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For the year 2000

The Best Government Reformer
How Asia Is Governed
The Best Local Administrator
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The Best Dealmaker
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The Best Airport
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In Tune with Nature
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The Hottest Video Game
The Hottest Gadget
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The Hottest Fad
The Hottest Toy
The Hottest TV Show
The Hottest Album
The Best Movie
The Best Short Film


Fad | Toy | TV Show | Album | Movie | Short Film
The Hottest Toy

Asiaweek Pictures.
Today's tiny-wheeled scooter is THE must have accessory.

Toys. They work like this. A friend somehow stumbles across one. We envy their cool as they strut around with it, in it or on it. We buy it, fleetingly admire it, soon get sick of it, then consign it to its final duty of reducing what minimal space there is left in the closet. Most toys, it's true, last about as long as a block of chocolate in the fridge. Witness Japan's mooching little tamagotchi or the ineffable pet rock. C'mon, now. We know you had one. Did you give it a name, speak soothingly to it, kick it round the room when the cat, knowingly, absented itself?

But there ARE amusements that survive longer than five minutes. Take the scooter, for example. Spruce kid cousins of the bicycle, scooters have graced urban thoroughfares since the 1950s, when trendsters hopped on their clunky, high-spoked varieties and scooted to school or the local playground. Then came roller skates. Then skateboards. Then roller blades. Today, they are just sooo last millennium. But not the scooter.

Admittedly, Asia's hottest toy has been considerably tweaked since yesteryear. The worldwide best-selling model is Sharper Image's Razor model. Gone are the oversized tyres and cumbersome rubber handlebars — superseded by miniature road-friendly wheels and a sleek, 3-kg lightweight metal chassis. (Potential buyers will be glad to know, too, that the tied-on multicolored ribbon effect also has been eliminated.)

Thinner than its predecessors and sporting a practical collapsible frame for portability, today's incarnation was pioneered in the late 1990s by Swiss inventor Wim Ouboter. Little did he know he was assembling in his basement what Europe's fashion-ordaining Elle magazine would soon describe as the world's "new urban survival kit."

Predictably, the first Asian country to be infected by scooter-mania was Japan where, at last count, hip youngsters and adults who probably should know better were acquiring them at a rate of 50,000 a week. That's 200,000 extra wheels jamming up sidewalks every seven days. Rarely now do Asian commuters reach their offices without glowering enviously at the fast-disappearing back of at least one swerving yuppie-on-wheels. Some Asian capitals have even mooted bylaws to curb the swell of scooters on busy city streets.

So, what's the scooter's appeal beyond avoiding parking dilemmas and not needing a lock? Image is a sure factor. Ever-snazzier models have allowed the humble scooter to make the transition from plaything to must-have accessory. Japanese designer Eiko Maekawa has even fashioned a "scooter bag" to go with a growing list of scooter appurtenances. And helmets aren't really necessary. Scooters rarely attain demonic velocities (unless, of course, one kicks off down hill, as occurred in a recent scooter-related fatality in Yokohama, Japan).

Another reason for scooter success, one suspects, is its generation-spanning appeal. Like any successful retro-craze, the scooter manages to meld nostalgia and modernity. The fact that it's smaller, eco-friendly and is made of superior alloys just brings it up to speed, so to speak.

— By Dan Woodley

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