What Are Scooters?
For someone with little to no exposure to vehicles of the two-wheeled variety, answering the question “what is a scooter?” may be a little tough.
While the legal definitions vary from state to state, a scooter generally meets the following guidelines:
- Step-through frame – Instead of swinging your leg over the tail end like you would with a regular motorcycle, scooters generally have a gap where the gas tank would be, with floorboards instead of bars or pegs, allowing the rider to quite literally steps through the frame.
- Automatic transmission – Rather than shifting, a key feature of scooters is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This frees up the left foot to relax and enjoy the finer things in life. Not only that, but the left-hand lever (which would normally be the clutch lever) is now used for the rear brake. As the rear brake is normally worked with a foot lever on regular motorcycles, scooter riders normally don’t use their feet for anything but stopping.
- Smaller displacement – As most scooters are designed for mostly running around town, they just don’t need a Harley-sized motor on them. The normal range for engine displacement is from 50cc to about 200cc. Larger scooter motors are becoming quite popular, however, and generally, anything 250cc and above (as high as 600cc!) are known as maxi-scooters. While the sporty 50s limit you to about 35mph around town, the maxis can hold their own to varying degrees of comfort out on the open road, as well as highways.
What are scooters not? Scooters are not mopeds, that’s for sure. Setting aside whatever certain state laws may say about the matter, mopeds are bicycles with a motor on them, as well as pedals. Scooters weigh ten times as much and go ten times as fast. If you ever call a scooter guy’s ride a moped, he’s bound to die a little inside.
Don’t Forget The Simple Things
Sometime last week, I was making my way through my scooter-worthy five (count’em, 5!) block commute to work, same as any other day, and was running late, same as any other day. It had rained earlier in the day (I work second shift), but I honestly didn’t think anything of it, if even noticed. With no puddles, and the asphalt mostly dry, what’s the worst that could happen?
One of the intersections I pass through is a two-lane, one-way street (highway), with diagonal parking on either side. The crosswalk, sidewalk, and stop sign are all set back pretty far due to the diagonal parking, so naturally you need to go past that quite a bit to be able to see oncoming cross traffic. I generally ignore the sign and crosswalk and just stop where I can see, except…
I’m a nice guy. Yes, yes, even when I’m running late for work. This is already a moderately pedestrian-heavy intersection, and combined with an unseasonably warm afternoon and an elementary school letting out several blocks up… you can see where this is going. Two chicas popped into the crosswalk and in to view at the same time. I usually nod pedestrians across and was going to do the same this time, but they didn’t give me the chance. Across they went, and on the brakes, I went. It wasn’t a panic stop, and I was going to stop short for them anyway, but I was still pretty hard on the brakes.
And what, dear reader, do you think just so happened to be on the ground, right there, in the exact spot that I didn’t need it to be? A wet spot. A lonely, unassuming, devious wet spot. For what is now the second time on my BR in the 3 years I’ve had it, I locked up the front wheel and went for a little slide. Same as last time, though, I managed to save it with my mad skills (or pure instinct), which generally just involves getting off the brakes. Problem here? The two chicas crossing right in front of me. Lucky for them, they stepped out of the way just in time for me to come to a safe stop.
Would I have risked my hand/leg/neck for their sake? Hells no. More importantly, though, would I have been at fault if I did clip one of them? Hells yes. Even if I laid it down, I probably still would’ve been cited, plus had a busted up scooter and body. Better idea? Don’t put yourself in that situation, to begin with. I should’ve seen the wet spot, I should’ve seen the blind spot created by a parked van, and reacted accordingly by braking much earlier, in anticipation of a pedestrian showing up out of nowhere like that. Don’t forget the simple things.