A Little Help

By Jerry Garrett

April 4, 2008 5 min read

A LITTLE HELP

Scooter is fun, fuel-efficient way to get around

By Jerry Garrett

Copley News Service

At the beginning of the 20th century, Henry Ford envisioned two cars in every garage in America. As the 21st century starts, should we also make room in our garages for a scooter?

Not the smelly, smoky little pests with their inefficient two-stroke engines that create traffic nightmares elsewhere in the world. Modern models with emissions-compliant, incredibly fuel-efficient, four-stroke engines could really make a difference right now in America's energy consumption. Especially if people used them for what they are at best at: short commutes, light errands and student transportation.

Scooters get fuel economy cars can only dream of. Still waiting for the 100 mpg car? The 100 mpg scooter is old news; 200 mpg scooters are here now. Interested?

On a trip to Italy, I spent some time on a scooter and was reminded of what a sensible form of transportation they can be. It was cheap to rent one. It never needed gas the week I had it. I could ride it everywhere - even down sidewalks. I could park it (for free!) anyplace I was creative enough to designate a space for it. It was peppy, maneuverable, versatile and reasonably safe. When I got home, I sought out a scooter similar to the 125cc model I had in Italy. Aprilia offered the loan of a new SportCity 250, which they said would probably be better suited to riding needs here in the States, because it has some extra oomph.

First off, a scooter is much easier to ride than a motorcycle. It is lighter, more maneuverable and sits on an easy-to-deploy center stand (some still have kickstands).

A scooter has no gears to shift, or clutch to work. This is a great advantage over motorcycles where starting off, particularly from an incline, requires an intricate interplay of gear and clutch engagement, timed with releasing the brake, to get going.

A scooter is actually easier to learn to ride than a bicycle. There's nothing for your feet to do except rest on the flat floorboards, protected by the windbreak that is the front fairing.

I worried that I might get run over leaving traffic lights here, with all the high-performance cars on the roads these days. No way. The SportCity launched from a standing start to 60 mph in seven-plus seconds - which is fast enough to dust at least half the cars out there. The SportCity's secret, if you can call it that, is its state-of-the-art fuel-injected 250cc engine. Its environmentally responsible four-stroke single-cylinder motor runs clean enough to pass tough Euro 3 emissions standards. It produces 22.5 hp, which is more than enough to push around all 325 pounds of it. Top speed is just a tick under 80 mph, and it cruises comfortably at freeway speeds, although I found it prudent to ride along at about 60 mph in the slow lane.

Fuel economy is better than any car: 61 mpg. (Fuel tank capacity is about two gallons.) Want better mileage? Although Honda makes a Cub model capable of 200 mpg fuel economy, it is not sold at retail here. Yamaha's Vino 125 scooter, however, is. The 2007 and earlier models were capable of 120 mpg; with the 2008 models, new emissions equipment has cut fuel economy to double-digit range, but it is still a top performer.

Even some of the huge scooters on the market now, such as Honda's comparatively massive Silver Wing, get 50 to 60 mpg its owners report.

For a gas-free option, check out the Vectrix electric scooter.

Generally, any scooter is powerful and well balanced enough to haul the operator, a passenger,and a bit of baggage. The SportCity can stop from 60 mph in a little over three seconds - less than half the time it takes to accelerate that fast - even with a full load. A few scooters, like the Silver Wing, are even available with ABS. The scooters I rode handled tight cornering and rough pavement surprisingly well.

Pricing is generally quite attractive. The SportCity, at $4,599, ranks as an especially good value, with admirable build quality, many advanced features and top resale value. The Silver Wing is pricy - over $8,000. (The Vectrix tops the charts at $11,850.) For the budget-conscious the Vino starts under $2,000.

While it's not recommended that scooters be ridden in ice and snow, it is possible to dress for cold, inclement weather. No matter where you live, at least half the year, a scooter would be a viable - and intelligent - alternative to driving a car.

? Copley News Service

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