STREET LEGAL ELECTRIC
Tire & Wheel
Tire & Wheel Accessories
What 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.
How do scooters differ from mopeds?
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 motorcycles?
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 as such.
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, kick
starters, 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
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 uni-body
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 award categories.
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
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 accelerated 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
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