Tech An ex-Uber employee raised over $100 million to fill the streets of San Francisco with scooters that people can rent and toss anywhere — here’s how they work

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REVIEW: Bird electric scooters are taking over San Francisco. Here's what it's like to use them.

Bird electric scooters are taking over San Francisco. play

Bird electric scooters are taking over San Francisco.

(Bird app screenshot and Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider)
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Bird, an electric-scooter-sharing company, has raised $115 million (including $100 million in March) to cover the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco with motorized vehicles that are like Razor scooters for grown-ups.

People can reserve a local scooter from a smartphone app, ride for a small fee, and leave the scooter anywhere at the end of a journey. The result is a citywide littering of scooters.

Led by a former Uber and Lyft executive, Bird raised over $100 million in funding this year to expand across the US. But the company's rise to success hasn't been without speed bumps. This week, Bird issued a press release claiming city officials in San Francisco were trying to shut it down. San Francisco City Supervisor Aaron Peskin denied the claim to Business Insider.

I pass a dozen electric scooters on the streets of San Francisco on my daily commute, so I recently rented an electric scooter from Bird to try it myself.

Here's what it was like to rent and try the Bird electric scooter:

The Bird has landed in San Francisco — and people have very mixed feelings about it.

Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." play

Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

(Universal Pictures)


"A few weeks ago, I had not noticed any electric scooters in SF. Now you can't exit a building without tripping over one," M.G. Siegler, a general partner at Google Ventures, tweeted.

"A few weeks ago, I had not noticed any electric scooters in SF. Now you can't exit a building without tripping over one," M.G. Siegler, a general partner at Google Ventures, tweeted. play

"A few weeks ago, I had not noticed any electric scooters in SF. Now you can't exit a building without tripping over one," M.G. Siegler, a general partner at Google Ventures, tweeted.

(Bird)


It's true. Three startups — Bird, Lime, Spin — rolled out hundreds of motorized scooter rentals in downtown San Francisco in the span of a few weeks. They're everywhere.

It's true. Three startups — Bird, Lime, Spin — rolled out hundreds of motorized scooter rentals in downtown San Francisco in the span of a few weeks. They're everywhere. play

It's true. Three startups — Bird, Lime, Spin — rolled out hundreds of motorized scooter rentals in downtown San Francisco in the span of a few weeks. They're everywhere.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Some people have commended the scooter startups for giving people a cheap, easy way to get around while reducing their reliance on cars and easing congestion on public transit.

Some people have commended the scooter startups for giving people a cheap, easy way to get around while reducing their reliance on cars and easing congestion on public transit. play

Some people have commended the scooter startups for giving people a cheap, easy way to get around while reducing their reliance on cars and easing congestion on public transit.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Others are annoyed. The proliferation of scooters has created crowding on city sidewalks, because the vehicles don't use docking stations like some electric-bike-sharing startups.



I wasn't sure where I stood on the issue, so I decided to give Bird a whirl.

I wasn't sure where I stood on the issue, so I decided to give Bird a whirl. play

I wasn't sure where I stood on the issue, so I decided to give Bird a whirl.

(Universal Pictures)


I left my office building in downtown San Francisco and found three scooters (all "Birds") located just outside the entrance.

I left my office building in downtown San Francisco and found three scooters (all "Birds") located just outside the entrance. play

I left my office building in downtown San Francisco and found three scooters (all "Birds") located just outside the entrance.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Honestly, this thing just looks fun to ride. It's a stand-up vehicle like the Razor scooter that I cruised around on as a kid. But the Bird scooter is tricked out with a motor and a battery.

null play

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(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


It reaches speeds up to 15 mph. By comparison, Uber's JUMP bikes top out at 19 mph.

It reaches speeds up to 15 mph. By comparison, Uber's JUMP bikes top out at 19 mph. play

It reaches speeds up to 15 mph. By comparison, Uber's JUMP bikes top out at 19 mph.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


After downloading the app and creating a login, a map appeared showing me nearby Birds. The closer I zoomed in, the more detail I could make out — like each scooter's battery charge.

After downloading the app and creating a login, a map appeared showing me nearby Birds. The closer I zoomed in, the more detail I could make out — like each scooter's battery charge. play

After downloading the app and creating a login, a map appeared showing me nearby Birds. The closer I zoomed in, the more detail I could make out — like each scooter's battery charge.

(Bird app screenshot)


When you find a Bird near you, you tap the button to unlock it. The app prompts you to snap a photo of the scooter's QR code and (on your first rental) scan your driver's license.

When you find a Bird near you, you tap the button to unlock it. The app prompts you to snap a photo of the scooter's QR code and (on your first rental) scan your driver's license. play

When you find a Bird near you, you tap the button to unlock it. The app prompts you to snap a photo of the scooter's QR code and (on your first rental) scan your driver's license.

(Bird app screenshot)


Renting a Bird costs $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute of use. I was ready to ride!

Notice the Allbirds shoes. This is about as "San Francisco" as it gets, people. play

Notice the Allbirds shoes. This is about as "San Francisco" as it gets, people.

(Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider)


To start the scooter, you kick off three times, then push the throttle button with your thumb.

To start the scooter, you kick off three times, then push the throttle button with your thumb. play

To start the scooter, you kick off three times, then push the throttle button with your thumb.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


It went a little something like this.



You squeeze with the right hand to accelerate and brake with the left.

You squeeze with the right hand to accelerate and brake with the left. play

You squeeze with the right hand to accelerate and brake with the left.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


The scooter responded to the lightest touch. There were a few lurches in the beginning as I learned how to handle the acceleration, and I was glad to be in an alley away from traffic.

The scooter responded to the lightest touch. There were a few lurches in the beginning as I learned how to handle the acceleration, and I was glad to be in an alley away from traffic. play

The scooter responded to the lightest touch. There were a few lurches in the beginning as I learned how to handle the acceleration, and I was glad to be in an alley away from traffic.

(Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider)


Almost immediately, I understood the appeal of Bird. It was fast, fun, and easy to maneuver, though I didn't feel comfortable turning corners. Instead, I applied the brake and pedaled.

Almost immediately, I understood the appeal of Bird. It was fast, fun, and easy to maneuver, though I didn't feel comfortable turning corners. Instead, I applied the brake and pedaled. play

Almost immediately, I understood the appeal of Bird. It was fast, fun, and easy to maneuver, though I didn't feel comfortable turning corners. Instead, I applied the brake and pedaled.

(Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider)


In a construction area with uneven pavement and loose gravel, the Bird handled the road like it was skating on ice. The extra-wide tires provided a smooth, comfortable ride.

In a construction area with uneven pavement and loose gravel, the Bird handled the road like it was skating on ice. The extra-wide tires provided a smooth, comfortable ride. play

In a construction area with uneven pavement and loose gravel, the Bird handled the road like it was skating on ice. The extra-wide tires provided a smooth, comfortable ride.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


The footboard was plenty wide for my feet, but I imagine it would be a tighter fit for men.

The footboard was plenty wide for my feet, but I imagine it would be a tighter fit for men. play

The footboard was plenty wide for my feet, but I imagine it would be a tighter fit for men.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


The footboard had some reminders: State law requires scooter riders to wear a helmet. You must be over the age of 18, have a valid driver's license, and ride one person at a time.

The footboard had some reminders: State law requires scooter riders to wear a helmet. You must be over the age of 18, have a valid driver's license, and ride one person at a time. play

The footboard had some reminders: State law requires scooter riders to wear a helmet. You must be over the age of 18, have a valid driver's license, and ride one person at a time.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Seeing as I didn't have a helmet, I stayed in my comfort zone: The alley. Bird has been giving away free helmets to active riders since February, and I placed an order after my ride.

Seeing as I didn't have a helmet, I stayed in my comfort zone: The alley. Bird has been giving away free helmets to active riders since February, and I placed an order after my ride. play

Seeing as I didn't have a helmet, I stayed in my comfort zone: The alley. Bird has been giving away free helmets to active riders since February, and I placed an order after my ride.

(Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider)

The helmet actually costs $1 to cover the cost of shipping.



To end the ride, I opened the app and tapped the button to lock the scooter. The app showed me a ride time of 13 minutes and a cost of $2.95 — a fraction of what my typical Uber ride costs.

play

(Bird app screenshot and Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider)


I could see myself using Bird or another electric scooter-sharing company to reach parts of the city where there's heavy traffic, so I could cruise past ride-share cars in the bike lane.



Do I still find these scooters everywhere to be slightly annoying? Yes. I would like to see the city create regulations that dictate where the scooters can be left and how many are allowed.

To help prevent littering, Bird has made a pledge to pick up all its vehicles nightly. It sends a team of employees and independent contractors called "chargers" to retrieve the scooters, charge them, and deploy the next day in areas where Bird predicts they will be used.



Onward!

Onward! play

Onward!

(Bird)

What do you think about the electric scooters taking over San Francisco? Let me know your thoughts by shooting me an email at mrobinson@businessinsider.com.