I taught a Basic Rider Course this weekend, and one of the young ladies in the class was there just to be licensed for her scooter. This, of course, led to a bit of classroom discussion concerning “real motorcycles” vs. scooters. Based on the discussions, I thought this might be a good time to pull this piece from Midwest Motorcyclist (December 2008) and share it here. Please remember, all of us on two wheels (and occasionally three), bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles, are all in this together against the caged drivers sharing our roads.
I was looking through one of my favorite glossy cycle mags the other day (after finishing Midwest Motorcyclist, of course!), when I got the feeling I’d read most of the content before. Sure, the bike reviews were new, and bike specs get better all the time, but the basic content of the magazine seemed the same, slightly updated. Then it struck me- I’ve got over 25 years of bike mag reading stored somewhere in my (only slightly) porous gray matter. How could it not begin to repeat? Then a second thought smacked me a bit harder: Repeats are a good thing! New riders join us every day, especially with current gas prices making motorcycles and scooters a particularly economical form of transportation. Though we “seasoned” riders often forget, each new rider needs the same bits of riding wisdom passed along to keep them safe as we’ve been. This means a cycle (the other kind of cycle) of repeats are inevitable- these articles are fresh information to a large number of people reading the publications. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed there is a large group of riders that need much of this repeated info, yet they’re probably not even aware it applies to them. As riders of “real” motorcycles, many of us are even guilty of looking down upon this group, even ignoring them altogether. I’m talking scooter pilots, if you hadn’t already guessed.
I’ve heard motorcycle sales have flattened recently, but scooter sales are up considerably. Even flat, steady sales are still putting more bikes on the road, many with brand new riders. The scooter sales concern me a bit more, however. Most scooter riders tend to be people who find full-size bikes appealing, but intimidating. Scooters, however, are “cute”, low-powered, inexpensive and easy to ride- something anyone can do, right? True enough, but with a few seriously overlooked ramifications. Most people buy scooters “just for getting around town”, using the argument that lower city speeds are safer, especially for newer riders- WRONG! OK, I’ll admit that slower equates to lower chance of serious injury, but there is a lot more happening on city streets, particularly the urban environment that seems to draw the scoots. Traffic, erratic lane changes, pedestrians, parking lot exits and more- and most scooterists (as well as most new motorcyclists, but let’s focus on scooters) are ill-equipped to react to situations thrown at them. As a MSF instructor, I’m amazed at the number of scooter folks that are afraid to let their bike lean, and have no idea that’s how a two-wheeler is designed to turn. I’m also astonished by how many scooteristi are unaware they’re required to be motorcycle endorsed to legally ride. There seems to exist a large mental gap between “cute” and “rider”, and I’m afraid I may be as guilty as any of propagating that mindset.
As “real” riders, we’re all in this together. Any two-wheeled mayhem, from inexperienced scooter crashes to highway stuntin’, reflects on the public perception of all motorcyclists, good or bad. Thus, it becomes our responsibility to absorb scooters into our realm. Start it with The Wave <gasp>, even to a…a… scooter. Acknowledge the scooter folks as our own, different yet the same. Get a dialog started. Tell them about MSF classes, Midwest Motorcyclist (!) and the myriad of motorcycle publications filled with invaluable skills, articles and information. Help them understand riding skills and vehicle dynamics are basically the same between scooters and motorcycles- even road and mountain bikes, for that matter. Invite them on rides- the new scooters are far more capable than most realize and, in most cases, aren’t going to slow the ride more than any other new rider. It’s important to remember, anything that happens on a two- (or three-) wheeled vehicle will be one more bullet for the safety nazis to aim at a target that keeps getting more visible- motorcycles. Spray enough legislative bullets in the right direction, a few are bound to hit the target. Just a wound or two are enough to put our favorite transportation in jeopardy and ruin our fun. Consider “adopting” a scooterdude or dudette to mentor – I’d rather hang with scooterists than hang up my gear. Besides, the folks I’ve met with scooters have actually turned out to be pretty cool- in their own misguided sort of way (kidding folks, humor)!
Sticking with a theme of bikes and high gas prices, there was at least one very cool positive in all this: it seems, at least in my piece of the world, the official Ride To Work Day was much more relevant. For those unfamiliar with the national Ride To Work day, it’s the third Wednesday of July each year since 1992. According to the Ride To Work website (www.ridetowork.org), the event was inspired by a comment in an article by Bob Carpenter that led to an editorial by Fred Rau in Road Rider (now Motorcycle Consumer News) magazine calling for a national ride to work day. The event slowly gathered speed through the promotion of a few motorcycle businesses and word-of-mouth, until it grew to into the non-profit organization, Ride To Work. Ride to Work is an all-volunteer effort, with organizers including Andy Goldfine, Christine Holt and Lynn Wisneski.
I commute by bike nearly every day, and I tend to note the bikes coming and going on my daily trek. I was amazed by the number of bikes on the highway with me 16 July 2008. It could be just that Ride To Work Day happened on a gorgeous day, but we’d had a nice summer till that point- so it wasn’t a “first nice day” crowd. Turning into the parking lot at my office was a surprise as well. In an office of around 50 people, there were eleven bikes (including a scooter, incidentally), replacing the many cars in the lot! A couple of us ride regularly, but the rest dragged out the bikes for Ride To Work Day- and several have continued regularly riding to work. Several riders were new to riding this year, or had just gotten back into it. When asked, all but one cited the high cost of fuel as their first reason for turning to motorcycles, with fun being a close second. The scooter, a Kymco 250, was good for over 75 mpg! Looking at our microcosm of world transportation, a mixed bag of bikes all getting better than 40 mpg, I wondered at the dent just one day of riding could make in the consumption of petrol. Take that up to at least the 3-4 summer riding months here in NEOhio, add in riders in all 50 states utilizing their entire riding seasons and the minds reels at the possibilities. And I’m just considering fair-weather commuting. Increase the contingent of hardcore commuters (or lunatics, as I’m more commonly known) and we could bring about a quantifiable reduction in oil dependence and the potential for a much happier group of commuters. What a concept!
Overall, motorcyclists tend to be a tight group of people, regardless of bike brand, race, sex, religion, and most of all, politics. We all seem to agree the government is singling us out in their self-appointed role as babysitter. Now, more than ever, is a great time to stick together- yeah, even scooters- and make an impact. It can only help our cause, right?
Love Life, Ride Smart, Be Safe