Friday, March 27, 2015

Less Ego, More Eco

The automobile.  The car.  The whip.  The banger.  The hotrod.  The soccer-mom mini-van.  They’re comfortable, no doubt.  The cushy seats, the stereo blasting your sexy-time Pandora play list—it’s all fantastic inside that steel and glass bubble.  The average modern-day family car, like the Toyota Highlander, for instance, boasts an on-board navigation system, a back-up camera, a panoramic moon roof, a three-zone automatic climate control feature, and a goddamn heated steering wheel. All that for a cool $45K (before taxes, fees, and undercoating—wink, wink).  But do you really need an eight-passenger teched-out studio apartment on wheels to drive two miles for a half-gallon of almond milk?

The infrastructure in the United States would suggest so.  It was built around these gas-guzzling beasts—so much so, that many of our mass-transit railroad systems were ripped up to make way for asphalt-paved highways, forcing our culture to be one of concrete and cars. 

In 1949, three of our largest corporations--General Motors, Standard Oil of California (SoCal, now Chevron) and Firestone Tire and Rubber (now Japan's Bridgestone)--were convicted of having conspired for more than a decade to replace highly efficient urban electric transit systems with bus lines…Los Angeles is an ecological wasteland. The palm trees are dying from petrochemical smog; the orange groves have been paved over by 300 miles of freeways; the air is a septic tank into which 4 million cars, half of them built by General Motors, pump 13,000 tons of pollutants daily. Road to Perdition, The Nation.

But don’t worry; it’s not all doom and plume (of smoke).  In 1946, an aircraft company, Piaggio, who was building fighter jets in WWII, agreed to create and manufacture a more peaceful product if we, the Americans and our respective allies, agreed not to bomb the shit out of their factory.  Subsequently, they filed for a patent for the Vespa scooter, which touted it as a “model of a practical nature.” 

Here we are, sixty-nine years later, and it still is “practical” in nature.  Not much has changed in the design from the first mass-manufactured Vespa model.  The bodies of the bikes are still made from a solid piece of steel, in the same factory in Pontadera, Italy, and will cost you about a tenth of your existing transportation expenses to operate, compared to using a car. 

For instance, what do you pay for insurance on your car?  Seventy, eighty bucks a month?  Yeah, I pay $73.  FOR THE YEAR.  And, that’s for two bikes.  Using the break-even analysis method, and supposing that you drive 40 miles per day on average, in a car that gets 12 MPG, a $4000 scooter will pay for itself in less than one-and-a-half years (scooter-cost calculator).  Suck on that one the next time you’re sitting in traffic.

Yep, that’s another benefit—there’s no such thing as sitting in traffic.  You pass go, you move to the front of the line.  You get to ride in the HOV lane just like you were a Prius, but more dork and less smug.

These days, Vespas use four-stroke engines—which produce fewer emissions than the original two-stroke models, have fuel injection, a sturdier suspension, ABS brakes, and increased fuel efficiency at 120MPG for a 150cc.  There’s no panoramic moon roof—but that’s because there’s simply no roof. 

Riding a Vespa is not always ideal—there’s rain to deal with.  One must wear a helmet, and should, if being a responsible rider, wear all of the correct riding gear including armored jackets, gloves, and boots.  And there’re some serious cons to that.  Helmet hair is probably the number one complaint.  So much so, that there’s a website,, that’s dedicated to all sorts of issues such as which styling products work best, among others. 

If you can get over the fact that you can’t scarf down a Big Mac with your feet on the dash while cruising down the highway at 80 MPH, you might be okay with this solution.  Many people have made the transition from car to scooter, if not full-time, part.  Here’s a little sound-bite from Author, Robert Digitale of The Press Democrat:

In the early years, we still kept two cars. But in May 2010, our ’92 Dodge Caravan stopped running. Here’s all you need to know about why we didn’t get another car. We have paid for nine straight years of colleges for three daughters. And we still have one more year of college bills in front of us.
A year ago, we started to get by with one car and one scooter. It works because I live only about a mile from the newspaper office. I can ride the scooter throughout the year if the streets are dry.  Press Democrat

Robert prefaced this statement by this:

My children probably thought it was our response to them leaving home. Some parents get a dog. We got a shiny red Piaggio Fly 150. One daughter thought it was really cool. One worried that we would end up in the emergency room. And one seemed slightly embarrassed by her parents’ mid-life crisis.  Press Democrat

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also have a car.  I’ve got one and I drive it, but generally for things like Costco runs and the daily shuttling of Hubie Brown, my Old English Sheepdog.  But when it’s me—and just me—I’m on my badass motor scooter, cruising down the road, dorky as hell, and happy about it too.  Not only can I fit a half-gallon of almond milk on the bike, but Hubie Brown is learning to ride it too. 

Works Cited

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