In “Are They Or Aren’t They?” I discussed the question of whether we should consider scooters real motorbikes. I discussed the great diversity of machines available, improvements to design and abilities, problems with image and so on. I quoted from magazines, and other people, and also threw in my own opinions. And then admitted I was wrong! Now on this page I’ll give you a brief run-down on the various categories of scooters, some brief specifications, and a few examples of what’s available within each category. (NOTE: Details correct at time of writing - 2008).
In a special feature on scooters in Cycle Torque magazine, Sebastian Graham, from Motorino / Scooterino, summed up the scooter scene very well. He sees three main categories of scooter.
The first is the small 50cc scooters, which he says sell well to people in the city who like the cafe lifestyle and “love the ease of which the smaller scooter can get through the traffic snarls.”
Next category is the 125cc / 150cc machines, which he says, “seem to attract people who are just getting into bikes or scooters.”
The third segment is for the maxi-scooters, which Sebastian says, “attract a more experienced buyer who has a bit more knowledge about two-wheeled riding.” Let’s have a closer look at these segments.
The littlies are, really, what cheap transport is all about. The only thing cheaper involves wearing lycra and pushing pedals! Engines are 50cc two-strokes producing around 3kw. (That’s about equal to a couple of mice on a running-wheel!).
Rear-view mirrors are an essential with these – so you don’t get run over by power-walking pedestrians, and to see where you’re going if there’s a head-wind!
Top speed is around 60kph. Maybe. If you’re game. Wheels are usually 10”. (The wheels in the photo on the top/left look bigger, but according to the specs are 10" also).
Did I say cheap? Prices are usually around $2,000; or less. And if you ride 50km to get a cup of coffee, you’ll pay more for the coffee when you get there than you will for the petrol it takes to do the trip there and come back again.
Typical examples are the Benelli Pepe (top-left), the Bug Super8, and the Honda Scoopy (bottom-left).
Whether they’re a “real motorbike” is highly questionable, but they’re a good alternative to pedaling!
The next step up brings us to the "mid-size" models. As Sebastian Graham said above, this category attracts people who are just getting into two-wheeled transport; but people who also realise the limitations of the 50cc brigade.
With these models engine-size increases to 100cc – 150cc, and power sky-rockets to over 6kw. You can now get your two-wheeled conveyance up to around 90kph. Hardly earth-shattering, but certainly more practical than the littlies.
Now, the first bike I owned was a Suzuki with a 100cc engine developing about 6kw, so I shouldn’t bag these out too much I suppose! (It wasn't a scooter though). I wouldn't take one onto the highway (and even major arterial roads could be a problem), but for nipping down the street to the shops, or riding to work through inner city traffic, these things could be a good solution.
As an example, I know a guy who has owned a big bike for many years, but now rides an Arquin 125 to work. He travels along back roads, and reckons it's ideal for this purpose. He's also using it to teach his kids to ride.
Wheel sizes vary, from the same 10” units found on the littlies, to 12” and larger. Quite a few run different size front and back. The Piaggio Liberty (pictured centre/left), for example, has a 16” front and 14” rear.
Front suspension on most now becomes fork-type, although Vespa sticks with the old-style single-arm.
Prices vary a lot; from around $2,000 for the less-pretentious, up to around $4,000 (or more!) for swisher models. For example, the Arquin Sprint 125 costs $2390, and the Aprilia Mojito 125 costs $6180. (You pay for the name, the style and the chrome!).
Typical examples from this category are the afore-mentioned Piaggio Liberty and Arquin Sprint, Bug Espresso, Honda Lead (top/left), Yamaha Cygnus, and the iconic Vespa LX 150 (bottom/left); which, by the way, is priced at a staggering $6745! (Paying even more for the name!).
The next level is really just an extension of the above mid-size segment. And, strangely perhaps, just flipping through the brochures there don't seem to be quite as many machines in this segment as there used to be.
Vespa make a model with a 200cc engine, but most engines are 250cc. When we get to this level, we’re getting a bit more serious. Power figures reach the mid-teens, and top-speeds reach over 100kph. In some cases, well over. Highway travel now becomes possible. (Dangerous, perhaps, but possible!).
About ten years ago, a member of a classic bike club I belonged to bought a Suzuki Burgman 250. He rode it from his home near Sydney to Canberra a couple of times. He reckoned it handled the task quite well! (That was when I started to realise just how capable modern scooters could be!).
Wheel sizes are around 12” to 14”.
Prices range from around $6,000 up to around $9,000.
Some of the more popular models in this category include the Bug Hawk, Piaggio Xevo (top/left), and of course the Vespa GTS250 (bottom/left). The Vespa, by the way, costs $8790, comes with fuel-injection and claims to be the fastest Vespa ever made! 
Moving up again brings us into the maxi-scooter segment. These are the machines that have really redefined what scooters are. You might be able to do interstate trips on a 250 scoot, but with these you can travel long distances and enjoy the experience!
Engine sizes range from 400cc to over 600cc. Power outputs go from around 25kw to 40kw; although many manufacturers don’t state output figures, so it’s hard to tell. But twist the throttle to the stops on these things and you’ll be cracking the old “ton” – 160kph. (Hmmm, now we’re really getting into the area where all those old perceptions about scooters are, quite literally, blown away!).
Significantly perhaps, when you get to this size machine, weight has increased from the under 100kg of the littlies up to around 200kg. The Suzuki Burgman 650 tips the scales at 238kg. (That’s heavier than the company’s own Bandit, which has almost twice the engine-capacity and about twice the power!). So, yes, at this level they are "fast" machines; but that’s by car standards, not by motorbike standards. Although the argument can certainly be made that they are as fast and powerful as you need them to be.
Prices have risen too, and you’ll be paying anything from around $10,000 to $13,000.
The sort of machines you’ll be buying here include the afore-mentioned Suzuki Burgman (centre/left), in both 400cc and 650cc guises, the Gilera Nexus, Honda Silverwing (top/left), and Yamaha’s Majesty (bottom/left) and T-Max.
So, there’s a quick over-view for you. I’m writing this in late 2008, so if it’s significantly later than that when you’re reading it, check the latest brochures and model guides, because the models will be sure to have changed a bit. It’s that sort of market. But the principles won’t have changed a lot. The guide-lines have been pretty well established I think, but the machines within each category will just get better, within the constraints of those guide-lines.
Practicality; that’s what it’s all about. They’re cheap to buy (well, until you get up to the maxi class anyway), cheap to run, easy and kind of fun to ride, and have enormous luggage capacity. And as you get up into the larger machines, they have proper motorbike-type engines and running-gear, and wheel sizes that are getting close to normal motorbike size. So they perform well and even handle reasonably well.
So, depending on the model, you get everything from suburban runabouts to machines quite capable of inter-state touring. Actually, when you think about it, if you want to go touring those larger models provide all the comforts of a big tourer-type motorbike, but at about half the cost and half the weight. Starting to make more sense all the time aren’t they!
Adding to their practicality is their ease of handling. No, I don’t mean on-the-road type handling, I mean manoeuvring them around the garage, parking them at the shops or on the road somewhere, and even getting on and off them. As a reader, Keith, reports below, if you have trouble swinging a leg over a normal bike, scooters make it so much easier to get on and off; and allow you to keep riding when a normal bike might present problems. (The advantages just keep on coming don’t they!).
Okay, let’s hear from some people who have had experience with scooters. You know, real people with real experience; people who own them!
In the August 2008 edition of “Riding On,” the magazine of the Ulysses Club, Gary Vandersluis wrote about riding his newly-purchased Yamaha Majesty 400 from his home in the Newcastle area to the club’s AGM in Townsville; a round-trip of over 4,700km. He said, “Two things that consistently amazed me were the rock-steady stability of the bike at speed and just how well it handled. It won’t compete with a sports bike, but at the speeds that most of us are going to travel it handles as well as any mid-range tourer.”
Another Ulysses Club member wrote about riding from Adelaide to Sydney and back on a Suzuki Burgman 650. That was a total distance of 5,375km. On one particular day he covered 900km. He said he was cruising at speeds up to 140kph, and hit an indicated 170kph at times.
One of our readers, Keith, described scooters in these words. “Basically they are a bike without a tank jammed between your knees. Being in my mid eighties and finding it more and more difficult to cock a leg over a bike between pillion backrests or top boxes, I tried scooters. I’ve had four Burgman 650s, a MP3 Piaggo 400, and a Yamaha Majesty 400, and found them all marvelous.” He says that having nothing to do with your feet “allows you to concentrate on your riding and traffic surrounds.” He says he’s had over a hundred bikes and been a member of the Ulysses Club for over 29 years, so he’s had plenty of experience to draw on.
Another reader, Gary, wrote about his Yamaha 500 T Max. The big scoot came after a long line of very respectable bikes; and he’s clocked up over 63,000km on it. He’s also had it for longer than any of his previous bikes. He says, “It has the acceleration of a Commodore and keeps up easily with normal large-ish bikes - especially up tight mountain curves and in the wet. A terrific all-rounder; auto gearbox notwithstanding!”
That’s just a few samples. You’ll find lots of other testimonies and articles about scooters in the bike magazines (the broader-appeal ones anyway). I’m sure I’ll get a few comments on these articles too, so check the Feedback page, (look towards the end of the page) for some more comments. 
So, would I buy one? Hmmm, well, no; not at the moment. Old prejudices die hard! But maybe one day when bigger bikes become too much of a problem for me, then I might “see the light” and step into a step-through!
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