Photography by Jeff Allen
The motorcycles we usually write about are for exploring outer space—as in, the roads outside the city. The Angeles Crest Highway, for instance, which crawls up and out of L.A. over the San Gabriel Mountains—an awesomely twisting two-lane escape hatch many residents don’t know exists. To grasp the size of this metropolis, to wrap your brain truly around 12 million people, there’s no better way than seeing the SoCal subcontinent as you wind your way back down the ’Crest and into it, especially if the sun’s beginning to descend into the Pacific. Then you’ll truly understand how important the problems of two little people are in this world, particularly if there’s only one of you and a motorcycle.
The Honda Ruckus is all about exploring inner space, the vast wasteland between the freeways in the L.A. basin and between your ears. It only has a top speed of about 45 mph, so escape velocity is not achievable.
Cycle World’s marketing geniuses, along with Honda and Alpinestars, put together the Ruck-Out Moto Swarm last Saturday morning to sample a small portion of the L.A. smorgasbord. It began at Illest, an L.A. boutique in Little Tokyo famed for making stickers and shirts that say Illest. Downtown or maybe in it, who knew a place called Little Tokyo would be filled with tidy little cafés serving pastries and coffee, people sweeping their sidewalks and planting things in flowerboxes, friendly young couples pushing strollers full of babies, people walking dogs? The smog L.A.’s famous for is nowhere to be seen on this brisk March morning as 100 Ruckii converge out front, stockers few and far between.
There’s a definite Asian persuasion, and why not? Custom scooters are huge in Japan. Maybe the Ruckus craze is the first wave to make it to the U.S.? Carbon-fiber fuel tanks, stretched swingarms, Yosh exhausts—it’s difficult to determine if we’re into high performance or mocking it? I think a little of both. But attitudes seem way less serious than the ones 30 miles up Angeles Crest at Newcomb’s Ranch where all the sportybikers stop for coffee. This is a happy group with more women in the mix.
The Ruckus movement is nicely embodied in the official motto at Totalruckus.com: “We would like to ride in zoomer which is not easily defeated by anyone.” And there is plenty of advice to be found there in how exactly to achieve that state. Need parts? To do it up right, you can go to Rucksters.com and get a complete GY6 conversion kit for $1695 (well, you could if they weren’t sold out right now), which includes your basic GY6 150cc engine and everything you need except exhaust—which you can get from Yoshimura or Two Brothers or many of the usual suspects. Extended swingarm? Goes with the territory, since the swingarm sort of is the bigger new engine. Disc brake kit? Can do. Turbo? Why not bolt one up to the 208cc Zuma four-stroke in your Ruckus? Who’s preventing you? Rucksters Customs, located in Arcadia, California, calls that particular hybrid “Game F**king Over,” and they were right: GFO won Best in Show at the Ruck-Out.
Dean Hopkins’ Ruckus, with a 600cc Silver Wing engine shoehorned in, wasn’t quite as flashy but might’ve won the WTH? award on sheer originality. Speaking of originality, Hopkins claims he was working on the first U.S. 150cc Elite-engine-in-Ruckus conversion circa 2003 when he stumbled upon a wrecked Silver Wing and built his 600 instead. Since then, Ruckus 150s have been breeding all over the country; the GY6 is simply the generic equivalent of the Elite 150cc scooter engine produced throughout Asia.
To tell you the truth, by the end of the Ruck-Out, I couldn’t remember what stock looks like anymore. What did we start off with? And how did we settle on the Ruckus as our target, anyway? Because the Ruckus asks for it, that’s why. Any other scooter is covered in plastic (or steel if it’s a Vespa), so what can you do but put on stickers and mirrors? The Ruckus is hanging out there like a half-dissected biology-class frog, and don’t quote me on this, but since it starts out as a 50cc scooter, I’m guessing normal modification laws may not apply to it. And as we wove our merry way from Little Tokyo to Honda’s Torrance HQ and onward to Alpinestars, there were zero hassles by the Man.
As a matter of fact, there were zero hassles by anybody, and this is in parts of town that conventional wisdom tells us are famous for hassles. As our Ruckus-cade made its way southward along Western Avenue (which was the western boundary of Los Angeles many years ago), all we saw were big smiles and thumbs up (one working girl working overtime in a pink wig gave us more than thumbs up, much more…).
On this bright Saturday morning, everybody in front of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church is turned out in their Sunday finest. Say, didn’t they have Ray Charles’s funeral there? Chain stores and fast-food places are really nowhere in evidence, but there is no shortage of Jesus, and there were plenty of intriguing-looking places to eat if we weren’t part of a rockin’ convoy. Isn’t Jesse Owens Park where the Williams sisters learned to play tennis? No, but it would’ve been good for the story. Past the Coliseum where the old Supercross used to be and some football team once upon a time.
Further south on Western, the citizens become less Black and more Hispanic and Asian. Fewer churches, but still plenty of activity and construction going on—and still plenty of smiles and waves. Once upon a time, we motorcycle journalists thought it was the height of sarcasm to call ourselves roving ambassadors of motorcycling goodwill. On the Ruckuses, though, it actually seems to be the case. Our machines are small, they’re cute, they’re not frightening—think Shriners parade or clown car—and when people wave, you have to wave back in a self-feeding, semi-nauseating display of human kindness.
Could you do it in a car? No, it wouldn’t be the same. On a bigger motorcycle? Not really; motorcycles still project a slightly threatening, antisocial message after all these years. No, I can’t think of any other vehicle that could pull it off quite like the Ruckus. Like the Prius statement, it tells your fellow man that you’re willing to live simply so that others may simply live, that we’re all in this thing together. I’m down with that, so much so that maybe I’ll even ride a Ruckus next year instead of the petroleum-swilling Ducati Diavel Carbon Godzilla-footprint I Rucked-Out on this year because all the Ruckuses were already taken. But probably not. I love my fellow man but I like to be able to outrun him just in case.
Oh, I almost forgot: Deep-throat Honda sources tell us to expect something new and cool in the scooter category April 2.