Q & A Guides

Do Scooters Have Automatic Transmissions?

If so, are they easier to ride?

I remember the first time I considered getting a motorcycle and all new challenges I would face. But what scared me the most was the idea of having to shift gears manually and controlling the clutch at the same time. I based this fear on my first experience driving a manual car with stick shift. Let’s say things didn’t go so well. So when it came time to hit the road on only two wheels, I was relieved to find out scooters work a bit different, and probably would be a better fit for a newbie like me.

Yes, most modern scooters have an automatic transmission. However, the word “automatic” may not be what you think. At least not in a traditional sense. While most other vehicles with automatic transmissions have gear boxes, scooters instead have what is called a CVT (continuously variable transmission). While the inner workings of a CVT differs greatly from that a gear based automatic transmission, the important detail is there’s no manual clutch or gear shifting to fiddle with while you’re riding.

I’m guessing the reason you googled this question is twofold. You really want to know if scooters have an automatic transmission, and if they do, does it make it easier to ride. Let’s explore the ladder in more detail.


Automatic Scooters Are Easier To Ride

Riding anything with two wheels tends to introduce a slew of new challenges, especially if riding on public streets.

You still have to follow all the same traffic laws, worry about other drivers (trust me, they won’t see you), pay even more attention to weather conditions, etc. With all of these obstacles out there, eliminating the need to manual shift can really simplify things. 

Let’s consider a few reason why this is the case. Naturally having fewer tasks to do at the same time makes thing easier. But scooters can have a broader use case than let’s a say a motorcycle. Sure, both make great daily commuters, or even weekend joy rides. But, I’ve been surprised how often scooters sneak there way into our lives.

A vacation I took a few years back with my girlfriend comes to mind. While spending a weekend in Cozumel, Mexico, we decided it would be a blast to rent scooters and ride around the island. I myself was used to riding a scooter as I owned one back home, but my girlfriend had only ever been on a scooter has a passenger, so she was a bit nervous to ride by herself. I explained to her that scooters have very simple “controls”. The gas and a brake. This helped put her at ease, and she very quickly got comfortable riding on her own.

I can’t believe how easy this thing is to ride. It’s like riding a bike! My girlfriend


What To Expect On Your First Ride

Safety Benefits:

If you ever driven a car with a stick shift, I’m sure at some point during your training you’ve had this happen. Your ready to go, confidently put in gear, start to release the clutch while giving it a little gas… and BAM! The car jerks aggressively back and forth and you have no clue how to stop it. Sound about right? While this may have been embarrassing, odds turned out to be a no harm, no foul moment. Now think about what would happen if you were on something with only 2 wheels. Kinda of scary, right? I don’t mean in a life or death kinda way, but in an oops I just dropped and scratched my brand new scooter with a side of bodily bumps and bruises kinda way.

I’m not trying to scare you. Quite the opposite. By highlighting what could go wrong if you were required to shift manually, I’m hoping you see the benefits of an automatic transmission.

Power Expectations:

Scooters in general are built for efficiency, not speed. This is a great thing! For a new rider, the limited power can make them feel more in control which leads to more confidence. Ultimately, a safer riding experience. Plus power typically come at a price, fuel. Scooter are known for there fuel efficiency, to the tune of 70+ mpg.

CVT Expectations:

The sensation/feedback of a CVT can feel a bit odd, and to some, it feels like something may be wrong (this really only happens to folks that are used to riding motorcycles).

This part is going to sound counterintuitive. Since the transmission works a bit different, scooters don’t rely on the motors RPM’s to increase and decrease its speed. What ends up happening is as you twist the throttle the sound of the engine doesn’t change, but the scooters speed still increases. If you’ve every been on a motorcycle, or even been around one, you’ve heard the engine rev during acceleration. Because that rev sound is missing, some people tend to think the scooter is under powered, or worse, has a power issue. What’s really happen is the CVT is doing what CVT does, and it’s completely normal.


What Is A CVT Style Transmission And How Does It Work

Animation of a Scooter CVTThe answer is built into the name itself, Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT). In the animation you’ll notice there’s an input shaft and an output shaft with a belt connecting them. Because the sheaves have the ability to adjust, the belt acts like an adjustable/variable gear system. Notice the belt is a fix length. This means as you roll back on the scooters throttle to go faster, centrifugal force causes the input sheave to narrow forcing the belt to act like a larger “gear”. This causes the output shaft to automatically adjust and act like a small “gear”. The smaller the output “gears” diameter, the faster the output shaft spins… the faster the output shaft spins… the faster the scooter goes.


Wait, Do They Even Make Scooters With Manual Transmission?

Not many, if any at all. More often then not, if you see a manual transmission scooter on the road you’re looking at vintage model.

For awhile I heard Vespa was going to reintroduce their PX line-up which originally had manual transmissions. However, as for writing this, their website show a couple of 70th anniversary release; the Vespa GTS 300 MY18,  Vespa Primavera 50, and Vespa Primavera 150. All of which are automatic.


Wrap Up

I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of the advantages and disadvantages of automatic transmissions. Feel free to comment below.

Ride safe!

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