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Tel Aviv travels: 6 steps to scooting around the city

CM 11/08/2021 1

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“But it’s so dangerous!” my husband’s friend said when I told her I was looking forward to getting on a scooter and cruising alongside the Tel Aviv beaches during our summer vacation. 
“I would never get on a korkinet,” she said, using Israeli slang for both the kids’ and electric scooter. (Linguist Issac Avineri says the word is a bastardization of the French trottinette). She wasn’t the only one sworn not to use one; many of my friends – car owners, I must point out – were not scoot-ers because of the “crazy drivers.”
“How bad could it be?” I thought. “I used to ride a moped around Jerusalem,” I told her. Yes, that was over two decades ago, but back when I’d purchased my beautiful silver Italian 50 cc bike, people also continuously warned me about the danger of Israel’s roads and other drivers and two-wheeled vehicles. They’d scared me – not enough to stop me from riding a moped but to make me more vigilant. A vigilance that has helped me from scooting (korkinetting?) here in Tel Aviv. 
“As long as you’re careful – follow the rules, let other cyclists and scooters pass you, ride in the bike lane, it can be great,” said my best friend, Adeena Sussman, author of the Sababa: Fresh Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen: A Cookbook. A New Yorker transplanted to Tel Aviv (much to my chagrin/jealousy), she tends to avoid the midday summer heat, but if she has a meeting, she loves arriving there by scooter, unruffled, unsweaty. 

“Besides, where else can you go and just choose the best vehicle?” she asks. “Not a car – just a scooter.” 
Now I’m nowhere near as daring as she is – I tend to ski/cycle/hike/swim at half her speed – but she inspired me to try tooling around the town. 

Download all the apps

There are three main companies renting scooters here, Bird, Lime and Wind. Each has advantages and disadvantages. “But Wind is the best,” one Tel Avivian told me when we were vying for the last of the yellow fleet near the Sarona market. 
• Indeed, most of Wind’s scooters are in the best condition, and the only ones with a phone holder for reading maps as you go. (Beware: my phone did fall out and crack because it was not secured tight enough.) But I had trouble linking my American credit card to the app, so I downloaded the others too. 
• Lime, the green fruit icon app, seems to have the most available scooters around, but many are rickety, unless you can find the newer models. Still, I opted for a free trial month of Lime Prime, which offered free unlocking fees and 25% off. Lime also was synched up into Google maps, but there was no phone holder on the bike. 
• The black-and-white Bird app had smooth scooters, but their driving mechanism seemed to set to automatic cruise control. (At least the one that I was on.) They have a partnership with Israeli startup Trailze to provide “Bird Maps” for navigation. But still no phone holder. 

Test the equipment

No matter which scooter company you go with – I just ended up seeing what was available outside my Airbnb near the Carmel Market or by the beach – give your scooter a test. Some have brakes on both sides, some jerk forward very fast, some brakes don’t work and some scooters don’t go up to speed. (Like the Wind one that worked for a block and then conked out.) Get a feel for your bike in a less-crowded place and time so you can cruise at your leisure. Which for me meant about 18-20 kph (most go up to 25 kph, unless you’re in a crowded district, then the app might take you down to 15 kph). 
Beware: privately owned scooters go much faster. As I said, I’m no daredevil, so I enjoyed life in the slow lane and let them pass.

 PARKING OUTSIDE a house near the Carmel Shuk. (credit: Amy Klein) PARKING OUTSIDE a house near the Carmel Shuk. (credit: Amy Klein)

Safety first

I spent my first week scooting up and down the beach, from the Tel Aviv port in the north down to Jaffa in the south. I had no particular destination in mind; I wanted to see the sparkling blue waters and feel the wind through my hair. Not exactly my hair – the most important thing when riding a scooter is to get one with a helmet. Not always an easy feat, since many of the available scooters don’t have one. Some days I would rent one without a helmet and cruise carefully to another with one. But even with a helmet you have to be super careful. People drive the wrong way, pedestrians walk in the bike lane without looking, scooters will pass you without honking (only some have bells), and people will stop without any notice at all. 
“You have to be so vigilant on a scooter,” said Jay Shofet, Adeena’s husband. “It takes some of the fun out of it,” he said. 
I know what he means: Some people talk on their phones on a scooter, others tote kids or partners along, and the general balagan of Israeli driving is on full display – except you have no rearview mirror. This, by the way, is all on the beach path! Once I got into the city, things got a lot hairier. 

Navigation and parking

After a few days next to the Mediterranean, I was ready to tackle the city. Except for one problem: I have terrible navigation skills. A Bluetooth-enabled headset with the phone in my bag solved some of my problems, except when the GPS conked out in the winding Kerem alleyways or in the middle of Allenby(?!). Forget about when my phone died in the middle of Rothschild – “the best scooting street in the city!” my husband said – and I had to find my way home by sheer memory and luck. 
There are a number of great thoroughfares like Rothschild – both for scooting and people watching – and the trick is to use those instead of the most direct route. 
This was actually the first time I also drove a car in Israel (my Israeli-born husband usually drives). Using Waze in my car was great for getting me places, but I didn’t learn the city at all. On my scooter, my map-challenged brain started to understand the routes and connections. (So that’s how you get to Hahagana train station – which may be the same as Sobidor but not Arlozorov…)
One of the most stressful parts for me, aside from finding a helmet and working bike, was finding parking. It’s all on the app, of course, but when you’re rushing to a meeting in Old Jaffa and late for lunch, you can’t just leave the scooter outside. To end a ride, you have to find legal parking and take a picture of it. Thankfully, the night my phone died, I parked next to my house and ran upstairs to charge my phone and end the ride. 

The price

Due to my map dyslexia and GPS problems, riding a scooter wasn’t always the most cost effective. (This is not counting the NIS 100 charge with Wind’s dead scooter I could not park legally, a charge I finally managed to rectify with a very nice customer serviceman on the phone.) Some companies have all-day passes for NIS 40, which would pay if you stick to one scooter company a day. 
On the other hand, on my way to a doctor, I was too stressed about getting to north Tel Aviv, and I was stuck with a taxi driver who smoked out the window at every traffic light. I sure missed the wind blowing on my face and the sea air, then. Plus, the taxi cost NIS 50. 
My main lesson for scooting: just because you can – that doesn’t mean you should. One sunny day (like there’s any other kind here), I decided to meet my daughter at summer camp at Tel Aviv University. The map said 35 minutes by scooter, 45 minutes by bus and taxi. Riding up the beach was fun, and riding along the Yarkon River path was great too. But 30 minutes later, I was adjacent to some highway, my neck was burnt to a crisp and I was nowhere near the university. NIS 50 later I arrived, a prune, feeling like I’d wandered the desert for 40 years.
I vowed that in the future, the deciding factor would be 20 minutes – rides longer than that would need a car, taxi or bus (the latter of which I have not braved yet). Oh, and try and avoid scooting between noon and 4 p.m. They don’t call it siesta for nothing. 

Zen and the art of scooting 

Some nights I would scoot behind a most graceful and elegant woman, her perfectly pedicured feet in first position on the base of the scooter, her long straight hair blowing oh so gently in the wind. She probably didn’t wear a helmet because it would ruin her hair for her oh-so-perfect Tel Aviv night. I would be filled with envy, cursing my sweaty flip-flops, my sweaty everything, wishing I were young and free, like her, in Tel Aviv. But also grateful, smelling the salty air. For a moment, I could pretend I was. 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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