Low cost, low pollution, no traffic jam problems, no parking hassles - and all with a top speed of 30mph

Pieta, piazzas, St Peter's ... Piaggio. Little motor scooters are as much a part of Italian urban life as works of art, big squares and old churches. They buzz on through the night, like swarms of road- raged bees, usually ridden by impossibly pretty teenagers with dark gelled hair, designer clothes, sunglasses and that practised look of cool boredom. Motor scooters have never really caught on here. The spoilsports at the DVLA have long insisted that any vehicle with an engine - no matter how small - needs a licence to ride. In Italy, a sub-50cc motor scooter is treated as little more than a pushbike: no licence, no worries.

Piaggio has been selling its scooters in Britain for many years but, for 1995, it has just relaunched its wares here: new models, new marketing thrust, new momentum. Why? The Italian company - which made 850,000 motorised vehicles last year - is trying to spread its strength throughout Europe and can see special potential in Britain, owing to our crowded cities. A scooter makes the ideal short-distance urban commuter vehicle: low cost, low pollution, no traffic jam problems, no parking hassles.

The Sfera 50 offers particular promise. Mopeds (by definition, motorbikes of under 50cc restricted to 30mph) can be ridden on car licences - just buy a helmet. The latest Sfera 50 is a pretty thing, the stylish plastic body offering a pleasing shape and some weather protection for your feet and legs. A deep screen also keeps the draughts away from your face. There is a large carrying area under the seat, and a smaller compartment in the front fairing.

Unlike those mopeds you hire on Greek islands, this one has an electric start, so there is nothing physical about cranking thesingle-cylinder two-stroke into life. Piaggio does not specify power or torque figures. The only other motor manufacturer with a similar policy is Rolls-Royce, which cites its vehicles' power as being "adequate". Piaggio no doubt feels the same about its bikes and, if "adequate" means shifting a man and a bit of kit up to 30mph easily, it is right. Unlike the other motorcyclists it is no tearaway, and you will not be overtaking the cars when the lights go green - but you will move off more quickly than the pushbikers.

The gearbox is a "constantly variable" automatic, so there are no gearchanges and no clutch. Just twist the handlebar grip, as on a more conventional motorcycle, and the Piaggio accelerates away. The centrifugal clutch engages rather sharply; get to 30mph and the limiter comes in, strangling acceleration. This is fine for city streets but, on wider urban roads or dual carriageways, you do feel rather vulnerable. Passing a pushbike at least gives you some pleasure.

This vulnerability is the biggest drawback of the little Piaggio, and I felt more at risk from other traffic than on a pushbike or conventional motorbike. Bicycles are, of course, vulnerable. But their high seating position, slowness, narrowness and manoeuvrability partly compensate. Motorcycles have acceleration on their side - twist the throttle and you can quickly get out of trouble. However, Piaggios will do 140mpg or so easily, take up next to no road space, can be left in any motorcycle parking bay in absolute safety (they are not big on bike thieves' lists), and can thread their way through stationary traffic as easily as a pushbike. A Piaggio does not cost much more than a top pushbike, either: pounds 1,499 for a machine that gets you efficiently from A to B. It is quite the most intelligent way to commute to work or get around town.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Purchaser

    £12000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: his is a unique opportunity to ...

    Recruitment Genius: Accountant

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Summarises financial status by ...

    Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

    £18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

    Recruitment Genius: Salesforce Developer

    £50000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued business growt...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss