I know you closet scooter riders will enjoy this piece...
I recently bought a motor scooter to ride from my uptown Manhattan apartment to my midtown office. It may seem like a reckless thing for a 57-year-old to do, but I choose to see it as a sign of maturity.
Iíve been riding motorcycles for 45 years, in Italy and in the U.S. All of them, starting from when I was 12 years old, have been fixer-uppers, some found rusting in someoneís backyard, others longtime residents of a muddy barn or the back of a garage. I lovingly restored these or re-assembled them from mismatched parts and used them to ride in spite of the fact that they were noisy, smoking creatures that only sometimes got me to my destinationĖand always left me reeking of gasoline.
By comparison, nobody notices my new scooter, a beautifully maintained 2006 Piaggio BV500 that is quiet, luxurious and reliable.
By quiet I mean that I actually need its functioning horn to alert pedestrians crossing against the light (now you tell me whoís being reckless), which was not the case with the scooterís predecessors.
By luxurious, I mean it has features like an electric starter, unlike the other ones, which had to be kick-started, usually repeatedly, and sometimes to no effect.
By reliable, I mean that when I press the starter button it actually starts and continues to run until I turn the ignition key off, not a moment sooner.
Though Iím fine about it now, I had mixed feelings about making this transition to a respectable motorbike because it meant I was moving into a new class of Manhattan rider.
Hammad Jawdat, commutes to The Wall Street Journal on his scooter.Itís gorgeous and looks expensive and new, even though itís six years old. It actually does function perfectly, depriving me of stories about its rescue and rehabilitation. I have no tales about the elusive missing part that I could only find on eBay Malaysia or by word of mouth through a friend of a friend of a mechanic in Slovenia.
In other words, my scooter is a nice target for thieves, and I have irrationally concluded that no sum of money is too much to pay to protect this gem. Translation: I am now paying through the nose for parking, at home and near work.
I have broken down the numbers to try to justify the expense.
Before I rode to work, my monthly transportation costs were about $150 a month, including a MetroCard and about one taxi ride a week.
Today, including insurance and registration ($25 a month), garage parking at home ($120 a month), garage at work ($150 a month) and gas ($12 a month), my transportation costs have more than doubled.
Financial justification to oneís partner is not advisable, but my go-to argument is commute time. It took me about 50 minutes to get to work by public transportation: a 5-minute walk to the bus stop on Second Avenue and East 88th Street, a 10-minute wait for the relatively fast M15 Select bus, a 20-minute ride to Second Avenue and East 49th Street, and a 15-minute walk to work at 6th Avenue and 48th Street. That means I spent 33 hours a month getting to work and back.
By comparison, it takes me 12 minutes to get to work by scooter. Thatís just 7 hours a month of commuting. That means I spent 26 hours a month longer getting to and from work on a bus than I do on a scooter.
Whether this argument was persuasive or not (take a wild guess) you can see where Iím going with this. I love to ride motorbikes anywhere, any time and will concoct any argument to justify my doing so.
Riding is not for everyone, and should be embarked on responsibly and with open eyes. Manhattan can be a treacherous place for two-wheelers, with its potholes, its slippery steel plates covering roadwork, its lane-prowling taxicabs, its driver- and passenger-side doors swinging open in your path with no warning.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 riders of motorcycles, motor scooters and other motorized two-wheelers die in the U.S. each year and many more are seriously injured, according to the non-profit Governors Highway Safety Association. I am a veteran rider with well-honed defensive riding skills. Even so, when I decided to start riding in the city, I enrolled in a safety course to refresh those skills. I urge anyone riding to enroll in such a course and to invest in the best quality helmet and riding gear you can afford. There are a number of highly professional outfits that will help first-time riders learn basic skills and acquire a license but also refresh experienced ridersí life-saving instincts. The one I chose was the Motorcycle Safety School.
If I were to be totally honest about my motivation for riding to work on a scooter, it would not include finance, time management, or safety, but satisfaction.
The author, Hammad Jawdat, age 12 (right), with a friend in Orte Scalo, the railway town in Italy where he grew up.
One of the costs of living in Manhattan is loss of control in your life. In exchange for the privilege of living in one of the greatest cities in the world, you must silently endure a sometimes fickle and overcrowded public transport system. Packed like sardines with sweaty, sometimes rude passengers, you suppress the inclination to say something nasty to people forcing their way on to your bus when there is not enough room. Or worse, you give in to that inclination and then have to stand three inches away from them for the next 20 minutes in hostile silence.
Thatís not my idea of a good time.
Buying a scooter has given me back some measure of control over that aspect of my life. Even more than that, riding a motorcycle, motor scooter or even a moped gets me about as close as I can imagine to the sensation of flying.
And for me, thatís sheer, primal joy.