By Paul Charman
For many of us riding a scooter to work makes perfect sense in a congested city like Auckland.
But I think those who scoot should endeavour to capitalise on scooter style - even if they're on a budget.
Thriftiness may be the main motive for riding a scooter, as most mere mortals aren't allocated company carparks.
With a scooter you just "twist-and-go", beating the dreariness of a bus commute; scooters filter through the worst Auckland traffic jams, cost a pittance to buy and operate - and the parking is free!
All good, but remember the gold standard in "scooter style" should be Roman Holiday - not Dumb and Dumber.
And to avoid the latter do budget for the correct safety gear (costs more than you may imagine), plus some rider training.
But let's assume you do all that, well then there's no escaping the "coolness dividend".
The humble motor scooter can be eminently chic - in fact it just drips with sex appeal - which is why these machines have been de rigueur in the movies almost since Piaggio engineers designed the first Vespa in 1944.
Yep, potential to be sub-zero hip makes scooters - especially those retro-looking Italian ones - primary props in movies, TV programmes, fashion shoots; plus ads on every conceivable media platform - outdoor advertising, online pop-ups, glossy print publications - and shop window displays.
Gilera in the room
But somebody is still going to point to the Gilera GP 800 in the room. I mean raise that age-old argument of coolness v safety.
Well, I'll admit to being conflicted over the way scooters get portrayed in the media - because if you ride like the actors in Jessica, Quadrophenia, or Diva or try to emulate any of the movie scooter chases, well um . . .
Phrases like "gravel rash", "brain damage" and "sudden death", do spring to mind.
But take heart dear scooterists! The worst victims of motorcycle crashes in this country tend to be males riding bigger, faster motorcycles (over 500 cc) on the open road. Scooters driven round town figure in far fewer fatal accidents.
Sure, anyone lacking an adequate helmet/gloves; or who rides with bare arms or legs; or who wears open-toe-shoes - is just asking for trouble. Plus anyone who persistently rides reckless or inattentive.
But most of us ride wide awake!
And provided newbies get some training, plus ride a well-maintained bike, I think they'll do just fine.
Okay, let's get down to the vital area of scooter style:
There's a universe of possibilities here and thanks to technology many of these can operate safely in 50km/h areas, plus carry a passenger doing so. Two-strokes develop substantially more power than four-strokes in this class, and so are the engine type to go for. Many 50cc scooters can be de-restricted to boost top speed. If sold as a low-powered scooter/moped (ahead of being de-restricted) you can ride such a machine on a car licence. After the "operation" it seems to be a case of "don't ask/don't tell".
Vespa 50cc scooters have the look and the lineage but seem expensive, selling for about to $5000 (plus on-road costs).
However, a Scomadi 50cc - actually a British homage to the Lambrettas of old - also has the "Italian look" but sells for closer to $2500, plus on-roads!
Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki fifties are serviceable, but to me boring.
Taiwanese manufacturers Adly and Kymco make superb high-torque two-stroke fifties, but - though they cost closer to $3000 - when balancing up performance and style, I'd go for the Gallic charm and style of a Peugeot Speedfight 3.
125cc to 200cc
Glittering options in this hugely competitive class seem bewildering. Once again, Vespa is probably the gold standard for retro good looks. But, once again, (unless money is no object) Vespa prices seem way high. Remember, the 125cc-200cc category is arguably the "Goldilocks Zone" for scooter commuters in a city like Auckland. Fifties are, of course, not allowed on motorways. A good case can be made that they're just too gutless overall. The next step up, 125cc scooters are allowed to ply motorways - but probably shouldn't. Most 125s well and truly run out of breath at or near 100km/h.
In my view it takes a 150cc at the very least - and preferably a 200cc or more - to keep up with motorway traffic.
But above 200cc scooters just don't seem as manoeuvrable in the tight going, nor as easy to park and manage as the smaller bikes. The so-called maxi class (250cc and up) usually can't filter through traffic as readily, or allow themselves to be chucked around corners as well (yes, other views are possible).
Now, at the lower end of the price range are a stunning array of 125s for around $3000, all of which seem way cool to me: the Piaggio Fly 125ie; Scomadi 125 and Sachs Amici 125 (a true German cutie). But even though it costs a bit more and isn't "Italian looking", I'll bet nobody ever regretted buying a Honda PCX150. You'll pay $5200 net (if you can find one) but with the extra power and Honda back-up . . . Well, my head says go for a PCX150, but my heart says choose a Scomadi TL200 ($5990 net).
Okay, minimal luggage stowage and perhaps less security than dealing with market leading Honda, but oh so cool!
Wiki says maxi or touring scooters have engines ranging in size from 250 to 850cc, and using larger frames than normal scooters. Personally I'd rather have a proper motorcycle if I was going this big on two-wheels. But three maxi scooters do seem to stand out on the "wow scale" - no, four!
To me the Aprilia SR Max 300 is one of the best looking bikes ever sketched, a powerful machine that seems well priced at $6,995.00 (plus onroads). The Kymco Downtown 300i EFI may be $7,900 (net) but it just oozes "street cred". This very modern-looking maxi scooter was the basis for the Kawasaki J300 (also a great bike), which costs about $9000 plus onroads. Yet I can't just resist the Vespa option in a maxi; if you want the best forget the rest, aye? The Vespa GTS 300 Super (with traction control) may cost $9990 net, but ah those classic scooter lines, albeit combined with a more powerful 300cc motor. It just adds up to Che bello!