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Return of the Scooter

The craze is on - AGAIN!

It's Friday night in August as I ride down Eastlake Avenue.  I pass Bandoleone and there's a brand new 50cc Italjet with two helmets on it sitting out front of the latin cuisinary.  I proceed down the street and park my scooter in front of Serafina, the  way I always do when I go and indulge my taste buds in some tasty Italian fare.  Sitting in the front window, I look out at the traffic going by when all of the sudden a nifty new Velocifero cruises by with a young lady attached.

The scooter craze is back  again. This time it's not the Vespa craze of the 60s, or Honda's overblown ad campaign of the 80s that used Arnold Schwarzenagger, David Bowie and Grace Jones to load a ton of Elites into the hands of College students.  Nope.  This time it's a mixture of style and simplicity that's driving the craze here in the Northwest, and for my money it's been a long time coming.

Parking in Seattle is just insane.  Having a scooter takes a lot of the trouble out of dealing with that.  Plus, as many of us have known for years, scooters are a lot of fun.  I'd rather be whipping my 324 pound Honda Helix all over the city, than trying to maneuver my 625 pound full size beast of a motorcycle into the tight positions that a two wheeler can provide for a motorcyclist.  Taking a big bike out around town is a bit cumbersome.  1200 cc machines and their owners are far happier on a back road or interstate, than taking short hops to the grocery store.  So the scooter provides the fun, lightweight solution.

Most of the new purchases we're seeing around town are in the 50 cc category.  Italjets, Velocifero's and Aprilias are popping up like stink weeds all over.  That works great locally, but won't put you on SR 520 to Bellevue, or on a ride around Mt Rainier.  What happens when you grow into that urge?

Drive past Ducati Seattle and there's very few Ducati's parked outside.  What you do see is a slug of Italjets parked front and center.  With all the new Italjets I'm seeing around town, it gets me wondering if Dave Roosevelt is moving more scooters than Ducati's these days?  What's the ploy?  Might go something like this:  Never ridden on two wheels?  Invest in one of these stylish Italian tiddlers and after you get bored with a top speed of 35 mph you'll be back to plunk the big bucks down on a Ducati Monster, 748 or otherwise.  However, might I suggest you hang onto the Italjet.  You'll want it for around town. The same thing is happening in the window at Moto International on Aurora.

Few people know that Seattle plays host to the largest Honda scooter Dealer in the US.  While the market has been sleeping Pete Wicken's University Honda has been selling quite a few Elites and Helix's as well as Yamaha Riva's to Puget Sound commuters for years.  Now with the sales rising even more it takes about five minutes for Wicken to get a fresh scoot on the floor before it's out the door.  Due to popular demand Honda introduced the 2001 Helix six months ahead of schedule.  It's the last year for the bike which has been in existence since 1986.  It it will be replaced by the Reflex, a bike a scoot very similar to the Foresight, a scooter Honda has been selling overseas the least few years.  In the early 90s the US scooter market had slowed so much that Honda didn't even consider production of its sleek Foresight scooter for US market, instead selling the sexy 250 cc machine in Japan, parts of Europe and Canada only.

Piaggio has now woken up, too.  The company has recently found new investors/owners and is ready to re-enter the US.  Rumor is that soon they'll be importing their first scooters into the US since the 1980s.  Various models are planned, some with vintage styling as well as some of the modern day scooter luxuries such as a "one speed does it all" transmission.

And with the re-introduction of Vespa back into the US market,  Seattle's favorite independent Vespa repair man, Victor Voris, has stepped up to the plate as president of new Vespa Club of Seattle.  Already the independent organization has had ink in Metropolitan and Seattle magazines and showed at last years Seattle International Motorcycle Show.  Look for a display again this year.

Scooters have always been popular with people from all walks of life, although certain cultural aspects such as the Who's Quadrophenia stereotyped the sleek tiddlers.  More so now than in recent years scooters are becoming  popular with middle and upper income earners.  Another seemingly blue collar culture scooped up by more well to do types and it's reflected in the price tags of the new machines.  Most 50 cc prices start in the low $2000s and go up from there. 

The change was reflected in this year's Scooter Insanity Rally.  The rally, a favorite since the late 80s, attracts riders from all over.  Last year's turnout of 60+ for the Sunday ride was far greater than the 35 riders who showed up for this years city cruise that went from Tukwila to Carkeek Park this year.  Concerts booked around the event featuring local artists were poorly attended as well.  The one shining light was the opening night pig roast where over 100 people showed up.  Is the demographic so broad now that it's hard to feel like you're with a singular group of friends who share your lifestyle, or is this more like being in a room full of strangers, many who don't actually share your interests outside of owning a scooter?  Is this another segment of Seattle's culture thinning out as the new gentrification of the city sets in?

In Europe and Japan, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha have been introducing some serious scooters with big power.  Yamaha's TMax delivers 500 cc, Honda has been prototyping a 600 cc scoot, the Silverwing (right) and Suzuki introduced a 400 cc bike last year overseas.  It's still unclear what the prognosis is for the US market. 

As for me, I'm happy with my purchase some years back of a Honda Helix.  Although it cost me $4,000 new, it's taken me all over the Northwest and even to San Francisco and back one summer.  Today it's my in-town commuter, but I still like to whip it around the Cascade Loop and lean on its top speed of 70 mph now and then.  And I don't care what anyone else rides, as long as we're all having a good time out on our scoots.  I never had a Vespa rider at a rally look me in the eye and tell me to go ride somewhere else.

Regardless of what my preferences are, or the choices of other owners, it's nice to see more and more people out enjoying scooters in Puget Sound and beating the system everyday with a more efficient and fun alternative to a large cage with four wheels.

Ride Safe.

PT/Fall 2000

Local Scooter Resources:
NorthWest Scooter Enthusiasts
Big People Scooters
Vespa Club of Seattle


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