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Scooters 101

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Until recently, scooters were mocked more than appreciated. While motorcycles and bicycles were viewed as the football jocks of the two-wheeled world, scooters were relegated to debate team status, the geek-cousins of mopeds, seemingly ridden only by medieval history professors and quiet accountant types with a strong preference for brown-bag lunches.

But during 2008, when gas prices purged wallets and caused drivers to plot simple errands with the meticulousness of military planners, scooters suddenly vaulted in status. They became smart, fuel-efficient alternatives to cars and even motorcycles. Sales jumped 24 percent from the previous year. Scooter sales were especially brisk in New York and Los Angeles, the major metros for establishing nationwide trends and reshaping images. And now, as a result, not since Jimmy Cooper rode a GS Scooter in the Who’s Quadrophenia have the words “cool” and “scooters” been used in the same sentence.

Scooter Advantages

Before discounting the idea of owning a scooter as knee-jerk folly, consider the advantages:

  • Scooters are more budget-friendly than motorcycles. Depending on engine size, you can buy a new scooter for as low as $1,000.
  • Most scooters average more than 70 mpg, with some getting almost 100 mpg.
  • You can fill a scooter’s gas tank for less than $5.
  • Electric scooters render gas prices moot.
  • Scooters are easier to mount than motorcycles, equating to easier maneuverability.
  • Besides a helmet, scooters require no special riding gear, allowing you to ride to work in a suit.
  • Scooters are faster than mopeds, blending effortlessly with the pace of city traffic.
  • Scooters are easier to park than cars and motorcycles. Most cities allow scooters to be chained to trees, street lamps and bike racks.

Regulations

Be informed of your state’s regulations before revving down your street. Rules vary by state. Some states treat scooters on par with skateboards and in-line skates. While others are more regulatory, requiring helmets and motorcycle licenses.

You’ll find most state rules are based on a scooter’s engine size. Generally, any scooter with an engine under 50 cc is considered a moped, requiring less regulation. Whereas scooters with engine sizes greater than 50 cc are grouped in the motorcycle category, entailing helmets, special licenses, insurance and other bureaucratic conformities.

Safety

Unlike motorcycles, scooters lack the bad-ass safety option of a loud exhaust pipe. Consequently, the pressure falls upon you to increase motorist awareness of your presence. To do this, you should adhere to the following practices:

  • Wear bright clothing.
  • Avoid riding in the proverbial “blind spots.”
  • Always give ample indication before turning.
  • Check your rearview mirror every five to seven seconds.
  • Exercise extra caution when approaching intersections.

Scooter Facts

  • The first motor scooter, an auto-fauteuil, was invented in France in 1902.
  • The first contemporary motorized scooter was invented in 1946 by Enrico Piaggio.
  • Vespa, the name of the Piaggio’s first scooter, means “wasp” in Italian.
  • The Vespa gained international recognition in 1953 when Audrey Hepburn rode one with Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday.
  • The United States is the only nation in the free world to have had a politician named “Scooter” (Libby).
  • There are more scooters than cars in Vietnam.

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