Mad Dogs and Scooters
July 02, 2005
By Mark Richardson, Toronto Star
Trust me – the open road looks a lot different at 70 km/h. The little
scooter buzzed away underneath, whirring along at maximum speed,
spinning its tiny heart out to make it to the ferry on time.
This was serious business. This was a rally for scooters only,
clockwise around Lake Ontario, through Toronto and over to Kingston,
across the international border and back through Rochester and Niagara
Falls. More than 800 km and a strict 24-hour time limit. No wonder it
was called the Mad Bastard Rally.
Scooters are about the most intelligent form of powered transportation
in existence. Small and inexpensive, they have a single gear and a
single purpose: to carry a person from A to B as effectively as
possible. That means the smallest and most efficient engine available
for the job, a comfortable seat and a minimum of fuss. For the first
hour or so of last Saturday’s ride, the 49 cc Yamaha BWS had all three.
The "B-Whiz sport scooter" is apparently the best-selling powered
two-wheeler in Canada bar none, outselling every other individual model
of motorcycle on the road. Yamaha sells about 4,000 of them each year
for around $2,850 each, with four in every five going to Quebec, where
licensing is less stringent and 14-year-olds are allowed to ride them
on public roads. Here in Ontario, the government still calls for a full
motorcycle licence to operate a scooter, although that may be about to
change (see sidebar below).
The 94 kg B-Whiz is hardly a full-size motorcycle, but that didn’t stop
it taking to the road with gusto at 4: 45 a.m. on Saturday. I rode with
Gary Davidson, the sole veteran of last year’s inaugural rally and the
proud owner of his own older BWS. Our limitations were comfort, speed –
no tickets for us – and a prohibition from riding on 400-series
highways and interstates. With a top speed through its constantly
variable transmission of 30 km/h below the legal maximum, 49 cc
scooters are neither permitted nor safe on such major throughways.
Lakeshore Blvd. and Hwy. 2 are more leisurely drives, though. With no
traffic, we nipped through downtown Toronto and up Kingston Rd.,
stopping only to take photos outside Donny Petersen’s Heavy Duty Cycles
shop. Points were to be awarded for goofy photos, and a picture of our
little scooters aspiring to be the exotic choppers inside the store
seemed like a good idea.
Besides, after an hour of riding, it was time to stretch the legs a
little. Scooters make you sit upright with your knees in front of you,
as if you’re in a church pew, and this is tiring after a while. It
makes sense in the city, zipping about on the short commuter trips for
which they’re designed, but not for hours on end over country roads.
I’d brought along my Butt Buffer motorcycle gel pad seat and paused
here to strap it over the regular seat; it certainly helped relieve
pressure on the cheeks. A CrampBuster plastic wrist rest on the
throttle grip took the twisting pressure off my right hand.
We pushed on, no time for coffee. There were prizes to be won for
completion, after all, including a stylish Yamaha Vino scooter. The
B-Whizs whirred on, riding well to the right like bicycles to not hold
back traffic on the two-lane road.
We stopped at Bowmanville to see some classic cars, and at Shannonville
to watch some of the country’s fastest motorcycles lap the track at
four times our speed. And with five minutes to spare, we made the
ferries from Kingston to Wolfe Island and then over to New York State.
The driving was different in America. As much as we tucked ourselves
over onto the verge of the road, the U.S. drivers were reluctant to
pass, preferring to follow behind for mile after
mile. Rob Harris, the founder of CMGonline.com, which organized the
rally, had warned us of this in the riders’ meeting the night before.
"In the States," he said, "they’ll drive behind you while the road is
clear and then gun it to overtake you on the curves. I don’t know why,
but they do."
He was right, but he should know. He rode this route last year on the
web magazine’s first rally and decided to repeat it this year.
There were only 16 entrants though, in three classes that included
larger scooters capable of 150 km/h or more. Despite their worldwide
popularity, scooters are still in their infancy
in Canada and few people own machines to compete.
As well, many of those who do own scooters use them for local commuting
and wouldn’t dream of subjecting themselves to the equivalent of a
long-distance motorcycle rally.
"We’re running a deficit on this," Harris said. "I’m not sure there’ll be a ‘next year.’ But I said that last year."
I was thinking the same thing as the highway straightened south of the
lake and fatigue set in from 12 hours on the road. After all, I was
making this trip on my own time and on my own dime, supposedly for the
pleasure of it. The largest scooters were already back in Burlington
and we were barely halfway around, riding under a 38-degree sun.
But an hour’s break for a meal in an air-conditioned restaurant did the
trick and we set off refreshed for Rochester and into the setting sun
for the final stretch to Niagara and the border.
So why do this at all? Because it’s a chance to get out into the
countryside and feel the pleasure of the road passing beneath our
boots. Because it’s not expensive – our scooters were getting 3.9 L / 100 km (71 mpg), and the whole trip would cost less than $30 in gas.
And because of the challenge of it, like climbing mountains or breaking
records. Apparently, an Australian scooter rider is claiming a world
record for riding 805 km in 24 hours – surely we could do better.
We crossed back into Canada at midnight and went straight to a coffee
shop, then buzzed up onto the Escarpment and Hwy. 20 for the final ride
to the start point in Burlington. Harris met us in the hotel parking
lot at 2 a.m. and collected our receipts and digital photographs.
After a good night’s sleep and a shower, the entrants gathered for lunch and to swap stories.
Costa Mouzouris told of how he rode just 50 km before his old Mobylette
moped broke down in Toronto; Peter Beckett told of the challenges of
searching for gas on a near-empty tank every 90 km. Everybody
sympathized with the riders of the vintage Vespas who couldn’t make it
around the lake in time.
And the winners were announced and I was declared the Maddest Bastard
and overall winner of the rally, thanks to a complicated scoring system
and the various photos I’d submitted.
But Gary and I were a team, so the team gets the scooter and Gary gets
to keep it, because he lives in the Beaches and can use the scooter
more than I can, living in the country.
We were both mightily impressed with the plucky B-Whiz. The little
orange scooter never faltered or complained; it pressed on with all the
courage of a stubborn pony.
Gary wants to trade in the Vino (which is limited to 50 km/h) for an
’05 BWS, with its bright headlights, underseat storage and
indestructible engine. I hope he does. That way I can go visit and take
it for rides around town.
Even after 800 km, it was still fun. Guilt-free, too. You can keep your
Smarts and even your hybrids – scooters are addictive.
Mark Richardson is the editor of Wheels.