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The scooter: evolution and impacts.

Transportation technology is an indispensable part of human life. Scooters are popular, ubiquitous vehicles found throughout the world. While similar to motorcycles, there are also important distinctions. Both have two wheels (some have three wheels) and are motor vehicles driven by an engine connected to the rear wheel. The United States Department of Transportation defines a scooter as one category of motorcycle that has two statuses (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 2005). A scooter:

(1) has a platform for the operator's feet or has integrated footrests, and (2) has a step-through architecture, meaning that the part of the vehicle forward of the operator's seat and between the legs of an operator seated in the riding position, is lower in height than the operator's seat (p. 639).

Typically, the most significant differences between scooters and motorcycles are the body shape, shell materials, and power transmission methods. Today, most scooters use a plastic shell for their body to reduce weight and cost, and an automatic transmission (continuously variable transmission, CVT) to make scooter driving more simplified. However, due to the similarly to motorcycles, many countries do not differentiate between motorcycles and scooters in their regulations. Most countries use engine displacement size (cubic centimeters) as a classification to differentiate operator license requirements. The 50cc light scooters, which are known as mopeds in the USA, are used for short range commuting. Heavy scooters, generally more than 50cc, but less than 250cc, are used for medium-and long-range commuting and commercial cargo transportation, while very heavy scooters, more than 250cc, are usually designed for leisure and entertainment.

Scooters are useful and convenient forms of transportation. They are low-cost, easy to drive, can obtain high speeds, have cargo carrying capacity, are easy to park, and are small in size (Wang & You, 2009). In emerging countries, scooters are often used as commuter or cargo transportation vehicles and play an indispensable role in daily life. In developed countries, scooters are usually regarded as entertainment or commuter vehicles for young people (Photo 1).

The invention of the scooter came with advancements in science and technology, while its innovation over time has been an epitome of the interactions between technology, social development, and cultural change. The scooter was created, improved, and has been used for more than one hundred years. It has shaped lives and society, like many other technological products. This article will discuss the development of the scooter, and it will also touch on the social and cultural impacts of this technology.


The development of scooters can be traced to the early 1900s. During this time of increasing industrialization, social and economic structures continued to evolve. Before the scooter was developed, Hildebrand and Wolfmuller produced and sold the first motorcycles in Germany in 1894 (Webster, 2007). They were the first powered, two-wheeled vehicles to be named motorcycles. After this initial development, many ideas for designing two-wheeled, powered vehicles emerged. The original design idea for a scooter evolved from a child's push scooter, to the bicycle, then to the motorcycle. However, like most technological products, the invention and innovation of scooters was not the accomplishment of any single inventor/innovator. It was by accumulated outcomes, which came from technology transfer, innovation, and social selection. In brief, the scooter's developmental process can be divided into several periods (Wang & You, 2009; Webster, 2007).

First generation (1915-1924). After the first motorcycle was developed, the American Autoped was introduced in 1915. It was believed to be a sign of future scooters to come. Unlike the motorcycle, its engine was mounted over the front wheel for direct drive. The engine power and brake of the Autoped were controlled by pushing or pulling on the handlebar column (Dregni, 2005). After its initial development, the number of scooter manufacturers increased just before and during World War I. During this period, scooters were improved through multiple innovations, including moving the engine position from the front to the rear, adding front suspension, improved gearboxes and leg shields, and adding a seat with springs for rider comfort (Webster, 2007). In 1920, Gloster Aircraft Company in Great Britain built the Unibus. It showed an advanced prototype for the next generation of early scooters. Its engine was mounted vertically behind the front wheel, a drive shaft was connected by a worm gear, and it was powered in the rear by a chair drive. A two-speed gearbox enabled faster speeds than in other scooters of the time, while its shell design also provided better rider protection (Webster, 2007). However, the main purpose of the scooter at this time remained entertainment. After World War I, scooters disappeared due to the impact of the post-war economic downturn.

Second generation (1936-1968). During World War II, the Welbike was manufactured in Birmingham, England. It was designed as a smaller sized but durable motorbike and had a very simple structure for helping the airborne forces during the war (Webster, 2007). The military could drop scooters from planes using parachutes, and troops could retrieve them and use them to move around the countryside more quickly. After World War II, many countries used the idle manufacturing machinery and facilities that were used to make war machines and turned them into scooter production facilities. Two of the most distinguished Italian models produced in former military facilities were the Piaggio Vespa in 1946 and the Lambretta in 1947. The Vespa designers combined many great elements from automotive, aeronautical, and motorcycle designs to develop some revolutionary scooter design concepts (Dregni, 2005). For example, Vespa placed the engine and gearbox near the rear wheel to improve transmission efficiency. It elegantly covered its body to protect the driver from burns, wind, and road dirt. The typical fork support was designed similarly to an aircraft carriage for easier parking and tire changing, while the shorter wheelbase and smaller wheels provided better operability and stability (Dregni, 2005; Webster, 2007). Combined with effective marketing strategies, the Vespa enjoyed great success and quickly became the standard of many later scooter models. Inspired by the Vespa, German, United Kingdom, Indian, and Japanese companies designed and built their own scooters and used many of Vespa's technological innovative ideas (Webster, 2007; Woods, 2004) (Photo 2).

Third generation (1968-1991). By the late 1960s, sales of scooters throughout Western Europe dropped due to the ability of many people to afford a car as major transport (Webster, 2007). Meanwhile, the need for a convenient and inexpensive form of transportation was rising in many Asian countries (Tso & Chang, 2003). Material and technological innovations were also contributing to the development of third-generation scooters. With the invention of plastics, scooter manufacturing began to replace the steel shells, and the redesign of scooters started once again (Wang & You, 2009). In order to meet the needs of economic development, Japanese and Taiwanese companies aimed to make scooters a popular form of transportation for daily use rather than an expensive recreational vehicle. These nations combined new materials with new mass production techniques and started to design and pursue lightweight, low-cost, inexpensive, and economical products. For example, in 1977, Yamaha focused its marketing strategies on a previously untapped market--female consumers. They introduced a 50cc scooter, the Passol, which was highlighted by the characteristics of a lightweight body, fully automatic mechanical system that was extremely economical, easily operated, and fashionable, with availability in multiple colored shells (Wang & You, 2009). These scooters were successful and became very popular in the Asian market. After the 1980s, many similar types of 50cc scooters were designed and sold in Asia and all over the world. Plastic-shell scooters have become the mainstream trend in this industry.

Fourth generation (1991-present). Since the 1990s, more and more studies have stressed that the main carbon pollution sources within cities are the exhaust fumes of motor vehicles. This has placed pressure on manufacturers to reduce pollution in order to reduce harm to the environment. It has led to a new trend in scooter design and innovation (Tang & Liao, 2004; Tso & Chang, 2003). Many manufacturers began to develop new products to meet this demand of being environmentally friendly. For example, a four-stroke engine has replaced the two-stroke engine, and the traditional carburetor has been gradually replaced by electronic fuel injection (EFI), while the design and innovation of electric scooters have been seen as an important topic of research in many countries (Tang & Liao, 2004; Tso & Chang, 2003) (Photo 3).


As the automobile impacted American, European, and Australian societies, the history of scooters also has shown an interaction between human needs, social factors, and technological development. Hallstrom and Gyberg (2011) indicate that technology evolves as an interaction to various societal factors, which might consist of inventors, system builders, users, political and economic driving forces, scientific and technological prerequisites, formal rules (e.g., laws), and informal rules (such as the cultural environment).

In the early 1900s, scooters had evolved not as daily transportation or needed economic development; rather they were developed and marketed as a form of entertainment. People wanted to be able to travel freely. Therefore, the first generation of scooters easily disappeared when the great wars broke out followed by post-war economic recessions. However, after World War II, the accumulated scientific and engineering design knowledge and manufacturing abilities were transferred to the innovation and redesign of many products, including scooters. For example, Vespa (Italian manufacturer) applied aircraft technology to make significant improvements to molding designs, power mechanisms, and reduced manufacturing costs. This enabled the scooter to find a purpose, and it became a practical technological product for users. Coupled with clever advertisements using mass media, scooters were accepted rapidly and had widespread acceptance over the world in a short 60-year period. Since then scooters have shaped the social culture and have contributed to the economic prosperity of people who have worked to develop and promote them. Just like inventors found in the 1980s, the use of plastic materials brought revolutionary innovations to the design and production of scooters and many other products, particularly electronic consumer products. Also, marketing strategies exploited the potential demand in particular social contexts--a huge demand was created and shaped for scooters as becoming an essential technology for daily life.

New technological innovations have had an impact on the culture and the environment in both positive and negative ways. Technology can contribute to social development and improve quality of life; however, it may also result in cultural change or environmental damage. For example, scooters became an emblem of popular culture and style in Asia. In Asian societies, scooters are one way for people to show themselves as being distinctive (models, accessories, clothing). However, in some countries, a large number of scooters can also cause traffic congestion, resulting in increased accidents. Take Taiwan as an example. Due to limited space, population density, and the tropical climate, scooters have become the most popular vehicle. As stated by the Ministry of Transportation & Communications (2013), the number of motorcycles (including motorcycles and scooters) was 15.1 million, while there are 23.3 million people in the country. From a statistical point, each one hundred people own 92.3 motorcycles (including motorcycle and scooter). As a result of this vehicle density, many traffic problems and environmental issues have resulted (Tso & Chang, 2003) (Photo 4).

In response to these problems, special traffic regulations were enacted for reducing traffic accidents. For instance, a motorcycle waiting zone has been created, where there is a two-section left turn lane (called a hook-turn lane). See Photo 5, where the white box area is the two-section left-turn waiting zone.

In recent years, more and more new technical designs are being used to reduce environmental pollution from scooters. For example, the mandatory use of the four-stroke engine and the electronic fuel injection (EFI) system, as well as actively promoting the use of electric scooters, is being encouraged by governments. Research and development has enhanced the design of scooters and produced improved personal equipment (jackets, helmets, colored clothing, etc.) and related safety products (Tso & Chang, 2003). The scooter industry has been led into a new direction by these social issues.


Learning from the history of technology can help students understand the technological achievements in human history and reflect on their impacts on human life (ITEA/ITEEA, 20002002/2007). Lee (2011) noted that historical, social, cultural, and environmental knowledge constitutes the foundation of design and technological innovation. History can help students to understand the link between conceptual knowledge and their current life experiences. In technology and engineering education, teachers can guide students to understand the impacts of scientific and technological knowledge on the evolution of society by exploring the technological design process. Teachers can also help students to reflect on the interactions between technology and human life, thus influencing economic, cultural, and environmental limitations. Following are two types of activities that may be used for teaching technology and engineering principles used in scooter design and production.

Operating systems of a scooter.

Scooters are popular vehicles among young people in many countries. The purpose of this activity is to help students understand the structure and operating systems used in scooter design, establish basic concepts for general maintenance and mechanical troubleshooting, and learn how to improve rider safety. The scooter's structure and operating systems include many components and subsystems such as a frame and shell, suspension system, transmission system, engine and power system, and others. Meanwhile, safety issues can include the selection of helmets and the design of protective clothing and other accessories. Students can select one of the structural components, operating subsystems, or types of safety equipment and research their origin, innovation processes, and change over time. Identify the scientific and technological principles that support the selected subsystem or product. Have students explain how the subsystem/product works together with other subsystems to construct the whole operating system of a scooter. Have students make presentations or demonstrations about their research results and discuss the possible future evolution for scooters to address some important issues such as how to increase rider safety and how to reduce environmental pollution.

Scooter design.

As a second activity, students could take their knowledge of scooters and make a concept design for a future scooter. First, students should conduct research on the advantages and disadvantages of present scooter designs and identify components/ systems that need to be improved upon. These improvements can address environmental pollution problems, rider safety problems, the performance of individual operating systems, or special needs for particular contexts or individual needs (e.g., green transportation requirement, restaurant express delivery, or disabled users). Select one of these possible refinements and conduct research to identify information to focus the design requirements. Propose possible solutions. During the design process, in addition to scooter knowledge, students should understand the basic concepts of structural mechanics and ergonomics and develop engineering drawings to support their proposed designs. Meanwhile, teachers might need to introduce the skills of computer drawing (e.g., AutoCAD, Google SketchUp, Rhino). After developing their scooter component designs, students could then develop a 3D model of their scooter components using computer graphics software. Improvements should be sought. Once designed, students might build a physical prototype by using 3D printer technology or other laboratory materials. Finally, students should make a presentation to "show and tell" about their design concepts while explaining how these changes address the problem they identified.


Technological innovations have changed the way humans live. The evolution of scooters has been affected by scientific developments and technological innovations. But more importantly, scooter development has been affected by the demands of social and economic development. Today, scooters have become significant not only as a transportation mode, but also as a symbol of self-expression and culture in many countries. In addition to scooters themselves, they also brought economic benefits to businesses that perform maintenance and sell personal equipment. However scooter technology can add to social concerns and add to the impact of congestion and damaging gases to the environment. In technology and engineering education, teachers can work to help students understand the scientific and technological knowledge that supports these technological systems, learn to apply engineering design processes, and understand systems thinking and problem solving, as well as realizing the impact of different social factors on the development and use of technology.


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Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (2005). Motorcycle controls and displays. Title 49, Transportation section 571.123, Standard No. 123. Retrieved from fdsys/pkg/CFR-2011 -title49-vol6/pdf/CFR-2011-title49-vol6sec571-123.pdf

Hallstrom, J. & Gyberg, P. (2011). Technology in the rear-view mirror: How to better incorporate the history of technology into technology education. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 2/(1), 3-17.

International Technology Education Association (ITEA/ITEEA). (2000/2002/2007). Standards for technological literacy: Content for the study of technology. Reston, VA: Author.

Lee, K. (2011). Looking back, to look forward: Using traditional cultural examples to explain contemporary ideas in technology education. Journal of Technology Education, 22(2), 42-52.

Ministry of Transportation & Communications. (2013). Number of registered motor vehicles. Retrieved from www.motc. pdf&filedisplay=c3050.pdf&flag=doc

Tang, C. P. & Liao, K. J. (2004). Technology policy and democratization: The political economy of promoting electronic scooter in Taiwan. Journal of Public Administration, 11, 1-34.

Tso, C. & Chang, S. Y. (2003). A viable niche market--fuel cell scooters in Taiwan. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 28(7), 757-762.

Wang, M. T., & You, M. L. (2009). The evolvement of product and form of scooters in Taiwan. Journal of Design, 14( 1), 81-104.

Webster, M. (2007). Motor scooters. Buckinghamshire, UK: Shire Publications Ltd.

Woods, B. (2004). The scooter book. New York: Hylas Publishing.

Szu-Chun Fan is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Technology Application and Human Resource Development at National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, Taiwan. She can be reached at 899710028

John Ritz, DTE is a professor in the Department of STEM Education and Professional Studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. He can be reached at
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Author:Ritz, John; Fan, Szuchun
Publication:Technology and Engineering Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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