The majority of scooter production began after WW2 to provide cheap transport for the masses.
Factories either evolved from those of aircraft component suppliers or were set up by engineers wondering what to do with themselves after the end of the war.
There was no shortage of cheap labour and there was a huge demand, as the supply of fuel was limited and these small-capacity vehicles could deliver well over 100 miles to every precious gallon.
The most iconic model has to be Piaggio’s Vespa it set the engineering and the social style of the scooter for decades to follow. Everyone from Brigitte Bardot to John Wayne has been photographed with one, but the film Roman Holiday starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn did huge amounts for Vespa sales worldwide – a wonderful piece of product placement.
Perhaps the most successful scooter, depending on your definition of scooter as it doesn’t have footboards, is the Honda Cub in its three motor variants having sold more than 60 million since 1958.
Scooters are becoming increasingly sophisticated particularly the big ticket maxi-scooters. Countering this there has been an onslaught of budget scooters from China and South East Asia in the last ten years which has forced the Japanese manufacturers to rethink their pricing policy.
Almost in tandem with this has been the development of the electric scooter which many experts think is the way forward particularly for urban use where a very high percentage of journeys are less than 20 miles.
Insurance for scooters and mopeds has been something of a minefield so much so that some manufacturers have underwritten their own insurance in order to help sales. However Rampdale insurance brokers have specialised in providing moped and scooter insurance for more than 20 years.
What puts Rampdale apart from the rest is that it keeps abreast of the fast-changing market and lists all the manufacturers and models, even the obscure ones from South East Asia beginning with Z. Rampdale has people on the ground in China and Taiwan assessing the different models as they appear so owners are never likely to be refused cover on the grounds that the insurer doesn’t list that particular model.
What follows is a short history of most of the scooter brands, old and new, on sale in the UK.
Aprilia was founded by Alberto Beggio in 1945 and started producing bicycles at Noale, Italy where today the company’s racing division is based. It was only when the company passed to son Ivano in 1968 that motorcycles were put on the agenda.
The first products were two 50cc mopeds, the Colibri and Daniela. The Colibri was a sports moped with a five-speed Franco Morini motor and designed like a motorcycle compete with racing seat, clip-on handlebars and external fork springs. the Daniela, on the other hand, was more like a Raleigh Chopper with a motor.
But perhaps the model that established the Aprilia’s reputation was the 50 cc Scarabeo motocrosser of 1970.
National off-road success came in 1977 when Aprilia took the 125cc and 250cc Championships with Ivan Alborghetti. Then in the following year, Alborghetti and Aprilia came sixth in the World Motorcross Championship bring the brand to world attention.
The next corporate landmark came in 1985 when Aprilia entered MotoGP where Loris Reggiani picked up a third place at the factory’s “home” GP at San Morino. Since then many famous names have been associated with the marque including Biaggi, Capirossi, Gramigni, Locatelli, Sakata, Rossi, Poggiali and Lorenzo.
Having ticked that box, Aprilia went on to contest the “urban mobility market” in the nineties with a range of scooters kicking off with the innovative all-plastic Amico. The Scarabeo name was revived for a range of scooters from 50cc to 500cc and complemented by models like the Sportcity.
Aprilia’s innovative design and engineering was applied to its motorcycles too with models like the Shiver 750 with its revolutionary fly-by-wire throttle and the Mana 850 which broke new ground by using a fully electronic automatic gearbox.
Aprilia has been successful by adopting a distinctive V-twin powerplant for its 4-stroke road and race machines but its 2-stroke RS125 and 250 models did much to establish the brand in the UK with the 1980s generation of riders. The company’s V-twin formula also translated well to off-road where the RXV 450 and 550 have taken the worlds of Enduro and Supermoto by storm.
Taken over by the Piaggio Group in 2004, Aprilia has managed to retain its identity and benefits from the commercial muscle afforded by a global manufacturer. It continues to produce individual and exciting machines like the RXVs and, introduced in 2008, the RSV4 one of the best Supersports machines on, and off, the track.
Aprilia scooters will continue to roll off the production lines and no doubt there will be some interesting developments here too.
Baotian is an established manufacturer of scooters and off-road vehicles, with markets in more than 100 countries. Based in mainland China, Baotian was set up in 1994 after many years of research.
Since 2005 Baotian UK has distributed a range of fully automatic, “twist & go” scooters from 50cc to 125cc and the Baotian BT49QT-9 has consistently topped the 50cc scooter sales chart. The products are distributed through a dedicated dealer network which supplies all the after sales and servicing support to the customer.
Scooters can be ordered direct from Baotian UK to be delivered to your door. Direct prices are the same as the Suggested Retail Price from a dealer and there is a delivery surcharge for the more far-flung areas of the British Isles.
All prices are for a fully assembled scooter that has registered and fitted with a number plate, had a pre-delivery inspection and been test ridden by an experienced technician.
Another Italian company with an impressive racing heritage. Benelli was founded by Teresa Benelli, a widow who invested the family wealth in a garage business to keep her six sons out of mischief.
The Benelli garage in Pesaro in 1911 repaired cars and motorcycles the difference was that it made most of the parts needed to effect the repairs. In 1920 Benelli produced its first complete engine, a 75cc, 2-stroke single cylinder unit intended for powering bicycles. This was soon followed by the first motorcycle which had a 98cc motor.
The youngest Benelli, Tonino, was a talented motorcycle racer and he successfully showcased the family product which by this stage was a 150cc 4-stroke.
When, in 1927, Benelli produced the overhead camshaft 175cc racer, Tonino took it to three national championship titles, 1927, 1928 and 1930. He also took the title the following year with double overhead camshaft version. Unfortunately, he was killed in a factory testing session in 1937.
Another stroke of bad luck for Benelli was the outbreak of WW2. Benelli had won the 1939 Lightweight TT with its double overhead camshaft 250cc single and had developed a supercharged 250cc four-cylinder machine that produced 62 bhp with which it was going to blitz the 1940 European (world) Championship. However, someone else’s world domination plans got in the way.
The post-war period saw Giuseppe Benelli go his own way forming the Motobi concern. By the early 50s, Benelli had its lightweight range of 98cc and 125cc models as well as the larger 350 and 500 singles.
Racing activities continued throughout this decade and into the 60s when some famous names including Tarquinio Provini and Renzo Pasolini were Benelli mounted and winning championships. Kel Carruthers won the 250 world title and the Lightweight TT in 1969, the last year these titles were contested on 4-stroke machinery.
Also during the 60s, Motobi had been brought back into the fold and some of its models had become popular in the USA including the Tornado 650 twin, built to compete against the BSA and Triumph twins, which provided some welcome revenue.
By the early 70s, the Japanese had caught most of the western motorcycle manufacturers napping and fortunes were changing for many. Another struggling Italian manufacturer was MotoGuzzi so it and Benelli became part of the De Tomaso empire along with other automotive legends such as Maserati and Ghia.
During this period the extravagant multi-cylinder models were produced from the exquisite 250 four-cylinder to the gargantuan 900 Sei (six) probably the only motorcycle to run a duplex drive chain. Fortune, however, did not favour the brave and the company was soon back in financial straights and merged with Moto Guzzi and the old production facilities at Pesaro were disposed of.
Just before the Benelli coffin was about to disappear through the curtains, up popped Benelli enthusiast and businessman Andrea Merloni. Merloni introduced the stylish and purposeful Tornado Tre 900 and also a range of scooters which was probably the saving of the company.
Benelli is now part of motor Group Qianjiang, a corporation located in south-east China. Benelli Q.J. is now back in Pesaro where it might live happily ever after. The scooter range comprises the urban-styled 49X, the sports “Velvet”, the commuter “Caffe Nero” and the fashionable “Pepe”.
The CPI Group is Taiwanese and was founded in 1991 to manufacture scooters, motorcycles and ATVs and has operations in Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, USA and Europe. Combined production from its factories in China, Taiwan and Indonesia is in excess of half a million units.
CPI Europe is based in Austria and was set up in 1999 and a team of European engineers oversee the quality control in the Asian factories. In the UK CPI Moto stocks parts for nine models of scooter including the hybrid design GTR, the trail (SX) and supermoto (SM) style motorcycles and the XS250 quad bike.
The South Korean Daelim Motor Company (DMC) has, since 1978, effectively been the two-wheel division of Kia Motors (both owned by the Daelim Group) though it has been a dedicated scooter manufacturer as far back as 1962. At the last count, DMC was producing some 300,000 scooters a year.
The company puts its success down to initial market research enabling it to produce scooters that people actually want and being able to produce high-quality parts and engines due to its knowledge and experience in die-casting.
As part of its expansion into different markets, Daelim produced a 100cc motorcycle in 1992, the Altino in naked and faired versions. It had been a three-year development programme and the end result sold like hot rice cakes.
The move up the capacity ladder came in 1997 when Daelim released its 125cc models and again these were well received. But ironically the model that continues to be the most successful for the company is the 100cc 2-stroke Delfino (notice the Italian sounding name).
Its popularity can be put down to its light weight and brisk motor producing a lively, well-behaved scooter. Again Daelim puts the lightweight down to its core die casting skills.
Daelim customers can be reassured that they are dealing with the largest manufacturer of scooters and motorcycles in South Korea and a major global player. The Daelim Group has 13 subsidiaries operating globally in the engineering, construction, petrochemical, finance, leisure and real-estate industries.
The Daelim UK range offers a mix of fashionably funky, practical, economical and stylish with a selection of engine sizes. All Daelim UK models come with 2-year parts and labour warranty.
One of the newer European brands available in the UK, Generic started in Austria at the end of 2004. The company sees itself as following in the footsteps of famous brands such as KTM, Rotax and Puch albeit with manufacturing in Asia.
The design house Kiska, one of the most influential in motorcycling, has been responsible for shaping the Generic range. Having European design and quality control with low-cost manufacturing is Generic’s formula for success, that and its ability to react quickly to European trends in terms of new models.
To prove the point there are nine scooter models available in the range including the 50cc and 125cc variants. Also offered are the geared, six-speed 50cc trail and supermoto motorcycles.
The history of Honda would fill a book, in fact, it has filled several. Now a global manufacturer of motorcycles, cars, boats and planes, though like many manufacturers, Honda began with one man, Soichiro Honda, wanting to produce cheap transport for the masses after WW2, he just got a bit carried away. Honda is by some way the largest motorcycle manufacturer on the planet.
The first all Honda motorcycle was the Model D of 1949.
The D stood for Dream and today that aspirational theme continues in the corporate slogan “The power of dreams”.
When people talk of the early Japanese motorcycle industry is responsible for the demise of the British one, with a few notable exceptions, it was mainly down to Honda.
It’s many benchmark models blew the competition into the weeds. Electric start, oil-tight engines were instantly appealing to people who rode motorcycles because they couldn’t afford a car, the enthusiast biker would take a little longer to be persuaded.
Honda popularised the step-thru concept with the Super Cub later to be offered in C50, C70, and C90 versions which are still the best selling two-wheelers of all time. At the prestige end of the scale, the four-cylinder CB750 introduced in 1969 dealt a body blow to every other manufacturer.
In the UK BSA/Triumph was about to launch a four-cylinder version of its acclaimed 750 triples but gave up after seeing the CB750. In 1975 the GL1000 Gold Wing with its horizontally-opposed, four-cylinder engine and shaft drive set the standard for what was to become the Super Tourer.
Honda still produces the Gold Wing but it’s grown two extra cylinders, 800cc and an armchair over the years. The 70s also witnessed the transverse six-cylinder engined CBX1000 and the CX500, a liquid-cooled, transverse V-twin. The liquid cooling meant that it was chosen to be the recipient of a turbocharger in the shape of the CX650 Turbo at the time when all major manufacturers had to have one in their range.
The list goes on, the 80s saw the development of the V-4 engined VF range of which the VFR1000 is the only survivor. The following decade Honda defined the Supersports class with the CBR900 Fireblade.
Throughout, Honda has also catered for the volume market with small capacity machines and scooters.
The Honda scooters on offer today are not the budget end of the market. Top of the range is the Silver Wing 600 maxi scooter complete with Anti-lock Brake System. ABS is also fitted to the SH300i, the SH125i is available in six colours, two more than the rest of the range.
There are a further three 125 to chose from including the Innova which is a modern take on the Cub. the only 50cc listed for the UK is the Zoomer a funky ‘ped.
Part of the Chinese Qianjiang Group, Keeway is the registered brand in Europe and apart from the UK has operations in 37 other EU countries and in total 50 countries worldwide The European research and development centre is based in Italy.
Across all markets and all products, the Qianjiang Group produces more than 1.3 million units.
Keeway produces scooters and motorcycles up to 250cc and like other Euro-Asian concerns the quality for the UK market has to be the best that Group produces.
In the UK Keeway is distributed by MotoGP which also handles Benelli another Qianjiang Group brand.
The Keeway scooter range comprises five different styles of 50cc and two 125, one of which, the Hacker 125 is a medium-sized scoot able to carry a pillion passenger in comfort. In addition, there’s the Partner 110 a step-thru with full-sized wheels and clutchless four-speed gearbox.
KYMCO is “better than best,” says the company logo. Well, it can afford a bit of hype as it has been around since 1963 and is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of scooters, motorcycles and ATVs.
It currently exports to 74 countries and employs more than 3000 people. Celebrating ten years in the UK and to be fair, the UK corporate line is “wherever life takes you”. And you can get there on an 11-strong model range.
Not only is there a choice of 50 and 125cc in most models, the Super 8 offers 2 or 4-stroke power and if a little extra power is required the Like scooter is available in a 200i version. All KYMCO models are backed by a 2-year unlimited warranty and there is now a UK network of more than 150 dealers.
Lexmoto and its sister brand Pulse are sold through Chinese Motorcycle Dealers which in turn is operated by Llexeter Ltd. CMD is the largest dealer network of Chinese scooters, motorcycles and quads in the UK and is a parts stockist for many other Chinese brands.
CMD is also a member of the Motorcycle Industry Association the first Chinese import dealer network to achieve this.
Having offices in the Chinese provinces of Chongqing and Zhejiang where most of the vehicles are made. Llexeter Ltd is in a prime position to offer this parts service, not only by knowing the best products but also by maintaining daily contact and a healthy working partnership with the major manufacturers.
Of the two brands, Pulse is the more upmarket with newer Lexmoto offering more value products. There are eight scooters in the Lexmoto range, 50 and 125cc spanning the style gamut from retro through classic to youth.
Pulse has four 50s and a 125, all well designed and produced. The scooters from both ranges may have different origins but are linked by a common level of quality which is what CMD strives to be recognised for.
Essentially a one-trick pony, LML make a Vespa PX125 in Kanpur, India under an arrangement with Piaggio and call it the Star, these are imported into the UK by AK International.
The Star is a classically styled, steel-bodied scooter with a 4-speed, twist-shift transmission. The 125cc reed-valve engine is Euro 3 approved and the Star is available in a range of seven colours.
It’s not surprising that Peugeot as a maker of bicycles in 1830 should’ve become one of the earliest motorcycle manufacturers. The company began producing powered two-wheelers in 1898, by that stage it had also been making cars for 16 years.
The lion trademark was applied for in 1858 and you can’t really have a brand without a trademark. Now the brand is part of the PSA-owned Peugeot Citroen conglomerate Europe’s second largest vehicle manufacturer.
In 1953 at the Paris Motorcycle Show Peugeot launched its first scooter, the S55, featuring enclosed bodywork and a 125cc 2-stroke motor with a cooling fan.
This model was developed over the next few years and its capacity raised to 150cc which served the company well for the following decade. It wasn’t until the 1970s that production began to expand and then in the 80s Honda acquired a 25 per cent holding in Peugeot Motorcycles and there was a relaunch of the scooter range.
Mopeds with their different license classification were much more popular in France than in the UK in the 50s and 60s. This was the era of the sports moped which came to be known as “chicken chasers” which were designed as small motorcycles and owning one was the ambition of every French teenager.
The modern Peugeot scooters appeared in 1993 with the launch of the Fox and other models included the Zenith, Buxy and the sports Speedake, the Elyseo was introduced in 1997.
Innovative models followed such as the Elystar with fuel-injected engines, 2 and 4-stroke and linked brakes and ABS in the case of the 125cc version. The Jet Force became available with a forced-air induction motor – a scooter first.
In the UK Peugeot has had many best sellers and its Speedfight range is almost legendary. The Speedfight 50 is now in its third generation and is joined by the V-Click and New Vivacity in the 50cc sector. In the hotly contested 125 class Peugeot has the Sum Up, LXR, Tweet and the Satelis which is also produced in 250cc and 500cc versions.
PGO Scooters was founded in 1964 and it entered into technological cooperation with Italy’s Piaggio from 1972 to 1982. 1996 PGO became part of the Motive Power Industry Co, Taiwan.
Like many Taiwanese scooter companies, PGO started manufacturing parts for other larger companies before deciding to strike out on its own with internal research and development and unique products. PGO is one of the leaders in Taiwan’s very vibrant scooter industry and takes pride in its engineering expertise. It has pioneered the so-called EVO Turbo Double Pipes Technique.
This involves a secondary exhaust pipe which alters the pressure wave in the main pipe to increase combustion efficiency which in turn reduces exhaust emissions and improves fuel economy and power. PGO has also done a lot of work on four-valve technology for scooter applications.
For the UK, the PGO range consists of four styles of a moped in 50 and 125 versions and the PMX Naked an aggressively-styled 50 for the youth market.
Italy’s industrial history, like its politics, has always been complicated and in many instances intertwined. The Piaggio Group is no exception and is Europe’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles and scooters and now owns the Aprilia, Derbi, Gilera, Moto Guzzi, Piaggio, Vespa and Laverda brands.
The scooter concept really belongs to Piaggio but, as ever, the story begins way before that, in this case, 1884 when Rinaldo Piaggio founded a company to build locomotives and rolling stock. Like love, war changes everything and in WW1 Piaggio switched to producing aircraft.
Aircraft production carried on up to WW2 but if you build bombers during a war you become a target for bombs yourself and there wasn’t much left of the Pontedera factory by the end of hostilities.
Piaggio then turned its attention to providing low-cost transport for the masses. Part of the brief was that the vehicle had to be easy to drive for both men and women, be able to carry a passenger, and not get its driver’s clothes dirty.
To cut a very long and convoluted story short the “Vespa” was designed by an aeronautical engineer, Corradino D’Ascanio, who had designed and produced helicopters for the Agusta factory. Apparently, he hated motorcycles and was, therefore, the perfect person to design a scooter.
But for a bust-up between D’Ascanio and Ferdinando Innocenti, the Vespa would have been produced by Innocenti who then went on to make the Lambretta.
The Vespa was launched in 1946 and within ten years more than a million units had been produced and by the mid-50s they were being produced under license in various parts of the world including India and Brazil. By the end of the 50s, Piaggio was controlled by the Agnelli family as was pretty much the rest of Italy.
The aeronautical and motorcycle divisions were split in in 1964 and Piaggio Aero is now owned by Piero Ferrari whose other hobby is performance cars. The motorcycle company purchased Gilera in 1969.
Piaggio expanded and prospered until the death of Giovanni Agnelli in 1992 when it was acquired by venture capitalists Morgan Grenfell who tried to off load it in a Chinese joint venture project which failed.
Piaggio was eventually rescued by Roberto Colaninno who was flush with cash having just executed what was at the time Europe’s largest ever hostile take over when he moved in on Telecom Italia. Colaninno realised that in order to stay healthy in the global marketplace Piaggio needed to be bigger so Aprilia and Moto Guzzi were acquired and Piaggio floated on the Milan stock exchange becoming a public company in 2006.
Despite the economic downturn, Piaggio is still one of the strongest brands in the motorcycle and scooter business and in the UK has a loyal following for the traditional models and has invigorated the market with its three-wheeler scooter the MP3.
As one of the Big Four Japanese manufacturers, Suzuki will always command a decent entry in the motorcycling archives. Thanks to company founder Michio Suzuki, the Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company was big business in the 1920s when Japan was exporting large amounts of fabric and silks in particular.
However, that business peaked before WW2 and in the chaos which followed that conflict, the bottom fell out of the loom making business.
According to company historians, it was the son of the founder Shunzo Suzuki, who had the idea of motorising his bicycle. By the end of 1951 the engineers from the loom company were busily designing a cycle motor, As a result, the Power Free, 36cc 2-stroke motor arrived the next year to be followed by the Diamond Free.
Suzuki abandoned the cycle motors and in 1954 introduced the Mini Free which was a 50cc moped sold as a complete machine and the Suzuki Motor Co was born. The Mini Free was replaced by the Suzumoped in ’58.
By the time Suzuki started shipping “proper’ motorcycles to the UK in the 60s, it didn’t take long for a sporting reputation to build. The Suzuki T20 Super Six was the first production 6-speed motorcycle built and it was quick. Suzuki’s 2-stroke technology was superior at the time as it had stolen engineering guru Walter Kaaden from MZ.
The learner restriction in the UK in the 70s was 250cc and when Suzuki introduced the 250cc X-7 and it was speed tested at over 100mph there was a public outcry. Some say it was a major contributory factor to the law being changed to 125cc for learners.
From this heritage, the Suzuki GSX-R range evolved and with it the reputation for immodest performance at a modest price.
Suzuki was never particularly well known for its scooters, it didn’t need to be as it has always been strong in off-road sales as well as the mainstream. However, one model changed all that, the Burgman 650 it created the executive maxi-scooter class.
To be fair it hasn’t sold as well in the UK as it has in Germany, France and Italy but that’s as much to with national culture as much as anything. The trickle-down 400cc, 200cc and 125cc products are are the mainstays of the scooter range. The fill-ins are the Sixteen and a big wheel step-thru the Address.
AGC is the sole UK import concessionaire for the TGB range of high-specification and reasonably priced motor scooters. The TGB five scooter line up is readily available through a nationwide dealer network.
The range includes the Delivery in 50 and 125 versions which comes fully kitted for work with 150-litre carrying box, left and right side stands, parking brake, folding front footrests and a list of options. AGC also imports the Barossa 125 scooter.
These scooters are Type Approved and manufactured to the International Standard ISO 9001 by TGB (Taiwan Golden Bee) of Taiwan, a premier manufacturer and supplier of scooters to several countries within mainland Europe.TGB also specialises in the manufacture of high-quality continuous variable transmission (C.V.T.) units for many other scooter companies.
All TGB authorised dealers offer a full after sales service and a comprehensive range of approved spare parts are readily available. This motor division is part of AGC, a UK and Taiwan based company that has been supplying electronic vehicle security systems worldwide for over 20 years.
Yamaha is Japan’s second largest manufacturer of two-wheelers behind Honda. It’s also the youngest, not getting off the line until 1955 when then president of Nippon Gakki, (now Yamaha Corporation,) Genichi Kawakami, put to use some machining equipment used in the production of metal airline propellers to develop the first Yamaha motorcycle. It was the YA-1.
Yamaha entered the first YA-1 in the Mount Fuji Ascent Race and won perhaps this is why Yamaha has always had a healthy appetite for competition.
Like other manufacturers, Yamaha produced small capacity 2-stroke motorcycles which were quick and popularly the 125 and 250 twins. Then, out of the blue, in 1970 came a 650cc 4-stroke parallel twin.
This struck at the heart of the British motorcycle industry and needless to say, Yamaha’s double overhead camshaft motor, though not perfect was way better than most of the domestic offerings.
The 70s was also the period of the sports moped and here too Yamaha had it covered with the FS1E, every 16-year-old lusted after a “Fizzy”. Much of this brand loyalty stuck and Yamaha’s RD series of 2-stroke roadsters were top sellers for some time.
As 4-strokes took over from the 2-strokes Yamaha lost its way with some indifferent models though it did “quirky” quite well with the XS750 shaft drive triple.
It wasn’t until the EXUP sports models and the FJ1200 sports tourer that things began to get better. Then things got a whole lot better with the YZF-R1 which took the Supersports crown for a while.
Meanwhile, the scooter range was also coming on a pace where Yamaha is now a major player with many European companies sharing Yamaha technology. For the UK Yamaha contests all the classes with three 50cc models, four 125s and in the maxi-scooter class there’s the innovative T-Max 400 and 250 plus the Majesty 400.