I know what the answer is going to be from fans of traditional geared Vespas and Lambrettas. Nobody will ever persuade them that anything made of plastic is better than real steel and aluminium.
I have some sympathy. I love the styling and simplicity of classic scooters. I even perversely enjoy the cycle of break it, fix it, ride it. That’s how you learn about how things work.
These days many people don’t want to know how things work, they just want to use them. For commuting in a busy city centre a reliable automatic scooter with electric start is almost certainly a better tool.
The question is: are modern scooters getting better or worse for the imposition of successive European regulations?
As petrol-powered vehicles mobilise more and more of the planet they become their own worst enemy. Pollution is inevitable and greenhouse gasses produced from burning virtually anything are now being blamed for global warming.
Do scooters contribute to the problem? Yes
Are two-wheels the real core of the problem? No
The European solution to this issue has been to introduce progressively tighter regulations for new vehicles. Two-wheelers are currently on Euro-3 and Euro-4 is being implemented this year.
These new regulations not only cover emissions but all sorts of other vehicle specifications such as braking, On-Board Diagnostics, compulsory daytime headlights and so on.
What does it mean for my next scooter?
Emissions regulations already introduced have killed off many of the fun over-50cc 2-strokes such as the Gilera Runner 180, so choice has already been restricted.
The only surviving over-50cc road-going 2-stroke scooters in the UK are now the Vespa PX125 and the last of the LML Star 2T models. If you want one you’d better be quick because there probably won’t be any new ones left after the end of this year.
Euro-4 steps things up another notch and may well kill off many more well-known scooter models as factories struggle to make current vehicles meet not only the emissions standards, but also those for braking. Ian Kidson from the UK Kymco importers expects their model range to halve in 2017.
What are the issues?
Compared to Euro 3 (from 2007), the Euro 4 specifications roughly halve the permitted outputs of Carbon Monoxide (CO), Hydrocarbons (unburned/evaporated fuel) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).
Halving these outputs is actually a massive deal in much the same way it would be if you asked a manufacturer to halve the fuel consumption of a vehicle. It is completely impossible for many older engine types (big 2-strokes) to comply and only possible for modern 4-stroke engines with some compromises.
The compromises required include increased use of catalysers, revised fuel injection mapping and timing. Basically everything has to be adjusted to meet the limits and what is sacrificed in order to do so is power output.
‘Basically Euro-4 means scooters that are slower than before.’
The thing with losing power is that if you have a surplus in the first place, as most modern cars and sportsbikes do for normal roads, then you can afford to lose a few percent and not worry.
When you have a smaller-capacity vehicle – like a scooter – that spends a lot of time on full throttle then any power loss is highly noticeable. Once the throttle is on the stop you can’t wind any more on to compensate for a bunged-up catalysed exhaust.
Less is simply less. Fewer emissions = less power.
- ON-BOARD DIAGNOSTICS
Every vehicle manufacturer knows that reducing performance is unpopular with buyers, so they do their best to minimise the impact of the Euro regulations. Or in Volkswagen’s case, they use technology to cheat.
Previously the expectation for vehicles was that they should meet the emissions regulations as they left the shop. Job done.
After the vehicle is sold there’s a whole tuning industry out there to strip off all the bungs and liberate more ponies. The manufacturers don’t really mind because as soon as you start tampering you invalidate the warranty; which saves them some money.
Volkwagen’s failing was that new vehicles would only meet those regs if you tested them on a dyno, but the VAG-group diesel was clever enough to realise that if it wasn’t in test conditions it could liberate a little more power and produce a little more dirt. ‘Not good enough’ said the regulators, hence Volkswagen’s massive fines for cheating.
For motorcyle Euro-4 the goal-posts move again. Now the vehicle is expected to maintain the same emissions level for 20,000km (12,000 miles). On-Board-Diagnostics (OBD) is there to help diagnose whenever the computer (ECU) notices a fault code.
OBD-1 can be an asset because it will tell a mechanic if one of the increasing numbers of sensors on a vehicle, for emissions or ABS etc, has failed. In the future, it will also act to record any out-of-specification running. For Euro-5 (from 2020) the vehicle is supposed to maintain its emissions standards for the lifetime of the vehicle and OBD-2 will be there to keep an eye on it. Basically the scooter will police its own emissions.
Don’t get too tied up in knots about all this because in reality, electronic stuff is often easier to hack than physical stuff. It doesn’t mean that tuning won’t exist by then, it just means that more of it will be done by mobile phone app than with a grinder…
VIDEO: SLUK tests Piaggio ABS vs Honda CBS
At last, this is where we get to some good news, particularly for learners.
Euro-4 requires some upgrading to brake systems to add either an Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) or a Combined Braking System (CBS) on machines over 50cc
ABS uses wheel speed sensors to calculate differences in rotation. If one wheel locks under braking then the brake force to that wheel is momentarily released in order to allow the tyre to regain traction. ABS is expensive but in our tests it can save you from a crash during a panic braking situation on a greasy or loose surface.
ABS isn’t perfect, but it works in more situations than it doesn’t, so overall, for most riders, it is probably a bonus.
CBS, also known as linked braking, is the cheaper alternative. On an automatic scooter it means that when you apply the rear brake some force is also applied to the front brake for improved stopping distances.
In our experience CBS is often an advantage, particularly for lazy riding in cities but there are occasions where it is not helpful. On icy surfaces where you have to brake gently then the last thing you want is any front brake being applied if you touch the rear brake.
Given these options, I would always prefer ABS over CBS if there was a choice available, but of the two ABS will always be more expensive.
Incidentally, even the braking regulations help to put the last nail in the Vespa PX’s coffin because it would be virtually impossible to adapt ABS to suit the PX and hard to implement CBS on a cable rear drum brake set-up.
Oddly enough the Vespa Cosa, with its hydraulic rear drum brake, was one of the first scooters to feature CBS so it is possible to implement on classic scooters, just not very easy.
VIDEO: Bosch scooter ABS
So here’s the rub. Not only will Euro-4 scooters probably perform ever so slightly worse than Euro-3 versions, but often they will cost more as well. UK scooter prices are already rising due to the impact of post-Brexit vote currency fluctuations. Implementing ABS costs around £200 extra per vehicle, but unlike additional catalysers you are actually getting something worthwhile for your money. With CBS the cost is smaller but so are the benefits.
What does this mean to me?
At the moment there is a trade-off to be made.
The UK motorcycle and scooter importers have been given an extended period stretching into 2017 in order to clear stocks of Euro-3 spec vehicles. As Euro-4 vehicles start to arrive there are already some good deals and big discounts to be found on older spec scooters.
So what are the differences?
- Likely to be slightly more powerful
- Likely to be discounted
- Less likely to have ABS or CBS fitted
- Unlikely to hold their value quite as well as the latest model
- Will have the clear advantage of ABS or moderate advantage of CBS
- Likely to be more expensive due to higher technology braking
- Likely to be slightly slower than a Euro-3 version
- More likely to hold its second-hand value
For the moment the 50cc market is different and mopeds are not required to have ABS or meet such stringent emissions targets.
Tightening emissions regulations mean that scooters are likely to become less fun from now on with every future ratchet of the law. That doesn’t mean the end to tuning or entertainment value, but obtaining more performance will get progressively more complex.
Essentially, if you want a new scooter then until the electric revolution, the ones in the dealers now are likely to be as good as it gets in terms of performance, but maybe not in safety.
Thanks to Ian @ Masco for help with the video