Saturday, February 28, 2009

Scooters Hate Motorcycles

I was pondering a scooter parked at Florida Keys Community College next to my Bonneville. They don't make Rivas like these at Yamaha any more, or if they do they are no longer imported into the US. I think this one was a 125 cc model though they made them up to around 200cc, pretty much identical to this one, ridden two up on North Roosevelt Boulevard:I was pondering the little white Yamaha, not least probably because I was facing a mid term exam and dawdling on my way to class. It occurred to me this Yamaha was pretty close to being an ideal scooter, especially when I started noticing the details. The sturdy and useful luggage rack with built in bungee attachment points and a helmet lock:Let us not forget the ridiculous safety stickers designed and deployed solely for the litigious US market:I liked the two stands that are provided, a solid side stand as well as the neatly folded center stand:The scooter had a rubber foot mat and a foot brake for the rear drum:The right hand switch cluster had the kill button, the left hand pretty much everything else:All big and easy to use like the speedometer (notice the stand deployed light!):I haven't ridden the Riva but I suspect a 125cc model would be gasping if it closed in on 60mph (95kph). I read a comment by an owner of a 200 Riva and he said it was big enough to maintain freeway speeds so that sounds a bit more like it. In any event I look at this Riva with just 1500 miles on the clock and I see an eminently practical machine, check the mud flap built in...... and a nicely proportioned ride with a big comfortable seat and a hand rail for the passenger:...with nice lines reminiscent of a Vespa, a much more expensive ride. Of course I liked my Vespa 250 which closely resembled this machine parked in Key West:When it ran it ran beautifully, up to 85 miles per hour and used but one gallon of premium every 72 miles. However mine was plagued by unreliable electronics and I was forced to sell it. My wife's Vespa 150 runs just fine with a simple carburettor, hitting speeds up to 65 mph (105kph) and I enjoy taking it for a ride from time to time:Between the two Vespas and an ill fated Indian Stella 150 two-stroke scooter I must have commuted around 15,000 miles (25,000 kms) on Highway One and I have noticed a big difference when I ride the same route on a motorcycle. While I remain a big fan of scooters I find it easier to be on the road on a motorcycle when surrounded by homicidal car drivers. They just don't seem to respect scooter's right to be on the road like they do big nasty Triumphs and I should note I have owned several Vespas in my previous life starting early with a 50cc special in 1970. I also rode a Vespa P200 across the US and Mexico in 1981 and enjoyed using the Vespa as my daily rider for another ten years in California. The largest motorcycle I owned was an 1100cc Honda Gold Wing which was not a good fit for me, unlike the 900cc Bonneville, shown here scaring wildlife:The Bonneville means business, and though I ride it no faster on my commute than I ever did the 250cc Vespa GTS, I rarely get crowded by stupid car drivers. People used to cut me off, tailgate me and try to outrun me when, to their amazement I passed them while riding my "moped." The Vespa was a wonderfully practical way to get around with lots of lockable, dry storage, a more comfortable seat than any motorcycle I've ridden along with excellent weather protection. Yet I find my 900cc Bonneville with three times the horsepower of the Vespa to be more practical, even though it uses more gas (45mpg) simply because it inspires more respect.The Keys aren't a practical or sensible environment for boy racers, with not many roads and all of them desperately straight, yet lots of people ride these superb, over-powered machines and as you can see lots of them ride wearing a bare minimum of protective gear. I don't always wear a helmet or my protective clothing when I ride and I find the suffocating blanket requirement on web forums for all riders to be armored at all times to be rather tedious. New devotees of the sport tend to be rather more focussed on the risks than the pleasure it seems to me. They've discovered this excellent new-to-them means of locomotion and they want everyone to share their need for total protection all the time, so they get preachy. I also find the debates between scooter riders and motorcyclists to be irritating because I don't see the need for riders to worry so much about what they ride. Hell I rent Harleys when I can and I enjoy them very much! On the scooter front I like, in theory, Yamaha's 500cc, 100mph (160kph), T Max recently introduced to the US. I found this photo on a French motorcycle website and I think it looks gorgeous:Bobscoot in Canada, like me (horrors! we have something in common), rides a scooter as well as his rather toothsome Suzuki 650. His scooter is a powerful Kymco 500, pictured rather suavely in France in this picture (not chez Bobscoot incidentally). This is another good looking scooter able to cruise at highway speeds with excellent weather protection and comfort:The Frenchman depicted above is very relaxed and debonair in full riding leathers, zooming across town. Apparently there are scooterists in the US that believe they don't need protective gear because they are just scooters which is silly because falling off is falling off and it hurts and the ground doesn't care what you are riding. As long as you understand the risk, make your own informed choice...hell, my knee still hurts from tripping while walking and chewing gum! Check out this portly Honda Goldwing, known to Allen Madding as a honda-potamus thanks to it's general massiveness:It's too much motorcycle for me, with its reverse gear, built-in everything electronic, optional airbag, and all it's bulk. I'd rather buzz around town and into the country on a slender, perky BMW 650 single like this one which is ridden daily around Key West:But whatever you ride you need training to be truly as safe as you can be. I am a believer in the value of using your head for active safety, rather than worrying so much about what you wear or choose not to wear. Or worse yet what you ride. If I were planning another cross country trip I'd think about that other Japanese work horse, the Honda Helix, a 250cc machine that can barely hit 70 miles per hour but that has a record for reliability and sturdiness second to none, with huge load carrying and extreme comfort built in (no air bags though):There is a reason we ride what we ride and that boils down simply to image, like it or not. Our machines reflect the image we want to project of ourselves, and practicality has almost nothing to do with it. Car drivers frequently claim they are locked into practical requirements like load carrying and cost rather than driving for the sport of the thing- and their tedium and lack of interest shows as they steer. Motorcycles in the US are still viewed largely as toys, so instead of riding a sensible scooter we give ourselves a thrill by commuting like a Grand Prix racer, or like me by invoking the gods of my youth- fuel petcocks, air cooled engine fins and sexy rounded fuel tanks: I don't need a Bonneville, I like my Bonneville and I really don't care what other people ride as long as they are enjoying themselves in their own way and leave me to enjoy my own self image. Long live all scooters, motorcycles and Harley Davidsons. And their well trained riders, of course.