is a scooter?
The term "scooter" as commonly used in the newsgroup
(NG) alt.scooter refers more properly to a "motor
scooter", which are a subclass of motorcycles utilizing
a distinctive structural design. These are generally
two-wheeled vehicles originally based on motorized
versions of children's push scooters, although some
three-wheeled scooters are considered to exist. Motor
scooters (or simply "scooters") have been around almost
as long as motorcycles and the distinction between the
two has often been blurred. The most commonly accepted
definition of scooters requires two-wheeled vehicles (or
two-wheeled vehicles modified to have a rear axle) that
have wheels between 8 and 14 inches in diameter (smaller
than motorcycles), step-thru frames and typically
engines that are low and close to the rear wheel [see
The New Encyclopedia Britannica (1997), vol. 8, pg.
367]. However, it should be noted that this definition
is not universally accepted, as some have argued (Dregni
& Dregni, for example) that scooters need only have 2
out of 3 of these attributes. Scooters also often
incorporate full bodywork, including leg shields and
generally are designed to be easier to operate than
standard motorcycles. It should be noted that scooters
may be of any engine size, though historically they
typically have ranged from 50cc to 250cc. Likewise,
there is no limitation to possible top speed inherent in
scooter design -- many scooters regularly exceed 100mph.
Incidentally, the term "scooter" is also commonly used
for "medical scooters", which are typically 3 or 4
wheeled vehicles for people with mobility problems, but
are quite unlike "motor scooters". There are also
scooters with very small engines (under 40cc) commonly
called "go-peds" (a prominent brand), which look like
motorized children's push scooters. However, they are
not covered by this FAQ because they have their own NG,
alt.sport.go-ped and since they differ significantly
from the larger motor scooters commonly discussed on the
"alt.scooter" NG. There is also a popular German techno
band named "Scooter" that sometimes leads to confusion
as well, especially when using search engines. [11/99]
How do scooters differ from
It is a common mistake for people to confuse scooters
and mopeds. In fact, many vehicles are BOTH. By legal
definition, a "moped" is any two-wheeled vehicle of any
design which meets local regulations that commonly
relate to speed restriction. Commonly, mopeds may not
exceed 30-35mph and still legally be considered mopeds.
Confusion reigns, however, because some localities may
require pedals, while others do not, and speed
restrictions may vary from place to place. Further, a
common moped design has been large, motorcycle-type
wheels on vehicles that can commonly look very much like
scooters, blurring the distinction. However, the term
"moped" in any locality will always refer first to any
vehicle that meets local regulations to such vehicles,
and secondly to whatever designs people there may
commonly associate with mopeds. Many speed-restricted
scooters are legally marketed as mopeds, sometimes even
with pedals (in places that require them). The overlap
simply goes to body design with speed restrictions. It
should be noted that most mopeds can be modified to
exceed designed speed, in which case they are no longer
legally mopeds, but motorcycles. If they have a scooter
design, they will simply be faster scooters.
How do scooters differ from
By definition, motorcycles are nearly any two-wheeled,
motorized vehicle. Therefore, scooters are by definition
simply a specific motorcycle design. This is why in most
localities, there are no regulations for scooters per
se, and thus scooters fall either under moped
regulations (assuming they meet the proper requirements
to do so) or by default, they are legally treated as
motorcycles. There are a few localities that have
specific regulations for scooters, but as these are
extremely uncommon and follow no real pattern, they are
not covered here. The reason that scooters are commonly
not treated as equals in motorcycle circles is simply
because they generally are slower and not as
performance-oriented as their larger cousins. So
technically, all scooters are motorcycles, though
usually only scooters that more closely resemble what
are more commonly called motorcycles will be referred to
What are "classic" scooters?
The term "classic" scooter has been coined to
differentiate the older, original scooter designs from
those that developed later on in the 80s and 90s.
Piaggio has produced its Vespa scooters since 1946 and
the design has been endlessly copied by other makers
right up to the present day. Likewise, other makers have
copied Lambretta designs. There have also been a few
innovative designs related to neither, but the vast
majority of "classic" scooters are variations of a Vespa
or Lambretta. Those that prefer this type will commonly
point to the classic 50s and 60s styling, almost
exclusive use of metal bodywork, extensive use of manual
shifting mechanisms, kickstarters, and typically older
scooters, though these designs are still produced all
over the world. Contrary to popular belief, even early
Japanese scooter design followed the "classic" scheme,
which is why 50s and 60s Japanese scooters by Fuji,
Mitsubishi, Honda and Yamaha are all commonly accepted
in classic scootering circles. Likewise, some "classic"
scooters have automatic transmissions (e.g. Fuji Rabbit,
Heinkel Tourist) and electric starters (e.g. some Vespa
and Lambretta models).
What are "modern" scooters?
Vespa and Lambretta scooters long dominated world
markets and all those attempting to compete typically
copied their designs. This included early scooters
produced in Japan. Because those designs ultimately
could not compete with Vespa and Lambretta, scooters
were no longer produced in Japan in the 70s. When the
80s dawned, Honda and Yamaha decided it was time again
for them to produce scooters, albeit with a different
design concept. These new designs featured radical,
futuristic styling; plastic body panels to reduce costs;
automatic shifting and many features not commonly found
on older Vespa and Lambretta scooters. These are now
called "modern" scooters to differentiate them from the
older, "classic" designs. It should be noted that
Piaggio produces both the "classic" Vespa scooter line
and a wildly popular "modern" scooter line as well.
Because "classic" scooters are still produced by several
companies, the terms do not relate to date of
manufacture. It is typical of "modern" scooter design
that the distinction between motorcycles and scooters
has been seriously blurred, though it still clearly
What are "retro" scooters?
Because the classic Vespa and Lambretta designs have
endured in popularity for so very long and continue to
sell well even today, there have been recent attempts to
market essentially modern scooters with classically
styled frames. A recent well-known attempt would be
Italjet with their Velocifero that has been widely
marketed all over the world, including the USA. Because
the Velocifero uses a metal body in a classic design,
some also consider it a classic scooter, though others
aren't so sure. When Honda went to market it's Giorno,
with a plastic body, it was seen as naked attempt to
copy the Vespa magic. Likewise, Yamaha has produced the
Vino, which now also comes in a "classic edition".
Malaguti and other companies are now doing the same
thing, though the most brazen copy of the Vespa must be
the Suzuki Verde, which even imitates the old classic
Vespa script nameplate. It will be only over time that
scooterists will decide which (if any) of these designs
become accepted as true "classic" scooters. Given the
constant advancement of scooter designs, some even feel
that eventually, the first modern scooters of the early
80s by Honda and Yamaha will eventually be accepted as
"classics". Only time will tell for certain. [5/00]
What are "chopper", "cut-down",
"mod" and "rat" scooters?
Because most Lambretta scooters feature a tubular frame,
it is very easy to make them look like miniature Harley
chopper motorcycles, and many scooterists have done
this. These are called "chopper" scooters. Since Vespa
scooters are almost exclusively of unibody design, the
only way to make them look anything like choppers is to
literally cut the body panels down to make the scooter
slimmer. When they stop there, these are called
"cut-downs". If they then add extra long forks, they can
also become choppers. There is a good photo of a
Lambretta chopper on the lambretta.com website.
So-called "mod" scooters typically feature lots of
chrome accessories, and lots of mirrors and lights.
While it's not essential, mod scooters are usually
ridden by "mods" who have mimicked their styles from the
movie Quadrophenia. Finally, "rats" are simply very
unattractive running scooters, either because they have
been crashed, had their paint stripped for restoration
or simply never been maintained. Many "rat" owners
purposely parade these scooters to generate amusement.
It is typical of many scooter rallies that "choppers",
"cut-downs", "mod" and "rat" scooters will get their own
What are "two-strokes" and
"four-strokes" and how do they differ?
There is a very important technical distinction between
engine designs in the scooter world. "Two-stroke"
engines burn the gas and lubricating oil together as
part of the combustion process, which results in greater
lower end torque, fewer moving parts and greater fuel
efficiency. Unfortunately, this also means they pollute
more, as unburned oil fumes exit the exhaust system.
This is why two-strokes are being banned in many
industrialized countries concerned with air quality.
Virtually all classic scooters are two-stroke. The
oldest models require "pre-mixing", which is simply
pouring pre-measured oil into the gas tank when fueling.
Newer models have eliminated this by adding oil
injection systems that mix the oil and gas
automatically. Vespas built after about 1978 typically
have oil injection, but all Lambrettas are pre-mix only.
There are some very good online illustrated
demonstrations of how two-stroke engines work.
"Four-stroke" engines are more closely related to car
engines, in that they keep the lubrication and fuel
systems separate, which keeps emissions down
considerably since there is no oil burned in the
combustion process, unlike with "two-stroke" engines.
Most modern scooters utilize four-stroke engines, though
many modern scooters also use two-stroke engines,
especially in 50cc models. One major disadvantage of
four-stroke engines is that they are prone to
overheating when run at maximum speed over several
hours, leading to serious internal damage. Two-stroke
engines do not have this limitation. Either engine
design may be either water or air-cooled, though most
two-strokes are air-cooled and most four-strokes are
What are "maxi", "touring",
"sport" and "performance" scooters?
In the late 80s, Honda came out with a revolutionary new
scooter design with their introduction of the 250cc
Helix (also called Spazio, Fusion or CN250). This
scooter was exceptionally large, derisively called a "Barcalounger
on wheels", but it seems to have filled a certain niche
market and now many models exist, from nearly all major
scooter manufacturers. These have come to be known as
"maxi", "GT" or "touring" scooters, because they are
designed for riding long distances in comfort. The trade
off is that they are bulky to handle at low speeds, like
in town. As of July 1999, the largest scooter made is
now the 400cc Suzuki Burgman, which is known as the Sky
Wave in Japan. It is rumored that other manufacturers
also plan 400cc maxi scooters.
The "sport" or "performance" scooter has been around
since the 60s, when Innocenti and Piaggio created
several new Lambretta and Vespa models (respectively)
designed specifically to fit the needs of riders who
wanted very high performance. Vespa came out with models
like the GS and SS, while Lambretta countered with the
TV, SX and GP. This has accellerated in the late 80s and
into the 90s with ever faster designs that seem most
practical on race tracks, but get ridden on streets
anyway. Probably the two most blatant examples as of
July 1999 would be the Gilera Runner 180 (21hp and 85mph
stock) and the Italjet Dragster (80mph after some
modifications). Again, this trend is represented by
models from almost all major scooter manufacturers now.
Please send questions and comments to
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