Scooter-Curious In Seattle | BEHIND BARS

Finding out what the city scooter craze is all about.

It’s not an easy road for Seattle hipsters. Just when you think you’ve zeroed out the social equation with your ironic beardlet, backyard chicken coop, and madras plaid fedora, some joker comes swaggering up, rocking orange knee socks under his Utilikilt, and droning on about the awesome pickled free-range starfish his girlfriend makes—for her girlfriend.

Back to square one.

In this moldy, flannel cradle of the consciously ironic, riders have it no easier. Back in the bygone days of millennial yore, two-wheeled cred required nothing more than a beat-up Honda CB-anything from which you peeled the fenders and mufflers and to which you applied flat black Krylon and the winsome rump of a rockabilly babe with polychromatic tattoos and Bettie Page bangs. Market rate ran about a dollar per cc.

Ratfighters are so last season, displaced by race plastic Dzus-fastened onto liquid-cooled fours by guys who got tired of sucking old varnish plugs, camming out carb screws, and running trackdays on dry-rotted Cheng Shins. What bikes, pray tell, are left for bass-playing dudes who want to hold that effortless pose of low-dollar arête?

In a word: scooters. Sleek callbacks to the early Jet Age, they’re fashionable, whine through traffic with their chrome winking like a rat pack Zippo, and boast acres of room for stickers. Flank speed ahead! Close enough to Seattle to become scooter-curious, Pretty Wife and I checked out a scooter for a day in the city.

We chose poorly.

Too urbane for Georgetown, too speedy for Ballard, and insufficiently frilly for Cap Hill, our BMW C650 GT maximum überscoot was spot-on for the crass consumer feast locally known as Pike Place Market, where it practically begged us to toss a hefty king salmon under the seat. Politely declining the fish in favor of more durable fare, we noted enough room left over in our sub-seat picnic vault for a short case of PBR.

While we dallied there, paralyzed by the unaccustomed sun, a Stelvio-mounted fellow shopper practically begged us to trade keys with him. We’re still unsure whether his fond reminiscences of Suzuki Burgman touring constituted commentary on the wide-open joys of scootering or on Moto Guzzi’s quality control. Anyway, Oakleys and a fading ankle frattoo inclined us to suspect authenticity in his irony.

Stuck on “our” scooter throughout Seattle’s first Cali-perfect day, we whiled away the afternoon darting around urban lakes, slicing traffic like home-gingered sashimi, and generally playing the tourist. It was a necessary subterfuge. I have friends in this town, friends with real motorcycles, and I’d like to keep them.

Blithely unconscious of its social burden, our GT remained disarmingly ingenuous in its neuterbike role. The 650cc laydown powertrain (nicknamed “baby seal” by BMW techs) hauled us briskly up Belltown’s notorious near-vertical brickways without complaint—which is to say smoothly, albeit with a sickly scronking belt noise we promptly dubbed “clubbing the seal” and decreed to be normal. Our “Deutsche Burgman” coddled us with butt heaters, heated grips, and an electrically adjustable windscreen—all precisely as hip as fart cans on a Tesla.

Seattle’s Georgetown hordes demand chromium Art Moderne curves and deep, relaxing inhalations of free-range fumée bleue; ours instead came factory-equipped with LED-bespangled “Lawmaster” jowls, liquid cooling, and the price tag of a modest fishing boat.

The cultural divide here is that BMW people—despite my rueful acknowledgement that I own two or three of the things at any given time—are different from you and me. Here’s how: The curb wallet of their maxi-scoot is more than 10,000 bucks wet and buys you zero hipster cred. It’s a technically superb device with all the raw sex appeal of a double-knit Prius cozy. Only other Beemer people think any BMWs are cool, and that’s pretty much the car guys. We who own their actual motorcycles just tug at our grizzled, non-ironic beards, grouse about parts prices, and constantly stop to pee.

That’s because, unlike hardcore scooterists, we can’t cross our legs while we ride.

Apparently scooters are all the rage among the scuzzy, inner-city elite, but then again maybe merlot paint and ego-warmers aren’t what they had in mind.