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What Is a Motor Scooter?

By Y. Chen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A motor scooter is a vehicle that operates on two wheels. Its quintessential characteristics are its step-through frame, which allows its rider to straddle the seat in the manner of a bicycle, and a flat floorboard for the feet. The scooter is engine-powered, with the drive system and engine usually attached to either the rear axle or fixed under the seat of the vehicle. Also usually under the seat or existing as an attachment to the frame is some sort of storage space.

The wheels that the motor scooter rides on measure from eight to 12 inches (20-28 cm) in diameter. This makes the motor scooter the transportation method of choice in the urban areas of developed or developing countries due to the low cost of maintenance and steering ease. When compared to the motorcycle, a scooter is quieter, carry fewer legal restrictions, and requires relatively less skill to ride.

The first motor scooters were manufactured in the early 1900s, and were later developed for military use in the US by Cushman with the intention of aiding World War II (WWII) paratroopers in navigating the rugged terrain unencumbered. The compact and light nature of these innovative ground vehicles was later adapted in post-WWII Italy by the manufacturer Piaggo as the Vespa, which quickly became popular in an area where the population needed an inexpensive form of transportation in the bustling city. For thirty five years the Vespa dominated the scooter market as the classic prototype, until the 1980s when Asian markets began releasing similar scooter models. They are now popular in Asia as well as parts of Latin America, specifically Puerto Rico.

Like with most motor vehicles, the scooter is subject to the strict emissions standards in the United States. Both the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued restrictions on the emissions allowance. In an effort to better accommodate these guidelines, motor scooter manufacturers have turned to fueling their vehicles with liquid petroleum gas (LPG) instead of gasoline or diesel.

Besides these more advanced features, modern scooters on the higher end of the price range boast technological, comfort, and aesthetic additions. For example, frames have become stronger and sleeker, as manufacturers have favored cast aluminum frames over other materials, as well as more efficient engines and braking systems. To increase the passenger's comfort, complementary features including windshields and heated hand grips have been found on newer scooter models. In addition, the vehicle already provides the palate for expression of individual taste, as evidenced by shops that specialize in custom designs for the motor scooter.

Besides the trend in more customizable structures on the scooter, another emerging trend in progress is the move to larger engines. Originally ranging from 30-250 cc on a single cylinder engine, manufacturers have developed maxi-scooters with the intention of catering to the demand for bigger, more powerful models. Maxi-scooters exhibit engines ranging from 250-850 cc and operate on fully automatic transmissions.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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