I think I can walk faster than this thing can go. WTF anxiety?
August 7, 2010 4:07 PM   Subscribe

I am afraid to ride my scooter. How can I get over this?

A few years ago, I had an idea to buy a 50cc scooter so that I could occasionally ride to work, the store, etc. instead of taking the car. However, the realities of riding the thing are causing me some serious anxiety.

I signed up for a motorcycle safety course at the local college, but I didn't even make it through the first day of the riding part (on their motorcycles). I think I was afraid to pick up my feet. After that, I went ahead and bought the scooter anyway, because I thought it would be less intimidating than a motorcycle and it doesn't require a license endorsement in my state. My boyfriend took me out for some lessons in a local parking lot, and I was generally okay doing big circles and whatnot, but put my feet down alot, and going out on the little side street nearby was kind of scary. I had to stop and turn right and I was concerned about starting again from a full stop. We put the scooter away for the winter and I haven't gotten it out since.

It's like this - when I think about riding, it's exciting and I want to do it. But when I get on the thing, I feel like I am just going to wipe out and fall over. I can't put my finger on what exactly is freaking me out. Maybe I want to be able to stop by putting my feet down and it scares me that I can't do that with the scooter. Maybe it's just a general feeling that I don't have control over the machine. I'm not sure, but it pisses me off that I can't do this.

So, my question: what can I do to get over this fear? Do I just need more practice? Is it hopeless?

For background, I am a fairly big woman (5'8" or so, somewhat overweight) with decent strength. I'm not athletic or particularly coordinated. I own a decent bicycle, but haven't ridden a bike regularly since I was a kid. Admittedly, I don't feel as sure on a bike as I did when I was 10.

I'm posting this anonymously because this issue is really embarrassing to me. Throwaway email is scooternewbie@gmail.com.

Bonus question: am I going to look really silly riding a 50cc scooter (max 30 mph) with a full face helmet?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is it hopeless?


Bonus question: am I going to look really silly riding a 50cc scooter (max 30 mph) with a full face helmet?

As a european I'd say not at all silly. Better to keep your chin intact if you do fall off awkwardly anyway.

what can I do to get over this fear?

I think cycling a whole bunch more to get you used to just generally dealing with balancing it and feeling how stable a moderately fast moving two wheeled vehicle actually is will help. Once that feels comfortable again then getting on a 50cc bike shouldn't feel like too much of a challenge I think.

Then you definitely need to go and fix this part.

I didn't even make it through the first day of the riding part

Do your MSF!

Your confidence on the machine goes an awfully long way to how safe you'll be. You are probably also a lot safer on the bike than you think you are. Even a 50cc bike is more capable than people think it is and finding the machines limits would still be a challenge even for a more seasoned rider.
posted by public at 4:18 PM on August 7, 2010

Bonus question: am I going to look really silly riding a 50cc scooter (max 30 mph) with a full face helmet?

Well, no one will be able to see your face, so what difference does it make?

I took a few psychology classes in college and one thing I learned was that a good way to get over phobias was slowly increase exposure. So I would say, just get out there and practice. Ride it in parking lots, and on low-traffic residential streets at first and gradually build up your confidence and tolerance.
posted by delmoi at 4:21 PM on August 7, 2010

Sounds like just logging lots more time on the thing should really help. If that has to take place in a local parking lot, great.

Here are some tools you might use:

Before you get on the scooter, write down the expected anxiety level for your ride, on a 1-10 scale. 1 being "getting into bed on a quiet evening" and 10 being "watching piano fall onto my head."

Then, when you get done riding, write down what the actual anxiety level worked out to. Say you got on the scooter, and it started to tip and that felt like a 7. But then you rode it for 30 minutes, and it came down to a 5. Write it down as a 6.

When the anxiety gets down to a reasonable amount - say, 5 or 6, ramp up the difficulty a notch. Raise the speed a bit, or go out of the parking lot and into the street for 5 minutes, then back into the parking lot. Then do that until you're down to a 5 again.

This doesn't have to take hours and hours. Just make sure you're progressing -- some people only need a few days, some take weeks of little 30 minute practices.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, benefits from more experience. Success is not an ingredient -- you will never find somebody who just got on and rode 100% from the first day -- but work and effort are ingredients that lead to success. So, just put your imperfect self into it, and put in the riding time, and you'll build up to success (in your case riding without fear most of the time) gradually.

Also, reward yourself while you're on the scooter. Buy some neato clothing or shoes that you can only wear on the scooter.

Finally, you might add this in:

Talk yourself through a worst-case scenario on the scooter. "I put my foot down, it catches on a curb, I fly off the bike..." and so on -- go all the way through it. Talk about how you'd recover and what it might mean -- do you have insurance? And all that.

Hope that helps!
posted by circular at 4:26 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

My old boss was a motorcycle commuter and very keen on safety. He recommended taking dirt bike lessons as a way to get confident with handling motorcycles.
posted by rouftop at 4:31 PM on August 7, 2010

I feel like I am just going to wipe out and fall over.

I found it very liberating to actually wipe out and fall over. I did it twice while teaching myself to ride, on a much larger bike. I was hardly moving (both times) so the only things that got injured were my pride and my Levis.

So put on some old jeans, stick a tube of first aid cream and some band-aids in your pocket and go practice. Allow yourself more time to practice than you think you really need before flirting with traffic. It won't all go perfectly, but that's okay.
posted by jon1270 at 4:48 PM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're just going to have to practice more. The anxiety I felt when learning to ride my 50cc moped were the same ones that I felt when learning how to drive a car (and also the same ones that I felt when learning how to drive a manual transmission car after learning how to drive automatic). It just feels so weird and alien when you first set out to do it that you think that you're never going to get the hang of it. But then with practice you do get the hang of it and then you think to yourself that you were silly in the beginning to ever think that you wouldn't. So yeah, just practice.

Bonus question: am I going to look really silly riding a 50cc scooter (max 30 mph) with a full face helmet?

Honestly, yes, I do think that this looks a little silly on such a slow scooter. But on the other hand, you shouldn't care what I think or what anyone else thinks. A full face helmet is definitely safer.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:01 PM on August 7, 2010

Ride your bicycle more as a step in the right direction. The lessons are somewhat similar in controlling a two-wheeled vehicle in motion, yet the bicycle goes a lot slower and is something almost everybody knows how to do. Go have some fun on it. If you can get some confidence on your bicycle, that will transfer to riding your scooter.
Second, learn to fix the scooter. Learn some basic mechanics, change a tire, do something mechanical that makes you feel like you've mastered that one task. This helps demystify the machine and gives you a larger sense of control.
posted by diode at 5:02 PM on August 7, 2010

Ride your bicycle! set the seat height low so you can flat foot it and ride around. I think you just need to gain a bit of confidence on two wheels. I think a scooter can feel unweildy when you haven't ridden anything for a long time, so riding the bike should let you pick up some of the skills again.
posted by captaincrouton at 5:27 PM on August 7, 2010

Bonus question: am I going to look really silly riding a 50cc scooter (max 30 mph) with a full face helmet?

Not as silly as you would with scabs across your face from not wearing one. Seriously, it's what I wear when I ride a scooter or motorcycle, and I'd guess it's what I see on about half of the scooter riders I pass every day. If you do decide to get a 3/4 or 1/2 coverage helmet, make sure to wear eye protection -- gravel or a bee in your eye at 30mph is no joke.

Anyway, I agree with the advice above. Ride your bicycle around the neighborhood, take the MSF class,* and practice doing figure-8's and loops in a big empty parking lot for as long as it takes to get more comfortable. Practice makes perfect, but you want to start out with good habits (like using both brakes) rather than bad ones (like dragging your feet or being afraid to use both brakes).

* Many places offer motorcycle riding classes for women only, which might provide a better environment for a less confident student. And if that's not an option, see if you can contact an instructor and pay them on the side for an afternoon of getting you ready enough to take the MSF class. Do take the class, though: even though the shifting doesn't apply to your scooter, the emergency stopping, turning, and other skills do apply completely and will help you stay safe out there.

Have fun!
posted by Forktine at 5:45 PM on August 7, 2010

Can you ride a bicycle? Can you stop the bike, put your feet down, and then restart? You can do it on a scooter. I think your fear is OMG It is going to go as fast as a motorcycle!. Well in traffic, you'll be lucky enough to go as fast as a bike.
posted by Gungho at 5:54 PM on August 7, 2010

Can you find someplace to take the safety course with your own scooter? That would be so much easier than trying to learn on a big heavy motorcycle!
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:14 PM on August 7, 2010

i've been riding only a honda ruckus (before that only a toyota camry) since jan 2008. i drove it through 2 winters in indiana. at least 5 days a week all year. hail, rain, freezing rain, tornadoes, blizzards, sleet, sandstorms (this is from phoenix arizona), crazy people who are allowed to drive cars. i remember the first day i had to drive it. it was snowing a buttload. i was like, heck if my super grandpa can kill a wooly mammoth, i can drive on some goddamn snow. i have only ever fallen on my scooter once. and all i got from it was a tiny booboo on my elbow. just muscle up and punch your fear in its naughty parts! tl;dr find a way to get jam-packed with courage; i get mine from cartoons fwiw.

EXTRA STAGE (re: silly looking wheels): if you get a ruckus, young, tough-looking, attractive men will tell you 'that is badass, man.' and i wear an OPEN face helmet
posted by Azhruwi at 9:09 PM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

No one's mentioned this yet, but scooter helmets are actually a sub-category of motorcycle helmets. I find that they look a lot more cute and a lot less overkill than standard motorcycle helmets. Also, other people are used to seeing that combination of helmet and scooter.
posted by circular at 9:28 PM on August 7, 2010

I drive a car, or walk, or take the bus, and I have never thought anyone riding a scooter looked silly if they were wearing a full-face helmet. I saw a guy the other day riding a motorcycle (on city streets) who was wearing a full helmet, motorcycle jacket (the kind with the plates in it)...and shorts and knee-high white tube socks, with loafers. He looked silly. Unless you wear this combination, you won't.
posted by rtha at 10:08 PM on August 7, 2010

I'm enormous (6'3") and wear a full-face helmet and proper gloves while riding my bright yellow 50cc scooter. I guarantee no matter what you do you will never out-ridiculous me.

I was also shit-scared for the first two weeks on the thing. After my first ride across town to the cinema (15 minutes tops) I wanted to give it back. But I kept at it and after a couple weeks I stopped feeling like I was going to die. It's been a few months now and I am already dreading having to sell it in November.

Some things which helped me at first -

1. Find alternate routes to places which make you feel more comfortable. I discovered some back ways up my hill with lower speeds and fewer cars.
2. Take it out at the weekends on quiet neighborhood streets and pretend you're out for a casual bike ride. Find deserted windy roads to practice your turning skills on.
3. Google safety techniques - I probably didn't learn anything useful by doing this, but it certainly made me feel more prepared for the whole thing.

I didn't take a course but a BYO scooter one might help you out a lot. Good luck! Once you get going I guarantee you'll be hooked...
posted by clipperton at 10:35 PM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

You'll be a lot less scared once you do actually fall over.

Go somewhere grassy and practice ditching it at slow speeds.
posted by 256 at 11:42 PM on August 7, 2010

Start riding your bike again. On the street. Preferably with traffic.
Also, before you start doing loops in the parking lot, just sit on the scooter, with the motor off. Pick up your feet. You'll be able to balance for second, and when you do have to put your feet down you won't have anything to worry about. That's the wobbliest you'll ever be on a scooter. Once you start moving the wheels work like gyroscopes and they want to keep you upright. Even with a tiny little motor, a little gas can pull you out of more than a 45 degree lean.
Take the MSF class, at the very least for the sticker, which has gotten me two (that I know of) warnings instead of tickets.
Also, there's no way a full face helmet can look sillier than a crooked bite and gravel under the skin on your face.
posted by gally99 at 12:44 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Riding a bicycle is nothing like riding a moped.

I don't know the specifics of your safety course but if its anything like mine its way harder than actually riding - keeping your balance trying to do a figure 8 around some cones at 5-10mph is harder than anything you'll ever have to do in the 'real world', the faster you're going the easier it is to stay upright.

I only did a one day course but in the first few hours I felt absolutely useless, I couldn't do the figure 8 around the cones, the first time I tried to drive in a straight line I drove full speed into a chain fence (tip: when going for the brake with your right hand, if you rotate your hand back towards yourself to get your fingers out from under the brake, like you might be used to doing on your bicycle, you'll accelerate! Only made that mistake once!)

If you're wearing full safety gear, coming off isn't that bad. I rode for 3 years (16-19) and only came off twice. The first time I took a corner badly (while looking for my mum's car that I was trying to follow), there was a car parked too close on the corner and I crashed to avoid hitting it, broke my favorite pair of heels, laddered my tights and grazed my ankle.

The second time I was very lucky - it was raining so I was wearing my overtrousers (which I often didn't wear), my jacket, gloves and helmet. A truck clipped my wing mirror while it was trying to overtake and I came down and span around a couple of times in the road. The only injury I had was a grazed arm where my jacket sleeve got pushed up.
posted by missmagenta at 3:47 AM on August 8, 2010

Riding a bicycle is nothing like riding a moped.

I disaggree. Going from a (wo)man-powered two-wheeler to a motor-powered bike (of whatever size) is a logical, necessary progression. You should "feel sure" on the former before moving on to the latter. And make sure your seat is high enough, properly adjusted -- while sitting in the bike saddle, you SHOULD NOT be able to put both feet on the ground (even though a seat that high is considered unsafe by some people).
posted by Rash at 4:36 AM on August 8, 2010

I think people look silly in anything other than full-face helmets. Then again, I've crashed enough bicycles, mototcycles, and scooters to value function over form. :)

Your first 'down' will likely be at 0 mph: a car pulls out in front of you, or turns left out of nowhere, and you grab a fist full of front brake. You'll want decent shoes when that happens, preferably with ankle support.
posted by kcm at 7:10 AM on August 8, 2010

Would it help to be a passenger a bit on a motorcycle, to get used to how to move with your scoot, not against it? The lean can freak out new riders sometime.

I used to ride a moped (49cc) and stopped because I didn't have the brakes or the acceleration to get out of trouble. So I took the MSF course (which I highly recommend, the Harley dealership near me runs women only courses for a lot more, same info, more time on the bikes, a few times a year). I now ride a motorcycle. I only mention this because two wheeled vehicles are different - you accelerate out of trouble more often than you brake out of trouble. Those 250cc Rebels and Nighthawks are actually easier to ride than my 49cc Tomos was.

I am scared every time I get on my bike. I also love it, and can't ride enough. Look at the fear, take reasonable steps to mitigate it (practice, experience, cources), then do it anyway. You'll be fine.
posted by QIbHom at 7:12 AM on August 8, 2010

50cc scooters are awesome. I normally ride large motorcycles, but when you put me on a little two-stroke scooter you cannot wipe the stupid grin off my face!

Riding a scooter or other motor-driven cycle is nothing like riding a bicycle. By all means take out the bicycle and use it, but don't expect to be able to transfer anything from the experience. If you haven't ridden a bicycle in a while, I'd advise against trying to build up the two skillsets at the same time.

Practicing in an empty parking lot is a great way to get acclimated. From your post:
Maybe it's just a general feeling that I don't have control over the machine
That's the part you need to get past. It's that first huge hump in the learning curve. When you're in that parking lot, you need to get over that hump. The first component you need to learn in the lot is how the basic controls work. Practice this separately in a straight line. Accelerate, then brake. Once you feel you're in control, bring out some empty cereal boxes (or anything that crushes easily) and practice accelerating and braking without hitting the box at different speeds. You'll get to the point where you are confident that however fast you're going, you can stop very close to the box without hitting it. It may be just a half hour of practice, it may be more.

The second thing to practice, once you have burned the throttle and brake actions into muscle memory, is turning. You have already done some of this, so you probably already have felt that weird falling feeling you get when you're leaned over. This is your inner ear telling you that what you are doing is impossible. It is incorrect.

Turning is easier on a scooter or motorcycle the faster it goes. If you are in the US, now is a good time to go to a motorcycle shop and see their stock of used bikes that where bought in June, sold in July, and "only dropped once". You will see a disproportionate amount of broken bodywork and mirrors on the right side. Right hand turns on the street are slower and more difficult for a novice in the US.

You want to practice your turns. Importantly, you want to practice keeping a constant speed through a turn. When you turn a scooter, it slows down. You need to add throttle just to stay the same speed. It's harder on slower, shorter-radius turns because you need to be very subtle on that throttle.

Practice left-hand and right-hand turns. Practice making them smooth. Once you get smooth, do that turn faster. Once that's smooth, do the turn tighter. Eat more cereal, because you'll want extra boxes to lay out so you gain precision.

MSF courses are wonderful. Unfortunately, they have a limited amount of time. If you aren't one of the people who pick up and get comfortable with the machine quickly, there's no time to let you get used to it gradually. Directed parking lot practice is that gradual acclimation. Once you're used to the feeling, try the MSF course again. Under the covers, behind all the figure eights around cones and swerving through chutes, it teaches very important mindsets that will keep you safe. Even when driving a car.

Wearing a helmet on a scooter is a good idea. I suggest a mirrored visor, or maybe a Rossi race replica :)
posted by graftole at 8:00 AM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a 50cc scooter (Yamaha Vino) and wear a full-face helmet. I also have a long, scrawny neck, so it probably looks extra-goofy. But you know what? I don't care. I slapped a few hibiscus stickers on it, and I wear it with pride.

I used to wear a half-helmet, and when I dropped that one and upgraded to the full, I wondered why I hadn't done it before. No more wind whistling in my face! No more bugs in my eyes!

I definitely recommend trying the MSF course again. It was a huge help for me getting over various confidence obstacles.
posted by themissy at 1:32 PM on August 8, 2010

When I was 14 I was riding my friend's 4-wheeler, and he wouldn't let me have the helmet with the chin guard, so I had a plain helmet. The little jackass didn't bother to tell me that the brake wasn't working, so I took a branch across the neck, right under my chin. It wasn't too bad, just a little cut, but I wouldn't have even had that if he'd given me his helmet.

Wear long sleeves and jeans while you're practicing.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:57 PM on August 8, 2010

This was me 4 weeks ago, and I had a full day of training to get my learners permit behind me! As comfortable as I feel on a bicycle on the road, it just did not transfer to riding my scooter. I was paralysed with fear.

So I started taking it out on dry nights and dry late afternoons (it's winter here) when there was little traffic around. First I went around the block. Then two blocks and so on. I got used to cars coming up behind me. I got used to stopping and starting. I got used to indicating with thick gloves on.

The thing with taking off is that I put the throttle on, not a little bit, but far more than I thought I needed to. I wanted to take off slowly, but that doesn't help with the stability at all. If this is what scares you, practice until it doesn't.

I'm in a different mindset now, I love scooting about, particularly as the weather warms up.

Good luck. FWIW I don't wear a full face helmet, just a regular helmet with a visor. I do however have a jacket that protects my shoulders and elbows.
posted by WayOutWest at 10:54 PM on August 8, 2010

Sounds like you haven't gotten over your fear of a wipe out. That's OK. It's natural. And, yeah, the "I don't need to lift my feet up onto the pegs" will get you flunked out of a MSC. They almost refused me after two sessions (I forced myself to raise my feet after that). Why did I tend to keep my feet down? Because I started on dirt bikes. Not a good way to form good street-riding form.

Are you likely to fall when on a two wheeled vehicle? Maybe. More than on a four wheeled vehicle, yes. Can a fall off a two wheeled vehicle kill you? Perhaps. Is it likely to kill or permanently maim you? Probably not. You sound like you simply need more practice. The more you practice, the more comfortable you'll get, and then the skills will follow with experience. The scooter is a GREAT idea. You also sound like you're rushing yourself. Anything that is worthwhile takes time. Your fear will dissipate with time. Also, good on you for a full-face helmet! You're immensely safer with one of those so don't even give a second thought to what anyone says. You wear a seatbelt, right? What if someone ridiculed you for that? You wouldn't care, right? So why the issue with the helmet? I'll tell you: because it's also new to you.

Take your time, and don't rush things with your cool new scooter. You'll be zipping around on a bucks worth of gas in no time. Best time to ride your scooter? When your car is in the shop. Ah, freedom of movement even while your car is being worked on elsewhere. You'll be lovin' your scooter!

And when you're ready, please go back and take that motorcycle safety course because a scooter is close to a motorcycle, but it's not a true motorcycle. The course has got loads of excellent tips to help keep you safe, and, should I become Emperor of Earth, I will mandate it for everyone. Best of luck!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:59 PM on August 8, 2010

(Late to the party, I know, but...)

The MSF Basic Rider Course, which may be the course you took at the local college, allows unlimited retries of the riding exercises until you pass the practical exam. Keep scheduling the weekend parking lot exercises until you're comfortable enough to pass the riding exam.

Your MSF RiderCoach should be someone you're comfortable enough with to keep learning without feeling too much of a fool. *ALL* RiderCoaches are there to teach motorcyclists to ride well and stay alive, not for the money, glory, or fun of standing in a parking lot for eight hours at a time.

Don't practice falling. Practice riding. Your bike/scooter can do a lot more to save your butt than you might think. You always want to be in the mindset of how to use it to avoid trouble. You never want to fall into the trap of thinking you should get off it. Bad riders say "I laid it down," often from a hospital bed.

And yeah, you'll probably drop it once or twice, while at a near standstill, for the dumbest reason. But everyone does that when starting out. You'll probably be left standing there with the bike/scooter staring up at you accusingly. But at least you'll have a full face helmet so no one will see you blush.

#1)MSF BasicRider Course
#2)Practice practice practice
#3)see #2.

(I'm a lifetime, no accident motorcyclist. ATGATT.)
posted by lothar at 4:14 PM on August 10, 2010

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