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Common Tread

Are scooters motorcycles? Scooter-riding Zillans have their say

Jul 28, 2020

I’ve heard it said time and time again: "Scooters are not motorcycles." Or, in the words of Mr. Zito Burrito, “No! They wouldn't be called scooters if they were motorcycles.”

I think my colleague Joe Zito was just being his typical funny self with that response, but I’ve found that quite a few motorcyclists feel the same way, that the twist-and-go, step-through Vespas, Kymcos, Stellas, etc., of the world are not motorcycles.

I recently bought a 2005 Vespa LX150 and I was bragging about my new scoot during one of our Common Tread meetings. I was very surprised by the support and interest that followed. I mean, I knew we all pretty much loved anything with two wheels, but love only goes so far sometimes.

So I decided to dive into the topic with my fellow current and former scooter owners among the RevZilla video hosts and Common Tread contributors. We did a little Q&A and got some different answers, and yes, they knew they were “on the record” and anything they said can and will be used against them in the court of Common Tread.

Scooter riders holding hands
Couples that scoot together, scoot 4ever! What a caption, yikes! Does anyone read these? Photo by Brandon Wise.

My fellow scooterists

When I think of my colleagues Ari Henning and Zack Courts, I remember Ari topping 190 mph on an Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory at Mugello or Zack testing the 208-horsepower Ducati Streetfighter V4. The point is these guys are both fast riders who have ridden some of the highest performance bikes made and have also won more than a few races, but they both own scooters and have a soft spot in their hearts for the scoot life. (Well, "scoot life" might be an exaggeration, but you get the point.)

Spenser, often referred to as the “Unsung Hero” of the dynamic duo that is Zack and Ari, has been riding and filming with them for years and he has an even longer history with scooters. Zito has been surrounded by motorcycles for the majority of his life. He had his own shop where he pretty much worked on anything with two wheels but specialized in vintage Triumphs. He doesn't currently have a scooter, but he has.

Here's what these experienced motorcyclists and scooter riders had to say.

Bell Moto III Helmet With Vespa LX150
I'll admit I often ride my scooter around in just a T-shirt but never without a lid. It's smart to remember the tarmac doesn't care one bit what machine you're on. Crashing at 40 mph on a scooter hurts just as bad as crashing at 40 mph on a "motorcycle." Photo by Brandon Wise.

What scooter do you currently own?

Zack: A 2006 Aprilia SR50R Factory. I don't actually remember the name but it's something overblown like that. Pretty shit hot for a 49cc scooter — disc brakes front and rear, fuel injected, LCD dash — especially in 2006, but even now. When it runs it's a real treat, even if it's slow.

Ari: I’ve got a 2005 Zuma 50 two-stroke that I got for free from Spenser’s brother, Taylor, a few years ago. It was a total basket case. He’d had it for years and used it as a pit bike at off-road races. Spenser says he remembers shooting video off the back of it at competitions when he was a teen, so the sentimental value is rad. It’s also got stickers on it from some big events — the 2013 King of The Hammers races, for one — which I feel is pretty cool. Taylor did a top-end rebuild with an Athena 70 cc kit, so the bike kinda rips! When I got it, it was so clapped out… I replaced the crank and fully rebuilt it, and now ride it pretty much every day to do errands.

Spenser on a scooter with a broken foot
Spenser says, “I owned a manual-transmission car at the time and with a severely busted right foot, having a scooter with an auto transmission and hand brakes was a lifesaver.” Photo provided by Spenser Roberts.

Have you ever crashed a scooter?

Zack: Hells yea! Ari and I raced vintage Vespas on a motocross track and I crashed many, many times. I have also watched a good deal of scooter accidents, from pit-lane mishaps at race tracks to city run-ins with metro tracks that resulted in MotoGP-level saves or highsides.

Ari: Oh boy, yeah, I crashed a hopped-up, 20-horsepower vintage Vespa MXer many, many times while competing in the Vespacross season finale outside of Milan, Italy. It was a sand track, and it was raining, and those vicious little Vespas are almost impossible to wrangle in good conditions, so I slapped myself on the ground repeatedly. The last crash was the biggest. I got swapped out on the face of a jump, fired off the edge of the lip, and fell eight feet into a water-filled ravine, totally submerging the bike. That was the end of my race day!

(Note: Spenser and Zito responded “surprisingly” and “miraculously” no. But they never got the chance to race vintage scoots on a motocross track like Zack and Ari.)

Zack & Ari racing vintage scooters on a motocross track in Italy
If it’s got an engine, there’s a pretty good chance you can race it somewhere in some capacity. Scooters are no exception. Zac and Ari racing vintage scooters on a motocross track in Italy. Photo by Valerio Boni.

What's your favorite memory that involves scooters?

Zack: Renting a scooter is absolutely my favorite way to see a new city, and I've got awesome memories of bopping around to museums and scenic spots in southern France, Thailand, Italy, Spain, and Hungary. For one specific memory though, it's gotta be VespaCross.

Ari: The race in Italy was really one of the best two-wheeled experiences of my life. I love wrenching, traveling, and racing, and I got to do all three in one trip. We built those bikes up over the course of a few days, working with a local mechanic in his home garage. His mom would holler from the balcony, he was drinking beer by 11 a.m., he had raunchy posters on the walls… It was so down-home. And even though we didn’t share a common tongue, we spoke the language of mechanics and racing. It was a really magical experience and made me appreciate the bond we motorcyclists share.

Spenser: I used to film highlight videos for the WORCS races out in California and Arizona and my secret weapon was a two-stroke Zuma 50. It had under-seat storage for my camera gear and there was enough ground clearance to bomb around the off-road course without getting stuck. Best of all, my dad would drive the scooter with me sitting backwards on the passenger seat so I could get tracking shots of the racers flying by. It was the beginning of what has been a full career of sitting on the passenger seat of motorcycles to get the photo or video I need.

Spenser hanging off the back of his Zuma 2-stroke to capture those perfect shots
Spenser hanging off the back of his Zuma two-stroke to capture those perfect shots! Photo provided by Spenser Roberts.

Zito: Riding four-up on my Honda Elite 80 in the dirt up a power line access road. One scoot, one rider, one dude on the seat, one on the rack, and one sitting on the handlebar. Somehow the Honda just kept going after relentless abuse.

So, are scooters motorcycles?

We've established that scooters can be great fun, can be useful and can build some great memories. But are they motorcycles? Our scooter-riding Zillans weren't totally in agreement.

Zito leads the opposition with very straightforward reasoning. "They wouldn't be called scooters if they were motorcycles," he says. Ari adds a lot more context.

"Part of what I like about bikes is that they’re hard to ride," Ari says. "They take some skill to operate and learning those skills takes effort and commitment. A twist-and-go scooter doesn’t require much skill to operate, so for that reason I’ve always felt that they weren’t 'real' motorcycles. The old ones with a clutch and a twist-shift, sure, those are legit. But modern ones are a little too simple to classify as motorcycles."

Ari Henning on his scooter
Ari mangled his knee and couldn't fully extend it for quite some time. He rode a scooter (with crutches) to get around for weeks. Looks like Spenser isn't the only one using an injury as an excuse to ride scooters. Personally, I think these guys were just scared to admit how much they love scooters at the time and kept getting "hurt" so they could ride their favorite machine. Photo provided by Ari Henning.

The other two guys take the other side of the argument.

"Yes," says Zack, taking a clear stand. "I get that the CV transmission disconnects the rider from the experience a little bit, but it's a cycle and there's a motor so dammit it's a motorcycle. Mopeds are where I draw the line. If it's got pedals it's not a motorcycle."

"Yes, all scooters are motorcycles. However, not all motorcycles are scooters," says Spenser. "The same way that all humans are mammals but not all mammals are people. A motorcycle is a two-wheeled machine powered by a throttle connected to an engine. A scooter is a motorcycle with a step-through seat."

Vespa scooters
Did you hear about the scooter project? It ran successfully after it was kickstarted. Photo by Brandon Wise. Joke by someone's Dad.

So that’s two “yes” votes and two “no” votes. I was hoping to avoid getting dragged into this, but nobody likes a tie.

Soooo, I say, "Yes!" Scooters are motorcycles for the simple fact that they have a motor and they have two wheels. Motor + Cycle = Motorcycle. Scooters can be raced, you can travel across the country on one, you can go off-roading, you can do almost anything a motorcycle can do.

I understand the argument about the rider not having to engage with a clutch, but my Stella 150 had a clutch and my Vespa 150 is auto-magic — and I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything or I'm less of a motorcyclist when I don't have the clutch. That’s almost like saying, “You’re less of a car driver because you don’t have a manual.” OK as I was typing that sentence, I realized I totally agree with that statement, but you get the point.

While our scooterist Zillans may not agree on the fundamental question, we all do agree that scooters are both fun and useful.

“I used to rag on Zack and Spenser for having scooters… until I got one, too," Ari says. "It was too good a deal to pass up, and once I had it in my garage I’d ride it all the time.”

Maybe that's the solution. If every motorcyclist were issued a scooter, then everyone would understand the joy of the scoot.