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It’s a steal

Keeping your scooter safe is harder than ever. Read on for some tips on how not to lose your ride home.

Many stolen scooters end up in the hands of junior bosozoku, who are curiously happy to run red lights, ride tandem (illegal on anything under 125cc), and take to the highways (also reserved for those over 125cc)—but who balk at the idea of stealing and riding anything with a bit more power until they hit 18 years old. The bad boys’ bikes are easy to spot, often sporting a bent-up license plate, or none at all, and occasionally outsized fins, exhausts and spoilers. To keep a scooter safe from this roving band of bike bandits, the best investment a new rider can make, after a high-quality helmet (many of the ones available in discount stores do not meet international safety standards), is a decent lock.

U-bolts are relatively inexpensive but should always be fitted with the keyhole facing down, which makes them harder to mash with a chisel and hammer. No matter how good a lock is fitted, though, increasingly sophisticated thieves have begun using car jacks to pry bars apart and CO2 canisters to freeze tumblers before shattering them with hammers, so avoid dark back streets: it’s better to stick with the main drags and put up with the sticky warning notices from traffic wardens. Better still, invest a couple hundred yen in secure parking near a station.

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Small is better

Justin Gardiner gets the scoop on scooters to fit every taste and budget.

What can you get for ¥60,000? Well, if you’re a frugal Tokyoite, how about a high-spec PC in Akihabara, a month of budget accommodation, a flight back home—or a brand new 50cc scooter?

Yes, anyone with a regular driver’s license, Japanese or international, can pony up six man and wave goodbye to Tokyo’s convenient but crowded trains and buses. Until recently you’d need at least ¥100,000 for the privilege, but in March Suzuki launched the Choi Nori, a back-to-basics model that can be yours for ¥59,800. Suzuki’s new brand is part of a trend that sees Tokyo’s favorite mode of transportation, beloved of obasan and bosozoku alike, making a grab for the budget-conscious, while at the same time remaining true to its anything-goes roots.

 

Bare bones
The Choi Nori lacks “extras” such as an electric starter motor, battery, light switch, fuel gauge and helmet storage, but it has all the other essentials. Boot the kick start, and the head- and taillights spring to life courtesy of the all-new four-stroke engine. Blinkers are available for those few riders who want to warn drivers of their intentions, and a red lamp warns when the speedometer has crawled three quarters of the way to the maximum 40km/hr.

If you want a little more power and greater convenience, it’ll come at a cost, typically between ¥100,000 and ¥150,000 for a new, nondescript offering from three of the big four domestic manufacturers: Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki—Kawasaki not being interested in the 50cc market. How anyone can choose between the nigh-on-identical Yamaha Jog, Honda Lead and Suzuki Let’s is a mystery, but vendors report that brand loyalty is a strong trait in dyed-in-the-wool scooterists. All of the above have electric starter motors, reasonable storage under the seat and, possibly most important, increased security, courtesy of locking kickstands and fancy closable ignition key slots.

 

The no-frills Choi Nori

Getting gaudy
While bosozoku and others are prone to doll up stolen scooters (see sidebar), many a legitimate owner customizes their own bike with stickers, spray paint, or in the case of one local nightclub owner, hundreds of mirror shards. However, individuality is also available to style-conscious riders who have less time and patience—but who do have deep pockets—in the form of special-edition brands or off-road scooters. A Ducati Course bike in racing colors will set you back ¥265,000, while a Suzuki Street Magic II trials-style machine costs an almost-as-cool-as-its-looks ¥224,000.

The ultimate kakoi baby scooter is, of course, the venerable Vespa. With prices for new ones ranging from ¥235,000 to ¥345,000, the Piaggio’s not cheap, but what they lack in convenience—not even a hook for conbini bags—they make up in style. In the 50 years since a Vespa carried Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn on their Roman holiday, Marlon Brando, Charleton Heston, John Wayne and U2’s Bono have all owned one.

Never embarrassed to mimic another’s success, domestic makers have their own interpretations of the classic, all with suitably Italian sounding names: the Giorno (Honda), Vino (Yamaha) and Verde (Suzuki), and suspiciously similar prices, all a smidgen under ¥200,000.

In a bit of bad news, the other classic European moped, the Solex, will not be available for much longer on these shores. Basically a shopping bike with a motor perched on the front wheel, the Solex is a victim of Japan’s new environmental protection standards, which outlaw two-stroke engines. Conforming to these regulations would require the French manufacturer to make their first major design change in over 60 years—an unlikely prospect. Now facing stiff competition from quieter and smoother electrically powered bikes, and at over double the cost of the Choi Nori, the 0.6-hp import may be a wise investment nonetheless, as a collector’s item rather than cheap transportation.

Thanks to Marutomi Autobikes of Yokohama for the test bikes. To arrange a test ride yourself, call Mr Ibuki, in English at 045-481-5500.

Photos by Justin Gardiner