An elegant solution to traffic Scooters


SCOOTERS: In the first of an occasional series on the motorcycling options available to riders. John Wheeler looks at just some of the better-known scooters.

The scooter concept originally owed its birth to the dark, depressed post-war years in Europe. New car manufacture was minute, and waiting lists ran to years.

Public transport had been ravaged by years of war, but for most people personal transport was a high priority. So, for many working methe motorcycle was the obvious answer. However, for many others the motorcycles of that era seemed noisy, dirty and less than dignified.

The Italian firms of Vespa and Lambretta brought about a revolution in personal transport by offering much quieter, clean looking and above all much less intimidating machines - scooters. The Italians immediately took to this new transport concept.

Soon afterwards the German firm of Heinkel (from bombers to bubblecars) were offering an even more sophisticated scooter. Assembled in Ireland, some are still in daily use.

For the dyed-in-the-wool motorcyclist, scooters were not even considered a poor relation - they were anathema. Nowhere was this more apparent than in England, where the precursor to football hoooliganism was the pitched battles between the scooter riding "Mods" and the "Rockers" who rode proper motorcycles. This unfortunate tribal warfare, coupled with the now greater availability of low-priced cars as typified by the Mini, began such a rapid decline in scooter sales it seemed to many the scooter was following the hula hoop into oblivion.

Then, in the late 1980s and early 1990s the scooter began a revival. Certain boyband members were seen on them, they had become "cool" once again. Penal insurance rates even for bottom of the range motorcycles made the new generation of better looking, lower powered "moped" scooters a teenager's must have. (A moped is a powered two wheeler with an engine of 49cc or less and a designed maximum speed - in theory - not exceeding 45 kph/28 mph).

These factors, along with public transport systems that seemed to be decades behind commuter needs, more two income families, and the original raison d'être of the unintimidating, clean lined and easy-to-ride scooter, became relevant. Most were now fully automatic and equipped with electric starts.

More than half today's scooters fall within the "moped" category - below 50cc. In slow, city centre traffic they can return journey times as good as any superbike. Getting into the 40 mph limit they are coming close to their limit; outside that many would feel their inability to keep up with the traffic flow requires strong nerves. But, for urban mobility they are an elegant solution and can be driven on a car licence.

Two typical examples are the Aprilia SR 50, with nice "go-faster" stripes and, currently, a 50 per cent reduction on insurance offer, and the rather more restrained looking Vespa ETZ 50: they cost in the region of €2,500.

Somewhat more practical for longer journeys and life beyond city limits, are the many scooters in the "125 cc range". These still offer the advantage of low insurance rates and riders, who require an A1 licence, can legally carry a pillion passenger. While offering better performance, it is far from earth shattering . They will cope with most traffic conditions and while they can be rode on motorways, they are not serious "fast lane" conveyances.

DESPITE somewhat modest power outputs by true motorcycle standards (typically around 11 bhp) they are well able to cope with cross-country journeys.

Typical examples are the Yamaha Majesty (€4,100), Gilera 125 (€3,300) and the Aprilia SR 125 (€ 3,150).

Moving further upmarket both in terms of price and performance are the relatively new "big" scooter offerings, which began when Suzuki launched its 250cc Bergman, and has been rapidly followed by leading manufacturers. These "big" scooters - Honda's Silver Wing, the bigger-engined versions of the Yamaha Majesty, Yamaha's T Max (€9,950) and Aprillia's recently introduced Atlantic (€8,000) - are all well capable of life in the fact lane with, in most cases, around 50 bph power outputs and over 100 mph top speeds.

In order to ride one of these, or anything over 125cc, riders need an A licence. Their performnce is so near conventional motorcycles, with the decided advantage, at least in urban traffic, of automatic transmission that several hitherto orthodox motorcyclists, who once would never have been seen dead on a scooter, have happily taken to them, as indeed have many for whom two powered wheels is a novel experience.