The Fly Scout
A Great Little Shiftie
by Jordana Whyte
There are a few select things in life where the easiest and fastest options are not always the best choice. Modern technology has created so many shortcuts that we can scarcely remember how we survived doing things the “hard” way. That’s the way I feel about the Fly Scout. It’s more effort than what I’m used to, but it sure puts a big smile on my face.
My scooter experience comes from a brief affair with a 1986 50cc Honda Spree and my current, 2008 Genuine Buddy International 150cc. Both of these models are extraordinarily easy to drive: just put the key in, hit the start button and you’re off. So when I was asked to review the Scout, I was dubious about learning to ride a shiftie. It seemed like too much effort.
That skepticism lasted approximately as long as it took for me to lay eyes on the thing. The review Scout is a perky red and white number, with a sturdy, upright stature that implies it is equal to whatever task you ask of it. The Fly Scout mimics its idol, the Honda Super Cub in almost every way, from the subtly flared fenders to the classic two-tone saddle-shaped seat to the jaunty front basket.
I was drawn to it instantly. Its “retro” styling isn’t really styling at all. The Scout is based on a design that has remained relatively unchanged since first introduced in 1950. The Scout generates enthusiasm wherever you go. What is it? It looks brand new! The Scout is a new scooter in disguise.
Aesthetically, it was love at first sight. I was extremely concerned about wrapping my brain around the actual operation of the scooter. The Scout has a semi-automatic transmission, meaning that there isn’t a clutch lever like on a standard motorcycle or shiftie scooter. This means there is one less thing to think about. For me, this is a good thing. While I have no trouble driving a manual transmission car, there was something intimidating about coordinating a throttle, a front brake lever, and a back brake pedal and shift lever. I took the Motorcycle Safety Course on my Buddy and blissfully tuned out any and all instruction regarding shifting, clutch levers and warnings about popping wheelies.
That aside, it was pretty easy to learn. With a few practice sessions in an empty parking lot, and a patient teacher answering my stupid questions and grimacing through my jerky starts and stops, I got the hang of it rather quickly. Like most things, it just took getting used to.
After only a brief time with it, I’ve already stopped talking to myself out loud as I go through the operations (“Third! Fourth! Remember both brakes! Downshift to third!”). The semi-automatic transmission makes it pretty easy once you have the hand-eye coordination down. It has four gears that you move through by a simple push of the toe to move up, and a simple push of the heel to go down. The clutch engages automatically as you push down on the shifter pedals. Mercifully, you cannot shift from fourth back into first, or I would not be around to write this review.
I quickly learned where I should downshift for the smoothest transition, and what speeds give me the best cornering. These things take time, but the Scout is cooperative and forgiving. I’m not going to lie and say I had a seamless transition to riding a shiftie. There were a few rough moments, like forgetting to use the back brake, not laying off the throttle entirely when shifting (big mistake), or downshifting too early. I openly admit that I was petrified the first few times I rode on the street. If you’re new to learning shifties and are intimidated, the Scout is a great intermediary. If I can do it, you can do it.
First gear is pretty well useless. You will have to shift out of it more or less immediately, unnerving when making a left hand turn into traffic from a stop. I found it was often easier to start from second, even from a stop, which the Scout does without complaint. Second gear will slip by pretty quickly as well. In fact, you’re in the top gear by about 22-25 mph, which is pretty early, given that top speed is somewhere in the 50s.
That’s coming from a five-speed car background, though. The only four-speed vehicle I’ve driven was a 1982 Tercel hatchback, which I’m pretty sure the 110cc Scout could overtake in a road race. Somewhere around 30 mph, it really feels like the Scout is begging for a fifth gear, but it smoothes out after that.
The ride at higher speeds is relatively smooth; there are no shakes or shimmies or unsettling vibrations to speak of. The smoothness of the ride at lower speeds depends on your ability to shift and downshift gracefully. So in my case, not so much. Be prepared to feel every mid-sized bump on the road. The Scout doesn’t have the most forgiving suspension. I also noticed that my wrists tingled after longer rides, presumably from my initial white-knuckle death grip on the handlebars (Keep a soft grip. Ed.) but also from the not-so-dampened general riding vibrations. A true long haul could be bone rattling.
The feel of riding a semi-step-through is different than the standard flat-bottom scooter. Frankly, it’s more fun. I love having nothing between the road and my feet but the pegs. It was like riding one of those roller coasters where your legs dangle. This contributed to the sensation that I was going much, much faster that the speedometer indicated. Thirty mph feels like sixty, and fifty mph feels like a million.
I do wonder if anyone taller than me (5’-5”) would find the riding position comfortable. I tend to sit very far back on the seat for someone of my height. At first I found the whole riding position to be uncomfortable, especially having to place my feet where I could hit all the necessary pedals, but this quickly disappeared after ten minutes or so.
The Scout has several features that bear highlighting, though it is relatively light on the conveniences of its more modernized predecessors. There is no under-seat storage on the Scout, so be prepared to take whatever you haul with you when you reach your destination. The basket on the front is handy, but somewhat shallow. Your cargo can pop out when you hit a bump. Metal bars that act as easy anchors for a bungee or cargo net surround the passenger seat. A jacket, box or bag is easily strapped there.
There are two helmet locks on either side of the saddle. They are somewhat small with awkward access. Prepare to fumble a bit to lock down your brain bucket. A separate lock is located on the steering column to thwart thieves. This is a minor inconvenience, though, as you can easily reach the lock while sitting on the seat. There is a third, alleged cargo area between the calves on the leg-shield portion of the Scout. It has some sort of clamp contraption that apparently uses pressure to hold your precious belongings up against the scooter body. I can see only two practical uses for this spring loaded accident-waiting-to-happen. 1) Clipping your garage door opener to it and 2) snapping the necks of any unsuspecting wildlife you’ve struck with the Scout in order to end their misery humanely.
The rest of the Scout is fairly basic. You have your standard turn signals (with extra loud annoying beeps), high beam, engine kill switch and small display. The display indicates when you’re in neutral and inexplicably tracks your “mileage” in kilometers but your speed in miles. The one feature I really missed was a glove box. Truly, though, a key part of the Scout’s attractiveness is its pared-down, utilitarian nature. It doesn’t do fancy. It doesn’t do fussy. It doesn’t “do.” It just does.
Alas, it can’t all be gold. My chief complaint about the Scout is its finicky starting process. On a “cold” start, the Scout is not terribly eager to get going. To be fair, this is the first scooter I’ve had that has a choke, which I would define for you if I had any idea what it actually does. There is a sweet spot with the choke that I have yet to find. I am infinitely patient with my fellow human beings, probably to a fault, but nothing elicits toe-curling profanity from me like an uncooperative inanimate object. The honeymoon with the Scout was nearly over when I ran into this little gem of a problem. However, like most newlyweds, once we got going, I forgot all about it…until the next time. I’m fairly confident that I can learn the finer points of the choke with more practice. I certainly hope so. Nothing is more disheartening than that sputtering engine death when you’re ready to ride. Apparently this is an authentic holdover trait from the Super Cub, but it’s one point upon which I wish they’d actually try to improve.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what it is that makes the Scout feel so special, despite it being more complicated, less convenient and less cushy than my beloved Buddy. There is some magic combination of practicality, classic good looks and quirkiness; something about the Scout exudes confidence and capability, like it’s just going to go out and get the job done, and have some fun while it’s at it. The Buddy is just that: a pal, a passive friend that gives you a ride. The Scout is a sidekick. You don’t ride it. You drive it. You’re in it together.
Let me put it this way: if I were to pull some kind of heist, or be involved in a caper of some sort, my getaway vehicle of choice would be the Scout and not the Buddy. I like that driving the Scout brings out a sense of collusion and adventure, and apparently 60 million people agree with me. The Scout is plucky. And I like pluck.
Overall, I give the Scout a seven out of ten. I’m not ready to trade in my trusty and comfy Buddy just yet. Surprisingly, the shiftie factor doesn’t play into it as much as I would have initially guessed. The Scout isn’t as powerful or as smooth, and lacks the convenience of the more-polished Buddy. The slow-starting issue has potential to be a real problem for me, and for the sensitive ears of my neighbors if I run out of patience with it. That being said, I’d be thrilled to have the Scout in my fleet. Its looks and its attitude are off the charts, and anyone not half-dead would have a blast on this thing.
Big thanks to Scooterville for their help with this review. Scooterville can be reached at www.scootervillemn.com or 612-331-SCOOT (612-331-7266.