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Tips on Selecting Your Scooter

The life of a scooterist is a happy one. You will spend less money at the gas pump, riding is pleasureable, will experience the joy of riding around the town or countryside without the steel and glass "cage" of a car isolating you from the outside world, and you'll look cool and get the golden opportunity to hang out with folks like us! It's a good purchase, we as Americans are gasoline-addicted as it is, so the smaller your oil-eating footprint is the better off we'll ALL be! Not to mention, parking is easier, insurance is MUCH cheaper, and getting around all the traffic is just a snap. Safer? Not really - anyone who rides without the luxury of 4 stable wheels, airbags, seatbelts, a crumple-proof body around you, and a larger profile for all the other drivers to see is skirting danger more readily than your average Suburban Uh'sault Vehilce driver. However, I have personally found that my scooter is much safer to ride in city traffic than my big-bore motorcycle, because of its tighter turning radius, lighter weight and greater lower-end torque - I feel I have more control over my vehicle.

Your first task in the rites of scooterdom is to figure out exactly WHICH scooter you want to ride. This is not always an easy task, as your options are quite varied, and you might want to do a good deal of research before you select a model. Why are you getting the scooter? What kind of riding do you plan to do with it? How much do you want to spend on it? How good are you with a wrench? These are all good questions to start with, and will dictate what kind of scooter you want to choose as your second skin.


New vs. Vintage

That would be a good place to start this discussion, especially considering you're at vtscoot.com and not honda.com. The vintage scooters such as Vespa, Lambretta, Heinkel and Fuji look like almost nothing else on the street, hold a special place in motorized history, and are terribly easy to fall in love with. There are a lot of reasons to purchase a vintage scooter, but even more reasons NOT to buy one!

Personally, I would have no other scooter. I love my old Vespa, it's a big part of me both aesthetically as well as culturally, but she's not always an easy mistress. These are older bikes, some of them older than 40 years, and so you're dealing with older technology and older materials. If you're not good with a wrench, or don't think you'll want to take the time to do regular (and occasionally frequent) maintenance, a vintage scooter might not be the bike for you. A vintage scooter can be quite reliable as far as vintage vehicles go, but if your main purpose is simple reliability nothing beats a brand-spanking new vehicle.

On the other hand, you don't neccessarily have to be a seasoned mechanic to keep your vintage scoot running in top condition. The technology is old and the design simple. You won't need computerized equipment, or welding torches, or even an air compressor to work on your bike, and nowadays parts and information are as easy as a few well-placed clicks of your mouse. If you're willing to learn, and put in the time, you can in fact teach yourself to be a scooter mechanic, and you will get to know your scooter more than most people know their own cars.

Vintage scooters also drive differently than your modern twist-n-go scooters. Most modern scooters have automatic transmission, twist the throttle and you're going! Almost nothing to learn as far as that goes. Vintage scooters, on the other hand, are almost all manual-shift vehicles. Though many people might not see how this makes a difference, a lot of people would shy away from anything with manual transmission... "Sure, I can learn and get used to clutching and shifting, but this is just a zip-about-town bike so I really don't want to!" Most vintage enthusiasts (myself included) love love LOVE the manual shifting, love that "clack" sound as you change from one shift to the next and the greater sense of motorscooter "Zen" you get with more direct activity.

There is a middle ground, of course, in the modern-built "retro" scooters. These can be as contrived as most modern retro scooters that have the aesthetic flavor (though not completely), or scooters like Genuine Scooter Co.'s "Stella" or Bajaj's "Cheetak," which maintain the older lines better and keep the manual shifting. Both models have been discontinued (though the Stella is going to be making a comeback), but you can find plenty of used Stellas and Cheetaks if you look for them.


Big vs. Small

Most scooters, by nature, are smaller than other bikes on the road, but not all scooters are built alike. Here is where you want to know what kind of riding you plan to do. If you want to just zip around town and take nice leisurely rides, a 49cc scooter could fit your needs quite nicely. These are classified by the VT DMV as "Mopeds" because they have displacements less than 50cc, and have a top speed of 30-45mph. You do not need a motorcycle endorsement to ride one of these (only a regular drivers' license), there are no helmet laws with "mopeds," annual registration is only 15 dollars (and insurance is cheap), and you can park it on the sidewalk. However, you are limited in where you can ride this small a scooter.

Standard-sized scooters (80cc, 150cc, 250cc, etc) are still very light but have greater horsepower, so you can go much faster (many with a top speed of 60-70mph). Mind you, this is not your cruising speed, more like your passing speed. You could expect your scooter to cruise at a good 45-50mph with that kind of horsepower, which is great for riding up Rte 15 or on Spear Street between Burlington and Charlotte, but you might feel a little slow on Rte 2, or Rte 7, and you certainly cannot take I-89! That's not what these bikes are designed for.

If you want a scooter you can take just about anywhere, you might look into a "maxi-scooter," such as the Suzuki Burgman, the Honda Silverwing, the Yamaha Majesty, or the Kymco Xcting. These run between 400 and 650cc in engine size, and give you much more horsepower than other (stock) scooters. However, these are more like step-through motorcycles than they are scooters, at which point you might want to ask yourself "Do I indeed want a scooter, or am I more in the market for a motorcycle?"


Which Scooter Do I Buy?

Now that we've narrowed down your style of riding, you're going to want to look into the actual scooter itself. Here there are a lot of things to consider, such as price, performance, reliability, and availability of parts and labor.

Right off the bat I have to stress that price isn't everything! I was recently asked "I'm assuming that getting an expensive scooter will provide me a pretty reliable form of transportation?" when addressing a potential purchase of a brand-new 6-thousand dollar Vespa. On the other side of the spectrum, you could ask "How safe and reliable is this 1,300 Vento scooter?" How safe do you FEEL on a $1,300-dollar Vento scooter? For most riders I wouldn't recommend buying a 5,000-dollar Vespa unless you are tied to the brand name or want it as a fashion accessory, and I would never, ever reccomend purchasing an 1,100-dollar "Tank"-brand scooter - unless you used to pick on me in high school!

Here are some major scooter companies to consider:

• European Scooters •
• Asian Scooters •
• U.S. Scooters •

--This list only addresses scooters currently being manufactured--


Where Do I Buy It?

That's a good question! If we were in San Francisco, or New York or Chicago it would be a piece of cake to go out and get any scooter, new or vintage. However here in Vermont our options are significantly more limited, as our scooter scene is in its absolute infancy. If we wanted to get a major-label Japanese scooter it would be as simple as going to Roadside Marine or Land Air, however if you're looking for a Derbi, Kymco or a Stella the options become tricky - and even moreso if you're looking for a vintage bike!

Rule 1: Never buy a vintage Vespa on Ebay

There are just far too many Asian deathtraps out there, non-roadworthy antiques that are 95% bondo and paintjob, slapped together with some substandard engine work in some Vietnamese, Malaysian or Cambodian garage. It looks great in the pictures, all the fancy chrome, shiny colors and two-tone leather seats, and the price is out of this world! Get it home and take off the paint and bondo and you'll find a frame with rust and with holes on the verge of folding inward, or built with the parts of other bikes welded onto the frame to make one complete bike... and I don't even want to TALK about what you'll find in the motor and electricals!

With the exception of ScootRS, I would avoid any and all Southeast Asian vintage Vespa/ Lambretta restoration shops, on Ebay or otherwise. There are plenty of shops here in the United States that can ship a scooter to you.

Rule 2: The Internet Can Be Your Friend

You should regularly check a variety of internet resources to locate your scooter. Looking on scoot.net or on scooterbbs (or even in the Free Press classified ads) for used scooters is a good start. You can find any number of good scooters, in good condition, with reasonable prices. Sometimes they can crate it and send it to you forward air, other times you'll need to make your own arrangements - be sure you know in advance as to how the delivery portion is to be handled.

You can also use these resources to locate reliable dealers who can take care of your scooter needs and ship them to you. Some examples of reliable shops are SCOMO, American Scooter Center, Scooterworks, ScootRS, and Scooter Centrale.

However, the internet can mislead you as well. Those same shops in Singapore and Burma that I mentioned earlier will often disguise themselves as American companies - hook up with an American reseller, get a dealership set up, and start pumping Asian restos into these shops. As far as their victims are concerned, these are top-notch Italian-shipped Vespas sold in an exclusively American shop, but in reality they are the same deathtraps found on Ebay. So if you're not sure about a particular shop online, ask around the scooter forums.

Rule 3: If All Else Fails, Just Go and Get It

We are close enough to a number of metropolitan areas that, if all other options fail, you can rent/ borrow a truck or van and drive to New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York or Connecticut and pick up a scooter like anyone else. Plenty of people do it all the time, granted it's probably the most troublesome way of attaining a scooter (unless you already own a van and enjoy driving it all day long), but I suppose if you really want that scooter it's a small price to pay.

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Article by Kevin Montanaro

 

The VTScoot InfoBase

The Scooter Defined Winterizing Your Scoot
The Vermont Scooterist Spring Tune-Up
Scooter Buying 101 Tools to Carry
Riding Gear 101 Buyer Beware: Modern
Buyer Beware: Vintage VT "Moped" Definition
Tuning Your Carburetor Basic Maintenance
How to Manual Shift Vespa vs Lambretta
Rules For Group Riding  

 

 

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