The Best Way To See Duluth: On A Scooter!

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

At the end of last summer my wife and I purchased two motorized scooters to enjoy the 87 square miles of Duluth in a new way.

Our first goal was to find out what scooters could make it up the hills on the East Side of town and what licenses we needed to drive them. There are a few different sizes of engines that are available and different rules that apply legally to driving them. InMinnesota, if the engine is smaller than 50cc then you do not need any special license, but you cannot drive the vehicle after dusk. The top speed of a common 49cc scooter is 35 mph, and no scooter is allowed on Hwy 35 for obvious reasons.

The next scooter available with more umph is a 125cc-150cc scooter. These are the Vespa looking scooters that you commonly see around. With this size engine you do need a motorcycle license, and the top speed is around 55 mph. Taking the motorcycle test on this though, as I did the first day I bought it, was not too difficult. These scooters are easy to drive and fully automatic… You just hit the throttle and it goes.

After deciding that we wanted a scooter the next requirement was that it was able to seat two people. We drove around to the local dealerships and test-drove a few of the different models. The first one I drove was a Yamaha Zuma, the sporty, more masculine scooter (if there was such a thing). At 49cc it had some pep, and I was impressed (it was also black with red flames on the side).

I remembered reading in this very magazine that there was an ad for Schwinn scooters that were very reasonably priced. This led us on an adventure down some country roads near Cloquet. After being very impressed by driving a 150cc version I couldn’t go back to the lowly 49cc Zuma, fire or not! I had the need, the need for speed!

I also learned that this “Schwinn” wasn’t the same as the one I grew up with, putting playing cards in the spokes to pretend it had a motor. This “Schwinn” was purchased by a large Chinese conglomeration that produced cheap vehicles put into a shiny box with a reputable name on the front. Callahan Auto Parts from Tommy Boy was my first thought when I heard this.

I then drove back to town hooked on the power, but the only other 150cc scooters I had seen were the Vespas and their leather seats… which equaled WAY more money than I had available.

Luckily, we found the middle ground at Iron River Sports in the Mariner Mall. They had a row of Vino 125cc scooters that looked like a cross between a Vespa and a Volkswagen Beetle. It has enough room for two, and this baby cooks up the hill at half the price of a Vespa.

While researching I also learned that Vespas are made in Italy and Yamahas are made in Japan. I have owned Honda 4-wheelers throughout my life and have never had any trouble with them. I hit a tree and nearly totaled one, and it started right back up. My personal experience with European vehicles, however, was always temperamental at best. Reading through blogs and various consumer websites, the Yamaha had far fewer repair issues while the Chinese vehicles had very poor repair records. The word “disposable” kept coming up, which when spending thousands of dollars seems like the last word I would use.

Ultimately, we bought the Vino 125cc scooter and have been extremely pleased. We also purchased a used 49cc 1986 Yamaha Riva for around $500, but that one has needed a few repairs and has issues (the muffler just shook lose last weekend and the carburetor had to be cleaned a few weeks ago). We had to eventually buy a second scooter because of the weight capacity for the Vino (which we slightly overran), and it is way more fun to ride together around town.

Okay, now that I wrote a novel on purchasing a scooter let me tell you about the joy of owning and riding them around in this great city.

From the Lester River to Gary/New Duluth is about 16 miles, while Duluth as a whole is 87 square miles (according to Wikipedia and MapQuest). Finding routes on streets under 40 mph is easy, and the first street you should drive is Skyline Parkway. On a scooter this drive is perfect...

Duluth was made to be seen on a bike, but the hills are too much to truly enjoy on a single ride. A scooter is great for Duluth, and at 80+ miles to the gallon, it was made for today's economy.

One thing that hits you while driving around town are the smells. Not just the SUV exhaust, but the fresh bread, flowers, restaurants, and different areas of the city. Driving by the bars on Superior when you hit Lincoln Park shows a side of the city you might not see when bypassing life on the freeway. People out smoking, kids out playing, and architecture that dazzles. There is no clutch or clunky feeling to a scooter, you just turn the handle and it takes you anywhere.

From the bumpy roads of Park Point filled with the smell of lilacs to the bumpy roads around the mansions by 21st Avenue East. From the beauty of Kitchi Gammi Park along the lake, to Jay Cooke State Park and their waterfalls.

Some bikers wave or give “the sign”…others laugh, and few kids once made noises at me while riding the little “Grand Theft Auto/Back To The Future” 1986 Riva down Park Point. The Vino 125 is slick and catches the eye. It flies up the hill, and on the UMD campus you can park for free under a building that provides protection from the elements.

Sure you can only drive a scooter a few months in Duluth, but when you can it is the most enjoyable form of transportation available on the market.