As an avowed scooterist, I was sure that it would never happen. The idea of a motorcycle is tempting for sure, “get your motor running” and all that, but I surely didn’t want to commit to anything that would endanger my scooter credibility (if such a thing exists), but recently, I slowly began to change my mind.
A couple of things started moving my needle towards riding a motorcycle. The past three years, I headed up the Detroit version of the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride for prostate cancer research (This year’s is coming up and will be a blast), and was exposed to a lot of cool vintage and vintage-looking bikes. Our Rovers Scooter club has had a long relationship with the great folks at the Metro Triumph Riders and their wonderful vintage British iron. Sadly, the scooterist in me didn’t really want a finicky vintage bike (as I already have a finicky Italian scooter), and my friends would say that I’ve gone to the dark side and become a “rocker”. So big-displacement British iron and café racers were out.
At about the same time, a series of smaller displacement modern (and throwback) bikes have debuted. These delightful, small-displacement bikes offer respectable reliability and good gas mileage, all while offering loads of low-horsepower fun. These are bikes like the SYM Wolf Classic, and the recent 250-300cc offerings from Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki. As a huge fan of MotoGP racing, the faster Japanese offerings were tempting, but even as a starter bike these offered quite a bit performance over my slower scoots, and the used prices were still out of my budget. As I perused the Craigslist ads from across the country, I found a familiar name. In fact I had one in the garage. My Aprilia SR50 had provided big thrills and a lot of great, small-displacement fun, but was not piling on the mileage as much as I had hoped. So I had a name, and went looking for the smallest bikes that would provide bigger bike handling and fun, perhaps without all that messy horsepower.
I eventually found a low-mileage Aprilia RS50, a GP-inspired two-stroke learner motorcycle in the rest of the world and a bold experiment in small displacement motorcycles for Aprilia in the United States from 2000 to 2005. They are either cherished by their lucky owners or viewed as a disposable learner bike and are thrashed or quickly upgraded to a readily available larger displacement top-end kit. Aprilia also experimented with a 125cc version and an incredible 250cc version for a year or two over here, mostly intended for two-stroke motorcycle racing.
So I drove “up north” and picked up my several-owner Aprilia RS50. The transaction was as planned and I was surprised that the bike was indeed “full-sized”. I cleaned it up and took my first tentative rides around a local parking lot, learning a lot about motorcycle clutches and six-speed transmissions and the joy of not having almost any horsepower in my usual scooter acceleration profiles. I quickly sold my Aprilia SR50 for just about what I bought it for and used the proceeds for insurance, registration, new tires and a bit of a once-over from Motopow. They did a great job, and in fact, a mechanic there once owned this very bike, which is a story in itself.
I’ve put almost 120 miles on the bike as it’s settling into it’s new, nothing but the finest fuel and carb cleaner running-in, and it’s getting better and better. With a top speed of about 55, it’s not going to get me into trouble. With a top RPM of something north of 12k, it’s going to teach me a lot about power bands and multitasking. Finally, with it’s telepathic steering and incredible brakes, it will teach me about riding well and maintaining momentum. What I didn’t count on was that although this is a fairly dramatic-looking crotch-rocket bike, it has it’s own attraction as an accessible “high performance” GP-style machine. As much attention as the much more beautiful Vespa Rally 180 and then some. Almost every time I stop (even at the Stonehouse, where I can finally ride a bike to a biker bar), I’m greeted by a curious mix of folks who are wondering what I’m riding and where they can get one, the “I used to have one” bunch, and the “what does it do and what’s the point” crowd. I try to converse with them all, but I’ve got a lot of miles to cover before winter and really must be off, getting my motor running and all that.
What’s next: Scooter vs. motorcycle