Would you buy a Vespa?

Sales of Vespas are up -- largely because of high oil prices. Vespas and other motorcycles have significantly greater fuel economy than your average car.

Part of me is happy about this because it illustrates that people are making more fuel-efficient choices. When prices go up, people use less gas. Go figure.

On the other hand, I don't think I will ever get over my aversion to riding a motorcycle -- inculcated by my ER doctor father who has had to deal with the grisly remains of motorcycle accidents. Fuel economy notwithstanding, I don't think I can get over the safety issue.

It is as Hunter S. Thompson writes in Hell's Angels:

Nearly everyone who has ridden a bike for any length of time will agree. The highways are crowded with people who drive as if their sole purpose in getting behind the wheel is to avenge every wrong ever done to them by man, beast, or fate. The only thing that keeps them in line is their own fear of death, jail, and lawsuits...which are much less likely if they can find a motorcycle to challenge, instead of another two-thousand pound car or concrete abutment. A motorcyclist has to drive as if everyone else on the road is out to kill him. A few of them are, and many of those who aren't are just as dangerous -- because the only that can alter their careless, ingrained driving habits is a threat of punishment, either legal or physical, and there is noting about a motorcycle to threaten any man in a car. A bike is totally vulnerable; its only defense is maneuverability, and every accident situation is potentially fatal -- especially on a freeway, where there is no room to fall without being run over almost instantly.

So here is my question: would you buy a scooter/motorcycle if you could save money on gas?

I certainly wouldn't in New York City. The people here drive like crazy people, and there are plentiful public transportation options. On the other hand, if I was living back in Boulder and wouldn't use it on the highway, I might be more willing to consider it.

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I've thought about buying a scooter for a long time. My work commute (for the time being) is only about 5 miles on relatively tame roads. The main reasons I haven't done so are:

  • I can bike for a lot less money
  • The scooter has the same problems as the bike, e.g. when it rains
  • I don't see much use for the scooter outside of commuting, given it's lack of cargo space

For some reason a part of me still wants one, though.

I used to ride a motorcycle that got 50 mpg. Now I drive a car that routinely gets 48 and has many times gotten 50 mpg. Not much reason to ride a motorcycle now. On the other hand, scooters and some motorcycles can get better mileage than that.

I'm not averse to buying a motorcycle or scooter. Where I live there are few people on bikes and fewer on scooter because this cities infrastructure is so bad that none of the roads- save for a small number- are designed for bikers. The drivers here aren't crazy, just awful: oblivious, distracted, incompetent and inconsiderate.

It's scary riding a bike here but a scooter that could travel 50+ mph would be a bit better since you'd be able to move with traffic.

By Slow Twitch Synapse (not verified) on 18 Jun 2008 #permalink

I live in a bicycle-unfriendly area. Though once an avid bicyclist, I quit riding pedal-powered machines in the mid '70's, after having two seriously dangerous encounters with larger vehicles in a single week. Motorcycling followed shortly thereafter. I currently commute on a '76 BMW R90 motorcycle that I bought used in '83. I can easily move with traffic and the machine's E&E, (evade and escape,) capabilities are great. The Beamer is old and doesn't look all that good, but, for me, it's a fine ride.

I was taught to ride, off-road, by an expert and always wear boots and a helmet when riding. I highly recommend the Motorcycle Safety Foundation beginning rider courses for all newbies.

For those looking at automobile versus motorcycle fuel efficiency: keep in mind that motorcycle production requires far less energy than automobile production. The state of California decided to allow motorcycles to use commuter lanes after reviewing evidence indicating that an average motorcycle could roll off an assembly line and more than 50,000 miles down the road before consuming the amount of energy required to produce a single econobox sedan.

By ancientTechie (not verified) on 18 Jun 2008 #permalink

As the owner of a trusty 19-year-old putt-putt (which is in the shop right now, sad to say, and I feel lost without it), I'm a great fan. It's no more dangerous than riding a bicycle in traffic, and a lot less work. =grin= You can't argue with 80 mpg either. =another grin= I've made 20-mile commutes on it any time the roads weren't icy. Cold weather? That's why Ceiling Cat made snowmobile suits!

Oh, and you don't have to have a motorcycle license, just a regular license.

I'd love to upgrade to the next size bigger (my current one is a 50cc and can barely manage 35 mph full-throttle downhill in a tailwind), but I can't afford it right now.

Long live the scooter!

By themadlolscientist (not verified) on 18 Jun 2008 #permalink

I was a confirmed biker until I moved up to the PNW at the ripe age of 45. I rode, at the end, a BMW K100RT - a beautiful machine, I sorely miss it, but with nostalgia rather than a desire to do it again.


1: health. Whatever you may think of your skills, expect to get dumped on average once a year. Wet manhole cover, gas spilled out of a guzzler's missing gas cap, oil, crazy drivers, etc. When I was young I bounced. By the time I stopped my weight was going up and I became far more likely to splat than bounce.

2: believe it or not, the K100RT never got much better mileage than my Scirroco. OTOH, got 70+ on my Honda Supersports 400 Four in normal driving.

3: the last few years of biking were rather sparse, what with bringing up my own business. Before that I was racking up 25K+ / yr, camping all over CA. So when I had to take the WA driving test I could no longer make it through the slalem on the big bike. Thought about #1 above, and traded it in for a telescope.

But I do miss that beamer. BMW have since bloated it to 'compete' with the Gold Wing. The original one (mine was 1985) was a sleek sports touring machine, smooth as silk, incredible torque (roll on top gear from 55 to 85 in less than the span of a bridge over a side road), beat my prior R100RT on every metric I could think of. So I am perplexed as to why most of the BMW's I see up here in Seattle are the boxer style, not the K style.

When it comes to Vespas and their ilk, I tried them once. Braking them is a trick. The small wheels make maneuvering overly sensitive to attitude. Much less safe than a full-on motorcycle in my estimation. I've had to ride a bike down in a sideways configuration, more than once. Would have been just a instant flip on a Vespa in that situation.

By Gray Gaffer (not verified) on 18 Jun 2008 #permalink

I have read that the relatively small wheels on scooters make them twitchier than a regular motorcycle.

ancientTechie: I had a 1974 R60/6 and later a '78 R100. I truly miss that first slow old bike.

GG: I had two K75s. I would go back to an old twin before I would get a K bike, because the only reason I would want a bike is nostalgia.


So in order to save money on gas, people are spending $4000-7000 on a fancy Vespa scooter? I guess this would work if you traded in your car, but who's going to do that?

I can see buying a $900 50cc scooter and maybe it would save you money after the first year or so.

Some 500cc scooters get 90 mpg.

I've pretty much detailed my experiences in this very vein on my own blog. I'm currently biking most days to work (except on the days I workout with some friends early in the morning). If I leave my house by 6 am, I avoid most of the car-bound idiots. The ride home is a bit more harrowing, but fortunately most of it is back road so there is less traffic. The downside is, it's back road so there is less shoulder to ride on.

Hopefully road designers in the future will be more cognizant of the potential for cyclists and will design roads with bike lanes. Hopefully.

Vespa's and other two-stroke vehicles have horrible particulate emissions. If you're going to get a two-wheeled vehicle to save gas, at least buy a four-stroke with fuel injection so your NO, CO, and particulate emissions will still be reasonable.

Modern Vespas sold in the US have four-stroke engines. In fact, I'm not sure you can get a street vehicle with a two-stroke engine in the US.

I remember when Vespas were associated in the 80s with early 60s Mod revival subculture. And I saw Honda scooters all over the place in the 80s, at a time when US cars were at a downsized maximum yet there was no talk of an oil "crisis". People just knew since the early 70s (before the 1973 Oil Crisis) that smaller, more efficient vehicles made more sense. It was surreal to watch people switch during the 90s back into massive vehicles that were explicitly gas-guzzling.

Why not get a electric bike or 4 cycle gas (250 mpg) assist? More functional than a scooter, you can put on cargo packs to carry small loads and if necessary, you can get some exercise.

Mark, I just glanced at the Vespa USA website. Wow. They're all four strokes--even the 50! They still sell some that are carbureted instead of fuel injected.

Well, I had a motorcycle during all my life when I was living in France. I never understood why americans don't adopt widely scooters and motorcycles, in particular in the context of crowded highways and increasing oil price. Any cities in the world, Paris ,London, Berlin, Pusan , Goangziou , Roma,Barcelona have their flocks of scooters. Why not the USA?
Today I'm living in LA, and I bought a VESPA LX 150 in Jan.08 when I t was not making sense to fill up the tank of my 911. I'm so happy everyday to pass the gas stations and see the grim faces of owners of SUVs. This is the best thing that could happen to USA, this is going to push people to live and work in a more efficient way. Since I bought my VESPA, I have seen many many more scooters and VESPAs in the street of LA ( I live in Woodland Hills).

way to go USA !!!

I sold my car and got a ninja 250 which gets 75 mpg ... and I can ride it on the highway if i need too. I did find one scooter that gets 110 mpg although I can't remember the name, and it was only $2k. Trying to convince my girlfriend that she'll save waaaay more money driving that to school rather than her minivan. Another plus for the motorcycle/scooter is that you don't need insurance (at least here in FL) and because of that, full coverage insurance is extremely competitively priced as opposed to overpriced car insurance.

Smaller payments + no/low insurance + high fuel efficiency = lots of saved money.