BW Travel Zone BW Behind the Wheel | What is a Scooter – and Why You Should Consider Owning One

What is a Scooter – and Why You Should Consider Owning One

By Jason Fogelson
  • A scooter being driven down a street.

I’m in the camp that welcomes all two-wheelers and even three-wheelers. Whether you’re into riding a motorcycle, a trike or a scooter, I consider you a kindred spirit, and a candidate to be my friend. We share an interest in experiencing the sensation of riding in our environment, rather than traveling in a cocoon to insulate us from our environment. Some motorcyclists look down on scooters as less-than – but I’d encourage them to be more tolerant, and to get to know scooters before dismissing them.

My definition for a scooter is pretty simple – it’s a motorized two-wheeled conveyance with a step-through body. Some people use the term “scooter” and “moped” interchangeably, but I draw a distinction between the two. A moped has pedals and uses its engine to assist travel, and usually has a central frame rail rather than a step-through design.

The classic scooter is the Vespa, a line of scooters produced by Italian maker Piaggio since 1946. These stylish scooters have small wheels, an integrated front fairing below the handlebars, flat footboards instead of foot pegs, and an engine hidden beneath bodywork over the rear wheel. They generally use a twist-and-go throttle (no clutch lever) on the left, and a hand brake lever on the right.

Vespa has used engines from 50 cc to 250 cc in various models over the years. The little engines delivered amazing fuel economy, and proved to be durable — and easy to fix when they broke. The step-through design made them accessible to a wide variety of riders, and proved popular with women, who could ride them while tastefully dressed in skirts. Audrey Hepburn created a sensation when she rode a 1951 Vespa 125 in the film “Roman Holiday.” When British youth needed to rebel in the 1960s, they took to the streets on customized scooters, which you can see in the 1979 film, “Quadrophenia,” based on The Who’s rock opera set in 1965.

Scooters are remarkably popular all over the world – everywhere except the United States. In Europe, a scooter is seen as entry-level transportation for young people stepping up from a bicycle. In some Asian countries, scooters serve as transportation for the whole family – sometimes all at once.

Scooter technology has advanced, paralleling motorcycle technology in many ways. Engines have gotten more powerful and more efficient, and most now use electronic ignition and fuel injection for greater efficiency and lower emissions. Electric scooters are common, with multiple Chinese and Korean brands now sold in the United States. Even Vespa now makes an electric scooter, the Elettrica.

A few modern scooters qualify as motorcycle alternatives. The Suzuki Burgman 650 Executive uses a 638-cc twin-cylinder liquid-cooled, fuel-injected gasoline engine, and has enough storage capacity for touring. It uses a 14-inch wheel in the rear and a 15-inch wheel in the front for a genuinely stable ride. I know an avid motorcyclist in his 70s who has switched to a Burgman from his beloved sport bikes so that he can continue riding comfortably. BMW also offers several models, including the C 650 GT, that are extremely capable and fun to ride.

Whichever style or size of scooter you choose, you’ll get a highly maneuverable vehicle that is easy to ride, park and store. For a quick trip to the store or out to meet friends, a scooter can be more convenient than a car, or even a motorcycle. Scooters are also inexpensive to operate, license and insure. A scooter is a great addition to your transportation arsenal.

Scooter operating license requirements vary by state, frequently tied to engine displacement. Most states have the same helmet laws for scooters as for motorcycles. Scooters must be able to achieve highway speeds in order to qualify for legal participation in freeway traffic.

Don’t neglect safety when you consider a scooter. While you may not experience the same acceleration and top speeds on a scooter as you would on a motorcycle, you’re still vulnerable to many of the same dangers from other vehicles. Wear All the Gear All the Time (ATGATT), and reduce the risk of avoidable injury.

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