Yamaha scooters. Click image to enlarge
Story and photos by Andrew McCredie
Think ‘scooter’ and the mind races to images of frenzied Roman piazzas, their outer rings a living, pulsing entity as bulbous chromed scooters flit this way and that through Bistro-lined streets. High cheek-boned young men weaving inside and out of traffic, their lanky and fashionable female friends hanging on tightly with both hands but looking otherwise a little bored with it all. Funny sounding horns fill the air. A little more concentration and visions of long-coated Mods descending like two-wheeled locusts on an English seaside resort for a weekend of Quadraphonic fun.
After that though, the old memory bank is pretty barren when it comes to scooters, apart from some rather ribald jokes comparing them to a woman of, how shall we say, larger stature.
But thanks to the high costs of operating a car – even a miserly compact – the scooter is shedding its whimsical sub-culture status to become a real-world alternative for thousands of Canadians.
If you live in a major Canadian city and you think you’re seeing more and more of the small cc two wheelers on the road, you are.
Sales of scooters in this country have quadrupled since 1999, fueled by not just rising gas prices, but the overall cost of owning a car. Parking, insurance and repair costs certainly haven’t remained static in the past eight years, and more and more commuters, particularly younger ones, are hopping on with abandon. Especially in Quebec, where driving laws allow 14-year-olds to own and operate scooters sub-50 cc in size. Six out of 10 scooters sold in Canada are sold in La Belle Province.
Yamaha C3. Click image to enlarge
In typically Canadian fashion, scooter laws are a patchwork from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Alberta and New Brunswick have similar scooter age requirements to Quebec; in B.C., Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba you can drive one with just a regular vehicle license; and in Ontario you can’t drive a scooter without a special motorcycle-like license (meaning a written and road test two-wheeled specific).
Yamaha Canada has seen firsthand the major growth of the one-time niche market, with the company’s scooter sales growing a staggering 25 per cent between 2005 and 2006 figures, while their entire motorcycle line experienced less than one per cent growth.
But just as that market has grown, so too has the competition. In 2000, the only manufacturers selling scooters into Canada were the Japanese Big Three – Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki.
In 2007, there are no fewer than a dozen scooter brands in a crowded Canadian marketplace, including Vespa, Piaggio, Aprilia and a handful of Asian manufacturers offering sub-$2,000 models.
Being a longtime player in the nation’s scooter market has helped Yamaha fend off much of that competition thanks to some very well made and well-designed scooters, especially of the 50 cc variety.
Yamaha BW. Click image to enlarge
For 2007, there are five Yamaha scooter models: the 400 cc Majesty; the 125 and 49 cc Vino; the 49 cc BW and the all-new 49 cc C3 (called the “C Cubed”).
If you’re wondering why a seemingly oddball displacement figure – 49- is used in three of the five, remember the sub-50 cc licensing rule.
Earlier this week I had a chance to take all three of the 49cc models for a spin through Vancouver and it’s majestic Stanley Park, and in the process I discovered each is a scooter on to itself.
The top-selling BW (or “Bee-Wee” as it is affectionately known) is a two-head lighted, aggressively stanced scooter that is the transport of choice for many Montreal and Quebec City kids. Featuring an air-cooled, two-stroke single carb engine and fully automatic transmission, the Bee-Wee is by far the sportiest of the bunch. Limited bodywork and dirt bike inspired fenders add to that sport look, as does the range of colours it is available in (black w/flames, orange w/flames, blue, red and titanium). The Vino and C3 come in just two colour choices, blue and black, and blue and silver respectively.
The Bee Wee also has the most ‘motorbike’ sounding exhaust note to it, owing in large part to the spirited two-stroke engine. And unlike the C3 and Vino, it seats two.
And to complete the ‘it’s a lot like a real motorcycle’ vibe, the BW comes with a kick starter in addition to an electric starter.
Yamaha Vino. Click image to enlarge
The Vino is for all intents and purposes, the Yamaha Vespa. Styled with flowing chrome and art deco-inspired side fairings, this model appeals to those who are attracted to the romance of the scooter. Powered by a liquid-cooled four-stroke single carb engine, the Vino is as much piece of art as a piece of working machinery.
The only problem with it, as Yamaha Canada’s Bryan Hudgin pointed out during our ride, that if someone wants a Vespa they usually don’t want a scooter that looks like one, no matter how less expensive or reliable.
“It’s like with someone who wants a Harley Davidson,” the company’s marketing rep explained. “It’s the brand they’re interested in as much the bike itself. And typically they’re willing to pay the difference.”
In the case of the Vino, priced at $2,699, that represents about two grand more to shell out for a Vespa.
Which brings us to the C3, the new kid on the block and one that looks unlike any scooter you’ve ever seen.
Aptly named, it features a front fork assembly reminiscent of a stand-up vacuum cleaner, a big chunky front fender that looks like it came off a Harley police bike, and a main body and seating area designed so as to make it appear you’re sitting on a large cooler.
All that being said, I loved it. Powered by a liquid-cooled four-stroke single engine, the C3 handled pot holes better than the others, and with a lower seating position than the Vino and BW, felt much more stable and comfortable for longer stretches in the single seat.
What the three 49 cc Yamahas do share is ample storage room under their respective seats and the ability to attached a host of add-on luggage compartments.
Yamaha C3. Click image to enlarge
Just as the three scooters represent different styles, each has its own distinctive driving characteristics.
As mentioned, the Bee-Wee is by far the sportiest, or maybe liveliest is a better description. The two-stroke engine means the power comes on quicker, and the fatter tires smooth out some of those inevitable potholes. My only complaint was that my knees interfered a little with the steering at almost full lock.
The Vino had the roughest ride of the three, though with a shorter wheelbase this is to be expected. Still, I found the Vino to be a very agile and competent scooter, particularly in tighter confines.
Of the three I preferred the C3 the most.
From its oddball looks to its very stable and comfortable ride position, and from its quiet four-stroke engine to its longer wheelbase, the C3 is a real winner. Only complaint here is a too-quiet turn signal indicator. Whereas the Vino and BW emit a pretty loud clicking sound when the turn signal is activated – enough that I could here it with my helmet on and parked in front of a loud construction site – the C3’s was inaudible. A turn signal left on in a car can be annoying; a turn signal left on in a scooter can be deadly.
Yamaha C3. Click image to enlarge
As mentioned, the Vino retails for $2,699. The BW goes for $2,849, and
the new C3’s sells for $2,599.
As to the other most important number, fuel economy, the figures on the
C3 have yet to be released, but if its stablemate’s fuel consumption is
any indication, it will be very frugal indeed. The Vino gets an
incredible 68 kms to the litre, while the Bee-Wee gets 44 kms to the
litre (for comparison’s sake, a 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid gets
approximately 21.1 kms per litre.”
With gas prices being as likely to rise as the sun will tomorrow, and with ‘Going Green’ outgrowing it’s past trendy status to mature into a full-grown way of life for many, scooters like Yamaha’s BW, Vino and C3 are here to stay.
Who knows? Maybe one day in the not too distant future, when someone says ‘scooter’ you’ll think of Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal.