It’s little wonder that young drivers are beginning to find it impossible to get on the road legally. According to the AA’s Insurance Premium Index, the average price of an annual car insurance policy currently stands at £2,977 a year for young men between the age of 17-22, and £1,682 for women in the same age bracket.
It might seem like a straight-up decision between being left at the mercy of the bus or train, or paying a small fortune to drive a car on the right side of the law. But there’s actually an alternative which is gathering more and more interest, if the amount of quotes carried out last year on Gocompare.com are anything to go by.
Last year, the total amount of quotes carried out for scooter and moped insurance for riders ages between 17 and 21 rose by 40 per cent from 2010. James Miller, technical manager at Lexham Insurance Consultants, confirms that there’s been a sharp increase in the level of interest in scooters over the past few years. “When the economy collapsed, there was a real drop in interest in motorcycles," he says. "But there has been major growth in the 50cc-125cc market.”
The relatively cheap cost of staying insured has much to do with it, even if the average price of scooter insurance hasn’t been immune to increased claims for whiplash and other personal injuries, too. Last year, Gocompare.com’s average best price for scooters and mopeds was just £343.50 for an annual policy for young men aged 17-22, and £301.24 for females in the same age range. “Scooter insurance prices haven’t gone up in line with that of car insurance,” says James Miller. “But third party claims are on the increase, and whiplash claims caused by scooters are on the up. Unfortunately, premiums will continue to rise because of this.”
The cost of insurance was a major factor when Rosy Webb, an A-level college student from near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, decided to go for two wheels rather than four. While she’s not a scooter or moped rider, opting instead for a Yamaha YBR 125 motorcycle, her were decision was made with costs in mind. “It is so much cheaper and I really didn’t want to have to endure weeks of driving lessons to then not be able to afford the car insurance,” she explains. “Even now, despite the fact that I cannot ride as much as I could drive because of the weather, I don’t regret it because getting a car would mean I would have to work more. I knew it wasn’t just for money reasons though; I personally love motorbikes and enjoy the freedom, also it’s quite rare for a ‘girly-girl’ to be seen on a motorbike - I like being different.”
What you actually get for your money might make running a scooter a more tempting offer than a car, too. “£2,500 will by you an old car which may break down a lot, cost a lot to run and isn’t very efficient,” says James Miller. “The same money will get a scooter which will be under warranty. Some dealers are even offering 0 per cent finance, which young riders can afford to take up.
Combined with the insurance and running costs, and with short commutes, more people are thinking ‘why not?’” Filling up may is markedly cheaper than in a car, as well. Some scooters are good for around 140 mpg, so it’s possible to get by on relative thimblefuls of petrol. In London, you won’t have to pay the pesky congestion charge, and in some cities you can even use the bus lanes.
But there are significant trade-offs to be made, in regards to both comfort and safety. It’s difficult to disagree that being in a car with heaters and soft upholstery is a markedly nicer place to be than on the saddle of a bike on a bleak midwinter night, even without taking into consideration the danger caused by ice, rain and other road users. “Weather is so unpredictable sometimes you find yourself having to deal with it despite wanting to be wrapped up warm,” says Rosy Webb. “I always check the roads before I go out, ice, snow and strong winds stop me from riding, but I can deal with the rest of it. I am less confident when it’s raining, because my visibility is decreased, and I don’t like the wind because you don’t know when it’s going to hit you next. When it’s cold I just ‘man-up’ and put on a few extra clothes.”
So while a scooter might not have the home comforts of a stereo, heating, or indeed a roof, for the committed, the prospective savings are certainly tantalising. And with there being little sign of insurance or fuel getting any cheaper, we might start seeing a lot more of them on the roads in the future to come – not just with younger people riding them. “I’m seeing more and more people arriving at the station which I commute from on scooters,” says James Miller. “They’re looking at what they need to get around, and if it’s just for small round trips of ten miles or so, they’re thinking ‘why not?’”
Saddle up! Essential steps for prospective scooter and moped owners
Take a free taster day
Thankfully, there’s a free and easy way of finding out whether or not making the switch to two wheels is right for you – Get On, a campaign run by the motorcycle industry, offers free hour-long taster sessions to prospective riders so they can weigh up whether or not two-wheeled transport is for them. “If you’re unsure, come and have a go,” says Mike Loydall, training and safety consultant at Get On. “A lot of people who never thought bikes would be for them come here and love it”
Compulsory Basic Training
The next stage to consider is Compulsory Basic Training. This will allow any potential rider who’s in the possession of a provisional or full driving license to ride around on a scooter, moped or motorcycle with an engine size of up to 125cc (providing they display ‘L’ plates on the front and back) for two years, in which time they should consider taking their full test.
Until you’ve passed your full test, you won’t be able to use the motorway or carry passengers. If you don’t manage to pass your test in this period, then it’s no big deal – you’ll just have to undertake your CBT again in order to ride again legally! The CBT has no maximum duration, but should last at least a day. It covers everything from the absolute basics, like what to wear, to time on the road, accompanied by an instructor.
You’ll find no shortage of companies with which you can take your CBT, but they’ll vary a great deal in quality. “You can spend all the money you like on equipment, and have the best scooter or moped in the world, but there’s no substitute for good tuition,” says Get On’s Loydall.
What bike is right for you?
Scooters and moped ownership is a broad church – from cult retro numbers like Vespas and Lambrettas to more practical and highly popular Japanese bikes like those made by Honda, to a new wave of competitively priced bikes from China. But what’s the difference between scooters and mopeds anyway? Well, a moped is anything under 50cc, while the term ‘scooter’ refers specifically to the style of bike, usually with a step-through frame and relatively small wheels.
“Think about what you’re using it for,” says Loydall. “Look at as many scooters as possible. Take a day and make sure you’ve sat on as many as you can. The bike that looks perfect might have an awkward position, which is no good.” 16 year olds are allowed to ride scooters with an engine size of up to 50cc, which aren’t allowed on the motorway. They’re also limited to 30mph. 125cc motorbikes, meanwhile, can reach speeds of up to 60mph. Scooters with four-stroke engines are usually preferable to two-stroke equivalents, as they run on standard unleaded petrol. You’ll have to make a mixture of oil and petrol to run a two-stroke bike.
The only essential piece of kit you need is a helmet – either closed or open faced, depending on your personal preference. Most people opt for the safety afforded by a closed faced number. Legally, you don’t need anything else, but riding around without the right gear to protect you from the elements and the asphalt in the event of a crash is a very daft idea. “If you can afford a better quality helmet, then buy it,” says Rosy Webb. “You only get one head after all.”
“A really good pair of gloves is essential,” says Loydall. “They should provide plenty of grip and warmth. If they’re massively bulky and you can’t feel anything, then that’s no good.” There’s plenty of options when it comes to protective gear. Leather, whilst affording good protection, isn’t particularly waterproof or breathable.
Now, lots of riders opt for gore-tex, waterproof gear which has integrated armour. When it comes to footwear, you’re perfectly entitled to wear a pair of espadrilles or flip-flops whilst on a moped, but it’s not a particularly wise idea. A good, stout pair of boots will do the trick. Finally, make sure that you can be seen. A day-glo sash will help cars spot you, as will a light (or even brightly-coloured, if you’re so inclined) helmet.