Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Scooter (motorcycle) History

Scooter-like traits began to develop in motorcycle designs around the 1900s. In 1894, Hildebrand & Wolfmueller produced the first successful two-wheeler, with a step-through frame. Its fuel tank was mounted on the down tube, its parallel two-cylinder engine was mounted low on the frame, and its cylinders moved fore-and-aft. It was water-cooled and had a radiator built into the top of the rear fender. It became the first mass produced and publicly sold powered two-wheel vehicle, and among the first powered mainly by engine rather than foot pedals. Maximum speed was 40 km/h (25 mph). The rear wheel was driven by pistons similar to those in a locomotive. Only a few hundred such bikes were built, and the high price and technical difficulties made the venture a financial failure for both Wolfmüller and his financial backer, Hildebrand.

In France, the Auto-Fauteuil was produced since 1902. In United States, the Motoped is believed to be the first scooter to enter production, in 1910.

Since 1914, the Autoped Company of Long Island City, New York produced a compact scooter for short trips. The driver stood on a short platform with 15-inch tires. After riding, the steering column, which contained all operating controls, was folded over the platform to store the scooter in a compact space. The engine was an air-cooled, 4-stroke, 155 cc engine over the front wheel. The bike came with a headlamp and tail lamp, a Klaxon horn, and a toolbox. Developed during wartime and gasoline rationing, it was quite efficient, but did not achieve widespread distribution.

In 1919, British engineer Granville Bradshaw created the ABC Skootamoto which had a seat. Its single-cylinder 123 cc OHV engine, designed by Bradshaw, sits above the rear wheel and drives it by chain. The pansaddle and spacious footboard provide comfort. The Skootamota is a rare archetype of modern motor scooters. Bradshaw also designed a few other special engines, such as the ABC flat twins, the oilcooled singles and the engine of the Panther Panthette.

The Kenilworth is another classic vintage scooter made in England in 1919. Powered by a 142 cc overhead valve engine, it reached 20 mph (32 km/h). Electric lights were a first on this machine, but its brakes worked exactly as on a bicycle.

Salsbury's Motor Glide was a tiny motorbike built in 1936 in the back of a plumbing and heating shop in Oakland, California, by E. Foster Salsbury and inventor Austin Elmore. It had an enclosed body and an automatic transmission. It was such a success that in 1938 Salsbury attempted to license the design to several European manufacturers including Piaggio. The Motor Glide was the first depression era scooter, and set the standards for all later models. It inspired production of motor scooters by Powell, Moto-scoot, Cushman, Rock-Ola, and others. Salsbury produced the first automatic scooter with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The Cushman Company produced motor scooters from 1936 to 1965. Light, compact, and rugged, they were widely used by the US military in World War II and as an alternative to automobiles in the years before and after the war. Cushmans were easy to ride and had an automatic clutch which allowed the rider to twist the right grip to go and step on the pedal to stop. The step-through design and ease of operation made it popular with men and women alike. Cushman claimed an efficiency of 75 miles per gallon, and a penny-a-mile operating cost. The scooters usually weighted about 250 to 335 pounds (110-152 kg) and some had as much as 9 horsepower (6.7 kW). The most successful Cushman model, the Eagle, was produced for about 16 years. With its exposed engine and top tanks, it resembled a motorcycle. Other Cushman models used a traditional step-through design of most motor scooters. One of the most famous was the “Model 53”, a military model from the WW2 era. It was designed to be dropped by parachute with Army Airborne troops, so it became known as the “Cushman Airborne”. It was also used around military bases for messenger service.

After WW2, most wartime aircraft manufacturers began producing scooters, and this created the first two-wheeler boom in Japan. The Mitsubishi Silver Pigeon was a scooter largely made of warplane wheels and discarded warplane parts. It eventually shared popularity with the Fuji Rabbit, a motor scooter produced in Japan by Fuji Heavy Industries from 1946 to 1968. Production of the initial model, the S-1 began in 1946, some six months before the Vespa and was largely inspired by scooters used by American servicemen during and after WW2. Fuji Rabbit were the first Japanese-made scooters that could exceed 60 mph (97 km/h). Later models were among the most technologically sophisticated of their era, featuring electric starters, automatic transmissions and pneumatic suspension systems. As the Japanese economy expanded, demand for scooters shrunk, and Fuji diversified into automobiles in 1958. Although less known outside Japan, the Fuji Rabbit became a symbol of nostalgia in Japanese pop culture.
A Vespa with the engine mounted on the right side
A Vespa with the engine mounted on the right side

In post-WW2 Italy The Piaggio Vespa became the standard for scooters around the world for 35 years. Patented in April 1946, it used aircraft design and materials. D’Ascanio's 98 cc scooter had various radical design concepts, including a sleek, stress-bearing structure. The gear shift lever was moved to the handlebars for easier riding. The engine was placed near the rear wheel, eliminating the belt drive. The typical fork support was replaced by an arm similar to an aircraft carriage for easier tire-changing. The elegantly styled body protected the driver from wind and road dirt, and bore little resemblance to uncomfortable and noisy motorcycles. The smaller wheels and shorter wheelbase provide improved maneuverability through narrow streets and congested traffic. Combining the best elements of automotive, aeronautical and motorcycle design, the Vespa quickly became an icon of design and economy. The name reportedly originated when Piaggio's president upon seeing the prototype, remarked Sembra una vespa, "It looks like a wasp".

Months after the Vespa, in 1947, Innocenti introduced the Lambretta, beginning a rivalry with Vespa. The scooter was designed by Innocenti, his General Director Guiseppe Lauro and engineer Pierluigi Torre. It debuted in 1947 at the Paris Motor Show. The Lambretta 'A' went on sale on December 23rd 1947 and sold sold 9,000 units in one year. It was efficient, 160-180 mpg , at a time when petrol was severely rationed. It had a top speed of 45 mph (72 km/h), and a direct air-cooled engine with 123 cc. The Lambretta was named after the region where the factory stood.

The Maicoletta motor scooter of the 1950s was one of the largest produced in that era. The engine was a single cylinder 247 cc piston port 2-stroke (277 cc for use with a sidecar), with four foot-operated gears and centrifugal fan cooling. The tubular frame was built on motorcycle principles, with long travel telescopic forks and 14-inch wheels. The Maicoletta had a top speed of 70 mph (110 km/h) which was comparable with most 250 cc motorcycles of the time.
Heinkel Tourist from 1956
Heinkel Tourist from 1956
Zündapp Bella R 154 from 1958
Zündapp Bella R 154 from 1958

Germany's aviation industry was also dismantled after WW2. Heinkel stayed in business by making bicycles and motorbikes. The Heinkel Tourist was a large and relatively heavy touring scooter produced in the 1960s. It provided good weather protection with a full fairing and the front wheel turned under a fixed nose extension. It had effective streamlining, perhaps thanks to its aircraft ancestry. Although it had only a 175 cc 4 stroke motor, it could sustain speeds of 70 mph (110 km/h). Heinkel scooters were known for their reliability.

Zündapp Bella was the most popular German scooter in the 1960s. It was in production for about ten years, in three engine sizes, 150 cc, 175 cc and 200 cc. They could perform all day at a steady speed of 60 mph (97 km/h). Extremely reliable and very well made, many of these scooters still exist today.

In the US, the Harley-Davidson Topper scooter was produced from 1960 to 1965. It had a fiberglass body and a pull-cord starting mechanism much like a lawn mower. It had a 165 cc DKW gas motor, a variant of the DKW 125 cc gas motor taken by the US from Germany in a war reparations deal. It only went 40 mph (64 km/h), and had no front brake. Very few units were sold. Harley-Davidson has not produced other scooter models, but smaller models, including the Shortster and Sprint, produced by Italian manufacturer Aeronautica Macchi S.P.A.. were in America under the Harley-Davidson name.

In England in 1962, the Triumph Tigress was a luxury scooter with good performance and handling like a motorcycle, drawing on Triumph's long experience of building fast motorcycles. It was sold with a 175 cc 2-stroke single engine, or a 250 cc 4-stroke twin. Both had four foot-operated gears. The 250 twin sold well and could reach 70 mph (100 km/h) with efficient suspension and good roadholding despite having only 10-inch wheels. But the Tigress broke often. The BSA Sunbeam was an identical machine with the BSA label.

In the 1980s new versions of scooters began to be released and become popular, especially in Japan and far-east Asia. This style of scooters began to reflect that of larger, sporty, higher-performance motorcycles of the time and the trend has continued till now. With the release of the Honda Ruckus, new trends towards dirt-bike scooters are just beginning. In 1988, Honda introduced a large, touring scooter design, the 250 cc Helix (also called Spazio, Fusion or CN250). Although it was bulky to handle at low speeds and was derisively called a "Barcalounger on wheels", it was designed for riding long distances in comfort. Now nearly all major scooter manufacturers produce such models, called "maxi", "GT" or "touring" scooters. The largest scooter made is now the 650 cc Suzuki Burgman, known in Japan as the Sky Wave.

In 1996, Peugeot launched the Scoot'Elec, the first electric moped. It is powered by a 2.8 kW (4 hp) DC motor fed by an 18V, 100Ah battery made of 3 Saft nickel-cadmium "monoblocs". A lot of body panels and suspension parts come from Peugeot's entry-level gas scooter, the Zenith. But the frame is different, built around a "double cradle", and holding the batteries low between and behind the driver's feet. Under the seat are the electronic controller, onboard charger and a curly charging cable with a standard plug. The fast on-board charger (1,400 Watt) uses a 230V power supply. The batteries charge from empty to 95% full in two hours, with 3 more hours to equalize.

The classic styling of the Vespa never lost its popularity, and remains the most popular and most imitated scooter design. Almost all manufacturers now carry both a classic/retro model and a sporty/modern model.


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