I think it’s important, if I’m going to write any kind of a blog on scootering, to spend a little bit of effort justifying the whole endeavor. I mean, let’s face it, you see very few scooters on the road to begin with, and even among motorbike enthusiasts, scooterists are a definite minority. Why ride a scooter? And if you’re going to ride, isn’t a motorcycle better? And besides, aren’t all of them dangerous??!!
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (whose Basic Rider Course is a must-do for anybody thinking about riding motorbikes) has an excellent metaphor for this, called “the ladder of risk”. I’m not sure who coined the term, but it fits perfectly. The idea is, the higher you go up the ladder of risk, the more dangerous and risky a situation you are creating for yourself.
Want no risk at all? Don’t ride a motorbike! Stay in your motorized glass-and-steel cage with your airbags and your seatbelts and avoid the issue altogether. But if you are willing to assume a small risk, then you get the benefits of traveling on one of the most environmentally-friendly, practical and economical vehicles ever built (really, the only more earth-friendly way to travel is to pedal a bicycle, but that’s obviously not practical for trips of any distance at all).
But remember, there are many steps on the ladder of risk. If you want to ride in the rain, or ride at night, you are climbing some steps up the ladder. Ride without a helmet, you’re climbing the ladder higher and adding more risk. Want to drink/drug and ride? Climb some more steps. So the point is, yes there is risk involved in motorbiking, and you need to be willing to accept that if you’re going to ride. It’s obviously safer to be cocooned in a metal cage with seatbelts and airbags. But it is also possible to ride motorbikes safely, if you know what the risks are and do all you can to mitigate them, staying as low down the ladder as possible.
A better question to ask, though, is this: do you want to live a risk-free life? Or is life actually all about taking risks in order to experience new things? Is it even possible to live a risk-free life? I don’t think so; even getting out bed in the morning implies risk; risk of injury, illness or loss. But to what degree do you limit your life and shrink your world to protect yourself from risk?
When I told my brother I was buying a motorscooter, he was aghast. He couldn’t believe that a guy within a decade of retirement would risk spoiling his carefree golden years by getting on a motorbike and asking for a disabling (or even life-ending) crash. His view is that he earned his retirement with his years of on-the-job blood, sweat and tears — and if it meant he had to sit on the couch for the rest of his life to preserve that retirement, then that’s what he would do.
Well, to each his own. But for me, although a ship is safe sitting in the harbor, sitting in the harbor is not what ships were meant to do. And in my view, neither are people. I believe we were made to get out there and see new things and do new things, and I wish I had done more of that with the years I’ve already had. But I had always wanted to be able to ride a motorbike, and with however many years I have left, that’s what I intend to do.
So then, if that’s the case, why buy a scooter? Why not buy a motorcycle instead?
The short answer is, for every legal road situation except one, a scooter is far and away the best and most practical choice if you’re going to ride a motorbike in the first place. Most of this advantage comes as a result of the scooter’s relatively smaller size (although it should be noted that there ARE some mega-scooters available, basically big motorcycles that you don’t have to shift). Scooters like ours will do every legal thing a motorcycle will do, but with more agility, more practicality, and less gas. They are a cinch to park (you can fit four of them in one parking space), easy to push around the garage, get twice the gas mileage of motorcycles and carry more gear or groceries. They are quicker off the line because you don’t have to shift, although a motorcycle’s top speed is higher. And recent studies have demonstrated that, in any big city, if you replaced 10% of the cars with scooters, you would reduce traffic congestion by 40%. Good for congestion, better for the environment than cars or motorcycles, able to carry a week’s worth of groceries, and returning 71MPG (Vespa 300) and 100MPG (Honda PCX 150) — for 95% of the transportation we use, the scooter is hands-down the best choice. Here’s a good article on the economic benefits of scootering if you’re really interested: http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/320/1898/Motorcycle-Article/Scooting-thru-Vespanomics-101.aspx. Really, the only situation I have found in which a scooter comes in second to a motorcycle is on the interstate highways.
The scooters we have shine at speeds up to about 65MPH. In fact, Robin’s Honda won’t go any faster than that. My Vespa 300 will eventually get up to 80MPH, but the problem is that, above 65MPH, there really is no extra zip left. And sometimes, the safest thing to do in a situation is to speed up and jet out of there. The scooters we have can’t do that at highway speeds. The Vespa will get to 65 almost immediately; but it will take the better part of another minute to eke out those extra fifteen MPH to reach its top speed, and on the highway, you just don’t have that kind of time to react. For that, you need the extra weight and power of a motorcycle.
So, we avoid that risk by avoiding the interstates. Sure, it takes longer to get anyplace, but it’s much safer, and also much more interesting. We ride the old US routes and the local roads, see a lot more of the countryside, and keep enough zip in reserve to respond to emergencies on those lower-speed roads should they arise.
Well, okay. So maybe I proved that scooters have some (alright, many) advantages over motorcycles. But motorcycles are manly; scooters are for dorks, right?
I say, not so fast. The Vespa scooter has been hailed as one of the icons of 20th century design. If you want to ride something that screams Italian elegance and classic design, you can’t do better than a Vespa (although there are arguably some Italian sports cars that would fill the bill). Moreover, to those who say that scooters are for dorks, I say that if a guy has no idea what it’s like to have something big and powerful between his legs, then yeah, he could ride a Harley. But a Vespa is all I need…….
So, there’s a summary of my thoughts on riding scooters. Honestly, I believe that everybody should consider riding one — although I will admit that if I was still responsible for little kids at home, I would give it lots of thought. Comfortable, practical, and economical, scooters are WAY more fun than driving a car. But even given all of the above, we found that there is also a wonderful benefit to riding scooters that we never expected. More on that next time!