Joining the Scoot Movement

September 20th, 2013

By Jim Trimmer

Stuck in traffic: a celebrant’s nightmare if it happens on the way to a funeral. It happened to me once or twice, necessitating frantic – and probably illegal – phone calls to the crem or the FD.

The solution occurred to me back in 2006. Having hired fully automatic 50cc motor scooters on holiday for several years, I remembered how easy they are to ride. I bought a Vespa KX 50 four stroke: that’s important because unlike the two-stroke equivalent it doesn’t come with an irritating whine. In fact I was once stopped by a policeman, convinced by the engine noise that I was riding a 125cc without L-plates.

That is something that at first sight looks ridiculously complicated: bear with. If you have held a full car licence for several years, you are provisionally licensed to ride a scooter or moped (the ones you pedal to start). You are also obliged to take the CBT (Certificate of Basic Training), normally a half-day course involving a bit of theory, some riding round a car park showing you can do it without falling off – which I have never done – some instruction about your rights and duties as a rider, and an hour or so out on the road with the instructor’s voice on an ear-piece inside your helmet.

Once that’s over – for the next two years anyway: I’ll come back to that – you have the freedom of the roads. These little bikes are not capable of much more than 30 mph, so this solution isn’t suitable for anybody with a large rural catchment area. For me, inside the M25, it’s perfect.

The annual tax disc is £16, although insurance premiums seem to reflect the preponderance of 17 year olds screaming round the streets on howling two-stroke scooters. You can park for nothing, in mixed use bays or dedicated motor cycle bays (there are exceptions: central London boroughs tend to charge, but only £1 a day). I fill up with fuel about once a week, which costs about £6. If I come across a line of stationary traffic, I ride carefully down the outside to the front of the queue. And I’ve never been delayed for a funeral, or a family meeting, since.

What about the weather? As someone once said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. That said, there are days every winter when you would have to be a hardline biker not to take the easy way out. But for most of the year, a wind- and waterproof coat, a pair of overtrousers under your seat, a decent pair of gloves and some handlebar muffs and you can laugh at the weather the same way you laugh at traffic jams.

I rode my LX50 for several years before deciding to go up a category – to a Vespa LX125. The rules are much the same, except for this you need L plates. Incidentally, it does seem daft to stick them on the bike, as it’s the rider who is learning rather than the machine. It always seems to me that a high-vis tabard with a big red L front and back would be more sensible. However, them’s the rules.

This year, rather than do the CBT yet again, I have decided to bite the bullet and take the motor cycle test, which will entitle me to remove the L plates and carry a passenger if I want to. It’s not cheap, but at least I will finally feel like a proper motorcyclist. And in any case, I would never go back to relying on four wheels.