Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Scooter cabs

Great story out of Egypt about a company, called Cabi, that uses motorcycles and scooters as taxis in the congested streets of Alexandria. When I first read the story my immediate response was cabs like that would be difficult for women in a country where women have to be careful on the streets. But I was heartened to see in the video that the vehicles are built with a separation between rider and passenger and more heartened to read that there's talk of female riders so women can feel comfortable with a quicker way through traffic. Seems like an idea that could be transplanted to other large cities.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Happy Birthday Vespa

Photo: Debi Goodwin.  First Vespa at the Piaggo Factory 
The Vespa is seventy years old this year. The post-war creation that sparked a romance with two wheels and a host of knockoffs now comes in a dozen models from the basic to the luxury version that bears the Armani name and all the elegance that implies.

I drive one of the"knockoffs," a Yamaha that tries to sound Italian with its label Vino, as if I'd drink and drive. I can't complain about my scooter. It's held up well but I've always been in sway of the Vespa and promised myself that if I achieved a significant benchmark, I'd reward myself with one. I don't know if I will ever buy another scooter but, if I do, I will succumb to the mythology that is Vespa, a mythology, that in my mind, comes with loaves of bread in the back and turns down narrow, ancient Italian streets with the wind moving through my hair a la Audrey Hepburn.

That mythology, like any fantasy, is of course far from the practical legacy of the Vespa: a world of two-wheeled commuters, of affordable transportation for millions around the world, especially in south-east Asia and India.

And a world where women gained more freedom of movement. At the Piaggio Factory in Pontadera, Italy the women who work in the gift shop, museum and on the factory floor take pride in that history. The creator of the Vespa, Enrico Piaggio, not only had a policy of hiring women in his factory but his intention in designing the prototype was to make a vehicle they could ride in a county where women had just got the vote.
Photo:Debi Goodwin. Vespa prototype at the Piaggio Factory 

The early advertisements for Vespa reflected both that intention and the feelings of freedom that two wheels offered, especially to women.

But while the Vespa has created a tradition of affordable transportation it also left a legacy of air pollution in cities like Delhi and Ho Chi Minh City where scooters outnumber cars and come close to matching the population. In China, the switch to cleaner electric scooters has happened because of regulations to battle smog. But in other places, riders aren't ready to give up on their aging gas-powered scooters.

Piaggio has been introducing greener scooters - both hybrid and electric -  but I've seen no evidence they are catching on. Wouldn't it be great if the company could create a sustainable scooter with the same cache and slew of copycats that the original Vespa? Now that would be a scooter I'd buy.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Breathing Easier in New Delhi

We're used to the pictures of pollution in Beijing where masked people can barely see their way through the streets. But the situation in the Indian capital is far worse, three times worse. It's air is now the most polluted in the world.

So, in New Delhi, on New Year's day they started a two-week experiment, keeping cars off the road on an every-other-day basis to combat air pollution. There are several exemptions to the rule including two-wheeled vehicles. Some say  motorcycles and scooters weren't included even though older two-stroke scooters have been described as "super polluters," because there would be too many people for the public transit system to handle.

Now, I like to think of scooters and motorcycles as healthier choices for the environment than cars but the research proves me wrong. And  the New Delhi experiment is telling. While cars account for 22 per cent of the particulate matter in the city's air, two-wheeled vehicles account for 32 per cent, according to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment. (Trucks account for 28 per cent.) But the number that's most startling is that public buses only account for 4 per cent of the particulate manner.

I'm a fan of two-wheelers but it's hard not to argue that buses - or other forms of public transit - make the best choice for the environment in congested cities like New Delhi. And that poorly maintained old technology gas-powered scooters and motorcycles are as much as a problem as cars. China has already restricted their use giving a boom to the development of electric vehicles. Maybe it's time India consider the same measures.

One entrepreneur at least, a woman, is ready. She's introducing electric scooters to the commuter market.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Seeing the Road Both Ways

Riding a motorcycle or a scooter demands attention. When I took a training course, the instructors told us to check our mirrors every five seconds. For me, I found it valuable training for driving a car too; when I'm on the highway I'm always trying to update the pictures of the cars around me: which car is moving too fast in the far lane and could cut across from me, whether the car behind me is too close and likely to plough into me if I have to stop quickly, which car seems likely to make a sudden lane change.

On a bike, these rapid updates become crucial so I was excited to read about a new helmet, one that makes me want to get back on my scooter. It's a solid helmet but one with a new ability.

The Skully Smart Helmet is on pre-order now and at a hefty price: $1,499 U.S. That's a lot more than the few hundred dollars for an approved, good-quality helmet that keep most riders safe. The helmet has been in the works for a while and made it to manufacturing through crowd sourcing.The Skully AR-1 uses cameras built in to the back to get a 180 degree view of the road projected on a display in front of the driver.

"We can't wait to ride with one," said Road and Track when it reviewed the prototype in 2014.

Popular Science called it a "helmet for the digital age." With internet and GPS, the helmet adds to the rider's ability to know what's coming on the road.

If I keep riding, I'll need a new helmet next year. But, although the Skully sounds like a blast, I won't be buying one. If I were a racer, however, or someone who traveled across North America on a bike, I'd definitely consider one. A helmet that could save your life in more ways than one seems like gold.

Other helmet companies are working hard to catch up so smart helmets could become more competitively priced. But the Skully remains ahead of the crowd. I tried to open links to one company that was working on a smart element but their sites no longer exist. Road-tested competitors may be awhile. If you're a seriously rider and a fan of technology and Iron Man I don't see how you can't be tempted now.

Photos from Skully Helmet website

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Goodbye to Scooters?

It may be time. I'm not getting any younger and I now live in a place where I like to ride my bicycle along riverside bike paths and where I need to drive my car to get groceries because stores are a ways away and we stock up when we go.

My scooter spends most days in the garage. I can count on one hand the number of times I've ridden it this summer. Just enough to keep the battery charged. I do enjoy riding it on country roads but I have always liked having a purpose for my scooter whether it was for commuting or running errands. But I work at home now; don't go to the shops near me.

Anyone who follows this blog or has hit upon it and scanned the archives knows I haven't been writing about scooters as often as I once did. So I'm wondering if I should give up both the blog and the scooter.

I had to buy my licence for the scooter recently and I suppose it was some sort of commitment to decide to pay for two years instead of one. This may be a lull, I tell myself. Perhaps I will begin a new endeavour where the scooter again makes sense, I say. And I'm still fascinated with the transformative powers of scooters in so many countries in the world, particularly for women. And still excited about its possibility for cleaner air and less congested traffic.

So I'm not quite ready to throw away the keys, keep my fingers off the keyboard completely. But consider this blog on hiatus 'til I find my way with my scooter again.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A Split Personality

Now this is a cool idea. It`s an electric car you could use to ride into the city with a spouse or friend. The difference is that when you get there and have to go your separate ways, voila, you separate the car into two motorcycles.

It`s called the Lane Splitter. And it was envisioned in a brainstorming session at argodesign in Texas after a guy named Mark Wilson of Fast Company came to them with a rough idea he`d used as a concept in a video series Creative Director for the Day. He wanted to come up with real design he could take to the New York Auto Show.

Don`t expect to see the Lane Splitter on the roads any time soon. It`s still a concept with a lot of technical problems to be solved such as how the two motorcycles would be securely coupled and how a motorcycle with one flat side and one curved side would perform to name two.  But it`s fun to imagine the freedom it would offer. And, hey, all innovations have to start somewhere.

Photos: argodesign

Monday, 4 May 2015

Bravo Melbourne!

Driving through the centre of Toronto these days is maddenly slow. With lanes reduced on the Gardiner Expressway, which crosses the south end of the city, and heavy congestion elsewhere getting from east to west in the city can take three times longer than it did just a few years ago. And the longer a car - more often than not with one occupant - sits in traffic, idling and moving slower than the highway laws allows, the more C02 emissions it pours into the atmosphere.

This in a city that has been making it harder for scooters and motorcycles to find a place to park downtown.

So Bravo Melbourne. The Australian city has come up with a Motorcycle Plan for 2015-2018 to give special treatment to scooters and motorcycles to encourage more commuters to ride two-wheeled vehicles into the city.

The draft plan calls for an expansion in free parking for scooters and motorcycles throughout the municipality as well as requirements for private buildings to create extra spaces as well.

It also addresses concerns of safety.Twenty per cent of Melbourne's traffic accidents in 2013 involved scooters and motorcycles, a far higher percentage than the number on the roads. The plan calls for all levels of governments to rethink hazards like posts and sharp metal barriers and come up with new safer street designs.

Why is the city doing all this? Because its council believes that getting more two-wheeled vehicles on the streets will reduce travel times and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. It cites a European study that showed that if 10 per cent of private cars were replaced by motorcycles, the commute decreases by almost half.

The plan still has to pass a vote. If it does, here's hoping Toronto and other North American cities take note.