I’ve always been a bit of a motorcycle snob. Having tooled around Detroit on a bad-ass 1965 Triumph Tiger Cub as a teen, I harbor a visceral disdain for Vespas and the like – those Italian bikes were for girls or, even worse, madras-shirt-wearing dudes we used to call dandies.
I wanted to look and act like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, not like Paparazzo in La Dolce Vita. I’m talking black leather jackets and tapered sideburns versus pullover sweaters and a Troy Donahue bouffant.
But time has a way of tempering one’s prejudices, and I’m almost of Social Security age now and much less prone to winging my way down the interstate in a Michigan rainstorm at 70 miles an hour. Those were indeed the days, when tomorrow seemed a certainty and mortality a vicious rumor at best.
Nowadays, I am perfectly happy doing 35 on my way to the market for a carton of Egg Beaters and a king-sized bottle of Geritol. The conveyance? A new Stella Automatic 125 made by Chicago-based Genuine Scooters, whose eye-catching line of two-wheelers are currently number three in America behind industry behemoths Honda and Yamaha.
As scooter enthusiasts are keenly aware, there has been a flood of Chinese-made motorcycles glutting the market since gasoline rocketed past three dollars a gallon several years ago. They are cheaply made and priced, and usually come with a 10-minute or five-mile warranty, whichever comes first.
Not so with Genuine Scooters, astride which diehard users have reported racking up over 30,000 miles per annum with nary a groan from its quiet, four-stroke engine. And get this: All Genuine Scooters come with a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty and a two-year roadside assistance plan. Try getting that out of General Motors or Ford.
The new Stella Automatic 125 is what scooter folks call a “twist-and-go,” meaning one needn’t fiddle around with a clutch and a foot pedal to change gears. Acceleration is a matter of gripping the right-hand throttle and giving it a wee turn – the more you twist, the faster you go – nothing could be simpler.
Torque is favored over raw horsepower, which could actually prove vital to survival. Getting up to speed in an instant enables one to distance oneself from traffic in a quick burst, a must for city-dwellers like myself, where nine out of 10 automobile operators are more concerned with texting pictures of their Umami burger than worrying about some doofus on a scooter.
Oh, and speaking of those lethal four-wheelers and their gas-imbibing lust, the Stella Automatic 125 boasts a delicate appetite for fossil fuel: an estimated 100 MPG, give or take a few. Top speed is around 60 MPH, and its dry weight is 256 lbs., enough to feel stable and safe on its smallish wheels.
Brando’s Johnny Strabler might not approve of Stella’s lithe, girlish lines (especially in electric blue, one of four color options), nor that it whinnies rather than roars, but Kim Kardashian and her klan certainly do. They made off with a fleet of Genuine scooters last year in Miami, and director Harmony Korine’s daffy heroines in Spring Breakers zipped around St. Petersburg on an array of pastel-colored two-wheelers.
Above all, there is something truly liberating about getting from point-A to point-B without having to get into some two-ton, full metal-and-glass sedan or SUV. Little details loom large: like the smell of flowers in bloom as you glide through an urban neighborhood you never considered an actual part of nature.
I may not cause fear and loathing as Brando did when he pulled up in front of the local luncheonette, but I admit to feeling just a tad rebellious parking on sidewalks just five feet from the entrance to, say, Bed, Bath & Beyond. Yep, the housewives part like the Red Sea when I’m stalking the aisles looking for a cheese grater. I may look like a dandy, but my inner Hell’s Angel is alive and well.