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2006 Scooter Update

Things are smelling more and more like the late 80’s in scooter land again

You remember the 80s when Honda spent a lot of advertising money using stars like David Bowie, Grace Jones and Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote their Elite and Helix scooter lineup. But into the 90s we went and with the ad campaign long gone, the sales of scooters fell.

Now, with gas hitting three dollars a gallon, scooter sales are soaring at a rate not seen since the late 80s. In the Northwest, cities outside the major urban areas are only adding to a quickened sales pace where dealers like Enumclaw Suzuki are selling Yamaha Rivas and Suzuki Bergmans at a rate they never dreamed of.

Photo:  Originally a sleeper when it first hit US shores, the Aprilia Atlantic 200 is a popular seller in the Northwest due to it's light weight and agility for street and highway riding.

The scooter always made sense in Northwest cities like Seattle, Portland and Boise, but with a plethora of high-powered scooters making the scene, a scoot makes for a practical choice in places like Enumclaw, Hood River and Post Falls. They’re agile enough to slip through traffic and run errands around town, yet fast enough to run at highway speeds making for a great way to sightsee the Northwest.

Is a 50cc scooter the best choice for a first time rider?

First time riders gravitate toward 50cc scooters for the obvious reasons. They’re not as intimidating as larger scoots, cost less and have the highest mileage. But the downfalls of low speed capability begin to wear on the rider. Try taking a 50cc scooter from the bottom to the top of Queen Anne using  Queen Anne Avenue and you’ll understand this all too well when your top speed becomes 15 mph. This escalates as you realize you can’t zip across four lanes of Mercer Avenue from 5th Avenue to get to Taylor. With a short wheel base, a top speed of just 35 mph and little get-up-and-go they may well be more dangerous than a mid size scooter.

Eventually most owners who commute on 50cc scooters trade them in and get larger models. Would that be you?

Today the Evergreen Safety Council offers Scooter Motorcycle Safety Training that is state approved and you can do it on one of their 50cc scooters. The three-day class provides everything you need to know to operate a scooter including enough on-board time to get you comfortable with making your first ride through the city. So do you run out and buy a 50cc scooter after you take the class, or should you consider a mid-size model like Aprilia’s 200 Atlantic, or Yamaha’s 150 Vino? Our choice would be to take the ESC class and go for the mid-size scoot which will provide the power to work through and around traffic as well as hit highway speeds. If you’re still convinced the smaller scoot is the way to begin, buy it, get 1,000 miles under your belt and the trade-in value will still be good if you decide to trade up at that point.

But regardless of what scoot you start with, a Motorcycle Safety class provided by Evergreen or any of the other state-approved schools is a critical part of learning how to ride safely on the road. Take the class.

When we did our last scooter update in Sound RIDER! in 2002, papers were in the works for the opening of a new Vespa shop in downtown Seattle. Today that store is thriving as one of the countries top five dealers. Vespa/Piaggio not only came back into the U.S. market with a 50cc retro wonder, but has added 200 and 500cc models to augment and mature it’s own audience. To top it off, Piaggio’s public relations department has done a nice job of getting articles written and/or placed in major papers, further fueling the sales of scooters.

Now the Chinese want in on the market. They’ve been doing knockout numbers on scooters in their own country for decades. A walk through the Powersports Dealers Expo held in Indianapolis each February reveals upwards of 200 different Chinese companies who want to bring their scooters into the U.S. market. That’s a lot of scooters to get through U.S. DOT approval. In Washington State there’s legislation in the works to limit how many Chinese labels of scooters can be sold in the state. The legislation would require that a manufacturer have a stateside warranty affiliate, or else they can’t sell here. So far warranty issues have been sketchy with Chinese brands that are below the radar of higher profile names like Kymco and United Motors.

As this story was going to press we received a press release at our office announcing that British tire company Avon Tyres would be releasing a string of tires for scooters under the Viper Stryke label. Avon, whose motorcycle tires are distributed by Hoppe & Associates out of Edmonds, Washington, has a strong reputation for making some of the most trusted sport touring, dual sport and cruiser tires in the market today, so it’s a welcome relief that they’re finally coming to market with scooter tires. Until now, depending on what scooter you owned, choices have typically been limited to one or two manufacturers, several which are sub par in overall quality.

Today there’s also a host hop-up and custom goodies for nearly every major make and model of scoot, too. Tom Wicken of University Honda has been having a blast customizing the shop's Ruckus with all sorts of aftermarket goodies. Everything from expansion chamber pipes, chrome do-dads, luggage and extended windshields are available from a number of companies today, where in the past only a few companies like Givi had aftermarket accessories available.

Scooter clubs that have been around for a while are growing in size as well. It seems like the Vespa club has a new member about every four minutes. The club maintains its schedule of around-town events and the annual rallies held in Seattle and Portland each year. If you’re into the culture of punk, ska, reggae and pub crawls this may be the group for you.

For those who enjoy a long ride, 2005 was the first year the Northwest Scooter Enthusiasts put on the first annual Northwest Scooter Rally in Hood River. That rally was designed to cater to owners of highway-capable scoots and included several 200 mile rides, not to mention the rigorous routes to and from the event. ‘Eat, ride, eat, ride’ became the underlying motto of the inaugural event and meals were enjoyed at many of the Columbia River Gorge’s best eateries. Then there were all those scenic miles.

The growth of the scooter market in the Pacific Northwest is here to stay as long as gas prices continue to rise and congestion builds in the cities. Even Paul Allen’s Vulcan Enterprises sports a scooter in the window of their South Lake Union Discovery Center in Seattle which showcases a number of Vulcan’s residential and business real estate projects. Things indeed smell more and more like the late 80s with a scooter boom making its way across the Northwest and that’s a good thing indeed. If you have yet to get on two wheels, or own only a motorcycle, check your garage for some free space - 2006 may well be the year you add a scoot to your fleet.

Patrick Thomas/Fall 2005


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