why a scooter?return to home

There’s an underlying question here, Why two wheels?, with a simple answer. On two wheels, you can get around more cheaply, park more easily, and experience more. If you’ve never ridden a motorbike or scooter before, you should give it a shot. Most European countries (plus Australia) allow at least those with car licenses to ride a small scooter; some allow teenagers to ride as well. So is that dangerous? Well, the way locals here in London ride, probably. But it doesn’t have to be. Riding requires more attention and skill than driving, and there’s less between you and the road, between you and other vehicles. No windscreen gives a feeling of freedom.

Traffic can be a nightmare in cities across Europe. Even if you’re planning to skip most cities, it’s great to be able to sneak past the traffic jams. Different countries have different driving styles; you notice as soon as you cross the border. And tolerance for two wheels varies widely as well. In general, the locals know what they can get away with, and do it. It looks crazy, but if you get nervous, just pretend to be a car. Except when parking, of course — sneak in where you can, near some other bike. You’ll be unlucky to get a ticket in most places.

That’s why two wheels. So why not a regular motorbike? Some reasons are personal, some legal, some miscellaneous. First up, I hate gears. Yes, they’re more useful on a bike than on a car, but I still hate them. My fault, I know. Anyway, except for old Vespas, all scooters are gearless, with a variable gear system that means you’re never caught powerless. Bikes are very rarely gearless, and this is because they’re mostly built for speed.

Bringing us to reason 2. I’m not interested in going much faster than the speed limit on a motorway, and so don’t miss the extra power a bike delivers. Too many people get killed driving too fast to not be careful. Our big scooter (well, 250cc) does 70-80mph, which is just fine. Oh, and a minor, odd legal thing for me personally, my Australian license is only valid for bikes up to 250cc. Soon, I can take another test to extend it, but may or may not bother.

Storage: scooters have a whole lot more. Big scooters especially. The seat flips up, and can hold, say, a fair amount of shopping, or a helmet plus waterproof gear. Most bikes and scooters do have a spot for a storage rack or box on the back, which can compensate somewhat, but the more space the better.

Seating position on bikes varies, from hunched over sports bike style, to laid back touring. Personally, I prefer touring style, and scooters are even more touring style (feet further forward) than most touring bikes. Plus, because of the extra faring on a scooter, you’ve got much better weather protection. The rider at least, if not the pillion, is protected from rain and cold wind, even in quite poor conditions.

What else? Well, the small wheels on most scooters compared to motorbikes can be useful, though it’s a two edged sword. Small wheels make the scooter more manoeuvrable, but don’t absorb bumps in the road as well. And though it’s convenient to be able to step through a scooter when getting on the thing, the centre of a bike is actually helpful for steering with your knees.

Now I’m not sure about safety at high speeds, but at low speeds, a scooter rider who knows they’re about to fall (what a fun feeling) can just sit tight and let the scooter take the fall — if they have to. Scooters are lighter, and it’ll stress your leg a whole lot less to just put your foot out and stabilise yourself. On a big bike, you’ll crush your leg underneath it unless you move, and they’re heavy things too. But a big bike is not for a novice anyway, and they won’t have read this far. Oh, the weight is the other double-sided thing. A bike that’s too light will be blown around on the motorway. Two people will help you stay comfortable, but motorbikes are generally heavy enough, with tires that are large enough, to avoid this problem.

Nagging relative section: No matter what you ride, make sure that you’re safe. Always wear a full face helmet and protective clothing. I’ve been in an accident that wasn’t my fault, but still left me thrown over the handlebars and onto my chin; it would have been broken if I hadn’t worn a full face helmet. Take plenty of lessons, even if it’s not a legal requirement, and don’t do anything stupid. Always watch out for other vehicles doing dumb things; an accident that wasn’t your fault might still have been avoidable. Leave at least 2-3 seconds gap between you and the vehicle in front, and look to the sides before moving there — maybe there’s another bike trying to overtake you.

No, I don’t know what I’m doing telling you about safety; I’m not a qualified instructor or even close. I just don’t want to encourage anyone to do something they’re not safe to do. Riding any two wheeled vehicle can be dangerous if unprepared, so be careful. A phenomenal number of people die every year on scooters and motorcycles, and though many accidents are caused by cars, from what I’ve seen in London, at least as many are from careless riding.