years ago. I've been completely unable to find a way to make the rear brake stop clanging against the fender, so I got rid of it and have just the fender installed. I rarely miss the rear brake, but it would be nice to have, so it might be worth finding out if Xootr has solved this particular issue if you're considering ordering a scooter of your own. Also, the fender is just long enough to catch my brake cable when the scooter's completely folded. One day I'll get around to cutting it down or finding a new way to secure the cable, but when the handle's left long enough for the scooter to stand upright, it's not a problem.
The video above, Xootr in the City, shows an out-and-back trip over the same terrain. The first is the crowd-level perspective, followed by the return trip with the popular front-wheel view. Notice that I keep away from the wide gap that runs along the curb-side of the sidewalk, because it is wide enough to catch the front wheel, and I also weave slightly when I'm on interlocking brick. This is another way of making certain that I don't fall into a rut that can pull the scooter aside, even though the grooves in the brick really aren't deep enough to be hazardous. It's just a good habit to have.
So, to make a short story long...
In the past six months, I've travelled at least 500 kilometers, and frequently cross potholes, rough sidewalks, and streetcar tracks. In that time, I've noticed only two examples of wear-and-tear. The front tire is wearing unevenly as the brake pad cuts into it, but it probably has at least another season's riding in it. But when I finally have to put the scooter away for the year, I'll take the time to swap the positions of the front and back wheel and level out the front brake pad, so it'll probably be several more years until I need to buy a replacement set.
The only other change that I've noticed is what sounds like a slight noise from the rear wheel's bearing, but rolling performance is unaffected. When going over an obstacle, it's quick and easy to just lift the front of the scooter while kicking, but the rear wheel takes the brunt of everything. I'm not too surprised if it's starting to show the effects of rolling through its harsh inner-city life.
Overall, I'm very happy with the durability of my Xootr. I can't imagine ever wearing the magnesium scooter chassis out; the relatively large 180mm wheels and brake can be replaced for $75 in parts, shipping and taxes not included. It's not a bad deal at all considering the quality and longevity of the parts.
Here's one last example of youtube's tragically inadequate bandwidth, but this time without any music. It gives a good sense of what riding in the city is really like, both at its most challenging as well as in its open-road glory. (And don't miss the cameo at the end.)
But what about __________?
People often find my first review when they're looking for used Xootrs. I wish them good luck. Mine looks like it will last forever, and I can't see many people who own one wanting to part with it. Rumour has it that Xootr sometimes resells ones that were returned to them under their 30-day guarantee, so try contacting them if you like, but they really are worth the list price. In six months it has saved me over $400 in subway tokens, and it's much faster and more reliable than the TTC.
The other thing I see a lot is people wondering which Xootr to buy. The company says that the Mg is their best, and I believe them. But having lived with mine for a while, I might be tempted to get a Roma instead. It's slightly lighter, which doesn't matter much, but I think I'd prefer its narrower 4" deck. I rarely stand with both feet square on the deck, so the breadth of the Mg doesn't add much to it's usability, but it gets in the way when I carry the scooter on the subway.
But the fact is that I'm very happy with my Mg, and it will probably never give me an excuse to buy the Roma. Unless someone wants to offer me a good price to buy one of the most famous scooters in Toronto - I'll even autograph it - I expect to be using it to get around town for a very long time.