It started simply enough. We had a bunch of scooters, and there were a bunch of us here. We'd ride them all to lunch. We must've looked funny, but when you're on a scooter, you really don't care. Inevitably, lunch devolved into stoplight-to-stoplight drag races. This would invariably lead to who could get where first. Now before you deride us on our lack of mental fortitude in regards to traffic violations, rest assured that the highest speeds ever reached were in the realm of 43 piston-pounding miles per hour. Downhill. While drafting. And in a full aero tuck. That's a full, unadulterated 63 feet per second.
The speed of sound at sea level is in the neighborhood of 800 feet per second. So we're definitely getting close. Anyway, after hours, we'd take all the scooters out back and do mock trials with them all. One person would lead, the other would follow. A swap of the scooters would take place and the whole thing would repeat. Our neighbors would just laugh. And it wasn't just the neighbors scoffing, our spandex-clad two-wheeled brethren (bicyclists, that is) didn't think much of the scooters, either: cyclist and MOridian Ashley had a brief melding of disciplines with these machines: "On a recent outing to the local bicycle training spot, I took the Metropolitan and went to the front of a motorpace -- that's where you lead a bunch of cyclists around at high speed to help them get used to riding that fast -- and I figured it'd be my chance to dust everyone.
So, I floored the Metro, and it makes lots of gurgly, grindy noises at its top speed, and my friend Mike, the reigning local club champion, got pissed, stood up and passed me! This guy's doing 36+ mph, looks back over his shoulder with that `who's your daddy' angry look, and pedals away." So, yes, even those boys in funny tights will be passing you with their noses upturned. Heaven forbid you run into one of your buddies that fancies themselves as a "real" biker, like our own Eric Bass: "The ancient Greek philosopher Pliny the Elder once said, `In the days of my youth I was sure of what it means to be a man. Now I've reached that age, I try to do all those things the best I can.` ... or was it Robert Plant? In either case, I'm 35 now and I've pretty much got it boiled down to this: Real men don't eat quiche, pee sitting down, or ride scooters. Its just that simple. Now ever since I came on board here I've been under a relentless assault from the other M0fos about the `scooter hang up' I have.
"So what's to hate about scooters?...
...Nothing if you're a sorority girl at UCLA."
CrAshley Hamilton threatening to get me drunk and take pictures of me riding bitch behind her on a Scarabeo, Calvin regaling me with tales of his immortal flameout on a Vino (well, okay, it was mostly everyone else telling me about it), even Sean the Intern waxing nostalgic about the time he looped his Zuma behind a bar in Florida trying to impress some chick (word to the wise lad, your chances of impressing a woman ended the moment you straddled that scooter, anything you did from that moment on was a wasted exercise son).
"So what's to hate about scooters?
"Nothing if you're a sorority girl at UCLA. In fact I've had more than a few moments on campus when I wished I could do that Disney movie thing and trade places with the seat of one of those putt-putts.
You zip up some racing leathers and tuck down low into a lean, mean, time travel machine that can get you from 0 to 100 and back to 0 before the Corvette next to you even hits the century mark.
"But if you're a man's man, you don't ride something called a `Helix' you ride a `Monster,' you don't ride a `Vino' you ride a `Warrior,' you don't ride a `Vespa' you ride a `Road King'. Are you following me?"
You slide on some Doc Martin ass-kickers and wrap-around shades and cruise the strip setting off car alarms with your semi-legal Screamin' Eagle pipes. You DO NOT pull on a Kazoo helmet and sit in that prissy school girl knees-together-back-straight pose that a scooter forces you into and expect to get any props!
"Now in the time honored tradition of attorneys throughout history, I've saved the most damning evidence for last. Can we talk performance for a minute? Okay maybe just for a few seconds because there ain't really much to talk about. Exactly how am I supposed to climb down off of a Ducati 999, squat down on a Metropolitan and feel a tingle of excitement (unless of course I just realized that the Ducati made me ruin my boxers). Hell, I'm pretty sure our own in-house CA State bicycle champ, the esteemed Ms. Hamilton could blow past any non-nitrous equipped scooter on a downhill straight with only her Power Bar fueled pistons and an appetite for (self) destruction. So what is scooter boy left with? The manly rush of exhilaration that washes over him when he calculates how much money he saved on gas? This is America damn it and bigger, faster, louder is the law of the land here. So I say to all the guuuuhrly man scooter riders, ship your Aprilias, Cosmos, and Fiores back to Europe where they belong . . . and take your damn quiche with you while you're at it!"
Whoosh. That was a mouthful, for sure. But for those of us that could stomach the idea of being scooter wimps, these were just about the most fun you can (legally) have on the street. After all of the unsactioned shenanigans were completed, there would be the unsactioned bench racing. "Man, the Vino is fast out of the corners." "The Metropolitan has got power off the line." "The Scarabeo has the best suspension and brakes." You get the idea. And so it came to pass that we figured street riding is all fine and dandy, but you really can't judge performance out on the SUV-clad, oil-slick-infested, broken-glass littered, public road system.
Somebody (we think it was Calvin) got the wise idea that we should put together a little course for some (cue the echo, please) serious closed course testing! The course chosen was spread out between two parking lots, involved sidewalks, and about 150 yards of public roads.
Hairpins, S's, medium and high speed turns, chicanes and long straights where the name of the game. Total elevation change, 1 foot. As for the results of our comprehensive tests? Well, these are scooters after all so we won't go into specific bit-by-bit detail on suspension valving or engine technology. But ex-intern-turned-newspaper-man Stickie Strong has written a smashing tid-bit on the DITECH system found on the Aprilia. Also, plenty of off-the-cuff remarks by all the testers involved will leave you in; a) a state of laughter b) a state of tears c) a state of fears d) the state of Rhode Island.
Scooters exist to provide a cheap form of transportation to the public. Something that's non-threatening and easy to ride. It doesn't hurt that they're usually extremely fuel efficient -- the Scarabeo pulled a whopping 104 mpg, which we measured twice because we didn't believe the numbers the first time -- maneuverable and easy on the bank account.
But, the common viewpoint held by most about scooters is that they're boring, dull and too utilitarian. Well, we're here to change that.
A few months back when all we had to ride around town where scooters, we came to this startling revelation: These two-wheeled devices built to satisfy a decidedly uber-friendly group of people could also, in the same way riding mowers do, satiate the need for speed.
It doesn't really matter which one you pick -- the Vino is relatively fast, the Scarabeo gets great mileage and the Honda is the cutest, and an eco-friendly four-stroke.
Overall, the most useful characteristic of all of these scooters are their practicality. They're cheap to operate, easy to park and they have, for the most part, loads of carrying capacity (note that our Scarabeo was a Euro model, the US one reputedly comes with a basket).
With overcrowding in most urban areas becoming the daily way of life, society, as a whole, will have to initiate a shift in what constitutes an efficient mode of transportation.
Tech Lowdown on DITECH
By Elliot Strong
The Aprilia Direct Injection Technology (DITECH) system is a result of additional research done by Aprilia after acquiring rights to the fundamental technology from Australia's Orbital Engine Company. Previous attempts at using direct fuel injection on two-stroke engines were not successful -- the Bimota V-Due is an excellent case in point.
Advantages of a direct injection system are reduced pollutant emission, increased efficiency, and consequently, increased gas mileage. With the tightening of global emission levels, even on small displacement two-stroke scooters, a commercially successful direct injection system looks quite attractive.
Aprilia is the only company to have successfully marketed such a system. Bimota's gung-ho venture into the technology was one of the contributing factors to the bankruptcy of the company. Aprilia, on the other hand, has ventured cautiously into the commercial arena by marketing DITECH scooters at first and testing the waters.
Their DITECH system consists of 7 main components: An electric fuel pump; an air-fuel rail; the air compressor; an electric oil pump; ignition system and coil; the electronic control unit (ECU); and a throttle body equipped with a throttle position sensor.
The electric fuel pump supplies fuel to the system at a pressure of about 80 to 110 psi while drawing a minimum of electric current. The air-fuel rail consists of 3 subsystems, the fuel injector, the direct injector and the pressure regulator. An automotive-type fuel injector is used for the fuel injector for reliability, and the pressure regulator ensures a constant stability in pressure for the direct injector, which is really the heart of the system. It is controlled by the ECU and mixes the fuel from the injector with compressed air (supplied by the compressor) to inject it directly into the combustion chamber of the engine at a droplet size of 8 microns. Compare that to the droplet size of a typical car port fuel injector at 50 microns, and you get a sense of the level of precision that this system is dealing with.
"Aprilia is the only company to have successfully marketed such a system."
In practice, this system leads to improved emissions because the fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber rather than being mixed with the oil in the crankcase. Additionally, the exhaust gasses are no longer scavenged with the fuel/air mixture, but with pure air, as the fuel is only injected after the exhaust ports are closed, dramatically reducing unburned hydrocarbon emissions.
Because of the precision of the system, the DITECH engines can be run in a severely lean condition. The optimal stoichiometric fuel-air ratio for a chemically perfect burn is 1:14, but the Aprilia system runs as lean as 50:1 at idle and as rich as 30:1 in partial throttle/load conditions.
Now, I can hear all you sportbike junkies warming up your keyboards for a severe tongue-lashing directed towards MO for running a silly scooter story, but hey, slow down there. Scooters like the Scarabeo are testbeds for future technology. There has been rampant speculation on the part of many a two-stroke fan about whether or not Aprilia would apply the DITECH treatment to something a bit more exciting to ride (and that would be street-legal in the US of A)- say, something along the lines of a RS250. But learning from the V-Due debacle, it's not too wise to throw a bunch of new technology at a high priced sportbike unless you're quite sure that it will work in the real world. What better way to test this than a scooter that's used constantly for commuting and given very little when it comes to regular maintenance?
That's right; God gave man wine because he wants him to be happy, and it's the Vino for me. Big powah, combined with absolutely no road feel whatsoever from the leading-link fork. Anyway, it looks cool, and how much trouble can you get in with a 40-mph top speed anyway, Calvin? Ah, Calvin. With a commanding lead on the first lap in the Normandie Ave. 50cc GP, Hackfu threw it down the road. I feel the video is one of MO's finest postings ever. After the fall, Calvin put on his gloves (I think to contain the swelling. Good times.)
Good times are in fact what these scoots are all about. You can't travel on them very far (though if you've got time to take surface streets, oh the places you'll go.) But when you're hanging in the 'hood, they're tough to beat -- especially if the 'hood is near a California beach where parking is tight during the summer. Throw a twelver of chilled beverages and a bag of ice in the underseat compartment and you are ready to roll out in commanding style in chrome beanie, cool shades, flip-flops and board shorts.
Yamaha's Zuma (which was here but somehow isn't in the test) would be my second pick -- it's the only one you can take a passenger on. (Only one you're supposed to take a passenger on anyway.)
You can drop a little kid off at school easily on any of these and be the hero -- and they're fantastic for quick errands close to home. The Zuma chassis, with its front disc brake, telescopic fork and fat tires, gives back a lot more road feel than the Vino. (Our pal Peter is working on one that will do 80 mph.) Honda's Metropolitan is nice enough, but unfortunately just too slow. In our going-to-lunch drafting battles, the Metro couldn't even stay in the draft.
Two-strokes are limited to 50cc, why didn't Honda give the Metro a little more displacement? (Probably cause in most states you can operate a 50 without a motorcycle license.) Other than that, it's just like the Zuma. Aprilia's Scarabeo has the finest chassis, brakes, fuel injection, etc. -- but was badly mauled by the ugly stick, and when you flip up the seat... ah, where's the big storage compartment all the other scoots have? The single best feature of the others is the ability to pop down to the shops, pick up a few items or 12, and be able to lock them up out of sight while making other stops. The Scarab's lack of storage renders it useless for Job One, and it costs a bunch more than the others too. What were they thinking at Aprilia that day?
Just as all politics are local, I suppose so too are all transportation needs. Here in L.A., where we're busy packing 847 pounds of sand into a ten-pound bag every day -- I love the scooters. They're not motorcycles, but they are motorcycles. For under $2000, I think a lot more people should have one. (See the last paragraph of Sean's Tuono opinion.)
2. Elliot "Stickie" Strong
These scooters all support my theory that it's possible to have fun on almost anything with two wheels as long as you are in the right mindset. We putted around on these scooters for a while, and then what flash of brilliance did we come up with? "Let's race them!" It was a natural progression of events as we were racing them to lunch anyway.
I didn't suck as badly as I thought I would on my lap times, but unfortunately in my haste around the track I dumped the Metropolitan on a right-hander. It felt like the back end came out, but whatever the reason was, the video makes me look pretty goofy.
"It was the Vino that stole my heart. It was by far my favorite to ride; it felt just like a scooter should, a little raspy and rough around the edges, but a hoot to ride."
Rightfully so... the Metropolitan ended up being my least favorite of the group, and not just because it had the wheeziest engine. The suspension was good and the brakes were decent, but as superficial as this may sound, I thought the styling was a bit on the cutesy side.
Aprilia's Scarabeo came in second for me; its lack of pick-up off the line was offset by its high top speed (the highest of the group). I couldn't tell if the lack of drive was due to the DITECH direct fuel injection system or the transmission. The consensus leaned towards the tranny and final drive being geared so high, but I still think that the DITECH has something to do with it. In any case, its suspension and brakes were far and away the best of these scooters with disc brakes on each end, large wheels and tires, and real forks and a shock.
But it was the Vino that stole my heart. It was by far my favorite to ride; it felt just like a scooter should, a little raspy and rough around the edges, but a hoot to ride. It made cool sounds (unlike the others that were almost silent), and though the brakes and suspension were a step below the others, the strong engine more than made up for it in my opinion. The looks also helped to win me over. It's classic and cool without trying too hard and I didn't feel like any less of a man for riding it, unlike the Metropolitan with its baby blue paint scheme. Add up all the factors, and I nabbed the Vino over the all the others whenever I got the chance.
The Vino is the devil incarnated into a scooter machine. It's so small and light that the de-restricted motor just overpowers every aspect of the machine. On the other hand, that small stature and light-weightedness make the Vino easy to maneuver in really tight situations. How tight? Hows about inside a building tight. If the street is too packed with caged fools, then hop the bike up onto the sidewalk and, assuming the fuzz is elsewhere, have at your own lil' avenue!
Even with these desirable attributes, the Vino still has its faults. While the Scarabeo sports fancy disks, the Metropolitan and Vino both sport drums. I'll keep it simple for everybody. The drums suck. Also, the front forks are barely worthy a, of a... of something that's really, really crappy. At top speeds, the front is not very happy, especially riding over the rough terrain that is Sepulveda Blvd, and spreads this unhappiness through the chassis.
The Metropolitan, on the other hand, had far superior suspensionization, but shockingly enough, had even worse brakes than the Vino. Lever-to-the-bars type braking situations became the de facto standard for this little, linked-brake Honda. Its power delivery through the mid-range is smooth, and unlike its two-stroke compatriots, slight inclines didn't seem to effect the speed -- probably because it's the only one here with a top-speed limiter. Torque is a good thing. However, off-the-line, the Metropolitan was more Suburban than anything else.
Last but not least, the Scarabeo. While physically the largest of the bunch, it felt the most frail. While the Metropolitan and Vino have most of their weight two-thirds toward the rear, the Scarabeo felt like the weight distribution was near 50/50. I know it wasn't, but compared to the other two, it did. Anyway, with its large front and rear tires, bumps seemed to melt away. Hence, I liked the ride on this Italian machine the best. Disk brakes helped too. However, one thing I did not like is the lack of underseat storage space. For shame! However, sources indicate that the US-spec model (we tested the Euro version, notice the grossly illegal, yet stylishly functional turn signal lights) will include a rack-mounted top case.
4. Sean Alexander
Do you think using 100 percent of available acceleration and braking 100 percent of the time sounds like fun? I do, but I dream of racing an 8-valve Indian Board Track Racer. Folks, "cool" is a state of mind, not a fashion accessory. If you've ever participated in the 50cc Grand Prix that is a Saturday afternoon in Key West, you'd know that Scooters are easily the second most fun thing to do in a small tropical location. Though it didn't participate in the MO GP, I must chime in for the Yamaha Zuma II.
The Zuma, as John mentioned, will legally carry two adults. It will also wheelie from a standstill and maintain that wheelie for as long as you wish. It will in fact loop out, if you are over-zealous. (I've tested this ability for you, gentle reader.) I'm sorry Eric but in my experience, I'd have to say that around town, the Zuma is a much higher performance vehicle than your sissy-boy Harleys. If you need a tattoo or a hog to prove how tough you are, I'll grant that a scooter probably isn't your ideal mount. For the rest of us rabid two wheeled denizens, scooters can be sinfully fun.
|Aprilia Scarabeo 50 DITECH||Honda Metropolitan||Yamaha Vino Classic|
|Engine||2 stroke, forced air cooled single||4 stroke, liquid cooled single||2 stroke, air-cooled single|
|Fuel Induction||DITECH, direct injection||15mm CV with automatic choke||14mm TeikeiReed valve induction|
|Fuel Capacity||2.1 gal||1.3 gal||1.6 gal|
|Brakes, Front||Disk, 190mm, with dual 32mm piston||Drum||Drum|
|Brakes, Rear||Disk, 190mm, with dual 30mm piston||Drum, linked||Drum|
|Dry Weight (listed, dry)||190 lbs||157 lbs||150 lbs|
|Fuel Mileage (observed)||104 mpg||79 mpg||64 mpg|
|MSRP||$2,499 (includes top case)||$1,699||$1,799|