Dec 21 2009 Harriet Ridley
Scooters for girls
I GOT in trouble with a male scooter fanatic recently. I was out to convince the minority of still-sceptic British girls that there's nothing butch about riding a scooter.
After all, Piaggio came up with the original design for the Vespa in 1946 so that both men and skirt-wearing women could ride them.
Piaggio says girls are particularly attracted to the latest crop of Vespas because they're stylish, and has come up with lively colour schemes to attract this important scooter-riding group.
While there are plenty of Vespas built for anyone who wants to ride one, man or woman (the Vespa GTS 125 and 300 Super caught my eye in Milan), the Vespa Rosa introduced to the UK last Spring, to name just one of them, is clearly designed for girls with its very pink colour scheme. A man would, as I wrote, have to be seriously in touch with his feminine side to ride one of these. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
But apparently, I'm propagating a sexist myth here in the UK that all scooters, and Vespas in particular, are girls' bikes. I don't believe that for a second. Open any scooter brochure and it's still mostly male models riding the bikes, Vespas included - although perhaps not the Rosa. And overall in the UK, there are still far fewer women than men riding scooters.
However, the best thing about scooters is the lack of male-domination that still pervades the motorcycling world. In fact the UK's scooter boom that kicked off around 1997 has been responsible for a huge surge in girls getting on two wheels.
Scooters are so unisex that manufacturers are going as far as bringing out 'his and her' colour schemes of the same model, as the array of new bikes at this year's EICMA Milan show demonstrates.
Kymco for instance displayed the Many 50 and 100 in two colour schemes: white and incrusted with (no doubt fake) diamonds for her, and a sportier red paintjob for him.
Meanwhile on one of its models, Motom brought out the Lambretta 'Rubacuori' (that's Italian for heartbreaker) complete with pink paintjob littered in hearts and a cupid with bow and arrow for her, while a manlier pirate-style paintjob features on the 'Black' for him. Both versions are available as 50cc, 125cc or 150cc.
I guess it's unfair for the boys that the girls can ride, for instance, the red Many without attracting attention for all the wrong reasons. Meanwhile, blokes risk getting laughed at by their beered-up mates should they venture down the pub on the sparkly girly version.
But that's life. Girls wear trousers all the time; blokes only wear skirts if they're Scottish or David Beckham. Or seriously in touch with their feminine side.
There are also the less in-your-face, more tasteful colour schemes still obviously targeted to women. For instance Suzuki's white Sixteen 150 with its stylish flowery detailing. Or the Suzuki Burgman 200 with its soft curves and pearlescent colour scheme (oh I'm sorry, is this not meant to be girly?).
Don't get me wrong. Not all girls want to ride a sickly sweet pink scooter with hearts, diamonds or even the more subtle flowery detailing. Give me a sporty job such as the Aprilia Sport City, Gilera Runner or even better, the GP800 any day. Or even a cushty Suzuki Burgman 650 - have you seen the 2010 version? It looks unbelievably comfortable with its heated armchair-style seat and grips.
Even the new Burgman 400 with its fancy ABS is commuter heaven enough for me. But there's nothing wrong with women flouting their girliness should they wish to. And the option for them to do so is there.
However, the manufacturers say many of the overtly girly colour options, for instance the Piaggio Liberty Elle with its matching pink and flowery open-faced helmet and top box, won't be imported to the UK because there isn't enough demand.
I reckon this has more to do with us British girls having good taste in scooters than there not being enough of us. Still, no matter how dreadful some of these colour schemes truly are - the Scarabeo's bubble-gum pink paintjob is not really my thing (who am I kidding, I love it!) - it's encouraging to see manufacturers sit up and take note of us girls on bikes.