Friday, March 02, 2007

Bigger Faster Louder. Better?

When I was young the talk was always about the bike each of us wanted to get. If the money for Bigger Faster Louder wasn't readily available, what parts could get us close on the shoestring budgets most of us had.

The funny thing was, as time went along we often talked about the bikes we once had. Slim small displacement machines. We would tear around on anything from 125cc on up to the four hundreds. Bikes with drum brakes, points, and character.

Funny thing is, I can't recall any of us actually wearing one of these small machines out.

It seemed the days to ride were Thursdays through the weekends for group rides and any other chance we could wring a little time out of our schedules the rest of the week. The bikes would be anything from any company. Some friends rode two strokes and others rode two fifty Harley Sprints. Most often the consensus was if you had a four hundred you could do it all.

As time went on and our incomes improved each of us moved past the early prizes of our youth to "full sized" motorcycles. But any time we got together the conversations would draw us back to the pure unadulterated fun those early bikes brought us. None of us realized it then but we had gotten caught up in the classic sales pitch: What you have isn't good enough. What you need is this.

What we had before we bought the inevitable this, it turns out, was Better.

The old machines gave us few complaints. They were a little more labor intensive, but that goes with the period. Small bikes of relatively simply design. The average rider could tinker on that CB 400 on a Saturday afternoon and actually accomplish making it run better than when that rider loosened the first fastener. And those were some of the easiest bikes to maintain. I would love to see a CB400 in the garage. Better yet a CB400F.

The beauty of these small displacement motorcycles was how they inspired confidence in the rider. You absolutely owned that thing while it was rolling underneath you. You could power it through a corner or you could toodle along at neighborhood speeds. Small displacement motorcycles always seemed to meet one's requirements. Agile little gigglers where your skills could really shine because they were built to meet the needs of real riders at a time when anyone from a teen to a middle aged man was the target market. The bikes were meant to be ridden by people who may not have had that much time to be out on extended trips, but could be with the right gear. Flickable, yet compliant and easy going. Not perfect, but Better.

Over the years those small displacement motorcycles have become harder to come by. Nothing new on the market seems to quite capture the same essence of what satisfied me about The Ride as it had in the past. I always kept an eye out for the modern equivalent. Over that same period of time I also came to a few important realizations.

I don't need a bike to go one hundred miles an hour. What I need is a bike with enough torque to get me up some steep hills without me gritting my teeth while I'm climbing.
I wanted something on the unique side of life (little did I know...)
I wanted something distinctly classic but current.

The machine that met my requirements surprised me. What made me cross over to the world of scooters was the modern CVT. No more shifting! I could have had that feature for a lot less money in other brands but I wanted the Wasp. You see, the '07 LX150 is not the first scooter I've owned. Its actually the third. The first being my 1964 Vespa GL. Literally a fourteen year exercize in boxing and unboxing through consequent moves. The quintessential antique the owner fully intends to finish. Someday. But its a shifter and a different story in its own right. No, what brought me around to my current thinking was a 1978 Honda Express 50cc I rebuilt last spring. Top speed of 27mph and fully automatic. The time spent getting that little city scooter running involved tuning and riding, tuning and riding. So much so that I put over five hundred miles on it before summer. It got me thinking about why I like two wheelers.

The ride itself was simply... fun.

It was the most fun when the bikes were... smaller. Somehow traditional and classic. Maneuverable. The little machines almost seem bouyant compared to the behemoths I've ridden since my youth. And comparatively speaking, some of these aren't even considered that large!

The modern Vespa LX150 is that fun for me. I really didn't expect it to to turn out this way but there you have it, I've become a scooterist. The LX does enough of what I need well enough. Should I ever want that bit extra to get on the expressways the GTS250 would fill the need. That one's more of a modern automatic motorcycle wrapped in scooter skin if you ask me.

We all wish for a little of the past in the present. Modern machines which emulate some aspect of riding we grew up with. I have to admit that while the ride of the modern Vespa itself is not the same as the small displacement motorcycles we grew up with, it retains why we rode them in the first place.

The Roadbum


Combatscoot said...

My 'Beo reminds me of a Honda Nighthawk 650 I owned when I first started riding street bikes. It had hydraulic valve adjustment and shaft drive, very simple and easy to maintain. It had been festooned with fairing, bags, topcase, crashbars. It was capable of many things, yet was relatively light and had good performance. You just cannot get that sort of thing anymore. My Scarabeo 500 comes close.

Joe said...

You hit it on the head. I've come full circle in my riding life. My first bike was a KZ 400 and I've gone as big as a Gold Wing. I got out of it for a bit and bought a Honda Reflex 250 scooter. This is pure fun. This is why I started riding in the first place. I too don't need to go 100 any more, something about needing my license for my job and the insurance costs et al. And I get 65 mpg. I guess I'm a scooterist as well.

Steve Williams said...

I agree with Joe, you hit the nail on the head. Years ago I ran around on dirtbikes on the street and off road. They were fun, agile, and zipped around. The Vespa captures that same feel. The LX150 did and the GTS continues exactly the same.

I ahve ridden a number of large bikes recently and they just aren't the same. I am a scooterist too!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Bryce said...

I know exactly what you're saying. I've ridden bigger bikes, and most of them don't do a whole lot for me.

One of my pals has a 600cc sport bike. The thing is incredibly powerful and surprisingly light. It's also quite easy to work on. However, I don't find it to be much fun. You can't toss it into a corner; not without a last name like Mladin.

My parents both have Honda Shadow 1100s. With a full tank of gas, those babies each tip the scales somewhere north of 600lb. They are impressive machines, but not tremendously playful.

I will admit to adoring the Triumph "Modern Classic" range, but even those feel like a lot of bike.

The advertising aspect is important to acknowledge. We're a nation of big bikes. 600cc is considered entry level these days. One's riding skills (and possibly masculinity) are called into question when riding something smaller.

What I've personally observed is that it takes far more balls and skill to wring every last bit of performance from a small bike than it does to ride a bigger bike in a mediocre fashion. People who ride smaller bikes tend to have more skill because they can't just rely on power.

Anonymous said...


My current bike is a Kawasaki Nomad 1600cc. I made the decision to buy this bike in response to my wife's complaints about feeling cramped on our previous Suzuki Volusia 800cc.

We both loved that Volusia because it was very sharp looking and for a cruiser it was easy to maneuver and had enough torque to realy raise the ante on the "fun factor".

The big beast we ride now really fit the bill for what we are looking for at this moment in our lives...something comfortable for the two of us to tour on together. It rides like a real lady, looks nice and is very dependable. Highway speeds even 2up are maintained with an easy and calming "throb" from the engine - no stress and strain.

But if I was to say we didn't give something up by going to the bigger bike I would be lying. We've gained in many areas but the fun factor was definitely higher on the smaller bike.

My dad had three scooters and riding those babies was an absolute blast.

To my scooter two wheel riding brothers I say, "Keep up the faith and keep the rubber side down!"

Ride safe all.

American Scooterist Blog said...

Combatscoot, I think your 'Beo and your wife's scoot are the two bikes I would rather have than anything else. I love the look of those machines and they seem like they're capable of doing it all with such amazing style.
Joe, full circle is the perfect phrase.
Steve, I read Peter Egan talking about bikes which bring back the things we're discussing and the one he mentioned was that new high piped Triumph. Said it was the easiest and most fun bike to just pull out of the garage and go on. He needs to take one more step and he's there haha.
Bryce, you said it. And the amazing thing about the balls comment is that really, the guy or gal riding the scooter ought to feel tons more confidence tossing a bike around that actually fits them. You would think people would understand they'll get more out of riding if they feel confident with a smaller machine they can take to the limits. Well the limits allowed by our conditions of riding these American roads anyway.
Sarch, welcome. We're on the same page here haha. Trying to maintain that level of fun riding has brought us in the past is the same thing for all of us. By the way, do you happen to remember any details about your dad's scooters?

Thanks All

The Roadbum