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June 5, 2011

News & Features

Scooter style: Find a perfect match among these two-wheeled wonders

Special to NWautos

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Clockwise from top left: Piaggio MP3 500; Genuine Stella; Vespa LX 150 i.e.; Honda Ruckus.

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Vectrix VX-1

For many people, scooter experiences are limited to anemic vacation rentals. But the two-wheel world is much bigger than that. It's easy to find a scooter to match your budget and personality, from mild to wild. Here are some of the more interesting choices on the market.

Vespa ($3,299-$6,899): It's the brand most people think of when scooters come to mind, and nearly every other manufacturer "honors" its classic Italian design. Vespa remains unique, though, using car-like unibody construction rather than tubular frames with bolt-on panels.

Vespa owners are willing to pay a premium for this vault-like construction because of the terrific ride quality it provides. Like Audi, BMW and Porsche owners, Vespa drivers covet the brand's driving dynamics. It's a premium experience on two small wheels.

Honda Ruckus ($2,499): Most scooters hide their tubular frames with plastic panels. The Ruckus proudly shows them off to the world. It's Honda's "Mad Max" alternative to classic Italian and modern sport-bike design.

An exposed frame and wide, knobby tires give it trail-bike attitude and light off-road ability. A 49cc liquid-cooled engine returns over 100 mpg for the minimalist scooter.

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Yamaha C3

Yamaha C3 ($2,250): This is the Scion xB of the scooter world. Yamaha starts with a 49cc liquid-cooled four-stroke engine and mates it to what looks like a camping cooler on wheels.

Measured at 9 gallons, the space under the saddle is perfect for lugging groceries home. It's also ideal for storing protective clothing and a helmet.

Piaggio MP3 ($7,199-$8,899): Not a music player, the MP3 is a three-wheeled scooter sporting twin front tires mounted two feet apart. Those in the witness protection program should look elsewhere -- it gets stares.

The third wheel provides added safety and security. Leaning into turns, the independent front wheels tilt together, with the extra tire providing added stability. It stays upright when parked, too. Available in 250, 400 and 500cc models, it will soon be the first hybrid scooter available in the U.S.

Vectrix VX ($4,500-$10,500): People buy scooters for great fuel economy, but the all-electric Vectrix takes gasoline out of the equation. Depending on the model, Vectrix machines can silently cover from 40 to 60 miles on a charge, ideal for the scooter lifestyle. The smaller VX-2 tops out at 30 miles an hour, while the VX-1 can hit 68.

A full charge takes three to five hours. If emissions-free performance doesn't entice you, the penny-per-mile operating cost might. Those intrigued by Piaggio's MP3 will be happy to know Vectrix will soon introduce a similar design dubbed -- what else? -- VX-3.

Genuine Stella ($3,599): Retro-design scooters are the most popular models sold in the U.S., but Stella's style is more than skin-deep. Its lineage can be traced to the classic Vespa PX 150, the most-recognized shape on two wheels. After Vespa discontinued it, production continued in India, where the Genuine Scooter Company secured the rights for the U.S. market.

True to its "Roman Holiday" heritage, Stella is built with unibody construction, comes with a spare tire and is the only scooter sold in the U.S. with a four-speed manual transmission. Modern touches include a clean 150cc four-stroke engine. It can even be ordered with a sidecar. Stella delivers Audrey Hepburn looks and 140 mpg -- a pretty stunning combination.

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