TOP SCOOTERS OF THE DECADE: PART 3 - 2000'S
In the decade from 2000 to 2009 an incredible 77 new scooters models were introduced into the USA and Canada. This was a huge increase from the paltry 6 new models that were introduced the 90’s. More importantly, the scooter market diversified as it grew from a trio of Japanese makers (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki) to include Italian brands (Vespa, Aprilia, Piaggio) and several Taiwanese manufacturers (Kymco, Genuine/PGO, SYM).
The 2000’s are also notable for being when the maxi-scooter concept was really developed, with machines going far beyond 250cc designs like Honda’s Helix and cranking that up to 500-650cc. Another noteworthy change this decade was a shift from 50cc 2-strokes to 4-strokes, with new 2-strokes becoming rare by the end of the decade. Scooter sales during this time had some strong years (2005 - 2008) followed by a 50% collapse during the 2009 recession - a sales level which remains to this day.
Choosing just 3 machine to represent the best of the 00’s from the list of 77 is difficult. The following machines were selected because they combine top notch design with historical importance. There are numerous fantastic machines that have been left out.
Vespa S 150 (2008 - 2014)
Vespa returned to North America in 2001 with their ET model, but it wasn’t until the S was launched in 2008 that Vespa really connected with North American enthusiasts. The ET was a bit awkward and it’s LX successor was a bit cheeky. When Vespa took the same LEADER motor and LX frame and wrapped that in the edgier S styling they had their first real hit in North America in 3 decades and became relevant again.
The S has been offered in 50cc and 150cc versions, but the 150 is the real deal with power to match the capabilities of the rest of the machine. It lacks the handy glovebox of the LX, but the style is more than enough to make up for it. If you’re in the market for a machine from the 00’s, the S provides edgy style and top notch quality in a reliable package.
Suzuki Burgman 650 (2004 - present)
Aprilia was the first to introduce a proper maxi scooter to North America with their Atlantic 500 in 2000 and Honda followed that up in 2002 with the even better, but full mastery of the maxi-scooter concept wasn’t demonstrated until Suzuki released the Burgman 650 in 2004.
The Burgman 650 has advocates everywhere and for good reason. It matches highway power with a full array of touring amenities, and goes a step further than touring motorcycles by providing a package that is easier to mount and ride. Quite a few maxi’s have been introduced since, but none have dethroned the Burg 650.
Honda Ruckus (2003 - present)
More than any other scooter, Honda’s Ruckus is responsible for making scooters cool again in the new millennium. Prior to the Ruckus, most small scooters were meekly styled plastic blobs that most people would be embarrassed to be seen on. I love a good 90’s machine, but it’s fair to say that style struggled to gain mass acceptance.
In addition to it’s rugged style, the Ruckus is also a top notch machine with an aluminum frame, liquid cooled 4-stroke motor and and clever bits like a new alternator design that shed the need for a starter motor. The Ruckus is the complete trio of great style, clever design and top quality. It’s the type of machine that helped Honda build their reputation for reliability.
TOP SCOOTERS OF THE DECADE: PART 2 - 1990'S
In the second instalment of this series, I’ve deliberated over and served up my top 3 picks for best scooters of the 90’s. A core requirement is that a scooter must have been either introduced or substantially overhauled in the USA or Canadian markets during this decade. Simply keeping an 80’s machine on sale into the 90’s is not enough to qualify.
The 90’s were a darker time in North American scooter history. This sales had dived after record sales in the 80’s and new models were sparse. It’s a strong parallel to today, where scooter sales have yet to recover to anything approaching the pre-recession levels. Thankfully sales today are 50% of what they were pre-recession, while sales in the 90’s fell to only 20% of the 80’s peak.
As a result of slow sales, scooter lineups in the 90’s were mostly comprised of machines left over from the 80’s boom. Late 80’s machines like Honda’s Elite 80 and Elite SR, and Yamaha’s Riva 125 were mainstays. In fact, Honda didn’t introduce a single new scooter model to the USA throughout the 90’s after introducing 18 in the 80’s. The extent of their attention to their scooter lineup in the 90’s was resuming sales of the Helix in 1992, introducing the Dio to Canada, and revising their Elite SR with a new motor for ’94. Yamaha didn’t do much better, introducing only the CY50 generation of the Jog in 1992.
Another Japanese maker, Suzuki, had yet to offer scooters in North America in the 80’s, but surprised everyone in 1990 when they released their first scooter, the Hyper aka AE50, to the Canadian market. It wasn’t offered in the USA, but it qualifies for consideration here as it was both new and sold in either Canada or the USA.
By the late 90’s it was clear that the Italian brands (Vespa, Aprilia, Piaggio) were planning a return to North America, but only Aprilia managed to get their scooters in showrooms in the 90’s when they rolled out a limited release of their SR50 and Scarabeo 50 models in 1999.
1999 - 2003 Aprila SR50
The SR50 was easily the most significant new scooter launched in the 90’s. When it was launched for 1999 it became the first 50cc scooter sold in North America to offer liquid cooling, fuel injection, a rear disc brake and 13” rims. In doing so, it brought many features normally reserved for bigger motorcycles to 50cc riders.
The SR50 was also easily the most “sporty” scooter offered date, drawing direct inspiration from Aprilia’s sportbikes. It took the semi-sporty concept of scooters like Honda’s Elite SR and Yamaha’s Jog to an entire new level with advanced technology, impressive power, aggressive styling and class leading digital instrumentation.
With all that technology, the MSRP was high ($2699 in 1999) which limited it to a smaller niche as an enthusiasts machine. Sales were never high, but was a fantastic scooter and remains appealing today on the used market.
1992 - 2001 Honda Dio (Canada only)
The Dio is likely Honda’s best selling scooter globally but it has only appeared once in the North American market. Honda introduced the Dio to Canada for 1992 where it remained on sale for 10 years while American’s were offered the similar but watered down Elite SR.
The Dio has long represented Honda’s best effort at making a practical and sporty 50cc. It’s a highly refined, supremely reliable and notoriously easy machine to squeeze more power out of. Only the base model was offered in Canada, but that’s just as well as it leaves the joy of bolting on cheap and readily available suspension bits, rims and go-fast parts to the owner.
Honda eventually shoehorned the Dio’s 5.6 horsepower motor (AF16E) into the Elite SR for 1994, but the result wasn’t quite as elegant since that scooter still used the previous generation of exhaust, carb and intake. Elite SR owners can brag about their glovebox, but the Dio has superior telescoping front forks and most of the design is a decade newer.
The lasting greatness of the Dio is apparent on any forum for 80’s or 90’s Honda scooters, where the common response to anyone asking about souping up their scooter is to “get a Dio motor” and mod from there. Whether you get a proper Dio or just a ’94+ Elite SR, you’re benefitting from the finest 2-stroke 50cc design Honda’s come up with to date. Yamaha’s CY50 Jog was a tough competitor, but the Dio was the best small 2-stroke of the era.
1999 - 2006 Aprilia Scarabeo 50
The Scarabeo 50 is a noteworthy machine that makes this list not because it was great, but because it was the first big wheeled scooter offered in North America. Aprilia took a gamble introducing the 50cc Scarabeo into North America hoping buyers would be practical like they are in Europe. They weren’t, but Aprilia still sold enough to keep it in the lineup.
The ‘Beo was the best 90’s machine for the practical scooterist. In that sense it was the opposite of the SR50 which catered to the pure enthusiast. It’s large wheels worked well on rough roads and it was designed with both underseat and glove box storage to make it easy to live with. A 4-stroke motor would have been even more practical, but no one sold 4-stroke 50’s in the 90’s.
TOP SCOOTERS OF THE DECADE: PART 1 - 1980'S
For a new series, I’m going to run down my picks for the top 3 scooters of each decade, starting with the 80’s. These top three lists will leave out a lot of great machines, but I think they’ll capture most of the machines that stood out.
In the 80’s Honda and Yamaha pretty much had the scooter market to themselves with Vespa and Lambretta on the way out. A lot of neat machines were introduced during this decade, with some of the best machines coming in the late in the decade after the scooter craze died off. 1983 - 1985 were huge years for scooter sales, with ’86 - ’89 selling only a small fraction of that.
In the 80’s Honda and Yamaha combined to serve up 18 new models which ran the gamut from practical (Honda Elite 150) to just plain weird (Honda Gyro).
1987-91 Yamaha Riva 200
Like the other scooters on this list, Yamaha’s big Riva had teething problems in the early years. The Riva 180 suffered from autochoke issues that makes nearly all machines hard to start today. However, when Yamaha returned for 1987 with an upgraded version that added 28cc (171cc to 199cc) and remedied the autochoke issue, they had a real winner.
The Riva 200 rips on the highway with an 80mph top speed. With gold rims and the spaceship look, the Riva 200 combines 80’s glory with highway cruising practicality. It gets the win over Honda’s big scooters for being just as fast as an Elite 250 while looking even more awesome. Full info here.
1986-87 Honda Aero 50
Honda’s first generation of Aero 50 was a neat machine, but the second generation introduced for 1985 improved everything (faster, easily upgradable, glovebox, better suspension, new seat). The first year of the second generation lacked a kickstarter and throttle controlled oil injection, but when these were added for 1986’s Honda arrived at 2-stroke 50cc perfection.
The final version of this masterpiece was only sold for ’86 - ’87, but if you can find one in good condition it’s a great buy. They are seemingly immortal and have to been one of the most useful and fun 50cc scooters to own. Compared to 50cc’s from Yamaha, the Aero 50 was years ahead in power and engineering. Full info is here.
1985 Honda Aero 80
The Aero 80 is the most fun to ride stock small scooter ever, with it’s incredible torque making wheelies easy in stock form. It’s a package that’s gotten even more fun with time, as cruising around today on an Aero 80 combines memories of the 80’s with that amazing blast off the line. Moving slow or fast, the Aero 80 is awesome.
The ’83 - ’84 Aero 80’s suffered from a few issues, specifically the power cuts off at full throttle so a careful hand is needed for peak acceleration. Honda remedied this for 1985, plus they boosted the top speed and added storage in the side panel to achieve perfection. While an 80cc scooter isn’t as cheap to operate as a 50cc (insurance, fuel), the 1985 Aero 80 is easily the most fun to drive scooter from the 80’s. Full info is here.
Honda Helix - The original maxi scooter
Yamaha Riva 50 / Salient - Not a great machine, but a neat looker
Honda Aero 125 - Another 2-stroke torque monster
Honda Elite 150 - Perhaps the most practical 80’s machine.
Honda Gyro - This 3 wheeler easily wins the odd-ball award