It’s not always true that two wheels are better than four when it comes to eco-friendly options. If a scooter has a two-stroke engine, it can legally emit 5.7 times more CO than a car – nearly 24 times more unburned hydrocarbons and More NOx (nitrogen oxide), according to a U.S. News report.
According to Green Living Ideas, scooters can emit as much particulate matter – and three times as much carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons – as large diesel trucks. Because they have no fuel injection or catalytic converters, harmful compounds are emitted. In addition, two-stroke engines are also noisy and short-lived, adding to their environmental impact.
However, even a scooter with a two-stroke engine can be “greener” than a typical SUV due to the amount of resources consumed in production and the amount of energy used to operate. Scooters achieve incredible fuel efficiency, easily reaching 60-80 mpg. They may emit more pollution, but they produce less greenhouse gas.
Luckily, most American scooters have four-stroke engines, which are more fuel efficient, quieter, more reliable and run significantly cleaner. For all those gains, however, there is a performance loss, although scooters with direct fuel injection can offset that loss of power and also provide increased fuel efficiency.
Synonymous with the word scooter, Vespa, manufactured by Piaggio, set the gold standard for the industry – in sales, in racing and in film. Chic, with its enclosing unibody; innovative, with its protective flat footboard; and aerodynamically stable, with its prominent front fairing; the classic Italian scooter inspires images of sharply dressed professionals zipping down the Via Veneto. Since its return to the U.S. in 2000 after an absence of 15 years due to new emissions legislation targeting two-stroke engines, the “wasp” has a firm hold on 20 percent of the market and a new lease on life with a four-stroke engine.
Available with an Eco-Smart fuel-injected engine since 2011, the 150cc models use 15 percent less fuel than earlier versions. Achieving an average of 85 mpg, these efficient scooters also provide a smoother ride without sacrificing performance or speed.
Some scooters run on alternative fuels such as propane (liquid petroleum), which costs less and creates less pollution, but American availability is currently limited.
The “greenest” source of fuel is electricity. Electric scooters are near-silent, low-maintenance, fuel-efficient rides. The purchase price is considerably higher, but with electricity costs about one-tenth of gasoline, the payback period is quick. The downside is that the battery pack won’t take you much farther than 30-50 miles before it needs recharging … which takes time.
X-treme and Razor are two of the more popular electric scooter manufacturers, with models ranging from skateboards to pocket bikes.
Countdown to zero
Resembling a motorcycle more than a motor scooter, the Vectrix ZEV is the only highway-legal, fully electric, zero-emissions vehicle for sale in the U.S. Featuring a built-in rechargeable battery, a patented regenerative deceleration system, called DaaRT, and Brembo disc brakes, it quietly accelerates from 0 to 50 in 6.8 seconds.
The DaaRT systems recovers energy and extends battery life by enabling acceleration and braking to be controlled by one hand using the bi-directional throttle. There are no gears or clutch. One of the scooter’s most attractive features is its onboard charging capability that provides up to 68 miles of travel.
Currently available from British Motor Cars, the Vectrix ZEV has a smaller carbon footprint and an impressive return on investment – particularly in California, where the government is offering anti-pollution incentives that give the buyer a $1,500 rebate. Minimal maintenance and lower insurance rates also make it an attractive option.
Combining the best of both fuel sources, Piaggio is currently in the prototype phase of development of a gas-electric hybrid scooter: the HyS. Its hybrid drivetrain increases power by 25 percent while decreasing fuel consumption by 20 percent.
Also in development, the Piaggio MP3 is a plug-in hybrid that fully recharges in three hours and gets 170 miles to the gallon of gasoline. Until those are available, Piaggio offers several gasoline-powered four-stroke models.
So do the math: two (wheels) plus four (cylinders) equals a fuel-efficient, eco-friendly mode of transportation.