The World of Scootering – According to Just Gotta Scoot

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When this website launched (2005) I was just re-entering the world of scootering having left it in favor of those “other” powered two-wheel conveyances – motorcycles. I started my riding life on scooters in the days of rotary dial telephones, black & white televisions (assuming one HAD a television), and muscle cars with large displacement V-8 powerplants. As my age and pocketbook increased I acquired motorcycles, lots and lots of motorcycles. Some scooters did sneak into the garage during this period. I purchased a Honda Helix in the late 1980s and put a LOT of miles on it as a second vehicle and guest use transport. When relatives and friends visited, I offered up the Helix and it was frequently taken. A chain of events led to my wife (Bev) getting a Yamaha Vino 125 in the early 2000s. At that time my primary two-wheeler was a BMW R1200C Stiletto that weighed in at about 550 pounds. It was not an ideal machine to accompany my wife on rides around city parkways. I needed a scooter.

Into the story comes Bob Hedstrom and Scooterville. I ended up getting a Genuine Stella from Bob that reminded me of my old Vespa P-series from back in the day. I mean it wasn’t like I was going to get some kind of twist and go automatic scooter when a new shifty was available. The Stella was light, quick and fun to ride. Some accessories and modifications made it quicker and quite practical for around town use.

Hanging about at Scooterville lead to getting rid of the Vino 125 in favour of a Genuine Buddy 125 that was quicker, faster, handled better, had more accessories, etc. Before long I was snapping up a Kymco People 250 to have a highway scooter and Bev added a Genuine Blur and, well, you get the idea. The stable of motorcycles decreased (though never disappeared) and the stable of scooters grew.
I enjoyed playing around with the website and doing the odd scooter review didn’t interfere with my real job which was ticking alone quite nicely thank you very much. Over the years I was privileged to add some scooter-related contract work to my engineering and business endeavors and even dabbled in scooter podcasts for a bit. I met a lot of wonderful people through scootering and spent some time with several of the local clubs and groups. Uniformly fantastic people….. except Joe…. he’s kind of a dick. I was thrilled to get so much positive feedback on my reviews and tried to put forth a bit of engineering perspective while falling deeper down the rabbit hole of scooter fun. From day one it has been the combination of stellar practicality and giddy good times that convinced me of the value of scooters as personal transport.

Scooters as Commuters

Honda has sold more than sixty million Cubs. Sixty million. The venerable Volkswagen Beetle? About twenty-one million. Those number alone should make it clear that powered two-wheeled conveyances make for VERY practical transport. They can, and have done, carry people and goods efficiently and inexpensively. They still do – have a look at Hans Kemp’s “Bikes of Burden” for a fascinating picture book of the utilization of scooters and small motorcycles. The use of scooters as commuters has been a driving force behind JustGottaScoot since the beginning. In my personal memory, scooters did enjoy a surge in popularity here in the USA during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency… if you fell for that, probably best to stop reading now. During the “gas crisis” years of the 1970s, scooters (and mopeds) did enjoy some popularity in the USA due to their fuel efficiency. Since the gas crunch, scooters have had periods of increased sales here but still haven’t “caught on” the way they have in nearly every other part of the world. Remember those sixty million Honda Cubs? I expect a fraction of one percent were sold in the USA. For a start, The USA is a car-centric society. HUGE amounts of infrastructure have been built around the automobile. The USA is a large county covering many climates. Places like Minnesota are certainly NOT suited to scooter commuting year-round. Then we get into USA attitudes about wealth, display, individualism, and so forth. Big, extravagant, expensive vehicles sell quite well here. While so much of the rest of the world sees scooters as the wonderful efficient transport they are, they are viewed as novelties and even “toys” to a large extent in the USA.

Since 2005, I have seen small gains in this area – driven to a large extent by cost. In many localities certain scooters (moped-legal ones in Minnesota) enjoy free parking in expensive areas like downtowns and on campuses. More people are realizing that a scooter makes for an excellent (and inexpensive) second vehicle. Why drive yourself in that large SUV on a nice day when you can park your scooter easily and at no cost? I can also think of at least one example of scooter commuters gaining significant ground – My City Rides in Memphis Tennessee.
Remember that scooter related contract work I mentioned earlier? I was privileged to work with Andyix back in 2017-2018 as a consultant while a new idea was taking shape: reliable, affordable transportation for people in the workforce with limited means. Memphis has a challenged public transit system and getting to and from work was a deal-breaker for a lot of workers. Seemed that a non-profit organization that partners with local employers to provide the aforementioned transportation would be a game changer. Turns out it was. The VERY generous support of Jay Martin of Juice Plus allowed the development and execution of this scooter-based workforce development tool. Imagine that. Scooters as commuters being ENCOURAGED and delivering real benefits to the community. This successful endeavor gives me hope for the future of scooters in the USA. Check it out and please consider donating to their efforts.
These days I don’t have a daily to-the-office commute and I have moved to the far northeast edge of the metro but I ride for transport as often as I can.

Manufacturers & Brands

The first brand most people associate with scooters is Vespa (manufactured by Piaggio). The Piaggio story as it pertains to the USA market would fill a book. Honda has been a strong player in the motorcycle market with some forays into scooters in the USA. Suzuki has done well here with their maxi-scooters. Taiwan has given us a brief visit from CPI and both SYM and KYMCO have been in the USA for some time. Mainland China has littered the USA with throw-away garbage scooters AND some very good machines. India gave us (through Genuine Scooters) the LML Stella. As LML is no longer a going concern for scooters we won’t delve into that one here. Brands have come and gone, many of them selling Chinese product. A few (Genuine Scooters) are still viable in the USA.

Europe

Piaggio (Vespa) and Innocenti (Lambretta) were the players from Italy. There were others, but those were the big two. Innocenti is gone, but the Lambretta name and scooter design “look” continues on. In 2005 I didn’t think much of the build quality of most of Piaggio’s offerings. The plastic body modern Piaggios and metal monocoque chassis Vespas had issues. The new-at-the-time Vespa GTS 250 was the best of the lot, but the 150cc scooters left something to be desired in terms of reliability and support. Over the years, something happened. Piaggio machines got better and better. I swore I’d never own a “modern” (ET or LX) 150cc Vespa then they went away from carburetion in favor of fuel injection. Other component and build quality seemed to improve about the same time. Today there is a Vespa LXV 150 in my garage and the Piaggio Liberty 150 is my favorite scooter in its class. Vespa scooters have held their value well over the years. They are more expensive than others to acquire, but they will likely be worth more than others as the years pass. Vespas are gorgeous, iconic, and have one of the broadest and best ergonomic platforms. A wide range of riders will find a Vespa comfortable from the get go with no modifications. While modern Piaggio scooters may not have the iconic look of the Vespas, they currently offer excellent utility and quality. The Piaggio BV350 is one of my favorite “do everything” scooters with true freeway capabilities AND urban ease of use.
Though not currently of European manufacture, the Lambretta design lives on in Scooters by SYM and Royal Alloy. The RA Grand Tourer 150 is brought to the USA by Genuine Scooters and is sort of the market segment heir of the Stella. Other Lambrettaesque designs are out there and they might trickle to the USA market in coming years.

BMW has been involved in powered two wheeled conveyances since 1921 (making engines for others) with their first motorcycle hitting the market in 1923. The BMW C1 scooter debuted in 2000. They have interested me since the C600 & C650, with Taiwanese KYMCO powerplants, hit in 2012 (2013 for the USA). I recently purchased a used C600 and will be delving deeper into that scooter in the future. The C Evolution (electric) and C400 (mid-sized) are in the current BMW line-up. Quality of BMW scooters has been high and my first season of riding a C600 confirms this.

Japan

This is probably a good time to mention that scooters from companies with a particular national origin are not necessarily manufactured, in whole or part, in that country (BMW with a Taiwanese motor). This is certainly true of Honda. They have had manufacturing contracts with facilities in other countries for many years. The venerable Cub has been built in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, China, Mexico and other places. The 2010 Honda Elite 2010 was manufactured in China and it was a very fine quality scooter. Built in China does not necessarily mean garbage by any means. For our purposes we’re looking at Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki for Japanese scooters in the USA.

Honda has been doing well in the USA market since the days of “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda” (1963). Small displacement was their forte until the earth-shattering introduction of the CB750 in 1969. The mighty Honda Cub did well as the “Passport” (I had one and loved it) and in the 1980s Honda’s marketing of scooters such as the Elite with wonderful celebrity advertisements showed their interest in USA scooter sales. Really, go to YouTube and search for Honda scooter ads. The Honda Metropolitan and Ruckus 50cc scooters attracted buyers with the Ruckus becoming something of a cult scooter. Honda dealers tended to relegate scooters to the back room because their margins on them were low, and they were focused on motorcycle sales. I suspect this is true of a lot of Japanese brand dealerships as I have heard an astounding number of potential buyer complaints about their treatment in dealerships when shopping for a scooter. Still, with over 1,000 pwersports dealerships in the USA Honda scooters enjoy a strong market presence if not sales figures. Of course it is important to remember that the size of the USA scooter market is tiny compared to the rest of the world. Though sales figures sometimes aren’t all that reliable, I believe Honda sells more SH150 scooters in Europe than they sell ALL of their scooter models in the USA for example. Recent Honda model line-ups in the USA have not given us some of their most interesting models. Though we did see a few SH150s here, what about the excellent and very freeway capable SH300? Coming up for 2021 it appears that Honda is paying attention to the “mini-moto” market with the Super Cub and Trail Cub being brought to the USA. The also have a 150cc “adventure” scooter in the ADV150. I have already purchased a Super Cub and will be keeping my eyes open for a Trail (or “Hunter”).

Yamaha, though nothing like as large a presence in the USA as Honda, brought us one of the great cult scooters – the Zuma. With the demise of the two-stroke Zuma, the 50cc Yamahas have become fairly uninteresting. I LOVED the C3 which was, in my opinion, the heir to the Cushman scooter of old. I have also owned a Yamaha Morphous, a 250cc sort of ultra low-rider scooter, and a 400cc Majesty. All were very good quality, reliable and fun. These days Yamaha dealers in the USA can offer us a 125cc Zuma, a 155cc SMAX (capable of limited highway use) and the 300cc XMAX. I’d like to review both the “MAX” scooters, but that isn’t likely to happen.

Suzuki’s USA scooter presence has revolved around the maxi-scooter – a larger, freeway capable, touring-focused machine. In my opinion, Suzuki produced the king of this category in the Burgman 650. I have owned three of them. I got the first one in the mid-2000s and I think it was a 2003 or 2004 model. Dead stock it was a fabulous touring scooter. Comfortable, good performance, reliable, capable of gobbling up mile after mile on the freeway/highway. The Burgman 650 Executive offered an even better touring platform. I was considering a fourth Burgman 650 when I bought the BMW C600. If I was REALLY going to do this right, I should have BOTH a new BMW and Burgman for a serious side-by-side comparison. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. For 2021 Suzuki is offering the USA three Burgmans, 200, 400 & 650.

Taiwan

If there is a manufacturing country in Asia that deserves a stellar reputation for quality it is probably Taiwan. In the USA we tend to place Japan atop the “quality” manufacturing mountain but my experience has been that Taiwan is often equal or a very close second. In 2005 & 2006 it was the Taiwanese builders KYMCO and PGO that captured my attention. PGO-built scooters were offered to the USA via Genuine Scooters of Chicago in the form of the Genuine Buddy. Talk about a home run… while the Stella introduced Genuine to the marketplace, the Buddy resulted in Genuine’s growth and success. KYMCO is a well established Taiwanese manufacturer with a history of contract work for Honda and a reputation for excellent quality scooters. My first KYMCO was a People 250 (nearly 15 years ago) and it was an amazing machine. Big wheels, 250cc liquid-cooled engine, ultra reliable, it got me started on scooter touring. Over the years I owned a few more KYMCO scooters and they were uniformly great. The People 50 two-stroke I had was the best moped-legal scooter I’ve ever owned. Though KYMCO still makes some high quality machines their presence in the USA has fallen off significantly in recent years. A change in ownership of USA distribution seems to be the culprit. They have very nearly abandoned the USA scooter market with just a few offerings for 2021. They appear to be focused on ATVs at this time. Sad, as the rest of the world gets some great machines from KYMCO. SYM appears to be on other side of the coin – their USA presence is growing. SYM started out rough in the USA market and went through a very difficult time with their USA distributor ending with a warehouse fire! In 2011 Lance Scooters became the USA distributor. They had previously dealt in pretty low end Chinese scooters so there wasn’t much faith in them being able to bring SYM to a good place. They certainly struggled initially but over the years they did a fine job of improving support, growing a good dealer network and bringing some great SYM scooters to this market. Today they enjoy a better position in the USA than KYMCO. Remember My City Rides in Memphis? They utilize the SYM Fiddle III and it has worked out very well fro them.

China

Since 2005 the USA scooter market has seen a WIDE range of products from China. In the early days the majority of the Chinese scooters were VERY low quality and often unsupported machines sold through nefarious networks of “dealers” who frequently worked from the back of a semi trailer. There have been more “brand” names in the USA than I can remember, many of them with European sounding names that sold frighteningly poor quality, and sometimes illegal, machines. There were a few that brought better quality scooters to market (CF Moto for example) but they couldn’t overcome the damage to perception done to the USA marketplace by all the garbage. There are still a few low end Chinese scooter brands in the market but many of the made-in-China machines currently being sold are part of other brands and offer pretty good quality. China is undoubtedly capable of producing fine machines and the current difficulty in the USA market seems to stem from tariffs as opposed to quality or support issues. If a tariff makes a Chinese scooter nearly as expensive as a Taiwanese scooter why would you buy it?

Electric Scooters

Scooters, as we think about them, have been around since about 1916’s Autoped. Electric “consumer” scooters since the 1996 Peugeot Scoot’Elec. I have been a fan of electric scooters (and cars for that matter) for many years. Depending on how one’s home electricity is generated, electric vehicles offers a step in the right direction emission-wise and they can be great fun to ride/drive. Torque NOW being perhaps the best feature. Similar to “scooters as commuters” electrics have been slow to catch on in the USA. Aside from the previously mentioned issues in this market with scooters in general, electric scooters also suffer from range anxiety, price and distribution issues. Range anxiety is a non-issue for the majority of commuters. Especially if one has access to a power outlet at work. In the Twin Cities metro the average daily commute round trip is 22 miles. Approximately 6% of commuters here have a round trip of 50 miles or greater. With 25 miles one way, even most of those long distance commuters could plug in at work and easily cover their daily range. When it comes to recreational use and touring, range limitations are a real thing.
Price for acquisition is an issue. An electric scooter is going to be more expensive to purchase (sometimes MUCH more expensive) than a comparable petroleum powered machine. Of course an electric should be significantly less expensive to operate over time.
The distribution issues with electrics revolve around a weak dealer presence, NOT a lack of companies distributing. Good local dealer support is essential for ANY scooter purchase and electrics have not yet garnered that much dealer attention…… except in Minneapolis.
Scooterville has tried like crazy to get electric scooters into the hands of end users. Since 2004 (eGo, Vectrix, others I can’t remember) through today there has almost always been an electric  option on Scooterville’s showfloor. Most frequently it is failure on the part of the manufacturer or distributor that has orphaned these scooters over the years.
Today there appears to be increased interest in electric scooters. Like electric cars, there are scooters that utilize advancements in technology to narrow the price difference with their petroleum siblings. I also think range anxiety is lessening for commuting applications. Scooterville is carrying the NIU scooters which are being distributed through Genuine Scooters. I have ridden them in the area around Scooterville and they are impressive. I will do my best to review a couple of them in 2021. I have high hopes that the USA scooter marketplace is going to see the growth of electrics in the coming years.

Reviews

We get lots of emails requesting reviews on specific scooter models. While we’d like nothing more than to be able to review every scooter available in the US market, this just isn’t going to happen for several reasons. First and foremost, most of the major brands will NOT provide “media” scooters for JustGottaScoot.com to review. Because we don’t accept advertising, we are not considered a “real” scooter website. That’s right, you’re currently reading a figment of your imagination online right now. Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Piaggio (Vespa) and BMW have made it very clear that unless we take their advertising money, we are NOT going to get any scooters to review. But didn’t we recently do a couple of Piaggio reviews? Yes. Those were facilitated by a VERY generous dealer who doesn’t really care if he’s not following Piaggio’s rules. Of course the last thing we want is to create a problem for scooter dealers with their manufacturers/distributors.  A few brands (Genuine & SYM) have been, and continue to be, much more receptive to reviews at JustGottaScoot.com.
Format is a growing issue. Our reviews are written as opposed to video. Though I do have some experience with video, I don’t believe anybody wants to see an old man blather on and on about a scooter. Few people want to READ an old man’s scooter blatherings but at least they don’t have to look at him. Videos require more time and equipment to create, especially if one wants to make them watchable. As an unsponsored and (financially) unsupported website that would be too big an investment to handle.
Logistics don’t help with reviews. I now live in a far northeastern Twin Cities suburb and don’t have a job to go to in Minneapolis. Reviewing a 50cc or low-top-speed electric would present some real issues. I can’t afford to purchase a bunch of new scooters to review and how interested would people be in my reviews of a few older used scooters? I will do what I can to get a few new reviews completed and posted on this website in 2021. Just can’t promise a lot of them or the latest scooters. 

Today, and Tomorrow

Let’s look at the situation for JustGottaScoot.com currently. This website is run by a semi-retired old man with limited resources who doesn’t really want to start a YouTube channel and who no longer lives in the core metro area. My excitement over scooters continues unabated and I believe the USA is FINALLY gaining ground in the scooters-as-commuters arena. I don’t want to fall into the advertising trap. I simply don’t see how I can present myself as an unbiased reviewer while accepting money from scooter manufacturers/distributors/dealers.
What to do…..

If you’ve read this far (or shown the intelligence to skip down to the end) I’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail me at: [email protected] with your comments. Should I chase after ad money? Should I sell the website (I’ve had offers)? Should I continue on with the small amount of new content I can muster? Should I just go away and leave you alone already?