TOP SCOOTERS OF THE DECADE: PART 2 - 1990'S
June 23, 2015 Filed under: Honda | Yamaha | 90'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 with glove box storage and an optional top case it was easy to live with. A 4-stroke motor would have been even more practical, but no one offered 4-stroke 50’s in the 90’s.