Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Scooter By Any Other Name

Although I love my scooter, I confess that I sometimes feel envy when I am stuck in my car on the highway and the boys of summer whizz by on their big motorbikes. I'm sure some Freudian could have some fun analysing that, but what I envy, why I wanted to learn a motorcycle in the first place was to get that feeling of speeding along roads in the open air.

However, I do still know that the scooter is the best choice for me. Not having to worry about the gears - which never came naturally to me - means I can concentrate on the road, the vehicles around me and whatever environment I'm riding through, even if it means I can't do the big highways. Nonetheless, I still have that envy and I still feel sensitive to the idea that scooters are second-class two-wheeled vehicles. In India, for example, gearless scooters are seen as "sissy." That's why they're marketed to girls and women. Scooters with gears, however, like the original Vespas, are somehow seen as all right. Gears then seem to be the dividing line between macho and sissy, at least in that part of the world.

And yet, there are so many ways to look at two-wheeled vehicles, so many new models out there, and so many ways to make judgements. When I was shopping for a motorcycle and eyeing the beautiful blue Suzuki Marauder I eventually bought, the salesman came up to me and told me it was a fine "lady's bike." It's 250cc-engine earned it that title. In North American terms, it's a small bike, suitable for first-time bikers, especially "ladies." Engine size seems to be the dividing line here.

The male rider in India, China or Vietnam on his 100cc motorcycle may think he's riding a macho bike because it has gears, but in North America young males who want to take to the super highways would scoff at the light bikes. And what do we make of a German rider who takes a 600cc scooter, a super scooter, on the autobahn? Would anybody dare call him a sissy?

On a site called  - a site devoted to motorcycles - a guest writer extols the virtues of the "super scooter," which are easier on the back and simpler to use while going just as fast as motorcycles. He writes that "the word 'scooter' has been for a long time shunned by many and some motorcycle fans would rather walk than hop on a scooter. They recognise scooters as simple fun toys to have but to consider owning one is not an option for most." Now with super scooters, he writes, "scooters have shifted from the fun item to the cool ride on the block."

It seems to me some of the distinctions that pit scooter versus motorcycle out there are silly. This summer, I've seem more and more riders on three-wheeled motorcycles. A recent news story reported that they are becoming more popular with ageing bikers who are finding it harder to balance heavy motorcycles as their knees start to weaken. Even tough guy, Harley Davidson, has a model. But tell me how something called a "trike" couldn't be called "sissy," by some?

Not to be outdone, Piaggio and others have come up with three-wheeled scooters that come in engine sizes up to 500 cc. Can anyone call them "sissy," when there are pictures of George Clooney driving a beautiful woman on one around his Italian home turf of Lake Cuomo?

Think of these three things together: George Clooney, Italy, scooter, and try to work "sissy" into the same sentence. Just as Gregory Peck's ride with Audrey Hepburn through ancient streets in Roman Holiday pushed Vespa sales sky high, George Clooney could make the three-wheeled scooter sexy.

What we all share - riders of scooters and motorcycles, big and small - is the understanding that two-wheeled vehicles are economical and fun. Why can't we just go with that?

P.S. I know I'll remain a scooter rider...but, maybe, just maybe, I'll become a super scooter rider and give the boys of summer a run for their money.

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