Monday, May 16, 2005

Motor Scooter Experiment

We spent a couple of weeks in Italy last summer, and I became fascinated with the Italians' culture of motor scooters and urban motorcycles.

Driving through Florence with scooters zooming alongside of us was thrilling and a little frightening -- except that I was more scared for the cyclists than for myself. They're incredibly daring.

All those scooters help to make Florence and Rome's dense urban culture possible, what with all their narrow streets and open squares. It's remarkable, from an American point of view, how Italian streets are shared equally by pedestrians, scooters, and cars.

I was also amazed at what the Italians could (or would) do while driving their scooters, such as smoke cigarettes or talk on cell phones. I even saw one old lady take her little dog along for the ride on her scooter's deck.

When I got back home, I kept talking about scooters so much that Laurette said, "Why don't you just get one? It's a much cheaper mid-life crisis than a convertible." So I did.

I bought a Kymco ZX50, which is made in Taiwan. You don't need a license to drive it; you don't have to shift any gears; you do have to wear a helmet; and you do need some kind of protective eyewear. Driving it is so much fun it will make you giddy. (That's me and my daughter Claudia being giddy at left.)

I used it as a commuter vehicle for most of the school year, even in winter. It wasn't really uncomfortable in cold weather as I feared it might be, though in the rain, as you might expect, you get wet.

My commute to work is about 2.5 miles, and the scooter saves me about 10 minutes because I can park it at the bike rack right in front of my building instead of parking in a more distant lot or deck. Doing so saves me $370 a year in parking fees.

My scooter gets about 80 mpg, and it saved me about $60 in gas this school year. At this rate, figuring savings in both parking and gas, it will pay for itself in about 3 years.

I've noticed that the sociology of the scooter is different here than it is in Italy. Over there, it's a middle-class utility vehicle, and almost anybody might own one. Here, a scooter is usually either a novelty item (as in my case), or, more commonly, it's a vehicle of last resort for poor people who've had their drivers' licenses revoked.

That's why I always wear a coat and tie while commuting to work.


Rustam Sheridan said...

Cool... what's the top speed on that puppy?

David Wharton said...

It's not supposed to go over 30 mph, and it comes with a governor to keep it to that speed.

But I took the governor off, and can get it up to about 45 mph. Don't tell the cops!

Anonymous said...

My wife and I went to Italy this time last year. I too was fascinated by the plethora of scooters. Even though scooters require less space, there was still very little parking available in Rome. Rows and rows of parked scooters.

I saw a man on a scooter get hit by a small car right in front of Trajan’s Forum. The man got up, gesticulated wildly at the small car driver, picked up his scooter and drove away.
I also saw a family of four gypsies riding on one scooter.

I was enamored with the art of driving a scooter in Italy. Scooters are not hampered by normal rules of traffic and their driver’s outright demand the right-of-way from busses and pedestrians alike. My wife and I almost rented one in Florence. In the end fear mixed with the thought of zipping by great architecture kept us off of the saddle. Next time.

In an earlier entry you mentioned moving to Seattle. My lovely and talented bride and I have often discussed moving to Italy.

Joe Killian said...

Damn you, Dave.

I have enough rampant gadget lust as it is. Now I'm going to want one of these things. Was talked out of getting a motorcycle by my mother and girlfriend a few years ago. But 45 mph is pretty good for something like this...and wouldn't want to go much faster than that on one of these things anyway.

A new obsession is born...

Anonymous said...

PRICE: $1799

It wouldn't make you quite so giddy in California, although it's still tempting. From the DMV -

Operation of Motorized Scooters: Prohibitions

21235. The operator of a motorized scooter shall not do any of the following:
b) Operate a motorized scooter on a highway with a speed limit in excess of 25 miles per hour unless the motorized scooter is operated within a class II bicycle lane.
(d) Operate a motorized scooter without a valid driver’s license or instruction permit.

(e) Operate a motorized scooter with any passengers in addition to the operator.

Anna in Calif.

David Wharton said...

Hmmm. Living in Guilford County, NC is feeling a little better, Anna!

I got my ZX50 for under $1500 at Max Speed in Kernersville, NC.

And local officials seem happy to let me do as I please on it.

I love the Golden State, but I'm glad they're not regulating my scooter.

Rob Ainbinder said...

The nickname for scooters here (i've heard) is a Liquorcycle. For those unfortunates who lost a license due to DUI!

Anonymous said...

and if they continue their old habits, does it become a donorcycle?

David Wharton said...

A friend of mine from college is a transplant nephrologist. I first heard the "donorcycle" reference from him.

I deal with the safety aspect by driving pretty much like a grandmother, staying mostly to quieter streets, and assuming that no cars can see me. So far so good.

Anonymous said...

I am an avid scooterist. Last year at 46 years of age I purchased the 8th scooter of my life, A Honda Reflex. My Reflex now has 11,000 miles on it. There is nothing wrong with my driver's license (never driven drunk either) but I just enjoy the freedom of two wheeling down the highway. Yes, the highway ! My scooter is capable of speeds greater than either of my cars and gets over 65mpg. Everyone who is concerned about the "environment" should be riding one. I've met hundreds of scooterists over the years and have never met one who rode because they had lost their driving priveleges. Most scooterists are intelligent , well-read middle aged responsible adults who enjoy traveling outside of their cages.

Anonymous said...

How big of an engine can a scooter have before you have to have a motorcycle license?

David Wharton said...

In North Carolina, it has to be less than 50 cc's, otherwise it's considered a motorcycle for which you need a licence.

gasscooterpats said...

In Europe the used of motor scooters and urban motorcycles is the economical mode of transportation but also around the world

chinese scooter parts said...

My scooter gets about 80 mpg, and it saved me about $60 in gas this school year. At this rate, figuring savings in both parking and gas, it will pay for itself in about 3 years.

Tony said...

I recently bought my 1st scooter, a Kymco Super 8 125 for commuting for work. However I am quickly turning into a scooterholic. I now ride it everywhere I have to go & rarely take the car. Scooters are awesome & I don't think I will ever go back to a big bike again.