If you’re reading this and you’re aged over 50 and like scooters you’ll have been privileged enough to have been a part of something rather special. You’ll belong to a hazy time when emissions problems were something for the future to worry about and if you wanted to buy or ride a smoky two-stroke of any capacity you still could.
Sadly those days are well and truly over. New two strokes are virtually a thing of the past and the ability to ride an older one will get harder and harder as time goes on. So we thought we’d jog the memory banks for you older readers and show the younger ones just some of the scooters they may have missed out on from the turn of the century. After all, us Brits have a long history and love of two-stroke scooters!
Piaggio Hexagon 1994-2002
I know, I know, it’s pig ugly to look at but the Piaggio Hexagon was way ahead of its time when it arrived in 1994 (not that it would look any prettier in 2022). This was designed by Piaggio to compete with the even uglier Honda Helix as an out-and-out commuter scooter with a big boot (later to be seen on the Piaggio X range and MP3). However, the Italians released it with a new 2-stroke liquid-cooled lump that would later find its way into many ground-breaking scooters.
Gilera Runner 50/125/180
Without a doubt, the Gilera Runner changed many riders' perceptions of automatic scooters. Before the 125/180 variants arrived autos were seen as something only ladies would ride. ‘Proper’ blokes rode a Honda C90, or a Vespa if they were cool enough and didn’t want a motorcycle. Suddenly we had a decent capacity two-stroke scooter in a sports chassis and with looks that at the time were fresher than a new Uni students first week. The 125/180 Gilera Runner (remember that engine from the Hexagon?) was fast and it caught on very quickly with the switched-on youth. It also caught the attention of some older scooter fans who were happy to embrace this new-fangled tech if it meant they could go faster than they could on their vintage geared scooters. The original Runner models have started to fetch decent money over the last couple of years, plenty of these were trashed, crashed, and stolen back in the day so it’s not easy to buy an unmolested one. The Runner is an appreciating classic.
Italjet Dragster 50/125/180
Not long after the Runner became popular, Italjet took things to the next level with the release of the iconic Italjet Dragster. With its steel trellis frame, quirky hub centre steering, Piaggio engine (remember that engine from the Runner & Hexagon?) and drop-dead good looks the Dragster turned many a hardened scooter boy towards the ‘Darkside’ of scootering. That engine was quick in stock form but by now the likes of an Italian tuning house, Malossi were providing lots of go-faster kits and parts for this new breed of automatic sports scooter.
The original Dragster now has a brand new and just as iconic modern brother, of course it only comes with a four-stroke engine but looks stunning. Meanwhile, the mark 1 Dragster isn’t overly expensive to buy, you can still pick one up for around £1500 but prices are starting to creep up.
Peugeot Speedfight 100
Now 25 years old, the Speedfight was France’s answer to the 1990s-sports scooter war and Peugeot made a good job of it too. The styling was bang on and it originally came with funky, single-sided front suspension to make it stand out from the crowd. That was later replaced by more conventional telescopic forks on the Speedfight 3 (pictured). The Peugeot was available in air or liquid-cooled 50cc and 100cc capacities. With sporty good looks, a decent finish and various special edition models it quickly grew in popularity making it a chart-topping sales success for Peugeot. The 100cc two-stroke engine was nippier than the fifty but lots of 17-year-olds wanted the extra capacity of a 125. It took Peugeot until 2014 to make one and then sadly it came with a four-stroke engine...
Piaggio Zip SP 50
Imagine you’re sixteen years old and need some transport that won’t make you look like a geek. What if you could buy the same moped as was being raced in the Piaggio Zip Cup by the likes of James Toseland and Leon Haslam? Yep, the liquid-cooled Piaggio Zip SP made a perfect race scooter, it was light, agile and easy to tune. Again, companies like Malossi, Polini, Pinasco, and Stage 6 quickly made this moped into something to style and tune up gaining it a cult following on and off the track. The Zip is still one of the finest handling race scooters around once you’ve added some fancy brakes and suspension. They’re still popular in the UK’s BSSO scooter racing championships as seen here at Anglesey recently.
Vespa PX 125/150/200
When we’re talking about legendary names, the Vespa PX is up there with the best of them. It had a 40-year production run that ended in 2017. It became the workhorse and rally bike of choice for thousands and thousands of UK scooterists and of course, was massive all around the world thanks to its simplistic nature and metal chassis, which made it both practical and repairable. The simple air-cooled two stroke engine had the traditional twist-shift four speed gearchange common to classic scooters since the late 1940s. Whilst its steel monocoque frame was pressed into the uber cool Vespa shape we all know and love. It was a sad day when the final PX models rolled off the production line in Pontedera, Italy but it still lives on around the world. A Vespa PX 125 can cost you around £1500-2500, whilst a decent PX 200 is likely to be £2000 upwards. I’ll always have one of these in my garage.
As a lifelong scooter rider, I’ve witnessed the steady decline of our beloved two strokes since I started riding in 1986.
Smoking, tyre shredding 500 Grand Prix bikes were killed off in 2002 to make way for four-stroke MotoGP bikes and that also signalled the death knell for many road bikes and scooters. The sad reality of the emissions restrictions has slowly but surely strangled ‘strokers’ ever since, leaving us with a diminishing pool of used machines, many of them already making it to classic or vintage status.
Over the next few years as the thumbscrews are to be tightened even further, not only will we have less chance of being able to ride them but we’ll also have fewer places to ride them, as towns and cities adopt low emissions zones. Already in many towns, you can see the look of horror on the faces of the public as you ride in, accompanied by what to us is one of the sweetest smells on the planet. Shopkeepers angrily close doors, ladies cover their faces, and children are left screaming in pushchairs. Middle-aged men smile and remember the days...
My advice to any of you youngsters who missed out on the fun of a high-revving two-stroke is to get yourself one whilst you still can. They’re an emotional thing to own and ride, they’ll also quickly empty your bank account and steal your soul but it’s worth it. You’ve been warned…
The Last Stop!
Whether you are looking to insure your sporty two-stroke or even a modern four-stroke scooter - make sure to get a Scooter and Moped insurance quote direct with Lexham!