Scooters come in all shapes and sizes. They vary in power from electric, to 50 cc two-strokes all the way to 650 cc and larger multi-cylinder cruisers. I want to concentrate on the wheel size of various scooters and it’s effect on the rider.
The early American scooters like the Cushman, and the first imported scooters like Vespa and Lambretta all had fairly small wheels. Usually 8″ or 10″. The first scooters with larger wheels were the Honda Cub’s and the multitude of European small displacement bikes and mopeds like Puch and others.
Compare the Fly Scooters Cadenza with a 64 Vespa VNB. The Vespa has 8″ wheels and the Fly has 16″ wheels.
There is no doubt the Vespa “looks” more like what you’d expect when you think scooter but you’ll find scooter wheels are getting larger and larger. Take a look at Honda’s impressive SH150.
Nice large wheels on there.
Even more common scoots are getting 12″ and 13″ inch wheels. So what is the advantage? In a word handling. Small wheels and tires make for incredibly quick steering. Perhaps a bit too much so. It’s not as big a factor at slower speeds but the more powerful the scooter the faster it will go and the more likely instability could occur.
Ever used roller blades or a skate board? Not much fun when those little wheels jam on a pebble and throw you down is it? Well the same applies to scooter wheels. Small wheels transmit bumps and jolts to the rider much more severely than larger ones do. The larger the wheel the larger and object it can roll over without ill effect. Larger wheeled scoots also seem to have a bit more ground clearance for cornering and a slightly larger contact patch on the pavement (Although some small wheels have obscenely wide tires like the Yamaha Zuma and ETON Beamer).
Other factors include road hazards. Here in Maine uneven pavement, cracks in the road, low shoulders and more are all very dangerous to motorcycles in general but especially to ones with small diameter wheels. I’ve also noticed a big difference in the reaction to loose gravel between smaller wheeled scoots and larger. You are much more likely to lose all traction to the front tire under braking on a small wheel bike than one with big wheels.
Larger tires tend to be a bit more durable too. When you take a 150 cc scooter with 10″ wheels and one with 16″ wheels it seems the smaller tire wears out faster. Mostly this affects the drive tire.
So what are the disadvantages to large tires? Mostly on board storage. When you put larger wheels on a scoot the engine moves forward, the gas tank usually ends up in the floor platform of the scoot and the battery gets shoves forward. This means under seat storage suffers. This is overcome by the addition of a top box mounted to the rear rack. Also if your heart is set on “classic” looks most larger wheel scooters have a more contemporary design.
So the choice is yours. There are millions of tiny wheeled scoots out there. Experience and training will allow you to operate them safely. They are best suited to slower situations but with care can be ridden faster. Larger wheeled scoots are usually a bit more confidence inspiring and ride a bit better over a variety of road conditions. You can push them a bit harder in corners and they are just a tad more forgiving. Just laying it out there for your consideration. Ride safe!