It may seem strange that The Piaggio Group markets three brands of scooters in North America but there is logic to it. We think of the parent company’s name brand, Piaggio, as the good basic scooter line at competitive prices. No wonder they have long been the biggest selling scooter line in Europe. Their Vespa brand reminds us of Harley-Davidson, the iconic brand in their market. So where does Aprilia fit? We see Aprilia as their stylish and sporty scooter brand. And as the brand that perennially was second to Piaggio in sales until Piaggio bought Aprilia in 2004, we feel we still see the ‘#2 tries harder’ attitude in Aprilias scooters.
In general, Aprilia scooters are among the performance class leaders in their engine sizes, most have large-diameter wheels for added safety on uneven surfaces, they have ample storage and ways to add even more, they have cast wheels, front disc brake, and tubeless tires. Water-cooled models (those over 125cc) have their radiator vents positioned so that a lap robe can either exclude the engine’s warmth or use it to keep you toasty. And all models over 100cc have a replaceable oil filter (This may seem a strange brag but many competing brands have a screen like a lawn mower up to 250s.
1. What makes a scooter different from a motorcycle? Lacking a concise definition, we say that, unlike most (but not all) motorcycles, modern scooters typically combine a step-through frame, front cowling, engine under the seat, no clutch, and a constantly-variable (automatic) transmission.
2. Two-cycle or four-cycle engine? Two-cycle (also called two-stroke) engines were common to small motorcycles, outboards, lawnmowers, and dirt bikes. Now, because of their typically dirtier exhaust emissions compared to four-cycles (common to larger scooters and motorcycles and non-diesel cars), two-cycles are mostly regulated to competition motorcycles, chain saws, and those annoying leaf blowers that wake you up on weekend mornings. Two-cycles used to be the most common engine for scooters. Comparatively, a two-cycle is lighter, more powerful, and less expensive to build. The smaller the scooter, the more important these advantages are. To compare, a four-cycle circulates lubricating oil from a reservoir through the engine, returning to the reservoir. A two-cycle is lubricated by oil mixed with its gasoline and therefore combusted, the mixing performed automatically on modern scooters, drawing from two separate tanks (Vintage scooters required proportional mixing of oil and gas in the same tank – very inconvenient!). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only started requiring emissions compliance for 50cc vehicles in 2006, so now it’s more unusual for two-cycles to legally be sold here. Besides emissions problems, two-cycles usually got less gas mileage than four-cycles, but the recent development of two-cycle fuel injection makes them fast and clean.
3. Who builds it and sells it vs. who distributes it? A concern with some scooter brands is after-sale service, meaning future availability of parts and technical assistance. To wit, in the early 1980s there was a moped boom and several big foreign brands established importers here, but most folded when that mini boom went bust. Your local dealer may be highly reputable and prospers at selling other things, but the US importer, the dealer’s connection to the manufacturer, was often gone. So it doesn’t always matter how big the manufacturer is if they don’t flourish in the US, and the best dealer in the world can’t do a good job without the direct support of the manufacturer. In general, it’s proven safest to consider scooter brands that also distribute motorcycles (such as Aprilia, Honda, Kymco, Piaggio/Vespa, Suzuki, and Yamaha), as the larger scale of their operations better insures their stability. Most worrisome are brands sold via mail order without the support of a local dealer.
4. What are the comparative advantages of Asian and European scooters? Some Asian cities seem completely consumed by 50cc scooters, which are very practical and not really limiting in these severely compacted environments. In general and in common with many consumer goods, Asian-built scooters are low priced. Many European cities feel as crowded as those of Asia and scooters there can be just as prevalent. But in Europe, sportiness (speed, handling, style) and safety (weight-carrying capacity, stability, weight-adjustable rear suspension) are as important as practicality. So yes, European scooters are usually more expensive, but to many, the price is worthwhile for the added attributes. And recently, a new amalgamation has European companies designing smaller scooters to their philosophy and specifications, and then manufacturing them in Asia.
5. Why so many 50cc scooters? Most scooters are built for markets other than the US and 50s are most popular there. This may change, as the conversion to predominantly four-cycle engines leaves the 50s severely down on power compared to their two-cycle predecessors.
6. Why consider a larger scooter if a 50 can do all that’s necessary? Often people think of using a scooter for specific purposes, such as a short commute or grocery store trips. This, however, doesn’t envision the possibility that riding the scooter could simply be fun! Pleasure rides may involve greater distances, higher speeds, and larger loads or a regular passenger, so buying bigger than you need adds versatility that may prove very useful and enjoyable.
7. How fast does a small scooter go? Restricted 50s are built for licensing laws limiting speed to approximately 30-35 mph. In Washington State, these are the only scooters not requiring a motorcycle endorsement in addition to a standard automobile driver’s license to legally operate (It is not true that anything under 50cc doesn’t need a motorcycle endorsement, no matter what some salesperson has told you!). Four-cycle 50s with two-valve cylinder heads fit this category, while others have four-valve cylinder heads and produce too much power and speed to qualify for the restricted class. Non-restricted two-cycle 50s typically go 40-50+ mph. Extra speed can make a huge improvement in usefulness. So look the salesperson in the eye, ask how fast it goes, and make sure he answers before he blinks!
8. Why do some scooters have such large diameter wheels? Aprilia started the large-wheel (16”) trend 20+ years ago with the Scarabeo 50, no doubt as a result of their passion for scooters and experience with road and racing motorcycles. A larger wheel should be more stable but less nimble than a smaller one. Other factors also effect this tradeoff, such as steering rake angle and trail (like caster in a car). Plus, wheels are not simply ‘large’ or ‘small,’ with scooters using wheel diameters of 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16”. Manufacturers balance all these traits into a reasonable compromise of stability vs. nimbleness, so larger wheels alone don’t guarantee greater stability. All that aside, we believe that larger wheels are more stable when driven over an unexpected obstacle or through a pothole, for the same reason off-road motorcycles have a larger-diameter front wheel than most street-only models.
9. Do I need insurance to ride a scooter? It’s a good idea but not required by Washington State law for scooters or motorcycles, although you are required to be financially responsible for your actions. We’ve heard quotes all the way from $125 to $450/year for a little 50! Suffice to say that some insurance companies (such as State Farm) are more reasonable for scooter insurance than others.
10. Do I have to wear a helmet while riding a scooter? A D.O.T.-approved helmet in good condition is required to legally ride any scooter or motorcycle on public roads in Washington State. A bicycle or football helmet will not pass muster! Eye protection is also required, which can be goggles, glasses, a face shield, or a windshield.
11. Is scooter financing available? Many shops offer financing through a bank or credit union. Other common choices are credit unions such as Alaska USA, Boeing, and Seattle Metro. Financing usually requires insurance, so some opt instead to use a credit card.
12. Can I legally increase my scooter’s performance? In most cases the answer is no but it is commonly done. By EPA regulations, it is illegal to make non-homologated modifications to any street-legal vehicle. Local enforcement is rare in the two-wheeled world (obvious every time a loud motorcycle roars by). You can, however, legally de-restrict a restricted 50, although extra speed will require the rider to have a driver’s license motorcycle endorsement.
13. What are freight & setup charges and why are they not included in the scooter’s list price? A dealer’s invoice most often has a separate line item for the freight charge to get the vehicle from the importer/distributor to the dealer (be it a scooter, and motorcycle, or a car). If that invoice were all-inclusive (freight included) then the dealer’s markup would automatically be added to that freight cost as well (not that some dealers don’t mark up their freight costs anyway!). So keeping freight separate increases the possibility that you’re not paying extra.
14. Like a car, do I have to have the emissions checked every other year? No, as emissions inspections have never (yet) been applied to motorcycles and scooters in this state. As for the federal EPA standards, they are only checked when a manufacturer applies to sell a model in the US.
15. Is it true that I don’t need a motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license for a 50cc scooter? In the past, this was how the law was interpreted by the State Patrol but since 2007 the only recognized exception to the motorcycle endorsement has been ‘restricted’ 50cc scooters, which are limited to about 30 – 35 mph. What follows is the pertinent text from Washington law: “Motor-driven cycle” means every motorcycle, including every motor scooter, with a motor that produces not to exceed five brake horsepower (developed by a prime mover as measured by a brake applied to the driving shaft). A motor-driven cycle does not include a moped. “Moped” means a motorized device designed to travel with not more than three sixteen-inch or larger diameter wheels in contact with the ground, having fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power, and an electric or a liquid fuel motor with a cylinder displacement not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters which produces no more than two gross brake horsepower (developed by a prime mover, as measured by a brake applied to the driving shaft) that is capable of propelling the device at not more than thirty miles per hour on level ground.
Beyond legalities, we like the endorsement for the information and training that is usually gained while obtaining it.
16. How do I obtain a motorcycle endorsement? Click here >