By David Harrington

No, not seriously. Perhaps “non-pavement riding” would be a better term, or “off-roading on not quite really a scooter.” Trail riding? Yeah, I can see that, depending on the trail.

166_RSWhen I first started riding, Red Owl was still selling wooly mammoth steaks. An early 1970s Honda CT70 isn’t a scooter, but it is what started me riding around on non-pavement. Next came the somewhat more scooteresque Honda CT90. Sort of a step-through design and an automatic clutch four-speed. During the 1970s growing up by the Mississippi river meant a great many forays on narrow non-pavement trails and even some real off-roading on the farm.

A few years pass, and it’s the 1980s. “Scooter camping” was an activity of necessity. A Vespa P125 served as my method of transportation while other “campers” of this period had the superior-for-the-task Honda Passport aka Cub. Yeah, trail riding around Prairie Island on 10-inch wheels with very little suspension. The best use of a P125 it wasn’t, but at that age, camping meant beer, bonfires and girls, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, the scooter apparently made me cute.

A couple of decades whisk by and it’s the cabin years. Of course fat old men drive four-wheeled conveyances up to the country retreat, but once we arrive….

Getting around at the cabin was my next trip down the non-pavement road on scooters. Now we’re talking “real” scooters. Machines like the Yamaha Zuma, Honda Ruckus and Genuine Rattler brought us 50cc, automatic, fat-tire scooters that could, with some modification, go from grass to sand to gravel to pavement and back again – often bringing groceries from town on the way back. These scooters had utilitarian looks and were (in the day) licensed as mopeds in Minnesota. They could be ridden by anyone with a driver’s license, were automatic, light-weight, easy to operate and not very intimidating. They lacked suspension travel for “real” off-road use, but with fender modification/removal and some care when riding, they can handle a wide range of surfaces without difficulty. The 50cc power output (or lack thereof) keeps one out of trouble as well.

My own 2006 Genuine Rattler 50cc 2-stroke did just fine without a front fender and with the rear inner fender removed. The rider got a bit dirty, but that was part of the fun. The trails near the cabin were mostly narrow walking paths and, in some cases, old livestock paths. Crossing a (very shallow, slow moving) stream wasn’t an issue as long as one stayed off the throttle and avoided slipping on the rocks. The gravel washboard (I mean access road) was fine at reasonable speeds and the “improved” (oiled and graded) road that eventually found its way to a paved street was a breeze even at 30 mph. There were one or two times that I attempted a jaunt through the forest, but gave that up quickly when the suspension bottomed out on the first exposed tree root.

So, what if you want an off-roadish scooter in 2015? You’re in luck, Honda has the Ruckus in its 2015 line up and Yamaha has the Zuma in 50FX form. Yes the new Zuma is a shadow of its former self as performance goes, but it would still make a good machine for cabin duty. Those with slightly less deep pockets will be glad to see that Genuine Scooter continues to offer the RoughHouse in extra-zippy 2-stroke form, Kymco is offering a Super 8 50X with more aggressive tires and a camo finish, and Lance/SYM offers the Cabo in 50cc, 125cc and 150cc versions. I did take a Cabo 150 off of the pavement and it was up to the task on some trails and a gravel road.

True off-roading isn’t really in the cards on a scooter, but leaving the pavement behind is certainly an option on the right model.

Twin Cities scooterist David Harrington owns and operates JustGottaScoot.com

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