Chris on AmericaBlog writes:
Scooter-mania hits the US
With the high cost of gas (though don’t worry, it just dropped under $73 today!) Americans are turning more and more to scooters. Over here in Europe, they’re everywhere and while I’ve always liked the look of a Vespa, there’s a price to pay for them. They always remind me of Rome, watching Quadrophenia or wading through piles of scooters in Saigon. The lawnmower whine is the most awful noise pollution that sort of blends in well enough in cities but in smaller towns is downright annoying as hell. I’ve always been told that scooters have limited emissions regulations which means they churn out plenty of traditional pollution as well. Besides that, what really scares me about them is the ugly accidents that I see all too often in Paris and let’s just say scooters and their drivers don’t hold up very well in those battles against cars and trucks.
The most striking thing from the AP article (linked inline above) to me are the sales figures:
A scooter boom has been under way over the last few years as the vehicles came back into fashion. Retail sales in the U.S. have shot up from 12,000 scooters in 1997 to 113,000 in 2005, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council, a promotional trade organization. But this spring, the boom has turned into a bonanza, with more and more people realizing that scooters can get up to 100 miles per gallon and can weave around traffic jams.
Chris’s points about safety inspired me to write the following as a comment, though:
I have a ~8 mile round trip to work. I scooter most days when the weather is good. Thanks to easier parking at the work end, and lane sharing (legal in California, possibly not elsewhere) if traffic is heavy, I get there in closer to 10 minutes than the 15 that it takes in my car.
Scooters aren’t so bad; first, the noise level and emmisions problems are limited to the cheapest, 50cc 2-stroke varieties. OK, both of the scooters I’ve owned (since 2001) have been 50cc two-strokes, but I’m cheap; the first was an actual Honda (1987 Aero 50) and relatively emmisions-clean, which I can’t say about the rather smokey MZI own now. Newer Honda 50cc ones are 4-stroke, and cleaner, and I imagine that Yamaha may well be going in that direction… and pretty much everything bigger than 50cc is 4-stroke these days.
50cc 4-stroke, sadly, is too weak for even much city traffic here in the states (even the 2-strokes, which are more powerful, are pretty much red lined at ~35-40mph with this 235lb guy on ‘em), but there are some great 125cc or similar 4-stroke ones which can keep up with pretty much any non-freeway traffic.
Yes, safety is a concern, but the easiest way here in California to get a motorcycle license (necessary to ride a scooter, at least here) is to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. With decent safety gear, and good driving on scooterists’ part, the only really dangerous variable is car and truck drivers – and there, more scooters and more visibility will help (as would adequate enforcemnt on drivers who DO carelessly put us in danger.)
The biggest downside to scooters, really, is the perception that they’re easier to ride than a motorcycle (they’re harder) or safer or to be taken less seriously.
But very generally, anything that gets more people into light, fuel-efficient two wheelers, and out of vehicles larger than they need (in many cases, that’s ANY car) is a good thing.