No one’s mother is happy to hear, “Hey mom, I bought a motorcycle.” They’re considered dangerous, loud and fast. Scooters enjoy a better public image. They are not loud, not as fast, certainly not as dangerous – right?
That’s the commonplace attitude in the States. Oddly, common sense in Europe is that motorcycles are safer than scooters. Europeans believe that because of better training, safety gear, better suspensions, brakes, lights – your chances are much better on a motorcycle.
Who’s right? European safety studies are done every year comparing motorcycles and scooters. The last 5 years of data clearly show that scooters suffer a little more than two times more accidents than motorcycles. So the Europeans have a point: according to the data, riders are more at risk on a scooter.
In New York, it isn’t hard to find seasoned vets who believe much the same.
Dave Plansky, 37, has been riding all his adult life in NYC on both motorcycles and scooters. He has logged over 10,000 local miles on scooters and said that he feels safer on his motorcycle around town.
“The added power gives me more options,” said Plansky. “On my scooter, I play the roll of the rabbit. On the motorcycle, I’m more at ease – the louder exhaust – cars know I’m there, the ability to get away from trouble quickly. On the scooter, I’m just trying to get away from cabbies.”
That vulnerability can be deadly.
“The guy riding across the Brooklyn Bridge last summer and his scooter stalled, he got killed,” said Plansky.
Most non-riders believe motorcycles’ high speeds make them a more dangerous choice. But the statistics show that most motorcycle accidents occur in the 21-29 mph range – which coincidently is the most common operating speed of scooters.
According to the most comprehensive US motorcycle safety study of the 20th century, the Hurt report – a 5 year study of over four thousand accidents published in 1981 – the median pre-crash speed was 29.8 mph, and the median crash speed was 21.5 mph. The one-in-a-thousand crash speed was approximately 86 mph.
The Hurt report’s data show that most motorcycle and scooter accidents involve a short trip associated with shopping, errands, visiting friends, entertainment or recreation, and the accident is likely to happen close to home.
If high speed or the length of trips aren’t the deciding factors for accidents, maybe it’s the mindset of the riders themselves? Scooter riders appear to be the mature, more thoughtful lot – right? Not according to Demian Nuefeld, 35, the owner of the largest scooter/motorcycle garage chain in Manhattan.
“I deal with both types and scooter riders are – not as passionate about being on two wheels,” said Nuefeld. He believes they don’t need to be as involved because scooters have automatic transmissions and simpler riding characteristics, so anyone can ride with almost no training.
Nuefeld, who uses his Vespa scooter to distribute sales materials, believes that the way scooters are designed also allows for a more lax approach to training and riding. “If they can ride a bicycle, they can ride a scooter,” he said. “You don’t really need to know how to ride, so most scooter riders who do get their license never train again.”
Diana Chernov agrees. As a young woman who loves her scooter, she admits to a more casual attitude than when she rides her Ducati motorcycle. “The scooter is so convenient,” said Diana. “There’s less gear and more storage, so when I get where I’m going, I just jump off and toss my helmet in. With the motorcycle, there’s so much gear to wear and there’s nowhere to put it – I had to carry a backpack for all that stuff.”
Motorcyclists wear protective gear; scooter riders usually don’t. Close to all of the motorcycle riders subscribe to the ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) practice of riding with a full face helmet, gauntlet gloves, armored or heavy-leather jacket and armored, leather or protective pants.
Many of the scooter riders interviewed said they wear gloves if it it’s cold and never wear boots or protective pants. Very few wear armored jackets, and almost all wear open face helmets, which provide much less protection than the full face style.
Of course, motorcycle riders have good reason to take safety seriously.
It’s a much smaller number, single digits, but it should be mentioned that there are more fatalities among motorcycle riders than scooter riders. Mom, I’m still buying the motorcycle anyway.
My wife is a nurse, and her (purely anecdotal ) experience is that scooter riders most often had worse injures than motorcycle riders because of the point you raise in this article – motorcyclists are more likely to wear proper protective gear, while scooter riders don’t believe it’s necessary because they don’t see a low-powered little scooter as being dangerous.
Other factors could be that scooters tend to have smaller wheels and are therefore less stable than bikes with larger wheels, and scooter riders often have far less training than motorcyclists.