A brief history of Japanese scooters in the United States

Back in the late 70's, and partly due to the high cost of gasoline, mopeds and small scooters became popular.  Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha all manufactured scooters for this market (mostly cute little 50cc mopeds and scooters). The fad for these smaller bikes went on for a few years and kind of went away.

However,  interest in the larger (80cc and up) scooters remained. There were a lot of 50cc - 250cc Honda and Yamaha scooters made in the 80's. Starts like Jim McMahon, Lou Reed, and Grace Jones made scooter ads. Interest peaked in the mid 80's, and then started to fade in the late 80's when gas got cheap and giant SUV's became popular. So... scooters were put in the back of the garage to gather dust. Honda and Yamaha stopped selling most of their larger scooters in the U.S. due to lack of sales.  According to some statistics from Honda, in 1987 the scooter market peaked at 157,000 units. Then the big decline started, with just 55,000 units sold in 1989. From there sales had continued to drop, but the industry now sees resurgence in the scooter market. Scooter sales have grown from 12,000 units in 1997 to about 50,000 units in 2001, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.  New buyers include commuters, dot-commers, and older people who use them at their vacation homes.

Honda among others has taken notice.  Will Honda's release of the new Silver Wing 600 (582cc) fuel-injected, parallel-twin, dual overhead cam, ton-up, disc-braked SuperScooter revitalize the scooter market in U.S.?  The Honda Helix is freeway capable at 70 MPH, but is pretty much tapped-out at that speed... and 2001 was the last year for the Helix. The new Honda Reflex 250 cruises at 70 MPH with enough reserve for passing, the Silver Wing cruises at 85 MPH with another 20 MPH in reserve... plenty of power and speed to run with the fastest freeway traffic.

Today the lineup of scooters from Honda and Yamaha is not as extensive as it used to be, although you can still buy a nice scooter.  Today's scooters tend to be faster, more refined, with better brakes and suspension and more carrying capacity than previous models.  Honda and Yamaha both make a variety of 50cc scooters. Yamaha still makes the Riva 125, and Honda still makes the Elite 80. Other models include the Hondas noted above, the Yamaha 250 Majesty, and the Suzuki 250 and 400 Burgman models (which are difficult to get in the U.S.) . All are very nice scooters.

 To some extent, the holes in the Japanese manufactures' line have been filled by other manufacturers. Aprilia, and of course Vespa and Piagiao have made high quality scooters for years.   Vespa has recently started importing several scooters, including the ET2 50cc and ET4 150cc models. Rounding out the list of available scooters are models from Bajaj, Sundiro, Kasea, Kymco, Linhai, Sinski, Chetak, and E-Ton.

Complete listing of Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha scooters available in the U.S.

Sadly, the Yamaha Riva 180, Riva 200, and the Honda Elite 125, 150 and 250 are no longer made. But there is still a strong following today for these older Japanese scoots. They are quite popular as commuter vehicles around college campuses, in resort areas, and in some cities where commute distances are reasonable. 

© Copyright 2002-2009 by Jack Stanley.  All Rights Reserved.