You hear them before you see them. The whirr of a motor, just discernible in your right ear over the gentle yowl of May’s post-lockdown traffic. And then, before you have time to snatch a glance over your right shoulder, one is upon you: a besuited bloke on an e-scooter (no helmet), sailing past you.
You won’t catch his face as he nips back in just ahead of your front wheel — you’re too busy huffing and puffing and really putting your glutes into it — but know it: he’s smirking as he leaves you in the dust.
There is a menace on London’s roads, and it is even worse than those pedal-powered micro-bars blasting Ke$ha and populated by stags and hens that you once used to see lumbering over London Bridge at 3pm on a Saturday (RIP).
No, the peacocking bloke on a Bird e-scooter is more insidious. He is zippy and superior; he has all the gear and an inflated idea of his own status.
As he careers over Vauxhall Bridge, sun glinting off the implacable windows of the MI6 building, he imagines himself as a Musk or Bezos or Spiegel, perhaps, as a man all the women want and all the men want to be.
Jury’s still out on the men — they’re a suggestible breed — but women certainly aren’t buying it. There is a new frontier of gender warfare emerging, and — spoiler alert — the women are losing. While they spent lockdown building bamboo bikes after seven hours of homeschooling the kids, revising for the Bikeability test, and doing wobbly practice runs in a cul de sac, certain London men — the scooter bros — spent a lot of money on a toy and then started getting in everyone else’s way.
Twitter? University campuses? The real culture war is taking place in cycle lanes and A-roads across the capital: you’re either with them, or willing on that accelerating black cab that’s in hot pursuit of their back wheel (just a little scare — nothing serious).
Contrary to the showreel running inside their heads as they sail blithely into a bus lane (Highway Code, Shmighway Code, amirite?), these men rarely have dominion over a brand-name tech company. Sure, they’ve been inside a co-working space — once — and certainly, their lightweight summer suits look pretty San Fran in the peachy dawn sunlight. But these guys are more J P Morgan than Monzo even, and the role is firmly middle management.
Still, on their Hinge profiles, they’ll say they “do something” in fintech. Call it what you want, the women won’t understand anyway, right guys? But it’s a job and it pays moolah — good, as this mobile status symbol costs about £800 (and can hit up to 15mph, OK?)
It is currently only legal to use hired scooters on public roads — ie companies like Bird. Still, anyone who’s spotted a few of them in quick succession — what is the collective noun? A fleet? A frat? A twat? — will note that it looks like some bros are ignoring that rule. The brands they ogle online include Xiaomi, Segway and Inokim.
Other must-have kit includes a Herschel rucksack worn a little too high up the back, bone-conduction headphones for streaming an episode of Adam Buxton on the go, and a pair of Ray-Bans (a Christmas gift from an ex), attached with a chain so they don’t fall off as the bro takes Old Street roundabout at a clip.
Species-wise, these blokes share some lineage with Mamils — aka middle-aged men in Lycra. The scooter bros are younger, less paunchy, more coiffed; still, there is a common arrogance, a common sense of liberation from normal social mores. Nonetheless it manifests rather differently in each species. For example, a Mamil will stop, crotch aloft, at a traffic light, casually rearranging their Lycra-ed testicles in full view of the other waiting cyclists. The scooter bros peacock differently, by inserting themselves at the front of the peloton of cyclists at a traffic light, while having a loud, drawling phone conversation that makes them miss it go green. Do they care? Do they hell.
Like the internal combustion engine, the scooter bros will change the roads forever. If you cannot beat them — and you can’t, no matter how hard you steel your glutes — you could join them.
Required: bravado, braggadocio and broad disdain for the rules of the road. No? It must be a male thing.