Scooters are strange machines. Some have soul and mystique, attracting attention for miles, while others look small, awkward, and get frequent laughs. Genuine's Stella is definitely the former. In fact, it's the last of a dying breed. At 150 cc, it is the largest two-stroke powered scooter or motorcycle that anyone can buy new in the USA (well, in 49 states, at least).
Two-stroke powered motorcycles and scooters have been dying since the 1980s when tougher smog regulations were passed into law by the federal government. Historically speaking, two-stroke engines have been very dirty mainly due to the fact that in a two-stroke engine, oil is mixed with the gasoline and is burnt. The result is a blue puff of smoke from the exhaust, which, unfortunately, happens to be not so good for the environment.
However, that is historically speaking. The Stella has gone through significant testing and produces just moderately more pollution that its four-cycle cousins. It even has a modern catalytic convertor system to make the bike more eco-friendly. Sadly enough, and despite all the hard work, the Stella is fighting a losing battle against the complete ban of two-stroke vehicles in the USA.
Genuine's Stella has the heart, soul, and mechanics of a 1970s-era Vespa P series. The bike has been rebadged for the American market by Genuine Scooters and is made in India by LML, a company known for buying the rights to Vespa's old models and making quality reproductions of classic bikes. The Stella has some notable differences from its more common plastic twist-and-go scooter cousins: the use of metal body panels, a 150cc two-stroke engine, and the bike's manual transmission. Due to the unique manual shifting configuration, riding a Stella or vintage Vespa is unlike any motorcycle—a totally unique riding experience.
The purpose of the Stella is to mate some modern reliability and convenience with the soul of a classic Italian scooter. They achieved this in a number of ways, firstly with an electric start system. Not only does the Stella have the traditional kick-start, but it also has a new electric start and fires up easily with the touch of a button and just a little choke. The second and probably most important evolution from its Vespa P-series grandfather is the 12-volt electrical system. This makes for a much more reliable electrical system than its forefathers. All in all, the bike seems to retain the perfect mix of vintage looks and feel with a few discrete modern conveniences.
When I first pulled the bike off of its center stand, it definitely felt more substantial than the non-metal body scooters I had been riding all afternoon. While heavier, the bike also felt a bit more planted and stable, at least while stationary. I pulled in the clutch and hit the electric start. The engine whizzed to life and I got my first whiff of premix for the afternoon. After letting the bike warm for a minute, I put the bike into first, and was off.
To ride and shift a Stella or vintage Vespa, the rider must quickly learn to master the Vespa-style gear shifter, which features a clutch lever in the location of a traditional motorcycle and a gear shifter that is operated by rotating the left handlebar grip. After a little practice it becomes second nature. The Stella has a four-speed transmission, and I made sure to try out each gear thoroughly.
The bike's engine was peppy, and the power was surprisingly linear for a two-stroke engine. This Stella was bone stock and I've been told that a large amount of additional power can be achieved through the addition of a performance pipe and re-jetting the carburetor. But unfortunately, this would most definitely make the Stella non-DOT compliant.
Two-strokes are known to be unfriendly to beginners due to their sudden and sometimes, erratic power delivery. While the engine was great to begin with, the wheels took a little getting used to. With the small (but classic size) 10" wheels on the Stella combined with the extra weight of the metal body panels, the bike leans into corners very quickly and doesn't seem as stable as a more modern 12-inch wheeled scooters. That being said, it is the true vintage machine package and handles exactly like a vintage Vespa. The Stella handled the many hills of Chattanooga without a second thought and could comfortably hang with 55 mph traffic.
So is this scooter for you? Well, it depends. I wouldn't recommend it to beginners, solely for the reason that the combination of the two-stroke power band, manual shifting, and the additional weight of the metal body panels makes it a little more difficult to drive than your more typical twist-and-go scooter. But the Stella is the perfect bike for the person looking for a vintage-style machine with the added bonus of better reliability. Someone once told me that a two-stroke bike is half voodoo and half science. The Stella fits this mould perfectly and as Jimi Hendrix would have said, the Stella is at least part voodoo child.
Genuine's Stella really is the genuine two-stroke article. While two-strokes may not be the most environmentally friendly machines on the planet, they have a certain essence that can't be replicated. For getting around town in style, the Stella really can't be beat and with an MSRP of only $3,599 you're paying less for a brand new Stella than you would for certain vintage models. Get the Stella while you can because the rumor has it that Genuine is set to replace the last great two-stroke with a 4-stroke version for the 2010 model year.
Go to fromthehandlebars.com for Ryan Carden's video review!
(Thanks to Chattanooga's Scenic City Scooters for living up to their reputation as a premier scooter shop while providing our demo Genuine Stella.)