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Cosmopolitan and Neopolitan (An insight into scootering)

January 5th, 2010

Despite the raison d’être of the humble scooter, which was to mobilise post-war Italy, it has evolved over half a century to become a remarkable success story. Back in 1946, you could choose any model as long as it was a Vespa 98, and it was grey. Today, there are more than twenty manufacturers and dozens of models to choose from, in a myriad of colours, sizes and styles, with engine sizes from 50cc to over 800cc.

Technically, a scooter has two small wheels, an enclosed body and rear mounted engine, but decades of inter-breeding means the original boundaries have been stretched somewhat, so if it LOOKS like a scooter, it is a scooter! Over sixty years on and it remains the only form of motorised transport which offers total user-friendliness and such stupidly low running costs that taking a bus would be considered a complex and extravagant experience for most scooterists! There are four main categories of scooter available, each offering distinct characters and pleasures, some of which I’ll try to characterise for you.

The Retro Scooter: This is still a market dominated by the Italians with Vespa surviving a decade long battle of the 1960s in which the iconic Lambretta brand all but disappeared sadly due to its parent company folding up. Various copies and clones have come and gone over the years, but Vespa still remains a brand to be seen on. It’s also the most filmed scooter ever made! With no appeal whatsoever to the ‘yoof’ market, Vespa owners enjoy the chic image and low stress ownership, along with the smug satisfaction that when re-sale time comes a good percentage of cash goes back in their Gucci wallets. Some people see the Vespa as a poseurs brand though, or want something a little more sporty…

The Sports Scooter: Not so long ago it would have been impossible to expect features such as fuel injection, upside down suspension, twin halogen headlamps, liquid cooling or radial disc brakes to feature on a mere scooter, let alone a mid-range motorcycle. But nowadays, even 50cc mopeds boast some, or all of this race-inspired hardware, and larger capacity machines for full licence holders are capable of BMW bashing acceleration and top speeds into three figures. Unlike the iconic Vespa though, ownership of a sports scooter is a far more serious affair as the desire for more speed often results in some serious tuning work carried out by a handful of dedicated pro scooter tuning shops or by the owners themselves using bolt-on parts with varying degrees of effectiveness. Strangely, as the Vespa has matured, and no longer gets itself involved in seaside brawls, the sports machines have become the new urban warrior of the scootering world, with younger riders swarming noisily through towns with scant regard to speed limits or road signs.

The Commuter Scooter: Scootering at its simplest! If you want to get from A to B without looking like an extra from Quadrophenia or a leather clad Power Ranger, then this is the machine for you. With prices starting at around a grand, and car ownership costs rocketing, it makes sense to scoot to work on a fivers worth of fuel a week, and as an added bonus, have a little fun too! This market suffers none of the badge snobbery, and dominant brands are all familiar household names, such as Piaggio, Honda, Yamaha and Peugeot with the emphasis on practicality and running costs rather than speed or style. Soaring rail costs have encouraged many scooterists to try a new type of ‘Inter City 125’ though, as a plethora of high speed 125cc learner legal scooters have been introduced, and with a 70mph top speed are quite suitable for a commute to the West End of London from anywhere near the M25 for example. The sheer pleasure of riding over a big red ‘C’ knowing Uncle Ken won’t see a penny is almost as good as sex (almost…), while parking is as free as the air you breathe, and gives a resolute ‘two-fingered salute’ to NCP, which is a double Whammy and no bad thing! For some riders though, only the biggest and fastest will do, so bring on the max!

The Maxi Scooter: These are the Executive Expresses of the scooter world, as much at home running along the motorway at 80mph, or more for mile after mile as squeezing through the city between the taxis and buses. To be considered a genuine maxi, you need an engine of 400cc or more, around seven feet of sleek plastic bodywork which includes business class accommodation for two adults and a fair amount of storage space for laptops, briefcases or camping gear. The list of features often includes built-in radios, ABS brakes, electric mirrors and centre stands too. Sure, running costs are no longer as appealing, but you’ll still get from London to Brighton on a gallon or less and easily find a parking space for free at either end. Very few motorbikes will match the special blend of all-round ability, and none cost as little as £4000 either. Nowadays you can find dual front wheels on some of the latest machinery and very soon you will start to see on board sat nav and mp3 players which can only be good news for the rest of the scooter world as these features start to filter down to the lower specified models soon afterwards. There tends to be a good community spirit too, with owners clubs for most of the more interesting machines, such as Vespa, Italjet, Piaggio and even humble Peugeot mopeds.

Words: John Thompson

This article was originally published in the print version of PETROL ISSUE.05

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