Two Scooters: Form vs. Function

One of these is better, one is more interesting

Autumn is a time for reflection, and not only about the upcoming winter and the scooter rides that will soon end for those of us in the northern climes. It’s a period to look back on the year and to remember all the things that happened, the great and the not-so-great. Perhaps that’s why a recent blog post by Seth Godin struck me so clearly. Godin, as many of you might know, is a successful author and speaker, in addition to being a business and communications consultant par-extraordinaire. He puts out a free, marketing and media-themed thought or discussion every day and I highly recommend it.

His topic on November 6th, was titled “Idiosyncratic”  and it posed a dramatic question about which which kind of car was more “interesting” and which was “better”. His examples included a 1964 Porsche and a new Honda Civic. He talks about our definition of “better” and how the Honda is certainly better in almost every way. Then he talks about which is more interesting, and of course, the Porsche is a more interesting car in almost every way. He later goes on to contrast a stay at a Hyatt hotel vs. a stay at an Airbnb. Here too, one is more “perfect” but certainly not as interesting. Of course, my mind immediately went to scooters, as it often does.

I looked in my garage and found a wonderful comparison: my 1972 Vespa Rally and my 2014 Genuine Stella Auto. One is certainly better and the other more interesting. It’s great to ride both, for sure, but one stirs my heartstrings and one is a fine example of some almost modern engineering.

Rally 180 in a slightly too dark version of the Giallo Chromo Dal factory color

My Rally 180 in a slightly-too-dark version of the Giallo Chromo Dal factory color

My Vespa is a late-production, 180cc Rally, which is two-stroke and manually shifted on the handlebar. This specific scooter was originally intended for distribution in France and was brought home from Europe by a serviceman in the 1970s. It features a vehicle ID plate in French and has the original clear yellow plastic cover on the headlight. It’s been somewhat restored and until very recently was a reliable scooter. It has unmistakable beauty and is a head-turner for sure. When I park it, I typically get a comment from a passer-by about 50% of the time. This is mostly because, I think, of the Giallo Chromo Dal color (think bright pistachio), but also because of its lack of compromise in design. This scooter’s minimalism and overall “cool” factor means people find it interesting.

It's hard to fault this combination for some reliable and easy to ride fun

It’s hard to fault this combination for reliable and easy-to-ride fun

The Stella Auto offers a similar but better riding experience, but I rarely get asked about it. Although I’m happy to tell the story of how it’s a vintage-looking, twist-and-go scooter that offers incredible mileage and reliability, there are few takers. It’s still interesting, but not in the evocative way that causes strangers to walk up and engage in conversation.

The two machines are similar, and other than color and styling might appear to be the same scoot to someone who doesn’t know about them. One is refrigerator white and one is, well, slightly brighter than refrigerator pistachio. One is 43 years-old and the other is essentially new. The weird thing is that as a scooterist, I think that they are both very interesting. Yet one is clearly more useable, reliable and certainly has better brakes. It may not have the same “come hither” looks of the vintage, but the Stella Auto offers no excuses for going about its business with a large dollop of fun. By any objective measure, the Stella is a better scooter, if not quite as interesting as the Vespa.

If Seth Godin asked which of his two example cars you would rather own, I wonder what your answer would be. If I asked you which scooter you would purchase, which of my examples would it be? What if it was your only scooter? Seth was knocking on the door of the art vs. functionality argument, but went with passion instead. Fair enough, but in the scooter community, it’s sometimes a question of art, passion, and character vs. the functionality found in reliability, great fuel mileage, and decreased environmental impact.

One scoot is a workhorse, the other a work of art.

One scoot is a workhorse, the other a work of art

My conclusion is that for vintage scooters and certain modern, vintage-styled scooters, they both pass the “interesting” test. Yet only one really offers a day-to-day riding prospect. Just like that collectible 1964 Porsche, a vintage scooter is a joy when its running right, when the weather is fine, and when you have another, more modern scoot in the garage waiting just in case you really need to get somewhere.

What do you think?

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