"I SAW A GUY IN A SUIT ON A VESPA TODAY, AND I THOUGHT OF YOU"
A passing comment by a friend at work seeded the notion that while I'd been talking the efficient car talk, driving my tuned '72 BMW 2002 to work 50 miles a day, I could only play the recycled car card for so long. Twenty-five miles per gallon in my vintage Bimmer, while putting the current army of SUVs to shame, wasnt nearly enough to offset the lack of a catalytic converter. I had already purchased a 2007 MINI Cooper S, and Id hypermiled it to heights of 44 mpg, mixed mileage in traffic. But my wife's commute was nearly double mine, so soon the pint-sized Apollo rocket I'd designed a hundred different ways on MINIusa.com became my secondary ride.
MOD NOT ROCKER
Riding a scooter to work is definitely viable here in Sun Diego. In fact, year round convertible and motorcycling weather lured me here from the bleak winters of Delaware fourteen years ago. But to be eco, a scooter would have to do better than my last bike, a '96 Suzuki Katana 600. I had commuted to work with it during the El Niño winter of 1997, and though I'd taken new delivery on the bike, I made the mistake of allowing the shop to "breathe on it a bit" and rejet the carbs for more performance. That bike was FAST, but my average of 25 mpg was less than stellar. So I started researching Vespas, the scooter worlds equivalent of Alfa Romeo. It didnt take long for my motorhead to meet my eco in a conference committee and resolution GTV 250 was put forward. This is Vespas top dog, featuring a 4-stroke, fuel injected, water cooled, 250 cc single cylinder, with oversized wheels (12 inches!) and the chrome and leather appointments that make it appear true to its lineage. 70+ mph, 70 mpg, and a cat' meant this commuter bike would be a giant step of Coltrane proportions.
LEAVE IT TO A SALESMAN TO DASH YOUR DREAMS
Ok, $7000 for a scooter is a lot of scrill, but money has never gone as far for Italian iron as it has for Japanese, so I was prepared to take a beating at the Aprilia/Vespa dealer. But the salesman didn't squash my dreams with added on expenses or warnings of high maintenance. Instead, he pulled a real world-class move and actually took the time to understand my background and gave careful consideration to what had let me there. "You dont want a Vespa," he chided. "Why go there when for just a few thousand more ($2,000), you could be riding a proper motorcycle?" he said pointing at the fuel injected, throttle-by-wire, v-twin 750cc Aprilia Shiver. His point: while the Vespa excelled as a city bike, 250cc's is still on the small side for California freeways. That and the sit-in style small-wheeled ride of the Vespa versus the sit on handling of a motorcycle made the argument of the 50 mpg Aprilia bike seem awfully compelling. Tail firmly tucked between legs, I went back to do more research about scooters highway proficiency and true attainable mileage of modern bikes. Seems Piaggio (Vespa's parent) and Yamaha now set the bar for freeway capable scooters with a 500cc class, but as luck would have it, both failed to register on my soul barometer.
I now found myself exploring the world of 600cc sport bikes. As is so often the case for petrolheads, I had let a simple comment by a friend get under my skin, and no ointment was going to fix it. It seems I needed a tire-shredding, highly tuned, crotch rocket, something that could make me choose it over the MINI on days when my wife worked from home. And it had to be more eco than any car we had. So I surveyed sport bikes and their strengths. I learned that virtually all new designs were sporting fuel injection and catalytic converters, so efficiency was up, and pollution was down. Good timing, mine. But make no mistake, these bikes were a quantum leap ahead of my old Katana in performance, which admittedly was a bit dated when new. In fact, with the exception of the liter sportbikes, these were the fastest vehicles my money could buy, yet they still managed better mileage than a hot hatch on steroids.