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Basic Routine Maintenance

With the current boom in scooter sales it's safe to say that many scooter riders are new riders, and many new riders don't do all that they should do for their bikes. To get the best life out of your scooter you need to keep it well-maintained. If you ignore your scooter's needs for too long you will have more trouble with it than not. Following are some answers to a variety of questions about routine maintenance I've received.

Filling and Maintaining Tires
Battery Maintenance
Gearbox Oil
Spark Plugs
Cable Maintenance


Filling and Maintaining Tires

First thing I should point out is that you need to make sure your tires are filled to the correct psi, and the second thing I should point out is that the correct psi is not the number printed on the side of your tire!! That number is the MAXIMUM psi those tires can take before failing. If you keep your tires filled based on what's written there you are going to have problems. So STOP DOING THAT!!!!

The correct psi is noted in your owner's manual, and the numbers will be different for each tire (front and back) and will probably also be different depending upon whether or not you ride with a passenger. This is an important step in keeping your bike roadworthy. The amount of air in the tires impacts how much of the tread comes in contact with the road, too much pressure will decrease the amount of tread that comes in contact with the surface of the road, and not enough pressure will give your tires equally bad performance. Another side-effect of incorrectly inflated tires is uneven wear on the tread, which will require your changing them sooner than you had hoped. Always have a tire pressure gauge and check your tires periodically to make sure they are inflated correctly.

Most scooter tires are small enough that you can inflate them using a standard collapseable bicycle pump - which is good, because you can pack that item with you and won't need to stop at a gas station to fill your tires. If you are using the air hose at the gas station, be very careful if you have smaller tires. These hoses are designed for use by cars and trucks, and the air will come out a lot faster than you may expect, and if you don't pay attention you stand a chance of damaging (or even exploding) the tires on your scooter. If you are using these hoses fill it a very little at a time.

Your tires are not permanent attachments, and they will eventually need changing. Check the condition of your tread periodically to keep abreast of your tires' health. If there is significant wear, or damage to the tires such as dry rot (noticeable if you have cracks running along the side of the tire), you will want to change the tires. You should also think about rotating the tires after a certain amount of use (your manual will have recommendations as to how many miles you should do this at). Since the front tire is most instrumental in how well your scooter takes turns, it will take the most amount of wear usually. After so many miles you should swap the front and rear tires (and be sure to change the tire pressure accordingly). If your scooter carries a spare tire (such as with a Vespa, Lambretta, Stella or Bajaj), I suggest you put this tire onto your front, the front onto your rear, and the rear back onto the spare carrier.

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Battery Maintenance

Your battery (if your bike has a battery) will also require regular maintenance, and prolonged interuptions in routine maintenance will greatly diminish the lifespan of said battery. The first thing to look at are the levels of electrolytes in your battery. Place your battery so that it is level, either in the scooter or (most likely) while removed from the scooter. There are two lines marked on the side of your battery, these indicate fluid levels. If your electrolytes are lower than the bottom line you'll need to refill each cell with distilled water (not spring water, not mineral water, not tap water - distilled water). This is done by opening up each cell (unscrewing the small plastic stoppers on top of the battery - there will be either 6 or 12 of these), and then slowly and carefully adding the distilled water to these (using a small funnel might help). Once filled up the the top line, give the battery a little tap on the table or floor to coax all the air bubbles to the surface.

The battery doesn't so much store electricity as it stores the ability to create electricity. This is done by a reaction of the movement of electrons between two plates, the positive plate gives up electrons and the negative plate gains them in equal numbers, thereby creating a potential difference between the two plates. As your battery is used, these electrons go from the positive side to the negative and will stay there until the battery is recharged. While in use, your scooter's electrical system will then convert those negative electrons back to positive at a certain RPM. However, if you take a series of short hops there will be less conversion of these electrons and your battery won't get a full charge. For better battery life it's adviseable to put the battery on a trickle charger from time to time to give it a full charge, because over time these electrons will tend to "stick" to the positive plate if left for long periods without a full charge.

One more thing on the subject of batteries, when you disconnect it from the bike or the charger, be sure to remove the ground (black) lead FIRST, and then the positive (red) one, making sure the black lead is held someplace where it won't ground-out. When you re-connect it to the tender or the bike, be sure to connect the positive terminal first, and then the ground. That way you are less likely to become the ground and get a painful zap. Think of it this way: if there's going to be only one wire connected to the battery at any one time, make sure it's the red one.

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Gearbox Oil

This is another important maintenance step, keeping your gearbox oil filled and keeping it clean. It's an easy step, but one that's Google-searched frequently enough to justify adding a section on it here.

As noted in the section on winterizing your scooter, you should change the oil either before winterizing your bike (recommended), or in the spring when you ready it for the road. To do this, heat up your engine by riding around the block a few times (I usually put a good 5 miles onto the motor to be sure) so that the oil viscosity will thin out a bit, then turn it off, put a drip pan of some sort underneath the motor, and remove the oil drain screw to bring a nice pour of warm and dirty oil out and into your drip pan (I use a larger cottage cheese container for this, it fits under my Vespa motor better than my automotive drip pan does). Let the oil drip out all the way (I'll walk off and have a cigarette while the motor drips), then replace the oil drain bolt and a fresh drain gasket. Next, remove your oil fill bolt and add the correct gearbox oil with an oil syringe or a turkey baster (the hole is gonna be small) until the gearbox is full. On a Vespa or Stella, for example, you'll know it's full when the oil starts to ooze back out of the hole. Let it ooze - you don't want an over-full gearbox. Then replace the bolt and the gasket.

As the motor is used the oil will thin out and drip out here and there (I've not yet met a Vespa that didn't have a runny nose), so after a lot of riding you may need to top-off the oil. Open the fill hole and add a little oil until it's full (just a squirt or two probably).

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Spark Plugs

Your spark plug is an important part of your bike. It creates the combustion, after all. Chances are your bike only has one plug in it, so you will want to check it often and probably replace it often. I'll go through two or three spark plugs in a summer, just to be sure, and I'll always have at least two or three spares (never just one, because what if you discover that one spare plug is no good??). Also I would recommend you use NGK plugs. Why? I've never had good luck with Champion plugs, and I don't know many scooterists who don't use NGK themselves.

Make sure you're using the correct plug for your motor, your manual will tell you what to use. Along with plug size, the heat range is another consideration. You might use, for example, an NGK B7S plug for riding around town, but then for some long-distance trips (or if your piston is kitted) you might want to switch to the NGK B8S.

Make sure, before you replace the plug (or if you're just checking an existing plug) that the plug is gapped correctly, because the size of the gap in between the spark plug's contact points has a direct affect on the plug's tip temperature. You can get a gapper at any auto parts store, it looks like a coin and has a hole in one side, and a gauge along the edge to measure the gap. Start with the lower end of the gauge inserted into the gap and turn the "coin" until it starts getting substantial friction. The corresponding number on the gapper "coin" is how wide the gap is open. If it's too wide you can close the gap by tapping the plug's contact point on the ground a few times, measuring the gap periodically. If the gap is too tight, use the hole in the gapper to pry back the contact point a little bit, and measure. Repeat one or both steps until the gap is correct (refer to your manual to know what that gap is supposed to be, of course).

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Your cables are in constant use. When you pull in your clutch you pull on a cable. When you twist your throttle you pull on a cable. When you shift, brake, choke, and when the speedometer is working, cables are being pulled or twisted. Sooner or later, these cables are going to fail. You'll be pulling in your clutch to take-off and "PING!" the barrel-end will break off. Or worse - you'll step on your brake and "PING!" you'll suddenly have an inclination to mess your pants!

For these reasons you should always have a spare cable on hand for everything in the bike that requires a cable, save for the speedometer which you don't need in order to keep the bike safe and operational. Also keep some type of cable lubricant on hand, or you could also pre-lubricate these cables and put them into a ziplock bag. Check your cables periodically for signs of wear and tear, and if you're in doubt, replace the cable (especially if it's a brake cable). Your manual will have instructions as to how this is done, so keep it handy - your manual does you no good if it's sitting at home. Cables also stretch over time, so you'll likely need to tighten these cables periodically.

In the beginning of spring you should pull out each of your cables and check for wear. You should also re-lubricate them, this can be done by lubricating the cable itself a little bit at a time, or by quick-burst sprays of some cable lubricant down into the cable housing until it starts to drip out the other end.

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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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