I’ve ridden a 600/650cc motorcycle for around 4 or 5 years now, and have only ever used manual gears, even right from the start. I wondered if I was missing something by not having tried an automatic and was starting to consider buying something cheap as a second two-wheeler.
This of course was daft without having tried one, so I recently took the opportunity on holiday in Spain to hire a scooter. It was pretty hot so I wasn’t particularly keen on the All The Gear All The Time approach that I favoured in the UK so I decided to go for a 50cc so I wasn’t tempted to cane it. In the EU, I believe these must be limited to 45 kph, which is around 28 mph. You can reach that on a pushbike!
I’m pretty sure the scooter I hired was a Motobi Jump, which is some Chinese junk. Did the job for a tester though.
Compared to the motorbikes I’ve ridden, the scooter had much smaller wheels. This means bumps are much more easily felt, and there is less gyroscopic resistance to turning them when moving.
It also felt like the rake and consequently the trail were less, which felt much more unstable (but also more manoeuvrable). Getting on it for the first time, I wondered how I was ever going to stay on the thing! It got easier once I got moving though…
The scooter had CVT instead of manual gears, AKA twist-and-go. There is a centrifugal clutch that only engages once the revs get up a bit, and though I knew it would have one, it was a bit odd at first. I’m used to gentle throttle control on my bike, as wanging it wide open will just get you thrown off the back. With manual gears there is a much more direct response in terms of movement, but with CVT there seems to be a bit of lag.
Treating the scooter gently was pointless. The low-power engine meant there was no need to baby it, and you could literally use the throttle as an on-off switch. Once you were moving, the throttle was a little more useful, but the minimal engine braking did diminish the feeling of a connection between throttle position and acceleration. It made for a smooth but unengaging ride.
This low power also meant lugging my 13 stone frame up a hill was a bit of a struggle. One time I was actually overtaken by a child on a mountain bike!
It was like sitting on a toilet. Admittedly, this particular scooter was probably too small for me, but being able to put my knees together and not having anything to brace myself against only added to the feeling of instability.
Contrary to a motorbike, on its own, the rear brake felt the more powerful of the two. Which was surprising as the front was a disc and the rear a drum. They were better used in combination though, probably as putting the rear brake on compressed the front suspension a bit.
Now this is where it shone. Under the seat there was enough room for the legal paperwork you need to carry in Spain, a helmet and probably some other stuff too, but I didn’t test that as it also had a small topbox attached. Made it great for going shopping, and wearing minimal gear meant I could just get the helmet out from underneath the seat and go.
For comparison, I would struggle to get a packed pencilcase under the seat on my Versys.
Another astounding feature of this scooter was how it sipped fuel. You were supposed to return it with a full tank, so I went to top it off and only managed to get €1.08 worth of fuel in. This was definitely less than a litre of fuel, and realistically, I could have gotten away with not bothering. I got some very funny looks at the petrol station…
I would definitely not buy a 50cc anything. I might consider a 125cc or larger scooter, but only as an addition to a proper motorbike. I can see their value as commuting tools in an urban environment, but they are a means to an end. I would like to try one with a larger engine and longer wheelbase i.e. a maxi-scooter, but I suspect it will be more of the same, just more suited to longer distances and higher speeds.