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This ain't your hipster friends' Vespa.

The Honda Ruckus (and its brother, the Honda Zoomer) was first envisioned as an off-road vehicle. It has a sturdy frame, wide and knobby tires and an engine underneath the frame. That's about all there is to it. It's about as bare-bones as you can get and still be street-legal. It's a bunch of exposed pipes and parts with wheels. It has no body paneling, no enclosed cargo compartment, and not even a fuel gauge. If the Vespa is the Art Deco of the scooter world, then the Ruckus would be Dada.

There are many scooters that go faster or accelerate better, given the Ruckus' four-stroke engine (to meet emissions standards). I was thrilled when I managed to make a skin-blistering 41mph on a downhill stretch in my 2003 model; newer models have considerably better top-end, thanks to a higher redline and a few design changes. Despite its somewhat underpowered engine, it is one of the most reliable and efficient two-wheeled vehicles on the road. You can run the engine wide-open all day, and it doesn't mind at all. You can lay it down and it'll take the beating and start back up again. You can drive it on wet roads, sand, gravel, and it won't even notice. You can drive all week, and fill it up for pocket change.

But like most 50cc scooters, I wouldn't recommend it for anything but urban environments where the relatively low top speed isn't an issue. Tampa, fortunately, is blessed with lots of old people, some seriously bad traffic around the morning and evening rush hours, and a cracked-out street plan that means there are few long straight-aways. I find myself tailgating about as often as I am tailgated around here. Your experience may vary, depending on specifics.

A few specifications (from the Honda website):

  • Engine type: 49cc water-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
  • Carburetion: 18mm CV with automatic choke
  • Transmission: CVT Automatic belt drive
  • Dry weight: 181lb (82kg)
  • Fuel capacity: 1.32gal (5L)
  • Top speed on level ground (2003-2005): 37mph (60kph)
  • Top speed on level ground (2006-up): 43mph (70kph)
  • Power (2003-2005): 4.9hp (3.65kW) @ 8000rpm
  • Torque (2003-2005): 3.31ft/lb (4.5N/m) @7200rpm
  • Redline (2003-2005): 8000rpm
  • Redline (2006-up): 8850rpm