Friday, February 13, 2009

A new kind of rider.

"I'm not a biker, or motorcyclist, or whatever it is you people call yourselves. I just ride a scooter because it's cheaper transportation."

Ok, lady. Whatever you say. Her statement was delivered with a bit of indignation behind it. Although it was a little difficult for her to muster too much of her own dignity. As you can see by the leaves, I took this picture last Fall. After the rider had left, of course. I didn't want to antagonize her more. A sudden shower had given us all a soaking. For my part, things were fine. My 'Stich had kept me dry. The lady wasn't so lucky. Or so well prepared.

She was wet and bedraggled. This was a lunch time trip to the mall. Sensible shoes for office work, black slacks, a blue blouse, and an all too painfully thin leather dress jacket didn't offer much rain protection. An open face helmet made sure she got some rain in the face. What ordinarily would have been nicely groomed hair was now wet and tangled where the helmet didn't cover it. I felt sorry for the poor gal. In a sincere effort to be of help, sharing my wealth of experience as a gesture to make her world better, I explained the benefits of proper "motorcycle" riding gear. It would help her avoid going back to the office looking like she did now.

Only to be met with her cutting remark. Which I can partly understand. Hinting that she looked a mess probably didn't win me any points!

Hey, I got thick skin. I'd have just brushed off her attitude if she'd been the only instance. The attitude this woman had expressed, however, isn't an isolated case. I'm seeing similar reactions more frequently. When gas prices shot way up last Summer, scooter sales spiked accordingly. I'm not alone in seeing a new type of rider. Our training program is starting to think of ways to deal with this new attitude.

Always before, in my experience, scooter riders have considered themselves to be a part of a bigger group. Scooters were often stepping stones to riding motorcycles. Even if a person decided they really liked scooters and that's all they wanted to ride, they still thought of themselves as a motorcyclist. The same thing applied to cruiser riders, sport bike riders, long distance riders, and so on. We each had our segment within the whole, but all of us considered ourselves a part of the single track, two wheeled fraternity.

For example, I still feel that draw even if it involves a different kind of riding than what I do. Tuesday night, for instance, I was in Kirkland, Washington. I don't even want to talk about riding up in the snow. It wasn't bright, I underestimated what the weather would do, and shouldn't have done it. Wednesday morning brought a sheet of ice. I nearly dropped Elvira trying to get out of the motel parking lot. Fortunately, I was staying within a mile of the home office. So I left her in the lot and walked. By mid-afternoon the sun was out and we had an awesome ride home. Anyway, I digress.

I'm sitting in the Cafe Veloce stuffing my face with Chicken Parmigiana, one of my favorite meals. This restaurant features a vintage Italian motorcycle theme, plus it serves good food. Since I was walking, I had a beer. Not seeing anything familiar on the menu, I opted to try the Laughing Buddha rice ale. Not bad, but I wouldn't order it again. I'm kind of a porter and stout guy. It's called stout because the more you drink the stouter you get.

Anyway, the Speed Channel was up on the overhead televisions. "Superbikes" was on. I tuned into that once, thinking it had to do with race bikes. Turns out it's a program about stunters. By the way, I was actually surprised to see anything bike related on that channel at all. It seems they reluctantly show some of the motorcycle races. The channel's first love seems to be Nascar. They should rename the channel "All Nascar, all the time". Oh, there is that "American Thunder" program. I've watched it a time or two. Mainly just to see if Michelle Smith will ever bend her arms. Have you ever noticed that she nevers seems to bend her elbows? It's like somebody told her the secret to looking like she was more, ummmm, "endowed up top" was to squish them with her upper arms. Now she's afraid to move her arms and spoil the effect, I think. Dang, I digressed again, didn't I?

The whole point is that, even though I'm not a stunter rider, ( at least not on purpose ) I still was interested to see the bikes. I'm a motorcyclist. It's who I am. It's what I do. I'm interested in all things motorcycle.

Not so this new kind of rider. They consider themselves to be purely practical riders. Gas is expensive, scooters get good fuel mileage, ergo less money spent on gas. Period.

These folks seriously consider the scooter to be some sort of two wheeled equivalent to a plain wrapper sedan. I'm okay with that up to that point. Goodness knows, I've been a vocal force in encouraging the world to view motorcycles as practical transportation. Scooters totally qualify and serve a great need. I want to make it totally clear that, even though I don't ride one, I'm a big fan and supporter of scooters and scooter riders. We're all "us" if you know what I'm saying.

In an interesting irony, the line between "scooter" and "motorcycle" is becoming blurred. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference as one approaches me. If bigger motors, more cargo space, and less shifting make riding more attractive to potential customers, that's a good thing.

In contrast, while the lines between machines are being blurred, the rift in attitudes is becoming more distinct. I'm meeting more scooter riders who don't think they need motorcycle gear. They use a helmet because the law requires it. No, this isn't a statement on helmet law attitudes. I see a lot of scooter riders in business wear. Slacks and dress shoes. No gloves. Just like in their cars.

Further, the biggest problem is that these folks don't think they need any kind of training at all. What's so hard about riding a scooter, they ask? A lot of these people are on scooters that don't require an endorsement in Oregon. If the scooter is big enough to require an endorsement, the skills test at DMV isn't too tough on a small scooter. Again, they get the endorsement because the law says so, not because they want to be a "motorcyclist" with an endorsement.

By the way, this scooter rider didn't really ride in the snow. This is just one of those big piles left in the parking lot that takes weeks to melt. The scoot actually belongs to a man who runs the Nail Salon where the scooter is parked. He's the typical example of just trying to spend less money on fuel.

So the question is, how do we help these folks see the need to take scooter riding seriously? We all know they can get severely injured or killed on a scooter just like on a motorcycle. Proper gear and skill training are critical to anyone on two wheels, whether the bike shifts or not. I can live with them not considering themselves one of "us". I hate that fact that they're riding without the critical tools they need. I cringe whenever I hear about a crash, let alone a fatality.

The problem sort of took care of itself over the Winter. Most of these folks found out about the harsh realities of bad weather and worse gear. Gas prices have gone down, which has helped ease the crunch a little. However, the warm weather is coming soon. Gas prices are headed back up. The economy has people cutting back on spending. Which means it's possible new scooter sales will be down, but people are going to ride the ones they already have. It would be good to find a way to reach these folks.

I'm also curious about you all. I know a lot of you who read here are scooter riders. How do you view yourself? I'm presuming that you consider yourself a motorcylist since you read my blog. I'm not personally a scooter rider so there must be some other draw and connection.

Are you seeing similar attitudes or is it just an Oregon thing?

Miles and smiles,



Stacy said...

I think a big part of the problem is the perception that a scooter is only a tiny step up from a bicycle.

Dan, have you had many vocal would-be scooterists in your BRT classes? I've wondered if there might be value in having a separate class just for the scooter folks, if only to reduce the intimidation factor that comes from all the "big iron" riding braggarts that can't seem to keep their yaps shut during the course.

I remember that it was intimidating to mention that I wanted to buy a Rebel 250 at my course, but that's just me.

My apologies if this derails the intended conversation. I'm also interested to hear what the scooter riders think!

Anonymous said...

I'm a "scooterist", or whatever you want to call it. Here in NY, anything over 29 miles an hour is considered a motorcycle, so that's what I consider my Vespa. I just consider it a limited use motorcycle.

This is my first bike, and I've only had it a few months. Before getting it, I took the MSF class. I guess I'm the opposite of the person you described. I got involved because I though it would be a fun way to get around, do errands, and just enjoy life. Gas price factored little into my decision. It also means I'm picky as to when and how I ride.

I'm a fair-weather rider. I'm not afraid of the cold, but I'll stable her when it's wet or snowy out. As a new rider, I don't feel I have the skills to handle those situations, and plus, like I said, the Vespa is for fun.

After taking the MSF course, I've been very selective in what I wear. I always wear boots, jeans, a full face helmet, and my armored jacket. It may 'only' be a scooter, but as you say, the risks are the same. I see people in my neighborhood riding a scooter in shorts and no gloves, and while it looks like they are having a good time, I hope I don't think that is a good idea some day.

I don't know if I'll 'upgrade' some day to a full motorcycle... that remains to be seen. But I do know that I really enjoy getting around on 2 wheels, and hope everyone would consider me a (beginner) motorcyclist.

Anonymous said...

One more thing to add to my last post... While I took the MSF course with getting a Vespa in mind, when they asked why I was there and what kind of bikes I like, I certainly didn't mention that was my goal. Maybe I should have been more proud.

Anonymous said...

Once a scooter rider, always a scooter rider.

I learnt to ride on a Vespa 100. Then after 20 years moved on to a Super scooter Honda Silverwing with 600cc engine. This is a not a scooter by any means. It is a scooter only because of the step through. Otherwise a very powerful motorcycle with small wheels and to be respected.

My principle was always full ATGATT. No exceptions. Multiple scooter riders said that I do not need all that gear when riding a scooter.

I have seen multiple scooter riders with jeans, t-shirts and a half helmet. Every time I see that I cringe. I still push for every two wheel rider 50cc or 2000cc to be in ATGATT. Asphalt hurts like bloody hell even at 10mph.

Dave said...

Well there are people who ride scooters and there are scooter riders .
I am a rider. An there are a lot of us riders out there just check out the forum at ScooterDawg .com

So far I have managed to ride 2 to 3 times or more every month this winter An I live in Ohio
Its all the gear all the time for me I my be crazy but I am not stupid. : )
Coldest ride to date 16F
The sad part is there are a lot of folks out there on two wheels scooters an MCs that will never get it.
Hope fully the wet lady will get it if not an she treats two wheel transportation like most treat four wheel.
She wont be around very long.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Irondad:

I ride a 14-year-old BMW "K" bike, and was averaging about 14,000 miles a year before arthritis thre me a curve ball this year. I work at home, so I have no commute. I ride the bike primarily on weekends for adventure and fun. If the economy was better, I'd own a scooter too, as they look like a lot of fun.

I was discussing this with a few of my riding buddies when I made the following remark: "The best part about riding a scooter, it seems to me, is just jumpimg on the damn thing to run to the post office or the store wthout doing an elaborate pre-flight program or stepping into the body armor."

And then I realized that I would still be wearing armored mesh in the summer, with a full face helmet and leather gloves. The only thing that would be different would be the weight. It's doubtful I'd be juggling 560 pounds of steel and plastic on a Vespa.

I have a number of wo-wheeled friends who ride scooters exclusively. And in my estimation, they do see themselves as a breed apart. They ride scooters because they love the concept of a scooter. None of them bought these machines for the gas mileage nor as a steeping stone to a motorcycle.

They look at vintage scooters the same way you and I would drool over a 1968 Harley or BMW. They plan their weekend trips based on the mechanical capabilities of the machine, and the availability of suitable roads.

While some Vespas can hit 60 or 70 miles per hour, I can't see using a bike like this on the slab for very long. But it must be noted that several riders have crossed the country on scooters as a preference. (I think it would be cool to do so on really back roads, if time was not a factor.)

I haven't made a study of the subject, but I suspect that many scooter riders are "type" specific the same way other riders are "marque" specific. And then within that group, they are also brand specific.

I communicate with a scooter rider in Turkey, who I believe has ridden his machine across much of the Middle East. And I am friendly with another in British Columbia, who sees the scooter as the end of the spectrum for practicality, fun, and for adventure. I also seem to recall that some kind of a scooter placed as a "finisher" in the classic Iron Butt Race too.

You are quite correct to recognize the scooter as a legitimate member of the two-wheeled food chain. Not all motorcycle riders feel this way. (I take crap from some Harley riders who ask me why I ride a girl's bike.) And I share your enthusiasm for all vehicles with two wheels. On the other hand, I would have handled the bedraggled lady scooter rider a trifle differently. I would have said, "Riding in the rain separates the women from the girls. Bet you're sorry you left your rain gear at home."

Chances are you would have gotten the same response anyeway. In which case I would have said, "I'm sorry I said anything, lady. But you're the one who's soaking wet."

I look at your blog often. Good topics and good discussion. I regret I cannot match your factual content. I don't always leave a comment as I prefer to keep my shortcomings as a rider secret for a bit longer.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Bryce said...

Actually Stacey is not too far off.

I have a friend who collects bicycles that use small petrol or distillate
engines, to drive either the front or rear wheels.
Think of the French Solex unit, an after market unit that powered the front wheel and hung below the steering head. Or the Shaw Bicyclemotor which used an extension on the circumference of the rear wheel and used a leather belt to distribute the power.

The Solex unit is the closest to today's scooters, which are often 100 cc or less. I can't really in my mind's eye call a Burgmann a
Maybe they could be called croosed overs, cause they really don't know what they are. They've crossed that invisible fine line of description
that defines them.

To me a scooter is less than 100 cubic centimetres, is simple in design and is of the step-through
design with rear wheel drive.

And with a reduced economy scooters may well return. Give the price of petrol in the lower reaches of Southern Ontario in Canada is
back on its' way up, the scooters will reappear as the flowers do in the spring. BTW regular unleaded
petrol is now up to 85¢ a litre.

cpa3485 said...

This is a great topic. I appreciate the opportunity to read the post and related comments. As a new "scooterist" and regular commuter for the past 6 months or so, I have become very aware of the safety issues involved with scootering.
I am one that has not taken a motorcycle safety course, although I am strongly considering it. I spent many years as a touring bicyclist and am quite aware of the dangers on the road. Some of the dangers are similar to bicycling, but many are very different because of the speeds involved. I did get my motorcycle driving license by passing a written and driving test. I studied and researched a lot before I did the tests and that study along with my bicycling experience provided me with, I think, a good background for scootering.
I do wear boots and jeans and gloves, but currently use a half helmet with goggles and I guess I am not totally convinced that I need armor for the type of commuting that I do. I do however know very well that an accident will really hurt If, God forbid, that ever happens. I guess I try to compensate by being very cautious in my riding.

In Kansas there is no helmet law, which I think is exceedingly stupid. Some of your comments refer to scooter riders that don't know better and I see that as well. But I also need to point out that I see a lot of motorcycle riders, you know some of them that ride what I call "crotch rockets" that are very poorly prepared as well. They wear T-shirts, shorts, no helmets and zoom around in traffic without a care in the world.

I don't pretend to have the answers, but good training and education are obviously very important. And just because you have passed a test does not mean that you should quit trying to learn more. I commend people like you that provide this sort of training. I have also learned a great deal from following your blog and other blogs.

I think people really need to understand their own personal capabilities and experience coupled with a good understanding of the capabilities of their machines. Some people will be better at this than others and, unfortunately, some may never really get it.

I call myself a scooterist rather than a motorcyclist, only because of what I ride. I am proud of my machine and enjoy riding a lot. But I feel a close affinity with motorcyclists and. Scooterists equally. Some motorcyclists seem to turn up their nose at me, but others are very supportive and seem genuinely impressed with my machine and what I am doing with it. I have had great conversations with motorcyclists. Some have offered up many good suggestions to me. I also frequently get what I call the "low 5 wave" and I really enjoy that. It is an indication that a certain bond exists between all 2 wheel riders.

Anonymous said...

Two wheels is two wheels is two...
I ride a 'Wing but I will give a friendly wave to anyone on two wheels. People need to ride what they enjoy, not what someone else thinks they should ride - the world be pretty dull if we all rode Harley's or Hondas's or ...

However why would scooterists(?) wear any more than the average "real" bike rider ? And yes I understand ATGATT, but typically only wear gloves and a full face helmet. Why - because I figure I can recover from road rash, armor will most likely not keep me from losing a limb, or breaking one - however my head is to valuable to take a chance.

Steve Williams said...

I see a lot of scooter riders who wear little to no gear. When I have asked about it they do believe that they are somehow safer on a scooter than a motorcycle because it doesn't have the same amount of power. Their perspective in regard to accidents seems to be high speed. When I ask about a car running into them they just sort of dismiss the possibility.

I always gear up completely. The only thing I may do occasionally is to skip the armored pants on really hot days and just wear jeans. But I seldom do that.

Even though I ride almost exclusively on a scooter by choice I don't consider myself a scooterist in terms of the scooter culture. I suppose I am too seduced by being alone on the road to be involved in groups of riders.

I've taken the Basic and Advanced Rider courses from MSF and did not detect any derision of scooters (I took the advanced course on the scooter and it outran anything on the course). There was no big iron bragging either mostly because the instructors were effective at keeping us busy and cutting off any story telling.

I am with you Dan on this topic. The perception that scooters are a step up from a bicycle and don't require serious attention to safety will get people injured and killed.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

redlegsrides said...


This past summer, I saw many "scooterists" during my regular commute. They were either very stylishly dressed in business wear or t-shirts and jeans. Colorado doesn't have a helmet law(incredibly stupid IMHO)so no helmets on the scooter riders I saw.

I am sure they thought I was "over geared" as they saw me ride by, just as I thought they were future road-rash victims as I watched them.

Once we started getting snow, it was a scooter that made it in to work when I opted for the car, so there's at least one hard-core rider out here....and he had the scars on his scooter to prove it. I never met him/her so I've no idea if they did the ATGATT thing or not.

Still, you ride your own ride as I've been taught, and you "takes your lumps". I've been down at speeds from 5-45mph, and the gear has done the job. Count me in the ATGATT side of the discussion.

Re the lady scooterist's indignation, seems to me she was "embarrased" to be associated with being a two-wheeled rider.

Here the scooterists are like the harley guys, they don't wave back. Oh well.


American Scooterist Blog said...

Man do I feel like I understand what you're getting at. Last summer there were more scooters due to gas prices than I'd ever seen before. Ever.

And they do have their own mentality. Poorly reasoned too. Even if its a Chinese scooter, the price of the bike and insurance usually totals more than the difference in cost from the prices gas reached during the price spike at the pumps.

No, its odd but true that those riders do not see themselves as actual... riders, per se. They almost sound like they were forced into buying scooters rather than pay the exhorbitant prices to fill their cars and SUV's. That's the attitude. They think they had no choice for some reason. That they're not like other riding enthusiasts. That they're better than "bikers".

Maybe that's what they're afraid of. They think bikers are the rest of us and they're something else entirely. Who knows, maybe some bikers sense that and think in kind.

But I would say you can forget about reasoning with most of scooterists who bought to "save money". We offend them.


Krysta in MKE said...

I read your post a few days ago, & have been thinking about what turned my thinking around.

I first started riding a 125cc Yamaha scooter (had a blast & still miss her!), and never thought of safety gear other than a helmet, which I was never without. I was one of those with flip-flops & shorts & a tanktop. Now I'm an acolyte of ATGATT and preach the gospel whenever I can.

The change wasn't because of having or seeing a crash (though I had one in full gear a couple years ago), but because of the influence of another rider. I think it's that personal connection that most effectively gets the safety message across.

The times I've been on my bike next to a scooter at a traffic light or stop sign, I lean over & ask if they've taken a safety course yet. Almost invariably they say no, and I grin and reply "You'll really enjoy it! You learn lots & it's a lot of fun. Sign up soon, because classes fill up quick."
Similar conversations happen when I see a scooter at a store or gas station, etc.

Make a personal connection, give an enthusiastic recommendation of the class, and say how much you learned from it and how fun it is. Doesn't matter if they identify themself as any particular label, just that they're safer when riding.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!!!

I've identified this exact problem here (in south africa). People turning to scooters without the passion for biking.

The gear and the skills are completely under estimated, and since they have no interest, they don't learn either.

Every day i see scooter riders without a stitch of gear, and sadly when you approach them, all you get are the typical, "it's too hot", "i'm too slow" or "its not dangerous" answers. Usually i get snubbed immediately, giving me the impression that these scooterists are not only ignorant, but arrogant too.

I do believe VESPA is much to blame for this. They have an image to market, which includes piss pot helmets, and nothing more, save a taste for "easy living".

Sadly, harley is just as guilty, a leather waistcoat does NOT make gear, but we see them all over, people who frankly SHOULD know better, yet don't.

The other main bunch, probably larger are the chinese importers clients. These are the cheap and nasty scooters, and again, there is no positive input form the dealers when noobs are buying, as if they have no responsibility for their clients after the money has been paid.

I have no solutions, yet. Only a glaring awareness of the tragedy about to happen. Think Bike is a good start, organising a single public message about safety, just getting the message to people who otherwise would not hear it.

Anonymous said...

I see way too many riders on scooters, sportbikes, tour bikes, and cruisers that are not wearing proper gear. Though I am sure they all have thier own twist on the idea, they are all guilty of letting thier attitudes and preconceptions interfere with responsible riding. And they will all be sorry when they hit the pavement wearing flip-flops, tank tops, and no helmet.

Besides the gear, proper training teaches you how to deal with road conditions and other traffic. Anyone who thinks that because they have a drivers license they already know this stuff is sadly mistaken. It's pathetic how many people are stuck in the 8th grade mentality where naivety and peer pressure keep them making stupid decisions even when they know it's not right.

Unknown said...


This is an interesting topic. I find a lot of "discrimination" regarding the types of 2 wheeled machines here in Vancouver, BC whether you are on a Harley, cruiser, sport bike, scooter. You would think that we are all part of the 2 wheeled fraternity, but that is far from the truth. It's a shame we don't band together for the pleasure of something we all enjoy except for our choice of machine. There is so much hatred of Sport bike riders VS Harleys. Even metric cruisers are scoffed at by Milwaulkie Iron. Even here, scooters are NOT scooters. We had a meltdown locally a couple of years ago and the scooter community got fragmented and everyone went their own way. Now it's more or less (there are of course, exceptions) separate scooter forums for: "Vespa", "Vintage", TNG and Maxi-scoots. another topic would be Maxi-scoots VS motorcycles, like grease and water. As a Maxi-scoot rider you are "endured" by all the other groups, but not really accepted by motorcycles either, thus the reason I keep a motorcycle around so I can socialize/blend in with the other riding groups as well.
I think the biases towards scooterists can be directed towards the 49cc machines which do not require an (M/C)Endorsement, and also towards those that purchase these 49cc "Mopeds" for economic reasons. They are only in the fold to save money. They are not interested to gain friendships, go on group rides, or socialize in any manner, only just to save money BUT their lack of training, and idiodic maneuvers give the rest of us a bad name.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Dean W said...

Interestingly, "Scooter Mentality" came up at the Team Oregon instructor update yesterday. General consensus was that even the scooterati who take a class believe most of it doesn't apply to them, it's just the "easy way to an endorsement" and they're going through the hoops.

This just sort of boggles me, because when it comes to dealing with traffic, IME a scooter is even more disadvantaged than a motorcycle.

On the topic of economy, a few weeks ago one of my students was the proprietor of this little business:
He says he's got scooters now, and is working on bringing in a two-wheeler that's more like a motorcycle, with cruiser styling and saddlebags. The fun question here is, motorcycle/scooter endorsements are required for 50cc or larger engines... where's an all electric one fit?

A. Scooterdawg said...

Doesn't sound like a new type of rider. It sounds like you caught someone at a bad time. Whether you like it or not, you probably appeared smug--standing there in your nice dry riding gear.

And no one likes it when you seem that way, especially when you're right. It's essentially adding insult to injury.

In the more general sense, you're essentially correct about some of the newer scooterists. They seem to think that a scooter is somehow less dangerous--as if danger was directly correlated to displacement.

As a female friend of mine and new rider learned, a 125cc scooter can hurt you quite badly. She didn't wear even basic safety gear, got on her Buddy with shorts, shoes, and a helment. About a mile later, she locked the front wheel at an intersection and dropped the bike.

It wouldn't have been so bad had she worn even jeans. However the way the bike fell, the muffler landed on her leg and gave her a NASTY third degree burn. As it is, she's had a skin graft and will have a scar there for the rest of her life. And I think her bike hasn't been ridden since.

I did the same thing about three weeks earlier on my People 150. I however, was wearing heavy clothing, armored jacket, and my 3/4 helmet. Basically got a bruise, picked up the bike, and rode away. All because I decided to take my riding seriously.

Conchscooter said...

I prefer to consider the rider than the vehicle. I've ridden scooters and motorcycles all my life and there are idiots on all machines. Differentiating between scooters and motorcycles is getting harder too, but we do like to keep people in their little boxes. Key West is different too inasmuch as this is one US city where scooters are used all the time as daily riders, and also as tools for self destruction by drunk tourists, frequently quite spectacularly.

LaurieD said...

I agree with Dave...there are those that ride scooters, and then there are serious scooter "riders". It's a way of life for these riders, and that's pretty cool. I like looking at the world through "scooter-colored" glasses. ;)

Thank you for your blog post...very interesting & worthy of commenting & connecting. :)