Yamaha TMAX. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Michael Clark
Gas pains: not the kind from that greasy spoon you promised your significant other you’d avoid after your last cholesterol count. We’re talking about the harsh reality of a Buck Forty for a litre of the house regular, at your local petroleum concern. Add these costs to already lofty budgets for car payments, maintenance, and insurance, and the question is simple; how many wheels do you really need?
For many commuters, that answer could be a scooter. The last time this Clark could put ten bucks in just to get the tank topped off was when I weighed a Buck Forty, had hair to my shoulders, and drove a ’65 Valiant named Floyd. Ask yourself how many times your Floyd rides around with only your hide, and your backseat collection of fast food bags. Factor in your parking costs for work and/or home, and compare them to a vehicle that could be literally parked in your living room. We should all be driving scooters!
Yamaha BW 125. Click image to enlarge
Therein lies the rub, and hopefully not the rub of a very large fender against your Vespa during morning rush hour. As a motorcycle rider, I continue to encounter concerns on our roadways regarding scooter pilots, as well as motorcycle riders. The makeup of a scooter involves an automatic transmission, and an inboard position for the driver’s legs. Simply put, they are easy to engage, and point down the roadway. For many provinces, a motorcycle license is not required, usually in the instance of low engine displacements below 50 CCs (cubic centimetres.) A helmet is usually all that is legally required.
That’s where my Soap Box comes in. To all prospective and current scooter owners, it cannot be stressed enough that a world of hurt awaits those who choose to ignore the need for proper training, road rules, and riding apparel. I have seen many of these common sense violations, such as flip-flop footwear, open-face helmets, even cell phone operation and grocery bag-grab while in motion. A 50-CC displacement scooter can still reach 60 km/h. Now think of leaving that scooter at 60 km/h. Your body is the bumper.
Customized Vespa. Click image to enlarge
The displacement of the scooter you choose should be based on the roads you regularly travel. 50 CCs tend to be capped at a top speed of 60 km/h, though there are performance kits that can raise that number a smidge, as well as fry your warranty. A 50-CC scooter is strictly an urban solution, best suited for the cobblestone streets of a Roman Holiday backdrop, not the QEW in Toronto rush-hour.
If you have any intentions of highway speeds, cargo, or passengers, consider that most of today’s entry-level motorcycles have an engine displacement of 250 CCs. Scooters tend to be a tad lighter than motorcycles’ but they are by no means a flyweight. A scooter requiring a regular highway blast should be no less than 125 CCs. Open road models can get as high as 600 CCs. Automatic, schmautomatic: that’s a motorcycle where I come from. Once the engine displacement tips over 50 CC’s, the law will usually require an operator to have a motorcycle license. A new rider course is recommended, and in many cases required before a motorcycle license can be issued.
Depending on the make and model, many scooters employ some type of onboard storage, usually for stowage of your helmet. If you have designs on picking up a few groceries, consider an optional cargo pod or detachable pouch system. Much like a passenger, the weight of additional cargo can affect riding dynamics. It would be advisable to practice, in a safe area, with any additional items that you would anticipate as regular cargo.
As Billy Joel once said, riding your motorcycle in the rain is not high on the list of sane transportation choices. The same goes for scooters, so be mindful of reduced traction and braking, especially when the first droplets hit the roadway. Proper raingear is a must for those who adopt a postal carrier’s motto for their scooter use. Maybe it’s just a Winnipeg thing, but operating your scooter in any weather involving flakes is strictly verboten.
The marketplace continues to grow. Of particular note is the arrival of Chinese-built scooters, such as those marketed by TNG. (Twist ‘N Go) They’re priced considerably less than a similar model from Honda or Yamaha, in many cases less than $2,000. The least expensive Japanese scooter, based on current MSRP’s, is the Yamaha XF50 “C-Cubed”, priced at $2,599. (All prices shown do not include freight, taxes, or insurance.) Pricing climbs accordingly with size and engine displacement, as well as pedigree. The much-imitated Vespa models continue to be the boutique choice, with an MSRP of $4,295 for the LX 50 base model. As with any vehicle purchase, one must consider warranty, parts availability, and dealer servicing.
At best, a scooter for most Canadians is more of a transportation supplement than a complete commuter solution. Still, when you start hearing about fuel consumption in the neighbourhood of 49 kilometres PER LITRE, (or 138 mpg Imperial, for the Yamaha XF50) it’s hard not to get excited.