Tuesday, 14th April 2009; 6:11 pm - Location:

I’ve passed an important milestone in the preparation for my trip: I now have an actual scooter to ride. Picked out, picked up, and paid for.

FlashIt’s a Buddy 50, made by (or for, I should say) Genuine Scooter Company of Chicago. The manufacturer is PGO of Taiwan, who make some of the better scooters coming out of capitalist China. I supposed you might label Genuine as just the “importer” of these scooters, since essentially the same scooter is sold by PGO themselves overseas, but Genuine has input into the design, they’re modified for Genuine (e.g. MPH speedos, DOT-compliant turn signals) for the US market, and Genuine distributes, services, and warranties them, so it isn’t that different from buying a Ford made in Korea by Kia, like I did years ago. Much like buying a fuel-efficient auto in the 1990s, this was the closest I could come to buying “domestic”.

The Buddy comes in both 50cc and 125cc models. The 50cc model exists in part to meet the legal limits in most states to be considered a “moped” rather than a “motorcycle”. This means that you don’t need special training and licencing to drive one, registration costs are lower, mandatory vehicle insurance requirements are waived, and you aren’t required to wear a helmet. Well, I’m not an idiot, so I’m still going to wear a helmet, but the rest of those legal loopholes are welcome. So is the better gas mileage (over 100mpg rather than 90mpg). And besides, I don’t want a scooter with an engine big enough to go 60-70mph and ride on the expressway. If I need to go that fast, I want a cage (i.e. a car) with seatbelts and air bags around me, please.

The 50cc model comes off the boat with an artificial speed restriction to limit it to 30mph; that’s what most states require for the “moped” designation. That restriction is pretty easily removed, which lets them go their natural speed of 40mph or so, which is the max speed I’d actually want.

I’m the kind of buyer who does all his “shopping” before he sets foot in a store, so I didn’t rely much on the guidance of a dealer. But I want to give credit where due to “Stew” and Holland Vespa. This dealership is about 40 miles from where I live, and Stew saved me from having to get there to pick up my scoot – which also would’ve make my very first ride an hour-long intercity journey – by delivering it to their just-opened store in Grand Rapids.

Even so, riding the scoot home from the dealer was a bit of a white-knuckle adventure. For one thing, the best way home from there included a road that drivers like to run at near-highway speeds. I don’t have a proper motorcycle helmet yet, just my bicycle helmet. I figured that, if the helmet isn’t even legally required, the bike helmet would be OK until I saved up another paycheck and picked out a scooter helmet. The thing is, bike helmets are designed to catch lots of wind to cool you off… not a big deal at 15mph, but a pretty noticeable drag at 30mph. Plus, I’ll admit it: I just don’t have much experience on two wheels with a motor. It’s going to take some time for me to get a feel for how fast and wide to take corners, for example.

But I have thousands of miles on a bicycle behind me, much of that in traffic, and that gives me some pretty good skills. A lot of new scooterists haven’t ridden a bicycle in years, and riding a scooter is very different from their experience driving a car. For one thing, most of your steering isn’t done with the steering column, but by leaning, using a trick of physics know as “countersteering”. Most cyclists know how this works, even if not consciously. And tricks like how to safely and easily swerve around a pothole are practically reflexes to a cyclist.

Fortunately I have that, plus a few months of commuting ahead of me, which should prepare me for my road trip. Heck, I’ll probably be safer scooting the back roads of the north country than I will be fighting traffic on the streets of Grand Rapids.

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