Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It's only a scooter!

I'm starting to see what I consider an alarming trend. Increasing numbers of riders are coming through classes who say they are riding scooters. That's not the alarming part, of course. What really worries me is the casual attitude they display. It's as if these are merely toys and being serious about developing skills isn't high on their list of priorities. Scooters' high gas mileage and small size are great benefits. At the same time, the small size deceives riders about the risks. There is a recent example I want to share with you a little farther down the post. I'm afraid we're going to start seeing the statistics reflect higher casualties on scooters.

The scooter movement is gathering momentum. As there are more scooters purchased they will start making up a larger part of the accident numbers. That's already happened with a certain bike / rider combination. Right now the most highly represented sector of riders in accidents is middle aged men on bikes with a 1000 cc or larger displacement.

Gee, go figure. There's a bunch of middle aged men buying bikes. Baby boomers coming back into riding. Accounting for the largest number of new bike sales. Sheer numbers of riders mean they become more represented in statistics. Guess what they're buying? You guessed it; cruisers. A bunch are buying Harleys. There's also a lot of metric bikes being sold. The power cruiser fad means that most of the bikes are now over a litre's worth of displacement. Summing it up reveals this equation:

Most of the riders are middle aged men on 1000 cc or bigger bikes. Thus they will make up the bulk of the accidents.

This phase seems to be winding down slightly while the scooter movement is gaining momentum. It will be interesting to see what happens down the road. The same way men buying these cruisers tend to scoff at training so, too, do the scooter riders adopt a very cavalier attitude. This is not meant as a blanket statement. In my experience, most of the riders, not all, show this mindset. A lot of students come through the classes with the sole intention of getting an endorsement. Sometimes I can influence their attitude for the better. Too many times I feel like I'm not really getting through.

I have to admit that for a long time I had a different attitude towards scooters myself. I cut my teeth on dirt bikes and moved to the street as soon as I could. My bikes have either been fast and sleek sport bikes or long-legged sport tourers. Best of all is having both at the same time. I always thought of scooter riders as some sort of fringe element. By that I mean riders who only dipped their toes into the water while serious riders took the full plunge. I will be the first to admit that this attitude was wrong.

What strikingly changed things for me was being introduced into this blogging world. Many of my blogging neighbors are serious scooter riders. I've seen many thoughtful comments on the need to take responsibility for ourselves no matter what we ride. I followed a thread to a Vespa forum, once. Wow! These are some people who are serious about scooters and riding them well. Thank you all. I needed the education. It's been a source of growth personally, as well as in my role as a motorcycle safety professional. Scooters are motorcycles. Our rides might be different but we have way more similarities than differences.

Which brings me back to the story.

I had a pair of WOOF's come through a class recently. ( translation: Well Off Older Folks = WOOF ) The couple was a man and wife. An early retirement was pending. They had procured a nice place in what you might call an exclusive gated community. A pair of shiny new Vespa 250's await them there. Their statement to me was that they needed something big enough to keep up with traffic that often travelled at 55 to 70 mph inside this community. The flip side of the coin was that they were only here to get endorsements. They really didn't need to know how to ride a motorcycle. After all, these were only scooters. Neither one had actually ridden the Vespas yet.

The offer was made to have them use the scooters in class. Their "away" home was in another state and the scooters are there. As a result they used my training bikes. What was interesting was that she had never ridden before and was very tentative. He did okay mechanically but I could tell he really didn't mesh with the bike. Things stayed fairly rough over the weekend. All along there was resistance to coaching. The connection between my "motorcyles" and their "scooters" didn't seem to be happening. I tried to stress that they were essentially the same thing. Riding my bikes well would directly transfer to their scooters. Conversely, riding poorly here would also transfer to the scooters.

Bottom line was that they both passed the evaluation. Barely. I never saw what I would call good skills. I did keep getting the same excuse. They were only going to ride scooters so it wasn't important. Crazy. Yes, I had a very serious talk with them about how poor riding skills would bite them as quickly on the Vespas as on anything else. I can only hope for the best.

This kind of thing has opened up a new screen on my mental radar. Not only am I going to have to teach riding skills, I'm going to have to find ways to affect attitudes. Have fun, by all means, but temper that with the seriousness of taking responsibility for yourself as a rider. I'd be interested in hearing if your experiences are matching mine. Have you found ways to help people understand the importance of this?

Miles and smiles,



ps said...

Man, does that hit home! I get a lot of crap for riding a scooter and wearing gear. People think:
-Crashes are only painful if you're going over 50. Otherwise it's like a mosquito bite.
-Scooters only go 30.

But today is a good day. I am finally back on the road after a 3-week break to do some unnecessary engine work. If I never touch a wrench again it'll be too soon.


Bryce Lee said...

Dan, not knowing your chronological age (suspect less than 50) you may not recall when scooters first reached these shores. There were a few available however, in those days the danger was the sharp fins on the back of cars ie 59 Cadillac or a Plymouth for starters.

These days the dangers are just big, massive vehicles, bricks on wheels i call them, oh and the big difference between then and now?

Faster acceleration for all types
of vehicles and much higher overall speed of said vehicles over a given distance. Here in Ontario maximum posted speed limit is 100km/h or about 64 mph.

Nobody in their right mind travels that speed. It's more like 120 or 140 to 150 and in some cases 160
or better. BTW 160 is 100 mph, which really isn't that fast these days, sadly.

Now you put Ma and Pa Kettle out there in these scooters that can cruise at 120 or 140 km/h as they do in Europe and you're just asking for trouble. The crossover between
the scooter and the touring bike
is here and now. The scooter is less in price than the loaded
touring motorcycle but all the
comforts of home are readily available.

And those three digit speeds?
multiple lane highways, however it's so very easy to go beyond the posted limits, even in residential areas. The rate of acceleration even on my ten-year old Honda Civic
is still very fast, compared to vehicles from the mid 1960's.

And Ma and Pa Kettle learned to drive in the 1960's!

Lucky said...

To adjust the attitude of the dismissive student:

1. Aquire a stout stick or dowel
2. Apply liberally about the head and neck of student.

But seriously, the good news is they're showing up in your classroom. A little bit of that training has to sink in, even if they're "just there for the permit." And if not, well, hopefully they won't take anyone with them.

One of the difficult things to remember about scooters is that speed is speed. It doesn't matter if you fall off a bicycle or a dump truck - if you're going 45 mph when you hit the ground, you're going to get messed up without gear.

American Scooterist Blog said...

When you wrote "Scooters are motorcycles" you nailed exactly what needs to be brought to the attention to every scooterist or potential scooterist. That a scooter is nothing more than an automatic motorcycle wrapped in a different skin.

When someone walkes up to me and comments they want to ride but "just a scooter" I ask them if they plan to be on the roads with normal traffic. Yes? Will you be able to keep up with traffic? Yes again? Then its a motorcycle and you're deluding yourself thinking its anything else.
Two wheels on public roads is a motorcycle and the cars that hit you (notice that to the new or potential rider I put the blame on the other guy- the car or truck driver they'll be dealing with)will feel the same whether the body style looks like what they're sued to seeing or not. AND.. crashing over gravel is no different either. I've been called an asshole for saying exactly that and you know, if they can't or won't accept reality, then they get what they get. I've done my part.

Sorry, but as a standard motorcyclist-turned-scooterist, nothing burns my ears more than some dumbass not using the brain they were given to make the connection; that if its on two wheels and goes the speed of traffic its a motorcycle by any other name.
Pardon my pissedoffedness

irondad said...

I've seen people badly injured while just sitting at a light and being rear-ended. It's called protective gear for a reason. Glad you're back on the bike. Sounds like an interesting story behind it. It's happened to me. I'm an ok mechanic but not top notch. When I'd have a problem I'd call this cranky old instructor who was also a great mechanic. First question he'd ask me was:

What did you mess with last?

You're right. The world gets less innocent with each passing year. A lot of people don't keep up. The really scary part? One day our kids will look back on these times as the "good old days"!

You don't know how tempted I get sometimes! I've often wished for some sort of magic wand I could lay upon someone's head and transfer some ideas. Dream on, I guess.

First thing you need to do is learn to be less subtle and come on out with what's really on your mind!

That's a really good point. Doesn't matter what you are riding when you get hit. Massive metal on flesh and bone is a universal truth. I might use that argument myself.


DaveT said...

Dan, you've hit the proverbial nail on the head... again. Now try that with the students. ;)

Seriously, I agree with you. I've been riding a long time (since age 7, lo these 34 years ago) and I love scooters too. Don't have one for me, but I ride my wife's 50cc Vino occasionally (Yes, I look like the trained bear at the circus). I won't be giving up my DL1000 anytime soon (Greatest bang for the buck bike I've over owned!) But I'm seriously considering a small scooter to ride on the back of my Semi Truck for riding around when I'm stuck in a strange town.

Scooters are motorcycles in different clothes.

Dave T.

lobsterman said...

First let me say that I commute every day using my 125cc scooter; I gladly point out to anybody who will listen that it's legally and factually a motorcycle. I have a motorcycle license and I took the MSF Basic Rider course.

Your WOOFs certainly had an attitude problem, but I don't think it was really scooter vs. motorcycle. I suspect that's just a symptom. I think they're WOOFs, which I have noticed are reluctant to take advice of any kind. They had determined that the fast track to an M endorsement was your class, and they weren't really interested in anything you had to say.

In the scooter circles I am part of (locally and online), safety and skill are highly regarded. Nobody I know who rides a scooter would say they aren't a motorcycle and dismiss the relevant safety concerns. Certainly such types exist, but I have observed equally foolish behavior on two wheeled riders of every kind on the road.

I expect you will see scooters rising in your accident stats, but I think it's more about the numbers (as you pointed out) than the attitude of scooter riders overall. Maybe I am wrong and I have just been very fortunate to get quickly plugged in where you are encouraged to learn how to ride right.

balisada said...

Before I started riding motorcycles, I did indeed have the same attitude toward scooters.

"It's just a scooter, not a motorcycle" was my thought.

After your post about riding one, a while back, I pondered the scooter, and realized that the two are essentially the same.

Oh, the handling is probably a tad (smigeon, bit, itty-bitty, eencey-weencey) different, but so is the handling of a chopper versus a standard motorcycle.

But the physics of the two are essentially the same, as well as the design of the vehicle (two wheels with an engine on a small frame) and the same safety / riding issues need to be addressed by both riders. Professors in Colleges and Universities have the same problem. Students consider themselves experts in the field, when they have little actual knowledge about the subject. So they are tough to teach.

It must be hard to watch people seem to set themselves up for problems.

You must feel like the guy on a street corner with the sign that says "the end is near" and everyone ignores. (not that the end is near)

Good Luck!


Anonymous said...

An increase in motorcyclists is a cause for alarm, we learn.Perhaps but I prefer to be more upbeat about this new two-wheeled crisis. Older well-to-do couples are much more likely to be self regulating than young men on cafe racers ( that was me me!)or crotch rockets.
They will go home, potter gently on their Vespas and then forget about them. Then the $6000 GTS's go on the market and people who ride get them at a discount.
Key West

Bill Sommers said...

It's that very attitude that makes it hard for me to talk with some folks about the need for safe practices. Some folks liken riding the scooter to being able to rent a Honda Spree at Cannon Beach, but now its a full time fun ride. I can't come up with a way to tell them that they are being a dumb ass, without actually using those words.

My money is with you on the stats going up in relation to the accidents involving new riders on scooters. I'll do my part in my own little way, as you do yours as an educator, but man, there are a lot of misguided, poor judging folks out there to reach, and we still end up wearing the black eye with the rest of the folks that care about safety when the denim hits the road.

Have fun,

irondad said...

That's an entertaining mental picture! Putting one in the back of the truck seems like a great idea. Although, you could tow it like the RV drivers do!

You may well be correct in the attitude thing. This guy just stepped down from running a very large construction which bears his name. His son is taking over. It would make sense that he is the one used to calling the shots.

Nice to finally meet you in person the other night. Your helmet is quite distinct! Those who think they know everything are really annoying to those of us who do know everything.

Self preservation is a strong instinct for sure. This is a successful businessman so I hope you're right. Maybe I should call him up and ask him for first right of refusal for the cheap sale price, huh?

We all do what we can. After that it's up to the individuals for good or bad.