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The term scooter has several distinct meanings.

1. Road Motor Scooter

A road motor scooter is a motorcycle with a step-through frame in which the rider sits without straddling any part of the engine. Most modern motor scooters have automatically shifting transmissions and also have wheels smaller in diameter (between 8 and 14 inches [20-35 cm]) than other motorcycles. The engine is usually found near the rear wheel or axle and is typically smaller than engines on other motorcycles. Most modern motor scooters come with two-cycle engines with automatic oil injection, however, cleaner burning four-cycle engines are becoming popular and high powered electric road scooters are on the horizon now that small electric motorcycles like the Viento and the eGO have been released.

Road motor scooters are tremendously popular in Europe, India, China, Japan and in many places in the world, however for some reason not in the United States. In many parts of the world, motor scooters are a popular form of urban transportation due to their size, fuel-efficiency, weight, and typically larger storage room than a motorcycle. In many localities, certain road motor scooters are considered by law to be in the same class as mopeds or small motorcycles and therefore they have fewer restrictions than that of larger motorcycles. In North America the legal distinctions vary by state but usually refer to motorcycles with an engine displacement of 50cc (cubic centimeters) or less as being in the moped class.

The Vespa originally manufactured by Piaggio in post World War II Italy with aircraft materials and styling became the first of the road motor scooters and defined the vehicle type for three and a half decades. In the 1980s new versions of scooters began to be released and become popular, especially in Japan and Far-East Asia. This styling of scooters began to reflect that of larger, sporty, higher-performance motorcycles of the time and the trend has continued to the current day. With the release of the Honda Rukus, there may be a new trend towards dirt-bike scooters just beginning. The classic styling of the Vespa has never lost its popularity, however and remains the most popular and most imitated scooter design. Most all manufacturers now carry both a classic/retro model and a sporty/modern model.

Osa, the Poland-manufactured WFM.

2. Assistive and Small Electric Sit-Down Motor Scooters

This type of scooter has become a great boon to people with mobility problems all over the world. The primary differences between road motor scooters and electric motor scooters are the use of electric motors and their tendency to not be built for heavy road use. Small electric scooters are becoming popular in North American campgrounds and suburban areas, as well as with youth.

3. Motorized One-Axle, Stand-up Scooters

Two wheeled variants of electric scooters, motorized one-axle, stand-up scooters gained much attention in 2002 and 2003 with the release of the much anticipated Segway HT. The company which has been marketing the Segway has attempted with some success to pass legislation to allow this type of scooter on city sidewalks in North America. All other types of scooters are typically confined to the roadway or bike lanes.

4. Children's/Push Stand-up Scooter

A children's or adult push scooter or kick scooter lacks a motor, and the user generally stands on a platform with a vertical post that controls steering. Sometimes as simple as a board and post hand-mounted on roller skate wheels, commercial versions (often variants of the skateboard) have met with varying degrees of popularity.

5. Smaller Kick Stand-up Scooter

In the early 2000s, a sleeker, narrower folding version of the kick scooter became wildly popular in the US, with a wide variety of colors and styles. Popular brands include Razor, Kick, and Xootr.

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