Despite the fact that both motorcycle and scooters are means of transport that have 2 wheels, you’ll find there are some distinct differences. I mean. How do you think you find some distinctive and different sub-cultures of riding if there weren’t?!
Generally, the difference between motorcycles and scooters is that scooters have enclosed engines fully below the seat versus motorcycles with exposed motors that extends beyond the seat. Scooters tend to have a platform for feet and motorcycles are straddled, and most scooters are fully automatic and motorcycles are mostly manually shifted.
Those are generalizations, but did you know that scooters aren’t necessarily slower than motorcycles? They can be quite fast, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s chat more on this to give you enough information that will help you choose which type of two-wheeled transport will fit your personality and lifestyle.
What is a Motorcycle?
A motorcycle is identified by Miriam Webster dictionary to be an, “automotive vehicle with two in-line wheels.” Let’s look at a scooter and motorcycle. They both look this way! Scooters are essentially a subset within the motorcycle definition.
Motorcycles are a mode of transportation generally designed to attain a very high speed as it is equipped with good acceleration and high-speed handling features – BUT NOT ALWAYS! There are lower sized motorcycles, but we’ll dive into that momentarily.
A motorcycle can commute through the city, as well as, on the highway mainly because of its wide speed range. The engine of a motorcycle is in the middle frame of the body and it has its gas tank right above it, usually sitting between the rider seat and handlebars.
What is a Scooter?
A scooter is also a two-wheeled vehicle which has a footrest platform where the rider will put their feet on. On a scooter, there is no need to set the legs apart as it is done while riding a motorcycle. The engine of a scooter is placed just below the seat.
There are versions of scooters that do not have the platform for your feet and look more like motorcycles. Check out the different types of scooters here.
Differences Between Motorcycles and Scooters
When it comes to comparing motorcycles and scooters, motorcycles have larger engines and a wide range of speed. It is also a bit difficult to ride and it requires techniques. While a scooter when compared to a motorcycle has a smaller engine size, it has good mileage, and it is easy to maneuver. In this part of the article, we will delve into the differences between some features of both two-wheeled vehicles.
When you think of a motorcycle, you tend to think large motors meant for higher speeds and a scooter is likely to make you think of small motors designed for slower speeds. That’s partially right, but it is not 100% true!
Keeping this brief but engine sizes are measured in cubic centimeters (cc) which refers to how much it can displace fuel to turn it into power. The lower the value, the lower the speed limitation and the higher the number, the faster we are talking. Generally.
- Motorcycles have engines whose size ranges from 150cc to over 2000cc. The highest speed of a 150cc engine is about 60 mph or 97 kmh. You’ll find most on the road to be in the 750-1100 cc range, but you’ll hear that beginner bikes are in the 500-750cc range.
- Scooters, on the other hand, have an engine with sizes that ranges from 50cc to 550cc. A scooter with an engine of 50cc can’t be described as one designed for speed since you’re looking at the 30-50 mph range. Check out this article if the 50cc speed has you curious. However, a 550cc scooter is designed for higher speeds and can travel on a highway just like a motorcycle. The size of the scooters increase as the engine size does.
To help illustrate the speed difference, a 50cc scooter is best used within the city whereas the 1000cc motorcycle can cruise along just fine on a highway.
The speed of a motorcycle or a scooter depends on the type of engine the scooter or motorcycle has. Regardless of whether you’re looking at a motorcycle or scooter here, the speed is dictated by the engine size.
However, you will find smaller tire sizes on scooters designed for the lower speeds. Regardless of whether you are looking at a scooter or motorcycle specifically, the frame and components increase in size as the engine does to support those speeds.
A 50cc scooter is much smaller than a 500cc scooter. Obviously.
There are a lot of factors that influence the speeds of each individual motorcycles and motor scooter engines, so it isn’t cut and dry. That said, below are some generalized guidelines to expect for a top speed REGARDLESS of if you’re talking scooter or motorcycle.
- 50 cc = ~ 40 mph (if not restricted to 30 mph)
- 150 cc = ~70 mph
- 200 cc = ~75 mph
- 300 cc = ~86 mph
- 400 cc = ~90+ mph
I was checking out a Honda Rebel 300cc last weekend, and in chatting with the sales person & doing some research, the 300 just doesn’t have the power. It seems hands down that people recommend the 500cc at a minimum if you’re looking to travel on the highway. I point this out because the 300 cc that can go 86 mph should be more than fine on the highway. There’s just a lot more to think about as part of the decision making process.
The key takeaway here is that you can find slower or faster options in both categories – scooters and motorcycles.
Watch this if you’d like to understand the nuances between horsepower and torque to better understand the power part of what you’re looking for.
The fuel efficiency of either a motorcycle is how far (i.e. the distance) a particular volume of fuel or gas can go. The higher the displacement numbers translates to how much additional gas the two-wheeled vehicle uses.
A majority of scooters in the 50cc range is going to get over 100 miles per gallon (mpg) of gas whereas a high cc motorcycle will start getting the fuel efficiency of a sedan (40-60 mpg).
- Motorcycles have an average fuel efficiency of about 44 mpg. New models however now have up to an average of 85 mpg.
- A scooter has good mileage and therefore has more fuel efficiency than a motorcycle. Some scooter models have fuel efficiency averaging up to about 132 mpg.
Storage when riding is at a premium on both!
- Motorcycles have little to no storage space due to the way the frame, motor, and seat is set up. Racks and bags are added to accommodate storage. Helmets are usually secured to the bike.
- Scooters have a storage compartment that can be found under the seat of the scooter. The size of the storage space varies with the model and brand of the scooter with those under 200cc unable to fit a full-face helmet under it whereas above it will fit up to 2 full-face helmets in them. Racks can also be used on scooters on the front and rear, and bags are less commonly seen.
Wheel Size and Stability
The size of the wheel of a two-wheeled vehicle determines how stable the wheels will be when the scooter or motorcycle is going at a high speed.
- The wheel size of a motorcycle is 16” or larger. This makes the motorcycle a lot more stable when riding at a higher speed.
- A scooter has a wheel size which ranges from 10” to 16”. The wheel size of scooters is small and this makes the scooter relatively unstable when it is going at a high speed. Scooters are also not suitable for rough terrains because of their small tire and wheel size.
Before riding a motorcycle or scooter, it is important to have prior knowledge on how to ride any of the two-wheeled vehicles. I seriously found a lot of skills from riding a bicycle on the road to have benefitted me here.
It is a bit more difficult to learn how to ride a motorcycle especially motorcycles with manual transmission. There are automatic and semi-automatic motorcycles, however.
Most motorcycles are manual. Most older scooters are manual.
It is easier to learn how to ride a scooter because most scooters have automatic transmissions. You twist a throttle to go. You use the handle bar levers for braking.
The levers on a motorcycle handlebar are a bit different. The left lever is the clutch, and the shifter is the left foot. The right lever on the handlebar is a brake as is the foot control. So the left side of your body makes the motorcycle go. The right side is your braking.
To brake, you’re expected to apply both brakes evenly. This feels smoother on a scooter with the brakes both being hand operations.
It is also easy to maneuver a scooter. They are generally smaller which means they are lighter and much more nimble.
Engine size really drives the price versus whether you’re looking at a scooter or motorcycle. A 50cc scooter can technically be purchased on Amazon like this TaoTao for much less than you’d think a transportation source could cost.
However, if you stick with a reputable brand, you’re looking at $2000 with the highest cc scooter available right now has an MSRP of $9,300. It’s the Kymco AK 550. https://kymcousa.com/2021-scooters/2021-ak-550/
Last weekend I was checking out a motorcycle – the Honda Rebel 300 – and it runs at $4,600 MSRP. https://powersports.honda.com/street/cruiser/rebel-300. This led to a conversation with someone about the Indian Motorcycles Scout Bobber. It’s just over 1,100 cc and starts at $10,999. https://www.indianmotorcycle.com/en-us/scout-bobber/ Then the Elite models with a starting price of $38,999!
You’ll find a lot of overlap and nuance when you layer in engine sizes, brands, and much more. That said, I have yet to run across a scooter in $20,000 range! With that, it is easier to keep costs down with a scooter, but there are plenty of motorcycles on the lower end of the price range. It all depends on your needs!
Which is Better, a Motorcycle or Scooter?
Scooters are a subset of motorcycles, so one is not better or worse than the other, so it depends. <– Worst answer in the world, so I’ll try to give a little more structure to this.
A scooter is better for urban commutes and suburban jaunts. They are also better for beginners with their automatic transmissions and upright riding position.
Motorcycles are generally better for riders that will enjoy more time on freeways where higher speeds are the norm.
I hate writing that either is better! Yes, an automatic transmission is a default on a modern scooter, but there are automatic transmissions on motorcycles. Yes, it is easier to learn a new skill without needing to layer in a lot, but shifting is not rocket science. You can quickly pick that up.
There are so many types of motorcycles, and some have more natural riding positions than others. There are many more nuances to which is better, but your circumstances, needs and budget really drive which would be better for YOU!
Is a Scooter Safer than a Motorcycle?
Scooters are not actually safer than motorcycles, but in general, the slower speeds of scooters make the risk of serious injury and death to be less when wearing appropriate gear and responsible riding.
Scooters typically have a small speed range and can maneuver around obstacles with ease. However, riding on 2 wheels without the protection of a car frame leaves a scooter rider just as vulnerable as a traditional motorcycle.
If a scooter rider is hit at 50 mph. Now let’s say a motorcycle rider is hit at the same 50 mph with all other circumstances exactly the same, the results are the same.
So the slower speeds of a 50cc make it feel much safer, the opportunity for disaster is the same even if you won’t find yourself riding at highway speeds on that same 50cc.
Are Scooters More Comfortable than Motorcycles?
In general, scooters are more comfortable than motorcycles. However, there are many motorcycles designed specifically for comfort. The riding positions and seats greatly influence comfort on both.
A scooter can be more comfortable than a motorcycle. The position in which you ride your scooter is more like a sitting position hence, it is easy to ride, easy to handle, and they are also very comfortable. Scooters have floorboards where the rider’s feet rest while riding the scooter.
That said, some types of motorcycles are built for comfort, and the more reclined position with optimized cushioning will make a long ride much more pleasant!
Why People Use Motorcycles Instead of Scooters
In general, motorcycles are more popular than scooters due to their speed and styling.
The visual difference between motorcycles in general and scooters is very striking. You can find more motorcycle like scooters and mopeds, but many fit the more classic Italian Vespa styling, which does not attract the same buyer of a Harley Davidson either.
Also, United States highways are really how we get from point A to point B, and many scooters just aren’t equipped to go long distances at high speeds. Some can, but most can not.
There are also motorcycles intended for some gravel/off road like paths called adventure bikes. Right off the bat you’ll noticed that they have knobby tires which scream to be taken on an adventure. Thus the name!
Why Choose a Scooter Over a Motorcycle?
Here are some ways people use scooters, if that is something you’re interested in. In general, people choose scooters to save money, need something with a lower speed, or desire something easier to learn to ride.
There are several reasons to choose a scooter over a motorcycle. One of these reasons includes the fact that a scooter is cheaper when compared to a motorcycle, but this is closely tied to the engine size you choose.
A higher speed scooter will likely be more expensive than the equivalent sized motorcycle. Scooters at that end tend to be a bit more luxury, so the overlap isn’t straight forward.
Another reason to choose a scooter over a motorcycle is that it is easier to learn how to ride. They have automatic transmissions and tend to be quite easy to maneuver.
Lastly, there are some extra cost benefits to choosing a scooter or motorcycle if you choose a smaller motor. It’s pushing less fuel through, so it makes sense.
However, I do not encourage you to get a motor that won’t meet the
Scooters and motorcycles both have pros and cons, and which is right for you is a highly personal decision. I started on a scooter, and now I’m considering a motorcycle simply because I need to go at higher speeds yet don’t personally connect with the higher cc scooters available to me at the time.
However, I haven’t found myself ready to purchase a motorcycle either with my love of scooters! It’s a tough decision that I definitely understand!