What starts out on four legs in the morning, walks on two in midday and three in the evening? Wait, that’s the riddle of the Sphinx and has nothing to do with this. Or does it? Lots of us (at one time anyway) started off on cheap little scooters, graduated to bigger, faster motorcycles – and may return again to the scooter in our, ahhh, golden years. Not that there’s anything wrong with riding a scooter at any life stage in between. Today we are tasked with listing the advantages of each, motorcycle and scooter.


Scooters: Pro

Light and easy to hop onto

Not all but most scooters are lower to the ground, lighter, and of a “step-through” design – meaning you don’t have to swing a leg all the way over the seat to get on. Handy if you have a bad hip or similar malady, also great if you’re wearing your kilt (please keep your knees together in case it flies up). Furthermore, most scooter engines and drivetrains are mounted low and to the rear: That low center of gravity makes them feel even lighter.

The Honda Super Cub (new again for 2019) wasn’t the original “step-through,” but it’s the most mass-produced vehicle of all time. With those 17-inch wheels, it’s almost not really a scooter. Is it?

Twist and go

Most scooters use some kind of automatic transmission (generally a CVT Continuously Variable Transmission), which means there’s no need to learn to work a clutch or shift gears. Great for aspiring riders who don’t know how. You can get comfortable in traffic on a scooter first, and learn to shift later on a motorcycle if you so desire.

Ride like maniac with fewer repercussions

2015 Honda Forza at Isle of Man. Okay, it’s downtown Long Beach.

I’m kidding! You should never ride like a maniac in traffic, but on many scooters, there’s a greater sense of speed with less actual speed involved. That’s what makes scooters fun, and having fun encourages you to have more fun. The old saying is it’s more fun to ride a slow scooter fast than a fast motorcycle slow. On a Panigale V4, the cars are always in your way. On a small scooter, well, they still are, but not nearly as much. Your chances of getting a speeding ticket on a scooter are greatly reduced. Writing one may be against the Traffic Cop Code.

High motility

On a scooter, you can squeeze through the tightest traffic jams with the greatest of ease.

Vespa GTS300, could be gay Paree.

Our friend Jim says: “Whenever I go to Paris I rent a Vespa to get around the city quicker and easier than the subway or a taxi. And Vespas have great resale value, like a Porsche. I’m sure cheap-ass Asian scooters are just as fun, but not as cool looking and no resale value.”

Great storage, usually built-in

Most scooters have nice cushy saddles that open up, alligator-mouth like, to reveal a big underseat storage space that’ll easily hold a couple bags of groceries, a backpack or your helmet and jacket. Drop the seat and it’s locked, with your cargo out of sight of needledicks and ne’er do wells. Some have USB ports and TFT displays up front you can Bluetooth up to your phone.

BMW’s new City X has enough room for a large infant or two helmets.

Cheap to obtain and operate

You can spend quite a bit on the latest, tastiest Vespa or BMW scooter. But there are plenty of less expensive great scooters from Honda and Yamaha, and some bargain basement ones from Kymco, et al. You don’t have to spend a bundle to get a quality, reliable scooter.


The Kymco Like 150i ABS, a product that clearly takes aim at Vespa’s Primavera (and Sprint) 150, offers similar performance, safety and style for like $2,600.

Cheap to Ride

Insurance is way less for a scooter. Scooters get great fuel mileage, sometimes over 80 mpg. Scooter tires last longer and are cheaper to replace. Scooters require less maintenance. Scooters are like honey badgers, they don’t give AF.

Park anywhere

On a scooter, which most people and security guards think of as “cute,” you can usually squeeze into a prime spot right out front. Since most scooters are almost fully enclosed in bodywork, you don’t feel so bad leaving them parked on the street if your garage is already full. If you even have a garage. A quick hose-down now and then is all the typical scooter asks. Maybe a little wax now and then if you want it to stay pretty…

In some states, no license required

My nephew in Missouri tells me you don’t need a license for scooters under 50cc, which is handy if you don’t have one. Your local laws may vary.

Get your two-stroke buzz legally

Our friend James says: “My Zuma 50 with a 70cc kit and pipe is surprisingly quick and tops out in the high 50-mph range.” Peter Jones’s Zuma is plumbed with Nitrous.


Scooters: Con

Machismo, lack of…

Some will question the masculinity of the operator, if he is male. If you have a lot of self-worth tied up in what strangers may think of your appearance, and/or if you are a Mongol or Hells Angel, a scooter is probably not for you.

Stability, lack of

The ones with tiny 12-inch wheels lack stability, especially on bumpy surfaces. A big part of a motorcycle’s stability comes from the gyroscopic effect of its two big wheels spinning, and more of it the faster you go. Obviously, smaller wheels at slower speeds provide less gyro. Also at higher speeds. If you’re commuting at 80 mph very far every day, a scooter with 12-inch wheels is not optimal. And having said all that, the Vespa 300 on its 12-inchers won the Handling portion of our latest scooter shootout a few years ago.

Handling, front end feel, lack of

Also, scooters with their drivetrains mounted low and rearward have less weight on their front tires. That translates as a lack of steering feel and feedback, and makes scooters less swift as pure sporting tools on curvy roads. Depending on the nut behind the handlebars, naturally.

Honda’s little Metropolitan won’t go more than about 50 mph, but it gets over 100 mpg!

Speed, lack of…

For our money, anything less than about 300cc is too small to mix it up with SoCal freeway traffic, and scooters smaller than 150cc are banned from many Golden State freeways. But if you’re only going to travel local roads, anything goes. Even 50cc scooters can haul you up to 40 or 50 mph. Slowly…


Motorcycles: Pro

Big-time Youtube stars!

They’re motorcycles

Since the dawn of time, motorcycles have been a symbol of freedom, fearlessness and high testosterone levels. From Cannonball Baker to Tom Cruise in the new Top Gun, (not to forget whatsername in the Matrix movies), motorcycles say we are not afraid of nuthin’, and are suffering from the opposite of erectile dysfunction. Obviously, we are bad to the bone.

Raw, nasty speed

The need for speed can be scratched by no other itch better than a nice, 200-horsepower superbike. Nothing projects power better, and no other vehicle exceeds the exhilaration-per-dollar ratio.

Kawasaki doesn’t make any supercharged scooters. Neither does anybody else, AFAIK.

Traveling

There’s no substitute for a big Honda Gold Wing, H-D Ultra Glide or BMW K1600 GTL when you’re going cross country. Or is there? Plenty of people travel on their Suzuki Burgmans, which is technically a scooter.

Plenty of people travel on their maxi-scooters. This one’s the 2018 Burgman 400, and if it’s too small, there’s the bigger, plusher Burgman 650. Also, the BMW C650GT and others featured in our Uber Scooter shootout from five years ago.

Then there’s this guy, Ed March, who circumnavigated the globe on his Honda C90.

Racing

You need a real sportbike to go racing. Or, wait! Maybe you don’t.

People all around the world race anything that’s got wheels. Our friend Sam Moses, who’s raced cars and bikes and written about both extensively, writes in: “A Ferrari-red Honda Vario is my family vehicle here on Bali. $1,500 new out the door on a credit card. I love that thing. Have carried my wife, dog and niece on it – all at once. Have ridden it what I thought was knee-dragging hard, only to be passed on the inside of a curve by a fellow carrying 10 chickens in crates on the back of his. The fearlessness and control of scooter riders here on Bali is humbling. I dare any of you macho superbike riders to come here and rent a scooter ($3 a day, anywhere) and outride the locals. Muslim girls with streaming hijabs and flip-flops ride like Valentino Rossi.”

You need a motorcycle to join HOG. Or do you?

No! You just need to find a lightly used Topper, which H-D produced from 1960 to ’65, to join the in crowd.

Basically, if you can do it on a motorcycle, you can do it on a scooter too. Just less expensively and more slowly.


Motorcycle: Con

More expensive to buy and operate

What’s the old saying? Speed costs money, how fast do you want to go? That maxim holds true from point of acquisition until time of sale. The more powerful or the bigger the motorcycle, the more you’ll pay. Also the more fuel you’ll burn, and the more tires, brake pads, oil and other replacement items you’ll use up.

More expensive to insure

If you’re a 20-year old rider, your insurance payments on many sportbikes might be more than the cost of the motorcycle. And crooks steal motorcycles a lot more than they do scooters, for the simple reason motorcycles are worth more money.

More people to ask you about your death wish

It’s true, motorcyclists are something like 34 times more likely to be killed on the road than drivers of automobiles, and many people don’t understand why you’d risk it. The same people think your Vespa is cute, and want to go for a ride. But bigger motorcycles are actually less likely to be involved in crashes, so maybe this is actually a motorcycle Pro.

In the final analysis

… the scooter and the motorcycle perfectly complement each other, and in a perfect world, you’d have both: One sits in the garage, there to be pampered, waxed, and carressed in private moments. The other waits patiently at the curb, thrives on abuse, and is always ready to make a quick run to the grocery store or wherever you need to go, no questions asked and no need to lift your leg all the way over.

And in the meantime, the boundaries are being completely blurred by maxi-scooters like the 60-horsepower BMW C650GT and BMW’s electric C Evolution.

BMW C Evolution

To further muddy the waters, look no further than Aprilia’s (no longer sold in the US) Mana, and to the Honda NC750X – full-size motorcycles, but with automatic transmissions and built-in storage compartments where their gas tanks should be.

In the end, the Pros vastly outweigh the Cons, whether you choose a scooter or a motorcycle. Or both.