The Hottest Toy
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?
Today's tiny-wheeled scooter is THE must have accessory.
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handlebars superseded by miniature road-friendly wheels and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
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
By Dan Woodley
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