The rivalry between scooter riders and motorcyclists has been raging for decades—the Who made a film based on it called Quadrophenia. I’m sure many of you remember it.
As depicted in the film, the bad old days of bikers and mods fighting in the streets have gone, but there are still two distinct camps. We tend to be either bikers or scooter riders.
With the introduction of much larger-engined scooters, such as the Suzuki AN400 in 1999, the Maxi scooter was born, and the differences between bikes and scooters became more blurred.
How Do We Define a Scooter and a Motorcycle?
In very general terms, the style defines whether it’s a scooter or a motorcycle.
You sit with your legs on either side of the fuel tank on a motorcycle, while a scooter has a step-thru gap between the seat and the front suspension.
The style sets them apart and is, I believe, the main reason most people choose one or the other.
I’ve never owned a scooter, as they just don’t interest me, but I can see the advantages for some people. You may be the complete opposite and prefer scooters, and that’s fine.
See our guide to scooters that look like motorcycles.
- Easy to ride. Automatic – just twist and go
- Built-in storage
- Cheap to buy and run
- Go almost anywhere
Easy to Ride – Twist and Go
Scooters are easy to ride, with a comfortable seating position, and, in most cases, no need to worry about gears.
Just twist the throttle and go, letting the automatic gearbox take the strain. This makes them perfect to learn how to ride without the complications of a clutch and gear lever.
With engines generally mounted low over the back wheel and using a design that naturally puts you closer to the ground, scooters feel light and low.
Filtering through the heaviest traffic is a breeze, and the lightweight and low center of gravity inspire confidence.
Most scooters have some storage, and some have cavernous under-seat space that can take a couple of helmets or more. At best, most motorcycles only have a small cubbyhole unless you fit panniers, but they make the bike much wider.
Cheap to buy and run
Look at some countries where the scooter is king, and everyone rides them. Here, the scooter is family transport, including the family pig, three or four kids, or a workhorse to carry almost anything.
To many, the scooter is just a cheap means of transport, while others are more into the scooter scene.
Go almost anywhere
The smaller, lighter scooters can go almost anywhere. Just ask Markus Andre Mayer of La Vida Vespa. He’s traveled the world on an old Vespa and survived!
While most won’t be traveling the world, scooters can get away with being parked in small places or at the entrance to a restaurant on the pavement. Try that on a motorcycle, and you’ll often be asked to move. Scooters are seen as cute and friendly.
Just as there are motorcycle clubs, there are scooter clubs—some for a particular brand and others just as general scooter riders groups.
- Lack of street cred
- Poor frontend feel
- Small wheels cause stability issues
- Not generally that powerful
Lack of street cred
Let’s face it, a Puch Maxi or Honda C50 doesn’t have a lot of street cred!
They are utility vehicles that get you around, and that is it. However, this has changed a little with the introduction of maxi-scooters, but many bikers still consider scoots as something delivery riders and kids ride.
Poor frontend feel
With the engine mounted over the rear wheel, there isn’t a lot of weight over the front, and the handling can be a little ponderous.
It’s something you get used to, and it does add to the easy maneuverability that scooters are known for.
Small wheels cause stability issues
Off-road motorcycles have larger wheels to provide greater stability and traction on rough ground. The small wheels of a scooter don’t cope very well with potholes and poor road surfaces.
Not generally that powerful
The majority of scooters are in the 50 – 125 cc bracket and don’t have much power. The maxi-scooters have improved this, but they still don’t match the power of similar-sized motorcycles.
- Motorcycles are cool
- Cheap speed
- Better handling
- Great for touring
Motorcycles are cool
It may seem cliched or slightly strange to some, but when I meet new people and we get on to the subject of me being a biker, some are still envious or slightly in awe.
To be honest, I find it a little odd, but I guess they remember biking characters like Steve McQueen or racers, such as Barry Sheene, or maybe even the film Easy Rider.
What type of motorcycle is cool is a whole new subject and very subjective!
Pound for BHP, motorcycles offer by far the best value. The performance of a £20,000 sports motorcycle can match that of cars costing £100,000 or more.
Even older sports motorcycles that can be found for just a few thousand pounds will outrun most cars.
Motorcycles generally have better suspension, and the larger wheels help soak up the bumps more effectively.
That said, the maxi-scooters have again improved the ride over the smaller mainstream scoots, and their handling has come closer to motorcycles.
Great for touring
Touring on a motorcycle is one of the great biking pleasures I love.
I have to admit, I’m not so much into camping anymore, but traveling the continent on two wheels is accessible on most motorcycles. You can load them up with panniers and top boxes and cruise comfortably.
- More expensive to buy and run
More expensive to buy and run
Compared to scooters, the initial investment in a motorcycle and maintenance cost is far greater.
Scooters really are a cheap form of transport, with the smaller-engined versions able to achieve very high miles per gallon.
Servicing is also much more straightforward, with many scoots being simple single-cylinder engines and basic frames and running gear.
Many younger readers know the pain of trying to insure large-capacity motorcycles! It may well be impossible or just crazily expensive below the age of 21 and on larger motorcycles.
We listed better handling and cheap speed as pros of motorcycles, but of course, the flip side is an increase in risk from the potential to ride faster. You can mitigate the risk through training and riding track days, but it is still there.
The debate about scooters and motorcycles will rage on for decades to come, although, to be fair, the vast majority of scooter riders barely give it a thought. They are happy with their economic workhorses getting them around.
Maxi-scooters have indeed blurred the distinction, and previously dedicated motorcyclists have made the move, benefitting from great comfort and practicality.
As we move forward to an era of electric vehicles, I think the distinction may become even more blurred, but that’s another story.