OK I decided to put together this post to help those new to scootering. First no matter what scooter you are considering, even the 50 cc scooters, I highly recommend taking a Motorcycle Safety Course! Even if you do not intend to get your motorcycle license the tips that you learn can save your life!!!
Scooters generally fall into 3 classes based on engine displacement. Usually 50 cc, 150 cc, and 250 cc and larger.
50 cc scooters make great little errand runners and local commuters. In many states you do not need a motorcycle endorsement to operate a scooter under 50 cc. Most 50 cc scooters are restricted to 30 mph or less ( there are several that can go 45+ though…Yeah Ha!). They can be either 4-stroke engines or 2- stroke. With a 2-stroke the engine is lubricated by mixing oil with the gas. Most new scooters do this automatically but some you must add oil when filling with gas. They are a bit noisier than 4-strokes and they pollute a bit more (smoky exhaust, not bad, but some!). The advantage to 2-stroke engines is they tend to develop more power than a 4-stroke of the same displacement (engine size). 2- Stroke engines are easier and cheaper to “soup-up” than a 4-stoke if that aspect of scootering appeals to you.
4- stroke engines work like your car. You just add gas and go. It is lubricated by oil in a sump in the bottom of the engine. They are very quiet and have very low emissions. You can make them go faster than stock but it will cost you more and the gains are not as impressive per $ spent as you can get from a 2-stroke.
Unmodified 50 cc scooters are best suited for 25 mph (in town) roads. Any incline will drop your speed significantly and cause you to be a hindrance to traffic. In a fight between a car and a scooter the car will always win. With road rage on the rise it’s best not to be the source of a fellow motorists displeasure. Use the SUV for that. 50 cc scoots can achieve mileage figures of nearly 100 mpg sometimes even better. The little scoots are the cheapest to acquire and operate but if you buy less scooter than you really need in the end it will cost you more.
50 cc scooters are available in many different styles from race ready machines (no kidding) to the cutest little Retro models. Some scooters can carry one person and some are rugged enough to carry two. Check your manufacturers weight allowances.
150 cc scooters are by far the most common scooter size. They are all 4-stroke and most Chinese models use variants of the GY6 engine which is air-cooled. Some 150cc scooters are liquid cooled and tend to be a bit faster. An example would be the Qlink Pegasus. Most 150 cc scooters are good for speeds of 50-60 mph depending on the rider’s weight and terrain. If you are to be traveling on roads up to a 50 mph speed limit this is a good choice. On faster roads the slightest incline will cause you to become an impedance to traffic flow and cause trouble. They come in a variety of styles from sport bike looking models to retro styles like the classic Vespa. Most are good for at least 330 pounds carrying capacity and can take a passenger. Keep in mind the extra weight will cause a decrease in power and acceleration so plan your route accordingly. 150 cc scoots usually obtain between 70-80 mpg and are priced only slightly higher than 50 cc scoots. You will need a motorcycle endorsement to operate any scooter larger than 50 cc!!
250 cc and up.
These scooters are the kings of the scooter world. They come all the way from 200 cc to 800 cc. If you need to go on the highway or routinely travel roads of 55 mph this is the machine for you. All are 4-stroke and most 250 machines can obtain speeds of at least 70 mph. The 650 class machines like the Suzuki Burgman or Honda Silverwing can attain speeds in excess of 100mph!! These scooters are the most expensive to own and operate. Fuel economy ranges from 50 mpg and up. Insurance will be higher than the smaller bikes. Do to the high price, financing is more likely on bikes of this class and full coverage will be mandated by most finance companies. If you ride long distances, carry a passenger a lot, or your commute requires any highway riding you will need a machine of this size.
Where to buy?
There are basically two sources for your new scooter. Internet sales and a conventional Brick and Mortar Dealer. I highly recommend buying from a reputable dealer in your local area. This will save you a multitude of headaches and give a source for help if something goes amiss. You will pay more for a scooter from a dealer but the added expense is well worth it. Save a month or two longer if you have too and buy local… if not you’ll usually wish you had.
If you do not have a local dealer then you are stuck with the Internet. Pay attention to this part!! If you buy from the Internet YOU are responsible for assembling the scooter, performing the pre-delivery inspection, and sorting out the many quirks it will have for the first few hundred miles. If you are not handy with a wrench, don’t have the desire or time to repair things then do not buy on line. Even the best dealers ( and we know of many good on line sellers) can only tell you how to fix a problem and send parts. They can not repair the scooter over the phone. Know your own abilities before you commit to buying a scooter off the Internet. On line scooters can be a great deal but only if you have reasonable expectations and can do the needed repairs yourself. Sorry to sound redundant but all to many people buy the cheaper scooter and then fill the message boards with such and such scooter is a total piece of crap… don’t buy a scooter from this company or that company and so on. Buyer beware, Caveat Emptor and all that. If you are in doubt at all make the long drive and buy from a dealer! The scooter will be prepped, running, and you can take it back for repairs if needed.
What to buy?
As with anything you get what you pay for. I’ll try to group the scooters in “tiers” of price and quality so you know where the one that interests you falls.
Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Vespa, Aprilia, Piaggio ect.
These are big dollar high class machines. Very reliable and extremely well made. There have been some reports of long delays getting parts for Piaggio and Aprilia machines.
Kymco, Daelim, SYM, Italjet, Genuine, etc.
These are slightly lower priced than the Japanese and Italian machines. They are very reliable and well built as well. Probably the best bang for the buck comes from this class. (I am going to take some real heat for that statement) ;D I’m on the fence with Italjet. I have only seen the Torpedo model in person and while priced higher than the Diamo and Q-link of the same design I believe it to be similar in quality. The Italjet is a bit fancier but it falls right between tier 2 and 3. We’ll see what I think when and if the Dragster ever gets released.
Names like Q-Link, CF-MOTO, Fly-Scooters, TNG, TGB, Diamo, Adly, Argo, Derbi, E-ton, United Motors, Schwinn, CPI etc.
These scooters sell through dealers only no on line sales. They are good machines and will give you great service. Less $$ than the Tier above to acquire, the fit and finish will not be quite as good but still very good. Well supported and decent warranties.
Bandit Scooters, Baron Scooters, Lance, ZNEN, Vento and Strada (especially those manufactured by QJ), Motofino, Hyosung, Motorino, Lifan, and Zhongshen. I’ll tentatively add RicardoMotors in here as well as they are built by a reputable company and were vouched for by a trusted dealer.
Internet and/or dealer only sold bikes with a decent reputation. Expect some problems but nothing serious. The importers have a good record of parts support and honoring their warranty. Some of these could be in the 3rd tier class but a big part of my rating is whether or not you have to buy from a dealer. Dealer sales only is a big plus. I know machines can turn out just fine delivered to your house but this is aimed at scooter newbies.
Names like Tank, Roketa, SunL, Verruci, Big Chief, Viva, Primo, JM-Star, and more. These are the scooters you commonly see on Ebay. They can be great machines, but in general we see more complaints about them than the others. They are however the least expensive and if you are a mechanically oriented person they can be an excellent value. Not the best choice for the total newbie who lacks mechanical skills. If this is the best you can afford (No shame in that) buy one from a local dealer that will prep it and keep it going for you. Usually with this class scooter it will only cost a few hundred more to buy local than online… and you can ride it immediately with no assembly! Another disadvantage to Internet scooters is legality and the paperwork. If you buy from a licensed dealer in your state you will have no trouble from the DMV. If you buy from an on line dealer the DMV can make you jump through hoops to register your new toy! One more thing, [b]most[/b] on line dealers do not ship your papers (Bill of Sale and Manufacturers Certificate of Origin) with the scooter and there are stories of folks waiting weeks to get them!!
Problems to expect:
The most common complaint we encounter is Shipping Damage. I swear the forklift operators make a game of how far they can throw scooters with the fork lift. If your new scooter is seriously damaged in a way as to be unusable or cosmetically unacceptable I strongly urge you consider refusing the scooter. Use your judgment. Once you accept it, any issues involving shipping damage are yours to deal with. It generally is your responsibility to collect compensation from the shipping company, not the dealers.
On the cheaper Internet sold machines there are several “common” problems that seem to arise. Most can be handled by doing a proper PDI (Pre Delivery Inspection) or prep before use.
The manufacturers are getting better but it’s always a good idea to change out all the fluids (engine oil, gearbox oil, brake fluid if your comfortable doing it, and if a water cooled machine the coolant). Fuel lines and vacuum lines are often of suspect quality. Good idea to change them out (one at a time so you know where they go!) with some lines of known quality. Every nut and bolt should be checked. Blue Loc-Tite is always a good idea to prevent fasteners from loosening. Common items to loosen up include the exhaust header bolts, body fastener screws, the rear axle nut, and the heat shield (s) on the muffler.
The battery can be of poor quality. If it’s an off brand Chinese Battery it’s well worth the expense to swap in a decent one like a Yuassa. The drive belts are more often Bando or Gates but can be a suspect brand. Good idea to have one ready to go just in case. This is not a roadside repair in most cases. Tires are a matter of preference. I haven’t heard of any Chinese scooter tires failing but they tend to be a very hard compound and often require balance beads or dynamic balancing to be smooth.
The most common headaches are electrical gremlins. These are usually simple (a connector unplugged or an open ground) but finding them can be a challenge. It’s always a good idea when you get your scoot to check all connections as best you can for good contact and no broken wires.
Finally but by no means absolute… the vacuum petcock. This infernal device replaces the manual fuel shut off on older motorcycles and mopeds. As the name describes when there is no vacuum (engine off) it is closed preventing fuel from flowing to the carb. When vacuum is created (starting) the petcock opens allowing fuel to get to carb. Often if your new scoot won’t start and you have spark this thing is at fault. When new if there is no fuel in the carb the starter alone may not be able to create enough vacumn to open this valve. A quick shot of gas or starting fluid to the carb can overcome this. (Be wary of using starter fluid in a two-stoke! It has little if any lubricant and could damage your engine! Use two stoke premixed fuel in a squirt bottle.) Failing to start with no spark leads you in the direction of a bad coil, CDI, or improperly wired stator. There’s more of course but I’m just laying out common issues that arise. I’m not trying to scare you but let you know why I feel buying from a dealer is a good idea. Not everyone, myself included, is a master mechanic.
I hope this helps someone!