The rush to the scooter

Parked scooters with L plates

Scooters are becoming increasingly popular as people look to cut costs and stretch their budgets, but could the boom spark safety problems?

Scooters were once seen as the preserve of the Mod generation, but today the market is very different to that dominated by Lambrettas and Vespas in the 60s and 70s.

Today there is a complete spectrum with 50cc models at one end and, at the other, powerful beasts in the 600-700cc range. They are scooters on steroids.

The scooter's star is in the ascendancy with new registrations up nearly 12% in 2011. The January 2012 statistics due out soon are expected to continue the trend.

It's easy to speculate on why scooter sales are strong. With the price of fuel remaining stubbornly high and public transport costs rising faster than inflation, the scooter is a very tempting way to get from A-B, particularly in cities where parking is at a premium.

"Some scooters will do more than 100 miles on £5 of petrol so that's a whole week of commuting," says Glen McMahon, from Honda.

New registrations, year to Dec 2011

Parked motorcycles
  • Scooters: 32,326 +11.7%
  • Adventure Sport: 10,570 +13.6%
  • Sport Tourers: 5,083 -32.4%
  • Supersport: 12,851 -9.9%
  • Total mopeds, motorcycles (excl. scooters): 61,523 -8.1%

Source: Motorcycle Industry Association

Company director Roy Green, 52, from south London, has never ridden a motorcycle of any kind. He's considering buying a scooter to cover the 10 miles between home and office.

"I travel around the UK and overseas and I would also use it to get to and from central London railway stations and the airports," he says while perusing a range of scooters at the Motorcycle Show in London.

"Parking is free and there's no congestion charge."

He's typical of many people switching to scooters - they're not necessarily captivated by the idea of speed or freedom or lifestyle that drives many other motorcyclists. And it's easy to get on a scooter.

Motorcycle licence requirements are complex but all that's required to get on a moped (up to 50cc) or a scooter/motorcycle of up to 125cc is the successful completion of a one-day course called Compulsory Basic Training, better known as the CBT.

Anyone who passed their driving test before 1 February 2001 can ride a moped without L-plates. The CBT is recommended but not required.

Green, who sometimes cycles in London, intends to take his CBT but go no further. Concerns over safety will not stop him.

"Some of my friends have scooters and they've had a tumble at one point or another but nothing serious."

Scooter dashboard

Hardened motorcyclists spend years learning to ride "defensively". They develop a comprehensive awareness of all the potential dangers. Veterans might be concerned that new scooter riders will take a while to develop the same mindset.

Emma Petitt, 41, a sales manager from Brighton, is already riding a 125cc scooter, but is considering a new, bigger model. She is well aware of the dangers faced on city roads.

"When I ride around in Brighton, it terrifies me. Car drivers just don't look."

Start Quote

Scooter riders tend to ride a bit madly around London in my opinion but their speeds are relatively low”

End Quote Sgt Mick Cheeseman Met Police BikeSafe

There is great emphasis at the moment on safety for pedal cyclists, with the Times newspaper launching a major campaign this week.

But look on any motorcycle forums and you can see the fraught relationship between other road users played out daily. For those on two petrol-driven wheels, the facts are grim.

In the decade to 2010, motorcycles made up just one per cent of road traffic, but their riders accounted for 21% of all fatalities. It is something that lurks in the mind of many bikers.

New riders are making a conscious choice to get on a scooter or motorcycle but safety training is critical, says Peter Baker, deputy editor of Motorcycle News.

"If you want to be safe on a motorcycle, the best armour you could possibly put on yourself is the stuff between your ears. It's to make you road and traffic aware and stop you having an accident in the first place."

The motorcycle industry runs a scheme called Get On, which offers complete novices a free, one-hour taster session at a local training school. Beyond that, police forces around the UK run BikeSafe courses and in London, the Metropolitan Police also runs ScooterSafe days.

London is the UK's scooter capital and is now said to be home to 160,000 motorcycle riders. Since last month, they have been given permanent access to bus lanes on red routes - a blessing to bikers, a curse to some other road users.

"I don't think we quite appreciate the impression we're giving when we're nipping through the traffic, certainly in London, when we're virtually banging wing mirrors with car drivers," observes Sgt Mick Cheeseman, who runs safety courses.

"But on the flip side, drivers are now cocooned in a car that's sold with great safety features and I think that gives everybody a false sense of security."

Scooters Scooters can be very fuel-efficient

A low-speed collision can mean nothing more than scratched paintwork to that cocooned car driver but a serious danger to the unprotected motorcyclist.

And speed is a pivotal factor in the chances of having an accident, notes Cheeseman.

"Being in the right doesn't hurt any less, but if you're going more than 30mph, the chances of your accident being more serious is greatly increased.

"A lot of fatal accidents are around 30-40mph involving motorcyclists when they come off the bike, hit something solid and stopped and of course all the organs are still travelling. It does a lot of damage internally.

"Scooter riders tend to ride a bit madly around London in my opinion but their speeds are relatively low."

Of course, some modern scooters can be powerful beasts. BMW manufactures larger, 600/650cc "Maxi-scooters", which are aimed at longer, motorway commutes and can be used for touring.

But although the newer models are more muscle-bound, many bikers would turn their noses up at them.

"A 'biker' doesn't ride a scooter but that prejudice will be broken down eventually," suggests Tony Jakeman, marketing manager of BMW Motorrad.

For riders who decide to progress to the full test, more changes are afoot next January, when a new, single-part on-road test will be phased in.

This is aimed at reversing the drop in numbers of riders taking the test, which was caused by a move in 2009 to replace local centres with a smaller number of test "super-centres" where off-road manoeuvres could also be assessed.

Craig Carey-Clinch, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCI), said: "People take CBTs, ride on L-plates then don't go further because of this, creating the 'permanent learner class'.

"It's critical that we make the test more available for them. This would improve riding abilities and overall safety."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    #206 (and others) read your highway code. Undertaking STATIONARY traffic is fine. Undertaking freely moving traffic (even people hogging the middle lane which #203 I don't do) is an arrestable offence that can get you 2 years in jail. The incident I was involved with was a scooter using a cycle lane to undertake on a single carriageway road. I find it amazing anyone thinks this is reasonable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    What about noise pollution ? Horrendous noise. Kids, yes kids riding this dreadful mode of transport at all hours. No one cares about us, the people who have to put up with the nuisance.

    It doesn't matter whether these kids are from poorer backgrounds or wealthy ones - We've had to deal with all sorts here and absolutely sick of it.

    Nevermind the other dangers these little monsters cause:((

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    "Much traffic law applies only to motor vehicle. You would have to read through the various road traffic acts to see which do and which don't"

    Running a red (traffic) light is an offence on a bicycle - I asked the police to check after watching several do it one day. Problem is, it (and other offences) are not inforced on cyclists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    @201. Peter_Sym

    Quite often in London, roundabouts have the left lane moving with people turning left, and other 2 lanes stationary. What are you supposed to do? Sit there and wait?

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    I've been riding since I was 10 (not on the road, obviously) and motorbikes make you more aware of safety. But a 1 day CBT course isn't enough to teach someone that's never been on a bike before all about it. The bikesafe couses should be compulsory and 10 hours of supervised road riding before being allowed to ride on your own. Riding it is the easy bit. Riding it safely takes longer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    How about a fine for failing to wear appropriate protective clothing when riding a two wheeler? Ask any A and E. nurse about the injuries they get. All preventable. Gravel rash hurts. You are simply peeling your skin off and stabbing yourself thousands of times whilst doing that. Horrible. War some leathers people and drink plenty of water when its hot. Shorts and T shirts are not cool on a bike.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    @ 186. Peter_Sym

    'Any scooter driving faster than me on the left is illegally undertaking anyway.'

    You're probably the type of driver who can't adhere to simple lane discipline, thus clogging up the outside/middle lanes of motorways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    "A law breached by a cyclist incures points it would be added to their (car) licience (assuming they have one)."

    Much traffic law applies only to motor vehicle. You would have to read through the various road traffic acts to see which do and which don't

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    #194 if you undertake someone going around a roundabout you're asking for trouble. People on the inside tend to move across without warning & I seem to be the only person in Notts who still indicates at roundabouts.

    The idiot I nearly killed used a cycle lane to try and undertake me on a 50cc scooter, in the dark, with no lights on (or helmet) as I turned left across him (while indicating)

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Replying to:...I thought you could only overtake on a single carriageway when there is no on-coming traffic...

    Mark Hooton Said: ...Nope, so long as you don't cross a solid white line or do so in a 'dangerous manner' it's perfectly legal....

    You right Mark, but only ever on the outside only bicycles can do so on the inside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    Well as a biker of many years experience, I've always treated 4 wheel road users as objects that sometimes follow the highway code. But at least you can keep up with other traffic. You have to ride a push bike, to get a real insight into how bad some road users are. An idiot's an idiot no matter how many wheels they've got

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Surprised there's no mention of electric scooters in this article. They're much cheaper than a petrol-fuelled scooter to run (about 1p a day), and can do 40 miles on a single charge. OK, with a top speed of about 35-40mph, you can't exactly hit the open road, but they're perfect for commuting and zipping round the city. Free parking too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    "Pedal bikes do not require licenses, and therefore cannot accrue points per-say. There are a small subset of offences that the police can still prosecute on, however."

    A bicycle is classed as a vehicle in law, therefore if a law breached by a cyclist incures points it would be added to their (car) licience (assuming they have one).

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    My T junction tally now stands at 22 cars making turnings and 8 have used their indicators in the last 20 minutes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    I would love to see a mass move from car to bike. I rode a bike for years before moving to a car, and it benefitted me no end, especially only needing a few driving lessons unlike the fortune most ppl have to spend.

    sadly this is likely to be severely scuppered when the EU nutters bring in their planned rules to ban aftermarket parts and ban filtering in traffic jams.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    @ 186. Peter_Sym

    "Any scooter driving faster than me on the left is illegally undertaking anyway."

    Roundabouts? Red bus lanes? Left hand turn lane?

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    This is a non-story. Shame on you BBC. Two wheeled transport of all kinds is better for the environment and actively reduces congestion in our cities. Look to the continent where scooters and motorcycles are the vehicle of choice in cities. Yes, there is always a risk of personal injury, but we still live in a society where that choice remains ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    175. willyg1965
    3 Minutes ago

    @172. Piotr

    Amazing how indicators appear to have gone out of fashion, isn't it?

    It is. When I was taight to drive turning right was mirror, indicate break. These days it seems to be break, mirror, indicate when it is blindingly obvious what the intentionis are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    More needs to be done to train car drivers at the start of their driving career. They do not seem to understand how vulnerable the motorcycle riders are. There should also be tougher penalties for careless driving/riding and not obeying traffic signs/lights. In all a greater emphasis on safety. I fear that there will be more serious and fatal injuries to riders which could be avoided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    "Note "camera", when did you last see a pedal bike with reg-plate for the DVLA to get ownership info from?"

    Pedal bikes do not require licenses, and therefore cannot accrue points per-say. There are a small subset of offences that the police can still prosecute on, however.


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