Make sense of... Riding a scooter
Running a scooter can be an ideal way to be mobile – especially if you live in a city
Not to be confused with the kind you push along (a ‘kick’ or ‘push’ scooter) scooters can be a handy and stylish way to get around – and if you already have a car licence it is simple to obtain the right to ride one.
The outlay to buy a scooter is of course much lower than for a car – from around €2,000+ for a new scooter or €1,000+ for a second-hand one.
Strictly-speaking a scooter can be distinguished from a moped by the fact that your feet rest on a flat platform, not pedals; typically also a moped refers to low-powered two-wheelers up to 50cc, whereas scooters are often 125cc or even more.
Unlike a moped, which can be ridden from age 14 after a seven-hour course known as the Brevet de Sécurité Routière (leading to issue of a permis AM), to ride a 125cc you need a proper permis à points (driving licence with the French points system). A 125cc can reach speeds of 100kph and can be used on motorways.
You need either:
- Permis A1 – a light motorbike licence, for ages 16+. It requires a theory and practical test and those taking it must first have a road safety certificate (ASR or ASSR) which are organised locally by the education authorities.
- Permis A2 – a licence for a medium-powered motorbike
- Permis B – a car driver’s licence, held for two years.
If you have already passed your car licence there is a further step of a one-day course. You are dispensed if you were previously insured for a scooter in 2006-2010, before this training requirement came in.
A formation 125 / formation 7h to allow a car driver to ride a 125cc takes seven hours and costs €200-€300. It includes a road safety theory session, practice off-road to familiarise yourself with the scooter, then a session on the roads in conditions such as city traffic, rural lanes and dual carriageways or motorways.
On completion the provider issues a card attesting to you having done the seven hours of training (it is possible they could refuse if they consider you are unsafe). Training is usually in a group and during the road riding part the trainer may use radio communication.
If you have no experience of riding a two-wheeler you may wish to enquire about the possibility of an off-road practice session beforehand.
It is not advisable to ride a scooter if you are not at least familiar with riding a bike as a similar sense of balance is involved. Otherwise, the controls are simple: you accelerate with the right hand and brake with both. It is recommended you brake a fraction of a second earlier on the left (back) brake, which stabilises the scooter, and make most use of this brake generally for everyday riding. The action of the right (front) is powerful and is important in an emergency stop but you should not use it alone.
Insurance for a scooter is around €20-60/month depending on options and whether you have had car insurance with a no-claims bonus etc.
The insurer sends a green vignette that should be stuck to the scooter with plastic film. When riding you should also carry passport/ ID card, insurance document, carte grise (registration document) and the seven-hour training card.
You and any passenger will also need a good quality helmet (around €150+) and heavy-duty gloves (€30+). They should meet French and/or EU norms (with the NF or CE mark).
This is a legal requirement and you may be fined by police or gendarmes for not wearing gloves.
If you will be travelling on fast roads you may also want to invest in a biker’s jacket and/or trousers. Either way, it is recommended to wear long trousers and sleeves, as minor accidents due to slippage are not uncommon (some scooters now come equipped with anti-lock brakes to minimise this risk – the English acronym ABS is used in French). Scooter riders need to take care in wet weather when roads are more slippery and especially on painted crossing areas.
A ‘top case’ for storage on the back costs €50+ and can be used for your helmet. Scooters also come with under-seat storage usually large enough for a simple helmet, but not necessarily a full-face, under jaw one.
Officially, scooter riders should also carry a yellow vest to use in the event of an accident and (not required for a 50cc moped) a breath-test kit, although fines are not imposed if you do not have one so few riders do (as with cars).
An advantage of a scooter is the ability to overtake easily and ride between the lanes of stationary or slow-moving traffic (remonter les files).
Technically this is only ‘tolerated’ rather than permitted so is a legal grey area (see here) although associations for motorbike and scooter riders protest because ‘everyone’ does it. One exception is in Ile-de-France, Bouches-du-Rhône, Gironde and Rhône where an experiment is running until 2020 into full legality, limited to roads with a central reservation and at a top speed of 50kph.
Experts advise those doing it to ride between the lanes furthest to the left and to gauge your speed to the traffic – do not go a lot faster than the cars. You may wish to put on your hazard warning lights.
If a driver shows consideration to you, riders often extend the right leg to say thanks.
If you want to try out a scooter you could start with a 50cc one which can be ridden by anyone born before 1988 (if you were born from January 1988 you need at least the BSR/permis AM). Nice and Paris recently introduced electric scooters for hire on the streets (cityscoot.eu).
There is some debate as to whether scooter riders qualify as motards (bikers), with some motorcyclists being more purist than others on this point.
An alternative new term for a scooter rider is scootard.
The image here was drawn by artist Perry Taylor. For more of his work see www.perrytaylor.fr