In dusty corners of tee hangars all over this great land are the corroded remains of a variety of pilot toys-engine pre-heaters too complex to bother using, personal ramp tugs that couldnt pull a cork out of a Cabernet, desktop kneeboards from the 30-seconds-over-Tokyo phase of our flying and the like.
More common than any other discarded artifact are the bones of portable conveyances designed to get pilots from airports to motels, beaches, appointments and assignations without recourse to rental cars or taxis. Folding bikes, motorized skateboards, model-airplane-engined Schwinns, collapsible mopeds, inflatable ATVs…well, maybe not inflatable ATVs, but certainly all the rest.
One of the newer contenders for the choice between junkhood or enshrinement is the Di Blasi folding motorbike, a collapsible, road-legal, $1745, two-wheel scooter that is certainly small enough to fit into a variety of lightplane baggage compartments. So I asked Di Blasi of North America a couple of years ago if Aviation Consumer could borrow one to try aboard my Falco.
Help Me Move This
They couldnt have been nicer. Indeed, company president Hardy Huber (who flies a Wheeler Express) even telephoned once from Germany, during a business trip, to check on arrangements. Soon one showed up in my Upstate New York driveway. Literally. The UPS driver wasnt going to move it an inch farther from his truck than he had to, since neither he nor I could lift the box. On the driveway it stayed, until I was able to cut the carton open and maneuver the scooter (in its optional $89 zippered carrying bag) to a more convenient location.
Lets be frank about the weight of this thing. The company claims the scoot weighs 68 pounds dry. The model I tried, the Taxi, has since been supplanted by a newer version called Express. DiBlasi told us this a bit lighter than the earlier model but fueled up and ready to go. youre still hefting 75 pounds, at least.
That might not seem like such a big deal if youre Bruce Jenner. But if youre a typical 55-year-old private pilot who maybe plays a set of tennis once a week, youre going to risk a hernia when you wrestle it up, over and into the trunk of your Mercedes and again when you take it back out at the airport and try to cram it into the bagbox of your A36.
Did I pop a gut? Only when I put it into the trunk of our Mazda sedan. There was no way I was going to risk swinging that much hard-edged steel up onto the wingwalk of the airplane Id lovingly built and over the backs of the two nicely upholstered front seats. The Falcos cargo area was certainly big enough to have happily accepted the Di Blasi, but doing it without dings and gouges would have required a crane.
Youd be fooling yourself if you think you can wrestle a Di Blasi into a 152 or over the back seats of a Cherokee 140, but this is a machine that will easily fit into airplanes with substantial, separate, waist-high baggage-compartment hatches (as long as theyre at least 13X 24 inches wide and high) or Baron 58 cargo doors.
It may well be the lightest collapsible two-wheel motor vehicle in the world, as Di Blasi claims, but be aware that this is basically a large, cumbersome lump of steel. (And as such, Id want to do some serious cargo restraining-not just bungee cords-before I went IFR anywhere around thunderstorms with one aboard something like a Skylane, with a Plexiglas back window directly above the baggage bay.)
That aside, how does the thing rate as a utilitarian collapsible motor vehicle? This is not a fold-up Honda; its construction and componentry are on about the level of a department-store bicycle. I certainly dont mean its only worth $89, but if Huffy made a motorized scooter, the quality of its parts and manufacture would be about this level of fit and finish, in my estimation.
To its credit, Di Blasi has improved the newer models, using a plastic tank in place of metal and replacing the chain drive with a belt. But basically, the company concedes these improvement arent radial or perhaps even noticeable by the average customer. Whether all that is worth $1745 because it has a 1.3-HP, 50cc, two-cycle engine is entirely a consumer decision.
The Di Blasis handling leaves much to be desired, in my view. Due to some curse in its combination of minimal front-fork caster angle, tiny front tire, and tall, vertical handlebar arrangement-all part of its impressive foldability-this is a machine that will bite the minute you get overconfident. Am I too accustomed to four-wheel security? Perhaps. Its been almost two decades since my last motorcycle, a Ducati Desmo factory road-racer. I still found the Di Blasi touchy.
The Di Blasi will do an honest 25 to 30 MPH wide open with my 170 pounds aboard-its rated for a maximum load of 320 pounds-at which speed its reasonably manageable as long as you make no abrupt steering inputs. Speed can climb to nearly 40 MPH on a gentle downgrade and hills slowed me to 15 MPH, sometimes 10. This is an adequate vehicle upon which to cover the five or 10 miles to the nearest Days Inn on a nice summer evening-assuming your luggage fits into a gym bag that can be bungeed onto the bikes rear fender. But more than that… hey, is it that hard to find a taxi?
Youll need to get a license plate for the Di Blasi to make it roadable. It comes with the necessary directionals, headlight, brakelight, speedometer and rear-view mirror. In some states, it might require insurance. But it doesnt require a motorcycle rating on your drivers license, although youll need a helmet in many states to avoid a traffic ticket.
If you can ride a bike, you can drive a Di Blasi, for it has no conventional clutch or gears; the drive is through a centrifugal clutch, which means you simply open the throttle and it engages the one-speed transmission. Caveats: A Di Blasi is not legal for use on an Interstate. Fueling it requires adding a tiny quantity-two percent-of 30 weight oil to the gasoline, so youll either have to mix and fill the tank at home or carry a bottle of 30-weight oil and measuring paraphernalia in the airplane. Range with full fuel is about 100 miles.
Carrying gasoline in the cabin of an airplane, even in a minibikes fuel tank, isnt a great idea, in my view, even though the danger is minimal. The Di Blasi has a fuel shutoff plus a closable tank vent to prevent leakage when the bike is being transported in its folded state.
Somebody may someday build a truly useful folding motorized two-wheeler, with a lightweight composite frame and powered by a featherweight, durable, efficient engine of the kind used in top-of-the-line chainsaws. But the Di Blasi isnt it.
Still, it may be right for you if you fit what I imagine to be the profile of the perfect Di Blasi user: Somebody who needs to go five or 10 miles at a time; travels only in good, temperate weather and always alone; can pack for a weekend in a shoebox; and is able to clean-and-jerk 82 pounds.
-by Stephan Wilkinson
Stephan Wilkinson recently sold his Falco. Hes a long-time Aviation Consumer contributing editor. Contact Di Blasi of America Inc. 2633 Lantana Road, #19Building 207 Lantana, FL 33462, 800-342-2214, www.diblasi.com.