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Mopeds have infiltrated our pristine eco-system. (iStockphoto)
Mopeds have infiltrated our pristine eco-system. (iStockphoto)

Road Sage

Hey! You on the Moped! Scoot! Add to ...

Back in the day, spying a moped or a scooter (also known as a fauxped) on a Canadian street was a novel occurrence. You'd see some dude on a puny near-bike puttering along by the side of the road, white helmet snugly fastened, ridiculous look on his face and you'd say something like, "Hey, look at the dork on that moped."

Months would go by before you'd see another one. Then you could say, "Wow, there he is again."

Today, however, mopeds are the zebra mussel of our motorways, a foreign species that has infiltrated our pristine Canadian eco-system. They are stuck to our roads like so much rider-scooter bivalvia. They bob and weave through traffic, pretending to be a motorized vehicle when it suits them, and then posing as an eco-friendly bi-wheel when the situation dictates. No matter which disguise they employ, mopeds and scooters are a significant irritation, and, like the zebra mussel, damaging though arguably good for repairing the environment.

Both mopeds (which often have pedals) and scooters (which don't) flourished in the early 20th century when people thought, "I want to get around but I am way too lazy to peddle this bicycle. Hey, why don't I strap a motor to it?" After the First World War people gave up on them. Money flowed and motorcycles ruled. Then the Second World War came along and blew Europe to oblivion. There were barely any factories left to build real motorcycles yet folks still needed to get around. Faster than you could say "Viola Presto" mopeds and scooters began to proliferate.

A scooter, for instance, was a great way for a European to get from his job at the restaurant to his other job at the museum. Britain, which had stood alone against fascism, tried bravely to fight the wave but it too was eventually swamped by mopeds as evidenced by the song Funky Moped performed by comedian/chanteuse Jasper Carrott and by a youthful Sting (as Ace Face) riding a scooter in Quadrophenia. When you saw a pretty woman or a handsome fellow driving a moped through the streets of Rome or Paris he or she generally looked pretty chic. It suited the locale. Just like big, gas-guzzling fun-cars and Harley Davidsons suited North America.

When Canadians did ride a moped they were out of the country. For some reason, it's an activity people try on holiday. It always ends the same way, with some guy downing five beers and then gleefully speeding away on a scooter only to show up later at the Maya Cayo Del Regis all-inclusive bar covered in second-degree road burns.

Scooters and mopeds represent two varieties of flaw.

The moped is craven. At least people who ride bicycles are getting fit. In exchange for uncomfortable seats and near-death experiences they get to ignore stops sign and other laws and regulations. People who drive cars get to pay parking tickets, gas tax, tolls, license fees, speeding tickets and then sit in traffic watching their lives slowly eek away - but they get to do so in air conditioned comfort. The moped is a hellish blend ridden by folks too lazy to bicycle, not confident enough to ride a motorcycle but too freedom-loving to drive a car.

Scooters are sneaky. Their riders are law-flaunting by their very natures. It's impossible to drive in a major city (apologies to all small town folk) and not have at least one scooter zip through the middle of traffic like a slithering snake. They'll ride up on the sidewalk and park when it suits them (pretending to be a bicycle) and then take up a space in a parking lot (appropriating the traits of a car) when the opportunity presents. A 2009 study of my own gut instinct and personal bias showed that scooter drivers are 85 per cent more likely to shoplift and to all of a sudden zoom right by me while I am stuck in a traffic jam. If your lawyer drives up on a scooter, run.

Noted: To the Audi which turned left from the right lane crossing diagonally through the intersection while running a red light and endangering dozens of people including children on the way to school - many thanks. It's stunts like that which make life exciting and unpredictable. Always remember, it's your world.

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