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The case for vintage scooters

Usable on Woodward Avenue? Yes
Usable on Woodward Avenue? Yes
Shelton Moore

Being part of the scooterist hobby, one is constantly challenged on a number of things. "Isn't it dangerous?", "How fast does it go?" and "Is it reliable?" are but a few of the queries one gets. The most popular question is "How do you pick the right scooter?" Over the next few columns, we'll address the various advantages and disadvantages of some classes of scooters. This time it's the case for vintage scooters.

The classic 1972 Vespa Rally 180 at rest in Royal Oak, Michigan
Detroit Scooter Examiner

A vintage scooter doesn't necessarily mean a scooter from the 1960s (arguably the "golden age" of the scooter.) There are classic looking scooters still being made (both the Genuine Stella and a rumored return of the PX-style manual-shifting scooter from Piaggio) that represent a good choice for a beginner with a penchant for a vintage, shifty scooter. But before we get too far down that path, let's take a look at the case for vintage scooters.

One of the best things about vintage scooters is that their riders are often associated with a scooter club. This is an invaluable resource in running and riding a vintage scooter. Scooter clubs are a gateway to vintage scooter ownership, and in them, you will find kindred spirits who also enjoy music, style and the whole scooterist culture that you may enjoy. Of course, they are "vintage" scooter clubs, and they usually have a tight criteria for what constitutes a vintage scooter.

In many vintage scooter clubs, a vintage scooter is classified as a step-through, two-wheeled road worthy vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine produced prior to 1985. These include almost any Vespa or Lambretta (including SIL, Lamby, Siambretta and Servetta), but can also include some of the more rare German, French, Italian and British scooters of the era. This is often augmented by including more modern manual-shifting vehicles with a direct lineage to such vehicles, scooters like Bajaj, the Genuine Stella, and Piaggio PX 150 models based on the P series Vespa line. Some clubs also allow pre-1970 Fuji and Mitsubishi step-through scooters. Those scooters not included are anything that features a plastic body, larger than 10-inch wheels, and some specifically exclude popular Japanese brands. Of course, one is free to ride whatever one wants, it's just that doing that might keep you out of some clubs. A way around that is to have one scooter that meets the requirements, and then have others that are as fun to ride, but don't meet the restrictions.

The case for riding a vintage scooter includes the enjoyment of riding a true classic, appreciated by all who see you. There is something about riding a piece of history, a vehicle that was produced by skilled craftsmen from an original design. If you've ever had the pleasure of riding a vintage scooter, you know what it feels like - a combination of mechanical harmony (shifting and braking), a firm, but not jarring ride and the feel of being intrinsically one with your machine. It's something more than riding a modern (twisty) scooter, but it's not without limitations. The case for riding a vintage scooter includes the joy of learning about the machine, as maintenance will be higher than with a modern scooter. That is both a plus and a minus, as knowing your scooter (and your mechanical skills) will allow more confidence using the scoot, whether it's as a commuter or just a fun ride around town. Most classic scooters can keep up with modern traffic, but are not for limited-access highway use. The back roads and city traffic, however, are your oyster on a reliable vintage scooter.

Vintage scooters are cool, and that's another positive. Like a classic car next to a new one, people often gravitate to the older vehicle. There is more maintenance with either one, but the undeniable feel of a classic vs. a modern scooter is not to be discounted.

Vintage scooters offer serious usability. While probably slightly less suitable as a day-to-day scoot, a vintage scooter can be reliable enough for errands around town, across town or even for a ride of a decent length. There is a totally different feeling of accomplishment when you get off a vintage ride after a long ride, and riding a vintage around town gives the rider a certain street credibility, making even a lowly scooter acceptable to even the notoriously insular Harley Davidson crowd.

Vintage scooters can even be affordable. Of course, the affordable ones are not the ones that generally could be considered reliable (yet). They may have had deferred maintenance (or none at all), and may have a bit of patina. Depending on how handy you are with the tools (or the paint), you may have a chance to restore the glory (or at least the reliability) of one of these classic machines. And once you have it, you can ride it with that patina and still be perfectly accepted by purists and casual passers-by as well.

Vintage scooters are both simple and complex. Simple looking, but mechanically detailed, if not downright complex in some of the more rare examples. They are a stylish, classy, fuel-sipping way to get around. Perhaps a vintage scooter is for you?

What's next: The case against vintage scooters