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My First Few Days With The Honda Metropolitan Scooter

September 8, 2005 Environment, Scooters 12 Comments

I knew when I picked up my scooter on Sunday I knew that I’d like it. But, I don’t just like it — I love it! With the exception of driving with a friend to Trader Joe’s in Brentwood on Monday I have not driven my car or ridden in another car. I’ve done about 65 miles so far running errands, meeting with clients at properties, attending other meetings, and even joining a group of friends for dinner on The Hill last night.

I filled up the tank (1.3 gallons) 65 miles ago and the fuel gauge is reading nearly a half tank. The savings benefit is real. An unexpected benefit of riding the scooter has been some new insights and perspectives on the urban environment.

Accelerating to 30mph is pretty easy but getting above that to 40mph takes quite a bit of time. As a result I have tended to avoid major streets like Grand and Chippewa. Taking other streets that in my car I’d find tedious are a joy on the scooter.

As I make my way through our wonderful grid of streets I find myself taking in more of our rich architecture. The same is true when I bicycle around the city. The difference is when I’m bicycling I’m often distracted by pedaling and hydrating. The scooter involves zero physical exertion so I can focus more while still being able to quickly stop and check out interesting details.

All too often people think of St. Louis as a collection of red brick buildings. So much so that anytime a new brick building is built it is skinned in standard red brick. But the reality is we have a lovely diversity of brick colors ranging from beige to orange to purple and every possible shade of red. I think city officials and developers should be required to use a scooter for a week just to learn more about our city.

I find myself acting like a bicyclist sometimes and riding more to the right of the lane. I have to remind myself that I am riding a motor vehicle and thus I should act like it. One rule of riding a bicycle or motorcycle is that you are supposed to place a foot on the ground to indicate you’ve come to a full and complete stop at a stop sign — every stop sign. Well, that just doesn’t happen often when I’m bicycling or scooting. In both cases I will put a foot on the pavement to indicate to a motorist that I have stopped. In most cases it is just a waste of energy. From an environmental perspective we must begin to replace our 4-way stops with roundabouts.

One-way streets throughout our neighborhoods also present challenges for using the street grid. Several times yesterday I found myself having to go a number of blocks out of the way due to one-way streets. As an example, I was on Morganford just North of the Bevo Mill and trying to head West to the Post Office. Three blocks in a row were one-way in the opposite direction.

Parking has presented some other issues. Large motorcycles are able to be seen when parked on the street in residential areas and their size can usually justify taking an on-street metered parking space. But if I park in a metered space I can just see some massive SUV crushing it and not even noticing. For lunch at Mangia Italianio on Grand the other day I parked on the sidewalk near their outdoor seating area. The small scooter size doesn’t require much space. But most of our commercial sidewalks are too narrow to accommodate bikes, scooters, cafe tables and pedestrians.

Other cities have designated motorcycle parking spaces. At left is an example from San Francisco where one meter takes care of about 8-10 numbered spaces that are marked on the pavement. It should be noted that roughly 8 motorcycles/scooters can fit in one auto parking space. I’ve seen similar examples in Chicago and New York.

Theft is another concern that I have, although only slight. Most scooters, mine included, have features that would make it difficult to just wheel the scooter away. But the lighter the weight the more it is possible to pick up and place the scooter in a truck. When leaving the scooter unattended for long periods it is recommended to chain to something more secure, such as a bike rack. Of course, that brings up other issues. Should small 49cc scooters be allowed to use bicycle racks for security?

Scooting on a sidewalk is simply not a safe thing to do. But places you’d expect to see scooters like St. Louis University’s campus has removed streets from the grid. If you are a SLU student and commute to campus a scooter would certainly be more efficient and would lessen the need for all the parking garages around the campus. But how do you get to class: do you pay to park your scooter in a campus parking garage and then walk to class, slowly ride your scooter on internal campus sidewalks, walk the scooter up hills on campus? Other campuses such as the University of Wisconsin in Madison are taking pro-active steps to work with a rising number of scooters, click here for story.

As Americans realize we don’t need a 3,000lb+ 5-passenger vehicle to pick up a loaf of bread or gallon of milk we’ll see more and more motorcycles, scooters and bicycles in use. It is imperative to our region’s sustainability that we accept and embrace these modes of transportation before $5.00/gallon gasoline shocks us into crisis mode.

– Steve


My Way of Dealing With Rising Gas Prices

September 4, 2005 Environment, Scooters 14 Comments


Today I took a step toward having more efficient means of motorized transportation — I bought a small motor scooter. A Honda Metropolitan in “Salsa” red to be exact.

No, I’m not giving up bicycling. But there are times when I need to get somewhere faster than my bicycle will take me. I look at it as having multiple modes of transportation: walking, bicycling, MetroBus/MetroLink, scooter and finally my car. I plan to use all of these methods of transportation.

Back to the scooter. I rode it from Creve Coeur home today via the Loop and Central West End. Very fun!!! I was easily able to reach speeds of 30mph and if pushed I could get to 35mph. That is about the limit especially considering that my weight is at the top of the payload. On the ride home I saw a few other scooters including the same exact model.

Meeting clients to show houses and such just takes too much time by bike but by scooter it should be a breeze. I hope to significantly reduce miles that would normally go on my car which, in town, does well to get 20mpg. With fuel economy around 80mpg+ I will be saving money while having fun.

I estimate that given current fuel prices every 5,000 miles I can put on the scooter rather than my car I’ll save at least $600. As fuel prices rise the savings will be even greater. In less than 3 years the scooter will pay for itself in fuel savings. My scooter has a 49cc engine which is an entry level size. The advantage of these small engined scooters is they do not require licensing, special liability insurance or motorcycle license. A regular drivers license and helmet are required by Missouri law.

Not all scooters are created equal. Most people know the classic vintage Vespa scooters from Italy. These and other older scooters were not the best for the environment. Sure, they sipped fuel but lacking modern emissions equipment they would unload hydrocarbons many times that of a car. Two-stroke engines, like used in lawnmowers, are inherently worse than four-stroke engines with respect to pollution. This Honda is a model of efficiency with both four-stroke and liquid cooling (vs air cooling). Modern Vespa scooters and some others have environmentally friendly two and four-stroke engines. Unfortunately, many others on the market are not so kind to the environment.

Scooters with engines greater than 50cc are required to be licensed and have liability insurance. A motorcycle license is also required. Honda offers an 80cc scooter as well as models with 150cc and up. Most manufacturers go from 50cc to 150cc. Most 50cc models are two-stroke (again, the Honda is an exception) while the larger 150cc models are four-stroke. I’m considering taking a motorcycle safety class.

High fuel prices are here to stay. The US cannot continue to sustain our sprawling habits and SUVs. What are you doing to live in a more sustainable manner?

[UPDATE 9/5/05 @ 7PM – Be sure to check the laws in your state as some do require licensing and motorcycle licenses even for 49cc scooters. – SLP]

– Steve