Scooter (motorcycle)

Scooter (motorcycle)
The Vespa was the first globally popular scooter.

A scooter is a motorcycle with step-through frame and a platform for the operator's feet. Elements of scooter design have been present in some of the earliest motorcycles, and motorcycles identifiable as scooters have been made from 1914 or earlier. Scooter development continued in Europe and the United States between the World Wars.

The global popularity of scooters dates from the post-World War II introductions of the Vespa and the Lambretta. These post-war scooters were intended to provide low-power personal transportation (engines from 50 to 250 cc). The original layout is still widely used in this application. Maxi-scooters, with engines from 250 to 800 cc have been developed for Western markets.

Scooters are popular for personal transport, partly based on their low cost of purchase and operation and on benefits that include convenience in parking and storage. Licensing requirements for scooters are easier and less expensive than those for cars in most parts of the world, and insurance is generally cheaper.



Kymco G3 scooter

A motor scooter is a motorcycle similar to a kick scooter[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] with a seat,[2][3][4][5][6][7] a floorboard,[1][2][3][4][6][7] and small or low wheels.[1][2][5][6] The United States Department of Transportation defines a scooter as a motorcycle that has a platform for the operator's feet or has integrated footrests, and has a step-through architecture.[8]

The classic scooter design features a step-through frame and a flat floorboard for the rider's feet. This design is possible because most scooter engines and drive systems are attached to the rear axle or under the seat. Unlike a conventional motorcycle, in which the engine is mounted on the frame, most modern scooters allow the engine to swing with the rear wheel. Most vintage scooters and some newer retro models have axle-mounted engines with a manual transmission and the gear shift and clutch controls built into the left handlebar. Most newer scooters use a continuously variable transmission (CVT).[citation needed]

Scooters usually feature bodywork, including a front leg shield and body that conceals all or most of the mechanicals. There is often some integral storage space, either under the seat, built into the front leg shield, or both. Most scooters have small engines, 50 cc to 400 cc with a single cylinder, although maxi-scooters might have twin cylinder 400 to 800 cc engines.[citation needed]

Traditionally, scooter wheels are made of pressed steel, bolt on easily, and are often interchangeable between front and rear. Some scooters carry a spare wheel. Many recent scooters use conventional front forks with the front axle fastened at both ends, while some have twin shock rear swingarms.[citation needed]

Regulatory classification

Most jurisdictions do not discriminate between scooters and motorcycles. Some scooters conform to the legal definition of a moped and are regulated as such.[citation needed]

For all legal purposes in the United States of America, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends using the term motorcycle for all of these vehicles. However, while NHTSA excludes the term motor scooter from legal definition, it proceeds, in the same document, to give detailed instructions on how to import a small motor scooter.[9]


The emissions of mopeds and scooters have been the subject of multiple studies. Studies have found that two-stroke 50 cc mopeds, with and without catalytic converters, emit ten to thirty times the hydrocarbons and particulate emissions than the outdated Euro 3 automobile standards.[10][11] In the same study, four-stroke mopeds, with and without catalytic converters, emitted three to eight times the hydrocarbons and particulate emissions than the Euro 3 automobile standards.[10] Approximate parity with automobiles was achieved with NOx emissions in these studies. Emissions performance was tested on a g/km basis and was unaffected by fuel economy. Currently in the United States, the EPA allows motorcycles, scooters, and mopeds with engine displacements less than 280cc to emit ten times the NOx and six times the CO than the median Tier II bin 5 automobile regulations.[12][13] An additional air quality challenge can also arise from the use of moped and scooter transportation over automobiles, as a higher density of motorized vehicles can be supported by existing transportation infrastructure.[14]


Predecessors to the scooter

Scooter-like traits began to develop in motorcycle designs around the 1900s. In 1894, Hildebrand & Wolfmüller produced the first motorcycle that was available for purchase. Their motorcycle had a step-through frame, with its fuel tank mounted on the down tube, its parallel two-cylinder engine mounted low on the frame, and its cylinders mounted in line with the frame. It was water-cooled and had a radiator built into the top of the rear fender. It became the first mass-produced and publicly-sold powered two-wheel vehicle, and among the first powered mainly by its engine rather than foot pedals. Maximum speed was 40 km/h (25 mph). The rear wheel was driven directly by rods from the pistons in a manner similar to the drive wheels of steam locomotives. Only a few hundred such bikes were built, and the high price and technical difficulties made the venture a financial failure for both Wolfmüller and his financial backer, Hildebrand.[15]

In France, the Auto-Fauteuil was introduced in 1902. This was basically a step-through motorcycle with an armchair instead of a traditional saddle. Production continued until 1922.[16]

Predecessors to the scooter
The first production motorcycle, the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller had a step-through frame
1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller motorcycle 
This was a step-through motorcycle with an armchair instead of a saddle
1908 Auto-Fauteuil motorcycle 

The first generation (1915–1930)

The Motoped entered production in 1915, and is believed to be the first motor scooter.[17] They were followed that year by the Autoped, whose engine was engaged by pushing the handlebar column forward and whose brake was engaged by pulling the column back.[18] Autopeds were made in Long Island, New York[19] from 1915 to 1921,[18] and were also made under licence by Krupp in Germany from 1919 to 1922.[20]

The number of scooter manufacturers and designs increased after World War I. The Skootamota, the Kenilworth, and the Reynolds Runabout debuted in 1919, with Gloucestershire Aircraft Company following with its Unibus in 1920.[21] The Skootamota was noted for being practical, popular, and economical,[22] the Kenilworth for its electric lights,[citation needed], and the Reynolds Runabout for its advanced specifications, including front suspension, a two-speed gearbox, leg shields, and a seat sprung with leaf springs and coil springs.[23] The Unibus also had a two-speed gearbox, but it is more notable for its full bodywork, similar to that which would appear of second- and third-generation scooters.[22][24]

The reputation of first-generation scooters was damaged by a glut of unstable machines with flexible frames,[22][25] and more substantial examples like the Reynolds Runabout and the Unibus were too expensive to be competitive.[22][23] The first generation had ended by the mid 1920s.[22]

First generation scooters, 1915–1930
The Autoped was one of the first powered scooters
1919 Autoped Ever Ready 
The Skootamota was a more refined scooter than the Autoped
ABC Skootamota, designed by Granville Bradshaw 
Another 1st generation British scooter, the Kenilworth
1921 Kenilworth scooter 
Gloucestershire Aircraft Company's Unibus was ahead of its time, but was too expensive to survive
1920s Unibus scooter, in grey, at right. 
The Lomos was DKW's second motorcycle; the first was the Golem, an auto-fauteuil
DKW Lomos, a cross between a scooter and an auto-fauteuil 

The second generation (1936–1968)

E. Foster Salsbury and Austin Elmore developed the Salsbury Motor Glide, a scooter with a seat above an enclosed drivetrain, and began production in 1936 in California. In 1938 Salsbury introduced a more powerful scooter with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This was the first use of a CVT on a scooter.[26] It was such a success that Salsbury attempted to license the design to several European manufacturers including Piaggio. The Motor Glide set the standards for all later models. It inspired production of motor scooters by Powell, Moto-scoot, Cushman, Rock-Ola, and others.[27]

The Cushman Company produced motor scooters from 1936 to 1965.[28] Cushman was an engine manufacturer that started making scooters after Salsbury found their offer to supply engines to be unacceptable. Cushman and Salsbury competed against each other, with both companies advertising the economy of their scooters. Cushman claimed an efficiency of 120 miles per gallon at 30 mph. Cushman introduced a centrifugal clutch to their scooters in 1940.[26] The Cushman Auto Glide Model 53 was designed to be dropped by parachute with Army Airborne troops, and was eventually called the “Cushman Airborne”.[29] Cushman scooters were also used around military bases for messenger service.[30]

Salsbury continued manufacturing scooters until 1948,[31] while Cushman continued until 1965.[32]

Small numbers of the 165 cc Harley-Davidson Topper scooter were produced from 1960 to 1965 using the engine from their line of light motorcycles based on the DKW RT 125. It had a fiberglass body, a continuously-variable transmission, and a pull-cord starting mechanism.[33][34]

Second generation scooters, USA, 1936–1965
Sears Allstate scooter, made by Cushman
Typical Cushman scooter, this one sold by Sears under the Allstate brand 
The Model 85 was much bigger and sleeker than the early Motor Glides
1948 Salsbury Model 85 scooter, in the middle 
The Topper was built by Harley-Davidson from 1960 to 1965
Harley-Davidson Topper 

Early postwar Japanese scooters

After World War II, wartime aircraft manufacturers were forbidden from making aircraft, and had to find other products to make in order to stay in business. Fuji Sangyo, a part of the former Nakajima Aircraft Company, began production of the Fuji Rabbit S-1 scooter in June 1946. Inspired by Powell scooters used by American servicemen, the S1 was designed to use surplus military parts, including the tailwheel of a Nakajima bomber, re-purposed as the front wheel of the S1.[35][36] Later that year, Mitsubishi introduced the C10, the first of its line of Silver Pigeon scooters.[37][38] This was inspired by a Salsbury Motor Glide that had been brought to Japan by a Japanese man who had lived in the United States.[38]

Production of the Mitsubishi Silver Pigeon and the Fuji Rabbit continued through several series until the 1960s.[35][39] Some series of the Fuji Rabbit were developed to a high level of technological content; the S-601 Rabbit Superflow had an automatic transmission with a torque converter, an electric starter, and pneumatic suspension.[40][41] Mitsubishi ended scooter production with the C140 Silver Pigeon,[39] while Fuji continued production of the Rabbit until the last of the S-211 series was built in June 1968.[35]

Second generation scooters, Japan, 1946–1968
Mitsubishi Silver Pigeon, apparently a C10
S-402: Fuji Rabbit Touring 150
Fuji Rabbit Touring 150 (S-402) 

The third generation (1946–1964) and beyond

Italy - Vespa and Lambretta

1952 Lambretta 125 D

In post-World War II Italy the Piaggio Vespa became the standard for scooters, and has remained so for over 60 years. Patented in April 1946, it used aircraft design and materials. D’Ascanio's 98 cc scooter had various radical design concepts, including a sleek, stress-bearing structure. The gear shift lever was moved to the handlebars for easier riding. The engine was placed near the rear wheel, eliminating the belt drive. The typical fork support was replaced by an arm similar to an aircraft carriage for easier tire-changing. The elegantly-styled body protected the driver from wind and road dirt, and bore little resemblance to uncomfortable and noisy motorcycles. The smaller wheels and shorter wheelbase provide improved maneuverability through narrow streets and congested traffic. Combining the best elements of automotive, aeronautical and motorcycle design, the Vespa quickly became an icon of design and economy. The name reportedly originated when Piaggio's president upon seeing the prototype, remarked "Sembra una vespa", "It looks like a wasp".

Months after the Vespa, in 1947, Innocenti introduced the Lambretta, beginning a rivalry with Vespa. The scooter was designed by Innocenti, his General Director Giuseppe Lauro and engineer Pierluigi Torre. It debuted in 1947 at the Paris Motor Show. The Lambretta 'A' went on sale on December 23, 1947 and sold 9,000 units in one year. It was efficient, 160-180 mpg (miles per gallon) or 68–76 km/litre,[citation needed] at a time when petrol was severely rationed. It had a top speed of 45 mph (72 km/h) from a fan-cooled engine of 123 cc. The Lambretta was named after Lambrate, the Milanese neighborhood where the factory stood.[citation needed] The first Lambretta designs had shaft drive and no rear suspension, later designs used various drive and suspension systems until Lambretta settled on a swingarm-mounted engine with chain drive.[42]


Germany's aviation industry was also dismantled after World War II. Heinkel stayed in business by making bicycles and mopeds,[43] while Messerschmitt made sewing machines and automobile parts.[44] Messerschmitt took over the German licence to manufacture Vespa scooters from Hoffman in 1954 and built Vespas under from 1954 to 1964.[45] Heinkel designed and built its own scooters. The Heinkel Tourist was a large and relatively heavy touring scooter produced in the 1960s. It provided good weather protection with a full fairing, and the front wheel turned under a fixed nose extension. It had effective streamlining, perhaps thanks to its aircraft ancestry. Although it had only a 175 cc 4-stroke motor, it could sustain speeds of 70 mph (110 km/h). Heinkel scooters were known for their reliability.[citation needed]

Glas, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, made the Goggo scooter from 1951 to 1955. Glas discontinued scooter production to concentrate on its Goggomobil microcar.[46]

Several manufacturers in the German motorcycle industry made scooters. NSU made Lambrettas under licence from 1950 to 1955, during which they developed their Prima scooter. Production of the Prima began when NSU's licence to build Lambrettas ran out. Zündapp made the popular Bella scooter in the 1960s. It was in production for about ten years, in three engine sizes, 150 cc, 175 cc and 200 cc. They could perform all day at a steady speed of 60 mph (97 km/h). Extremely reliable and very well made, many of these scooters still exist today. Maico built the large Maicoletta scooter in the 1950s. It had a single cylinder piston-port two stroke engine, with four foot-operated gears and centrifugal fan cooling. The Maicoletta had a choice of engine sizes, approximately 175 cc, 250 cc, or 275 cc, The tubular frame was built on motorcycle principles, with long-travel telescopic forks and 14-inch wheels. The Maicoletta had a top speed of 70 mph (110 km/h) which was comparable with most 250 cc motorcycles of the time. Other German scooters made by motorcycle manufacturers included the DKW Hobby, the Dürkopp Diana, and the TWN Contessa.[citation needed]

Classic German scooters
Goggo scooter, the first road vehicle made by Glas
Goggo scooter, made by Glas 
The Heinkel Tourist was noted for its touring ability
Heinkel Tourist 
NSU developed the Prima from the Lambretta it had previously built under licence
1957 NSU Prima 
The Zündapp Bella was the most popular German scooter in the 1960s
1958 Zündapp Bella R 154 
One of the largest scooters of the classic age
Maicoletta scooter 
DKW Hobby
1954 DKW Hobby 
Dürkopp Diana
1955 Dürkopp Diana 

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Douglas manufactured the Vespa under licence from 1951 to 1961 and assembled them from 1961 to 1965.[47] BSA and Triumph made several models of scooter including the BSA Dandy 70, the Triumph Tina, and the Triumph Tigress. The Tigress was made from 1959 to 1964 and was sold with a 175 cc 2-stroke single engine or a 250 cc 4-stroke twin;[48] both versions used a foot-operated four-speed gearbox.[citation needed] The 250 twin had a top speed of 70 mph (110 km/h).[48] The BSA Sunbeam was a badge engineered version of the Tigress.[citation needed]


In India, Bajaj Auto manufactured its line of scooters from 1972 to 2009, which included the Chetak, Legend, Super and Priya. The Chetak and Legend were based on the Italian Vespa Sprint. It was discontinued in 2009.

Another Vespa partner in India was LML Motors. Beginning as a joint-venture with Piaggio in 1983, LML, in addition to being a large parts supplier for Piaggio, produced the P-Series scooters for the Indian market. In 1999, after protracted dispute with Piaggio, LML bought back Piaggio's stake in the company and the partnership ceased. LML continues to produce (and also exports) the P-Series variant known as the Stella in the U.S. market and by other names in different markets.

Later Japanese Scooters and "maxi-scooters"

A modern Honda Jazz

In the 1980s new versions of scooters began to be released and become popular, especially in Japan and far-east Asia. This style of scooters began to reflect that of larger, sporty, higher-performance motorcycles of the time and the trend has continued till now. With the release of the Honda Ruckus, new trends towards dirt-bike scooters are just beginning. In 1988, Honda introduced a large, touring scooter design, the 250 cc Helix (also called Spazio, Fusion or CN250). Although it was bulky to handle at low speeds and was derisively called a "Barcalounger on wheels", it was designed for riding long distances in comfort. Now nearly all major scooter manufacturers produce such models, called "maxi", "GT" or "touring" scooters. The largest scooter made is now the 840 cc Gilera GP 800, a 75 CV (55 kW; 74 hp) scooter capable of reaching 100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.7 seconds.

The classic styling of the Vespa never lost its popularity, and remains the most-popular and most-imitated scooter design. Almost all manufacturers now carry both a classic/retro model and a sporty/modern model.

Scooter developments

Piaggio MP3

Trends around the world have seen new developments of the classic scooter, some with larger engines and tires. High-end scooter models now include comprehensive technological features, including cast aluminum frames, engines with integral counter-balancing, and cross-linked brake systems. Some of these scooters have comfort features such as an alarm, start button, radio, windshield, heated hand grips and full instrumentation (including clock or outside temperature gauge).[49][50][51]

Three-wheeled scooters

During World War II, Cushman made the Model 39, a three-wheeled utility scooter with a large storage bin between the front wheels. They sold 606 to the US military during the war.[52]

The Piaggio MP3 is a recent example of a three-wheeled scooter. Unlike most motorcycle trikes, it has two front wheels, with tilting suspension to allow the body to lean when cornering, as for a two-wheeled motorcycle.


A maxi-scooter[53] or touring scooter[54] is a large scooter, with engines ranging in size from 250 cc (Honda CN250) up to the latest 839 cc machine (the Gilera GP 800), and using larger frames than the normal sized scooters.

The trend toward maxi-scooters began in 1986 when Honda introduced the CN250 Helix / Fusion / Spazio.[citation needed] Many years later, Suzuki launched the Burgman 650 and 400 models.[55] Honda (600 cc), Piaggio, Yamaha, Aprilia, Kymco (700 cc) and others have also introduced scooters with engine displacements ranging from 400 to 850 cc. Honda's PS250 (also known as Big Ruckus) defies common scooter classification because its step-through is high and it features a motorcycle-like exoskeleton instead of bodywork.[citation needed]

A new direction in maxi-scooters has the engine fixed to the frame. This arrangement improves handling by allowing bigger wheels and less unsprung weight, also tending to move the centre of gravity forwards. The trend toward larger, more powerful scooters with fully automatic transmissions converges with an emerging trend in motorcycle design that foreshadows automatic transmission motorcycles with on-board storage. This is exemplified by the Aprilia NA 850 Mana automatic-transmission motorcycle that provides built-in storage for a full-face helmet.[citation needed]

Enclosed scooter

Some scooters, including the BMW C1 and the Honda Gyro Canopy, have a windscreen and a roof.[56]

Four-stroke engines and fuel-injection

Piaggio XEvo 250ie, four-stroke Maxi-scooter

With increasingly strict environmental laws, including those of the United States and Europe, more scooters are using four-stroke engines again.

Aprilia SR50

In 2001, Aprilia released the SR50 Ditech with direct injection. The SR50 has a listed fuel consumption of 2 litres per 100 kilometres (120 mpg-US) and meets the Euro 3 standard with a two-stroke engine. Later on, more brands, including Derbi and Peugeot, started using direct injection systems for their scooters. Catalytic converters are now common in two-stroke and four-stroke engines sold in the E.U. and the U.S.

Electric scooters


Kymco Activ underbone. This has a slanted downtube, which defines an underbone, and no foot platform, the presence of which defines a scooter.

An underbone is a motorcycle built on a chassis consisting mostly of a single large diameter tube. An underbone differs from a conventional motorcycle mainly by not having a structural member connecting the head stock to the structure under the front of the seat and by not having a fuel tank or similarly styled appendage in the space between the riders knees. Underbones are commonly referred to as "step-throughs" and appeal to both genders in much the same way as scooters.

Underbones are often mistaken for scooters and are sometimes marketed as such. However, an underbone does not have a footboard, and is therefore not a scooter.

The engine of an underbone is usually fixed to the chassis under the downtube, while a scooter usually has its engine mounted on its swingarm. As a result, underbone engines are usually further forwards than those of scooters. A typical underbone therefore has a more central centre of gravity than a typical scooter. Furthermore, having an engine mounted on the swingarm gives a typical scooter more unsprung mass than a typical underbone. These factors give a typical underbone better handling than a typical scooter.

The engine of an underbone typically drives the rear wheel by a chain of the kind used on a conventional motorcycle. This final drive is often concealed by a chain enclosure to keep the chain clean and reduce wear. The final drive of a scooter with a swingarm-mounted engine runs in a sealed oil bath and is shorter.

An underbone is usually fitted with near full-size motorcycle wheels, which are often spoked. Scooter wheels are usually small, and made made from pressed steel. In both cases, more recent examples often have cast alloy wheels. The bigger wheels of an underbone allow more ventilation and better cooling for the brakes than the smaller wheels of a scooter.

While the engine and suspension layouts described here for scooters and underbones are typical, they are not rigid definitions. There have been scooters with fixed engines and chain drive, and there have been underbones with swingarm-mounted engines. A twenty-first century example of variance from the typical scooter layout is the Suzuki Choinori, which had both its engine and its rear axle rigidly bolted to its frame.


Bangalore couple on a scooter

Motor scooters are popular in most parts of the first world, Europe (particularly Italy and the Mediterranean), Japan and Taiwan, but not the US.[57] They are even more popular in most parts of the developing world, particularly in countries such as India, Vietnam and China where there is local manufacture. Parking, storage, and traffic issues in crowded cities, along with the easy driving position make them a popular form of urban transportation. In many nations, scooter (or other small motorcycle) sales exceed those of automobiles, and a motor scooter may even be the family transport.[citation needed]

Motor scooter parking lot

In Taiwan, road infrastructure have been built specifically with two wheelers in mind, with separate lanes and intersection turn boxes. In Thailand, scooters are used for street to door taxi services, as well as for navigating through heavy traffic. The extensive range of cycle tracks in the Netherlands extends into parts of Belgium and Germany and is open to all small powered two-wheelers. Motor scooters are popular because of their size, fuel-efficiency, weight, and typically larger storage room than a motorcycle. In many localities, certain road motor scooters are considered by law to be in the same class as mopeds or small motorcycles and therefore they have fewer restrictions than do larger motorcycles.[citation needed]

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, sales of motor scooters in the United States have more than doubled since 2000. The motorcycle industry as a whole has seen 13 years of consecutive growth. According to council figures, 42,000 scooters were sold in 2000. By 2004, that number increased to 97,000.[58] Scooter sales in 2008 in the USA were up 41% on 2007,[59] and represented 9% of all powered two-wheeler sales.[60] However, falling oil prices after a boom in 2008,[61] led to a decrease in US scooter sales in 2009 of 59% against 2008, compared with a 41% fall for all powered two-wheelers,[61] while the scooter's contribution to total US powered two-wheeler sales in 2009 fell to 6%.[60] After a two year slump, scooter sales in the US rebounded in the first quarter of 2011, once again due to higher gas prices.[62]

In popular culture

A common reference for the glamourous image of scooters is Roman Holiday, a 1953 romantic comedy in which Gregory Peck carries Audrey Hepburn around Rome on a Vespa.[63][64][65]

Significant scooter references in Mod culture include the 1973 rock musical Quadrophenia by The Who,[66] which spawned a 1979 motion picture.

Scooterboy magazines include the British monthly magazine Scootering[67] and the American quarterly magazine Scoot!.[68]

See also


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