Before You Can Be Scooter Cool, Be Scooter Savvy

Riding two-wheeler has come a long way from geek era because now they’re chic and green

Nika Rolczewski
Special to the Star

Aug 04, 2007

It is just before noon and I am still half asleep from the jet lag. On the couch in a friend’s Rome apartment, sleep is hard to come by – the noise of Italian daily life is deafening.

I hear a constant buzzing coming from the busy piazza outside my window. I rub my eyes and look out to see a choreographed Vespa ballet. These Italian two-wheel commuters are a show of precision riding in and around local traffic chaos.

That memory would stay with me for years to come. That day, I became hooked on scooters.

Back in Canada, riding a scooter was like having the plague. To have respect, you would ride either a bicycle or motorcycle – the half way point meant “geek.”

Seeing a scooter was as rare as a dodo bird. With no place close to buy or service them, the dream of having a fun. affordable means of transportation fell by the wayside.

With the greening of the world, things have changed.

I want to be more environmentally friendly. But in the words of the famous frog Kermit: “It’s not easy being green.” I’m a sports car and SUV owner, much to the irritation of conservationists.

With high gas prices, it is a waste to use either vehicle for short errands. I gladly walk the neighbourhood but anything outside my boundary wastes too much time and energy. TTC is not always a viable option.

In just two decades, scooters have become the chic means of urban transport and the perfect solution to my commuting problem.

I was surprised to learn that in order to ride one and relive my Italian dream, I would have to write and ride an Ontario Ministry of Transportation-approved test – for a simple scooter?

“Too many people think scooters are toys,” says Andy Hertel, manager, motorcycle and scooter rider training, at Humber College. Some larger scooters can reach speeds of more than 100 km/h and even the smaller 50 cc can hit 50 km/h easily. An accident at any speed can be fatal.

The solution was simple: I would take Humber College’s scooter training program.

My choice was either a one-day course for the enthusiast or a two-day learning adventure that would authorize me to receive my M2 (L) licence for low-speed scooters 50 cc and under.

When it comes to instruction, the more time the better. Geared up, I was ready. Course cost: $299, including tax.

My instructors are two long-time motorcyclists who have been teaching at the college for four years each. Both Tim Martin and Ida Colalillo have seen the scooter program grow by leaps and bounds. The response has been positive and the demand so great that more weekends have been added.

The structured program is perfect for the beginner and the more advanced scooter enthusiast. Safety is the priority and no student is allowed to participate unless they have the proper clothing and helmet. Road rash hurts.

Learning the basics for safe riding is at the forefront, but this course also offers some practical advice. For example: How to get on the sidewalk to park and how to kick-start the vehicle if for some reason, the electric starter fails.

An added bonus is an explanation of the Ministry of Transportation LSM (low-speed motorcycle) paperwork. All lessons are similar to the actual motorcycle training course offered, but without the instruction on gears and shifting as almost all scooters have automatic transmissions.

“In the hands of a novice, a scooter can be more dangerous than a motorcycle” Hertel states. “Without gears, the acceleration of a scooter can be quick – at least a motorcycle in first gear can only go so fast.”

Class size is purposely small so each student gets ample time to practise each lesson.

I am in a class of six, two-thirds female.

According to Yamaha Canada, in the last eight years scooter sales have quadrupled. Sales will certainly increase as more urban areas become scooter friendly. Toronto allows for small scooters to park on sidewalks and at municipal bike racks. Green P parking is free – as long as you don’t take up a car parking space or block lanes.

Fellow students Allen and Jennie Wong have already purchased their scooters. Downtown congestion and the fact scooters have become “cool” are the major factors. They have talked two friends into taking the course with them.

Christian, another student, admits he hates cars. Since he comes from France, where scooters are as popular as in Italy, I understand his motivation for being here.

For the young, scooters are an affordable means of transportation. At $1 a litre, you could potentially go 6800 km on a Vino 50 with $100 worth of gas. For the Honda Civic Hybrid, you would drive 2120 km and for the Cadillac Escalade, only 565 km.

Ten scooters idling at a traffic light are only 10 cylinders. Ten SUVs with V8s mean 80 cylinders polluting the air.

Humber College scooter training is fun, but the exercises are intense. The final test isn’t easy, yet only one student fails. I leave with my paperwork in hand, ready to ride the trendy way.

Sure, motorcyclists may still look down their noses at us scooteratti. They are just jealous – scooters have cupholders and I’ve parked for free in front of the café where my espresso is waiting. I’m ready to start my day buzzing the city.

La dolce vita!

Nika

Nika

Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.