Easy riders on plastic


Our kid is now officially Hungarian. Well, by law he always has been; we have the passport and birth certificate, blablabla. But to be accepted into the mysterious community of Hungarian toddlerhood, and truly and irrevocably become of them, he had to undergo an important initiation ritual. He had to ride into the playground on his plastic ride-on scooter, which was then admired and tried by other members of the tribe as a gesture of approval and acceptance.

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Hungarian children and their mums spend a lot of time on playgrounds, and thankfully there are a lot of playgrounds in Budapest. It is a special place where kids who don’t yet go to nursery can socialise, and mums who wish to engage with more than poop and toddler gobbledigook get to meet grown-ups and make friends.

I don’t know if it’s true for all playgrounds, but at ours (opposite my old primary school) it is perfectly acceptable to play with any of the toys strewn around in the sandpit until the owners pack and go, but then all items are handed over without complaint. I’ve never seen any of the kids flip the lid because another kid’s mum collected a toy from them mid-play. Playground rules are magic.

Even though recent pebble surfacing has made it difficult to ride scooters at the playground, there are still one or two parked there at all times. Plastic scooters are a phenomenon in Hungary. They are simple as a stick, affordable and every single child has one from around the time they start walking. It is the perfect birthday present for any two-year-old, although it is highly likely that they already have one. While it would have been a suicide mission to own one in Leeds (think hills and cobbles), Budapest’s flatter-than-pancake cityscape and concrete sidewalks are ideal for toddler mobility.

The classic and ubiquitous 'Enduro'

The classic and ubiquitous ‘Enduro’

Designer model with Spiderman for Mums In Denial

Designer model with Spiderman for Mums In Denial

Although the vehicle is often condemned for its capacity to cause missing milk teeth or forehead/lower lip stitches, it is a cult object and an icon of Hungarian childhood. Interestingly, most parents are unaware that outside Hungary it is not self-evident that two-year-olds speed on plastic ride-on scooters literally everywhere. In fact, due to its affordability and ubiquity, most people probably assume that they are made in China.

Interestingly, these bad boys are made in Hungary, and almost all of them at a company called Moto-Plast Bt. They produce an impressive 50 thousand pieces a year. They are swamped by the steady demand at all times. According to designer and company owner László Neizer, besides Hungarian sales, twenty thousand are sold in the Czech Republic and other neighbouring countries, several thousand in Israel and there’s a steady market in Chicago of all places, despite the eye-watering $55 price (over here it’s 3500HUF, which is about $16).

When I was a little, this was the dream of every kid:

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Moskvich go-carts, Dombóvár, 1974, photo: Erky-Nagy Tibor (Soirce: fortepan.hu)

These clunky beasts were made of metal. The plastic revolution started a little later. Although Neizer claims to have designed the first classic plastic ride-on fifteen years ago, his design must have been based on an already existing and popular product, as even twenty-somethings have fond memories or photos with their first plastic kismotor at the age of two or three. Whatever the case, it has become an important part of Hungarian children’s lives in the past few decades.

Most accidents are caused by pebbles getting caught in the front wheel, which blocks the speeding toddler, who usually continues his/her trajectory airborne and then splodge. I have nightmares about this and of screaming due to chipped teeth, but at the same time, who would deprive their child of the sense of community and the pleasure of controlling their own vehicle?

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