Ride a scooter, save the world

Not to Al Gore anybody’s ox, but a lot of you Whole Foods hipsters think you’re green because your Prius gets 50 mpg. My scooter gets 100. I just filled up my tank on the way to work. Total cost: $3.86, about the same price as a Starbucks grande Frappuccino but fueling an adrenaline buzz that will last a lot longer.

Scooters, in fact, could save the world. You don’t like the noise pollution from all those souped-up motorcycles tearing through L.A.? My scooter purrs like a kitten. You’re worried about what’s going to happen on the weekend of July 16-17, when a key section of the 405 Freeway is going to be closed for reconstruction and the autopocalypse is expected to hit the Westside? If you had a scooter, you could zip between all those frozen cars. Parking problems? For you, maybe; not for us scooterists. You can leave your scooter at a bike rack, or on the sidewalk, or anywhere.

Times staff writer Susan Carpenter reported last week that after a two-year slump, scooter sales leaped 50% in the first quarter of 2011. The uptick seems directly connected to gasoline prices. During the big oil shock of the 1970s, European mopeds were suddenly all the rage on this side of the Atlantic, and the last spike in U.S. scooter sales happened during a nasty uptick in pump prices in 2008.

So what is a scooter? It depends on who’s selling it. Medical device suppliers such as the Scooter Store think it’s a motorized wheelchair. Razor thinks it’s a two-wheeled skateboard with handlebars. I’ve seen scooters advertised as mopeds, and motorcycles referred to as scooters. I prefer the classical definition, which is a two-wheeled motorized vehicle patterned on the original Vespa (meaning “wasp” in Italian), designed after World War II and given its name by Piaggio chief Enrico Piaggio, who thought its front rider-protecting shield and the floorboard between the seat and the handlebars, which allows you to sit on the bike like a chair rather than straddling it like a motorcycle, made it look like the narrow-waisted bug.

Yes, I know the objections. Scooters are dangerous because, unlike motorcycles, they’re quiet and slow and motorists can’t hear them. (Official accident statistics don’t account for scooters, so it’s unclear just how dangerous they are in comparison to bicycles or motorcycles.) You can’t take home a load of groceries with a scooter, nor can you shuttle the kids to school with one. But replace more cars — the real danger on the road — with scooters, and the threat diminishes. And you can keep the car for long trips and passenger expeditions. But anybody who doesn’t think scoot commuting is more fun, faster, more environmentally responsible and cheaper than driving probably hasn’t tried it.


— Dan Turner