Tuesday, August 23, 2011


When I was spry and more gymnastic, I rode motorcycles and scooters. Not any more–it was always dangerous, and my reflexes aren't what they were. I had three different bikes, from small Harleys to a Yamaha, and a couple of Italian scooters, a Lambretta and a Vespa. If the bikes were dangerous, the scooters were death-machines–all the weight, such that it was, was behind you, and that makes for some end-to-end swapping and bad balance if you get into trouble. A convertible automobile is much safer. And you don't have to wear a helmet.

When I was thirteen, I lusted after a moped. A buddy of mine got one, and I had a chance to ride it and at that age, a motor-powered bike was the cat's pajamas. 

A moped looks like a girl's bicycle on steroids. The engine was maybe 50cc displacement, and top speed might have approached thirty-five mph, downhill with a tailwind. It ran an air-cooled two-cycle engine, which meant you had to add outboard motor oil to the gasoline, and my recollection was it got about a hundred miles per gallon. Tended to spew a bit of blue smoke, and had a sound like a crazed sewing machine: whingg dah ding-ding-ding ...

How it worked was, you turned on the ignition and instead of a kick-starter, you used what looked like bicycle pedals to crank the engine. These pedals could be used if you were climbing hills and the engine was laboring, to help it along, and in theory, you could pedal it with the engine off, like a bicycle.

And, oh, I wanted one. You didn't need a driver's license back then to operate such vehicles, no helmet, and the idea of driving a moped to junior high school instead of my English racer three-speed bicycle or the school bus was way cool.

I was willing to mow lawns and shine shoes and save the money, which back in the day was a grand $179.95 for an Allstate Moped from Sears (made by Puch, in Austria) but my parents weren't having any of it. I hated that then, though when I had children, I understood. More than likely, I would have killed myself, or at least gotten some really nasty road tattoos. 

Mopeds are making a comeback. They've always been around in big European and Asian cities; they are still cheap, and a hundred miles a gallon makes a smaller dent in one's wallet. 
You can't take them onto a freeway legally (most of the small scooters don't make it to five horsepower, either, which used to be the cut-off), but if you are doing city or small town driving, it will get you there.

I won't be getting one, but now and then I see one and smile at the memory of wanting one.


Jim said...

Actually, a bunch of the scooters today are really motorcycles in thin disguise. They'll hit respectable speeds, with not-so respectable acceleration. In fact, in my state, if it's over 50 cc engine displacement, or if it's going over 35 mph -- it counts as a motorcycle. With the same registration, licensing, etc. requirements.

Bob Walters said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I started on a Honda 90 at age 15, paid for it myself delivering newspapers on my bicycle. Fortunately, my father was in favor of getting it. From there I worked my way up to many different models and sizes of motorcycles. I have been riding my Harley's for the last ten years and I am still having a ball, even at the young age of 63. Once again, thanks for the trip back.

Steve Perry said...

After I got married and left home, my younger brother got his first bike, a little Honda. Got a bigger Honda a couple years later, eventually a big Triumph with purple flames on the gas tank -- this in about 1972 or so. I guess my parents got tired of saying it was a bad idea.

He got into a really bad wreck -- dog came at him, he squeezed the handbrake, the cable broke and wrapped around the front tire, pinwheeled him into the road. Broke several bones, got knocked cold. First words out of his mouth when the paramedics were hauling him away: "How's my bike?"

Motorcycle riders are all crazy. I quit riding after a stint working the orthopedic ward at a local hospital. Every other patient was a biker.