scooterlife - photog's blog

Motorcycles. Scooters. Wheelchairs. Tape. Whatever rolls.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


It's been only a month, and life has changed completely with a scooter in the fleet. Not just one, either--the initial experiment was so successful that a second scooter was purchased just a few weeks after the first one came home.

Here's a few things I've learned, in no particular order.

30mph Restrictions
- Many states require a scooter to be limited to a certain amount of horsepower and a top speed of 30mph or less in order to be designated a "moped" and therefore exempt from tags and insurance. In the good ol' days a "moped" was the classic bicycle-with-a-motor, like the ubiquitous Tomos, never to be confused with a scooter that doesn't have pedals. Now a scooter that meets those requirements is called a "moped" which is sorta confusing to us old-school folks. But what's important about that 30mph restriction is how safe you feel riding limited to that speed. For me, 30mph is too slow to be safe. Most of my rides are on 25-40 mph thoroughfares with flow-of-traffic typically exceeding 5-10mph over that limit. Hugging the curb at 30mph wasn't an option. I found this out when we got the Super 9.

Lesson: if you are considering a Restricted scooter in order to fit the "moped" category in your state or other such designations in order to avoid tags and insurance, be sure you do NOT need additional capabilty to be safe on the roads you intend to frequent. I found that the difference between 30 and 35 was huge. A scooter that sits in the garage does you no good and is a waste of money. If you decide to skirt the laws and limit your derestricted scoot's speed to 35 while running without tags, that's up to you.

My recommendation for most suburban/urban warriors is a scooter that accelerates briskly from a standstill to 35mph, cruise happily at 35 and can handle a stretch at 40mph. That should include any quality derestricted 50cc scoot.

- Take the MSF BRC "basic rider course". It doesn't matter whether you ride a motorcycle or a geared or automatic scoot--the challenges of riding in traffic are the same. I have more than 25 years of motorcycling experience; there is no difference in what I've faced on the road and what a scooterist will face in urban traffic. Besides, it'll make you a better cage driver, and may drop your insurance rates, too.

Apparel - Helmet, jeans, eye protection, and gloves at the very least, with an emphasis on bright colors. There's plenty of great motorcycle apparel out there that's visible to motorists, keeps you dry/cool/warm, and provides impact and abrasion resistance. How much you choose to wear is up to you. Picture yourself being flung over the handlebars onto asphault at 30mph and in one split second of frozen time, your body in a nice arc above the bars and headed towards a guardrail or curb or gutter filled with broken glass, ask yourself if you could change anything you're wearing. If you answer "yes" then you're not dressed properly. Part of the appeal of scootering is that easygoing feel of just sliding onto the seat, thumbing the little motor to life, and easing down the road at a relaxed pace with the breeze tickling your face; putting on a layer of ballistic nylon and armor doesn't seem to fit into that scenario of relaxed riding. But a crash at 30mph on a scooter is the same as a crash at 30mph ona sportbike. How much you gear up for the crash is up to you, but make an informed choice. Especially if you have to be at work on Monday. Even a relatively minor injury like skinned palms can make typing impossible, and big scabs on your chin may not make that next business meeting feel comfortable for you or your clients. Use good judgement. Also, if you've got good weatherproof gear, it makes your scooter an all-weather, all-season commuter and you'll get more use out of it.

Parking - At the local multi-level parking garage, I was told that as an untagged scoot I was supposed to park in the free parking area where the bicycles were locked. I checked it out--there were a few scoots there with chains and various cable locks, sitting there happily at no charge to their owner. Scout out parking before you need to actually use it. I've found little nooks, half-parking-spaces that weren't usable to cars, and other little valuable discoveries and have mentally mapped my city accordingly. Cheap parking is a big part of the money-saving and time-saving equation for scooters and besides, the scouting trips give you an excuse to ride. You'll be amazed how much time you save on a commute by simply riding up to one of those nooks, throwing the lock on, and walking into the store or office.

Locks - I use a combination of U-lock on my front wheel and a cable that loops from my back wheel to the U-lock on the front,along with the fork lock. When I'm downtown the cable lock goes around whatever I'm locking it to and back to the U-lock, along with the fork lock. The next level down is the U-lock on a wheel plus the fork-lock. The next level down from that is just the fork lock. And, of course, the "asking for trouble" configuration is just parking it. I have an alarm so I can add that to the various permutations. Since the smaller of the two scoots can be easily tossed into the back of a van or pickup, I try to lock it to something secure. At home, the two scoots are locked together with the alarm on on of them enabled. Anyone who really wants a scoot can get's a matter of how hard you're gonna make it for the theif.

Cargo - I use a messenger bag instead of a backpack. The safest way is no cargo and the next best thing is to secure cargo to the bike in a manner that keeps it from coming loose in anything short of a thermonuclear event; everything else begins to give up a bit of safety for convenience. However, cargo capacity makes the bike more useful. I recommend the messenger bags since they're made specifically for 2-wheeled use (see an earlier post), and most have reflective bits for added safety.

Earplugs - I used them all the time when I ride my motorcycle and enjoy the same benefit of a quieter, more relaxed ride on the scooter as well. No, they don't keep you from hearing traffic or important stuff; they just filter out wind noise and other irritating stuff. Look for the little foam earplugs in any sporting goods store or motorcycle shop.

Eye protection - a Junebug travelling at 6mph can penetrate the cornea. You're gonna be riding at 30mph. Enough said. Look for glasses that seal around the eyes to keep out wind and dust, and are impact resistant. Got a faceshield on your helmet? Wear the eye protection anyway as a second line of defense, or for a cooler ride with your shield up.

Allies - No man is an island but he'll sure feel that way on a scooter surrounded by SUV's, motorcyclists, and skeptics. While people may not understand the joy of getting around on something smaller than a Cadillac Escalade, they'll probably catch on to the idea of great gas mileage and cheap parking. Smile and be a goodwill emissary. I've found that many of the people who ask me questions about the scoot are genuinely interested in the little critter. Getting more people on scooters will increase the market and perhaps increase the number of euro-spec scoots available to us. It may also help you build a bridge between you and your snotty neighbor who thinks you've put a weedeater motor on a bicycle. Or at least keep him or her from griping to the homeowner association. I can't vouch for that; I'm still working on it--some people are just too enamoured of the status quo to consider anything different as a solution to gridlock or selling our souls to the oil companies.

Scouting - This is one of the best things to do prior to deciding on a scooter. Figure out 1) what you want to accomplish (save gas, have fun, all the above) and 2) where you're gonna ride and 3)where you're gonna park. This will go a long ways in deciding what kind of scooter will work for you--whether it's a small 50cc bike or a larger one, and help keep you from making an impulse decision at the dealership or in someone's garage. If you're not sure if a restricted scoot will do the trick, simply drive at 30mph on your route to work and guage how traffic reacts; if that doesn't look good to you, map out an alternate route on quieter streets. Remember that 30mph in a car or on a motorcycle feels dreadfully slow but sub-40 speeds on a scooter feel just fine, so don't let that throw you--you're looking at whether cars are speeding past you at 50, not how the speed "feels" in the driver's seat. Take a look at parking availability and even ask around to see if the security folks will keep an eye on your scoot. As you start scooting, do a few dry runs before actually committing to real commuting, and if you commute, try doing it one day out of the week and work up. Scouting takes the pressure out of things.

Commuting - Take a page from the motorcyclists' and bicyclists' playbooks. Do some research on how they make commuting easier. Tricks include leaving a set of clothes at work, wearing specialized apparel made for commuters (protective gear that's easy to get in and out of), and apparel or vests made in high-visibility colors.

Four Stroke vs. Two Stroke - Two stroke engines are peppy, cheap to build and rebuild, and easy to hot-rod. They also burn oil as part of the combustion process and tend to be less environmentally friendly than a well-built 4-stroke. Four strokes tend to be quiet, durable, and with a smidge more torque on the bottom end in general, but are not always as easy to hop-up (consider them a "sealed" engine that's easy to maintain but may have less option for hot-rodding) and many are a bit slower than their 2-stroke rivals of the same displacement. A good example in terms of "best of breed" when it comes to bulletproof, environmentally-friendly 4-strokes is the Honda motor found in the Ruckus and Metropolitan scooters. A PGM-FI version found in Japan is further refined. A good "best of breed" example for a 2-stroke would be the Kymco Super 9, which is a water-cooled 2-stroke, or the Aprilia SR50, the Yamaha Aerox and Peugeot Speedfight, and some of the high-end Derbi bikes. A 2stroke engine (commonly abbreviated as 2T) requires a mixture of fuel and oil; most modern scoots allow you to add oil and gas in separate places and the bike will mix them automatically unless you want to pre-mix your own special concoction. Four stroke engines are like the engine in your car (unless you have an older Saab)--just add gas and occasionally check the oil level.

Remember that not all scooter are automatics--the Stella and some of the Bajaj models rolling off the assembly lines today, and the Lambrettas and Vespas of yore (whenever Yore was) are manual-shift bikes, also called geared scoots. The shift is on the left grip and is quite easy to manage.

That's a really superficial and barely-accurate explanation but it'll do for now.