Small Displacement Motorcycles and Scooters Make the World Go Round

As most of you may know, I like to travel a bit. My recent travels took me to South America (Argentina Uruguay and Chile). It did not take me long to realize that there were no motorcycles above 250cc's anywhere to be found.  Of course I ran into the occasional motorcyclist who was touring the continent on his BMW 1200GS. But the locals own, ride and rent small bikes. Even in Buenos Aires, an enormous city with a population of 13 million people, I did not see any motorcycles larger than 250cc's. This was very different from what I had witnessed in Europe, Canada and even parts of the Middle East.

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The great majority of the world's motorcycles are manufactured and ridden outside of the wealthy, developed nations of the world. Motorcycles are the most affordable form of motorized transport in many parts of the world, and for most of the world's population, they are also the most common type of motor vehicle. According to Wikepedia, the overwhelming majority of the motorcycles produced and used in the world today have small displacement air-cooled single-cylinder engines, both two- and four-strokes. There are around 200 million motorcycles (including mopeds, motor scooters and other powered two and three-wheelers) in use worldwide. Most of the motorcycles, 58%, are in the developing countries of Asia--Southern and Eastern Asia, and the Asia Pacific countries, excluding Japan. As of 2002, in the two countries of India and China, there were a total of only 15 million cars but 71 million motorcycles.

 

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A busy street in Vietnam

 A few years ago, I was in Thailand. The reining vehicles on the road were motorcycles and scooters. I was overwhelmed by the ratio of small motorcycles and scooters to cars. Population of Thailand is 67 million, Vietnam has 86 million, India an astounding 1 billion and China as most of you have heard has 1.3 billion people. The city streets are flooded with motorcycles and scooters. Once again, these two-wheeled vehicles are rarely over 250cc. In fact, the 50cc Honda Cub has sold over 60 million units worldwide, mostly outside of the US. Still produced today, it is the best selling powered vehicle of all time.

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The 50cc Honda Cub

When taking into account the sizes of these other countries, and the equal need to be mobile like us Americans, I can't help but ask, how is it that they can exist on such a lower-powered bike, carrying all sorts of crazy packages and multiple passengers, when here in the US, we frown upon on anything less than a 250cc scooter or 600cc motorcycle. 

Americans are not associated with anything small. We pride ourselves on that. But do we really need all that power, or is it an issue of ego, or maybe just convenience?

We have all seen the pictures of an entire family riding on a scooter or a laborer transporting cargo that looks too heavy and cumbersome for the machine it is strapped to. It is just another example of how humans can be so adaptable to their situation. They just make it work, just like we all do when we have no other choice.

 

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 Of course, I am not condoning riding a motorcycle or scooter with multiple passengers, especially children. Also, I know the dangers of violating a motorcycle or scooters' load triangle when transporting cargo. I just could not help but notice how much the majority of the world relies on them to be productive members of society and provide for their families.

 

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How many cc's is your motorcycle? Do you think you could survive on any less?

 

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  • I ride a 1997 100cc Honda Dream. I have ridden smaller motorcycles, and survived. I have ridden bigger motorcycles, but have no need of one on an island 13 miles wide and 30 miles long (Phuket). In the west (home in Aotearoa, and in Europe) I have found that a quarter litre is all the bike I need for highways and byways, and have happily survived on less albeit tending to avoid the boring highways.

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    Wonderfull article! It's amazing how one's perception of motorcycles changes when one travels. In North America they are still largely considered toys for those with disposable incomes. Pretty well everywhere else they're an essential and affordable tool.
    What's more, you've captured in this article the raison d'etre of our website TwoFiftyMAG.com!

  • Thanks for your blog on the normal motorcycle size. I rode a 200 Yamaha for years while in the Air Force and my first ride was a Bridgestone 50. Now I am thinking about returning to a SzyM Symba for a daily rider. I am even contemplating a cross country trip on one to see the country. Downsizing to what is normal worldwide seems like a timely idea. In a nation of excess it will only take a few people to lead the way and set a "simple works well" example!

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