Buying a motor scooter --- advice?

Howdy, y’all. I, a broke-ass college student, am in need of some wheels. I wish to buy a scooter. Not only will I be able to get around faster and more stylishly than on my current pedal bike, I’ll be able to putt around town and say ‘ciao’ a lot (à Eddie Izzard)! Win-win!

Scooter owners in urban areas in the United States: what advice would you give me and my naive self? How big an engine should I be looking for (I’m not a heavy guy and Tampa has no hills to speak of, but I do expect to carry loads on my vehicle, and do wanna keep up with traffic)? How ought I to secure the vehicle at night, to prevent the rash of scooter thefts from visiting upon my poor soul? Are scooters safe enough to brave rush hour traffic down the main arteries of town, or will I forever be confined to side streets?

No advice, but I’m waiting to read any that you get. I’ve been drawn to those cute little scooters (and the 65 mpg they’ve been reported to get!). I haven’t made up my mind if I’ll actually be getting one (finances and all that), but would like to be armed if the situation arises.

Scooters come in 50cc, 125/150cc and >250cc engine sizes, and 10, 12 or 14 (even 16) inch wheel sizes. Basically, your gamut runs from limited speed mopeds to small motorcycles with step-through frames. Many new scooters have CVT (twist-and-go) transmissions, while older ones (or retro ones like the Stella) have manual transmissions with a clutch lever (though instead of toe-shifting as on a standard motorcycle, you wrist-shift with the left hand). Older ones are also going to have two-stroke engines rather than four-stroke, which in practical terms means you will have to add oil with your fuel for the engine to work (and the exhaust will have a distinctive oily smell to it as well).

Since you mention being broke, I assume you’re looking for small and cheap, which means relatively low powered. Plenty of people ride around town (by which I mean Manhattan in NYC) on 50cc scooters, but myself, I’d prefer a 125cc as on a 50cc scoot, you’re topped out at around 40 MPH unladen. If you’re planning on carrying stuff you’d better get at least 100cc.

Which means you’ll likely need to get a motorcycle license. Please don’t equate smaller frame/wheels and engine with “less dangerous” than a motorcycle. True, you won’t be getting into a high speed, 80 MPH collision with the highway divider. But most motorcycle accidents happen in local traffic at speeds under 40 MPH (due to hitting a pothole or curb, wiping out on sand or a grease/oil slick in the road, swerving for a jaywalking pedestrian or car cutting you off, or worst of all, getting hit by a car whose driver “didn’t see” you when making a left turn). Hitting the pavement (or the hood of a car) at 30 MPH will hurt just as much coming off of a Vespa as a Harley if you’re not wearing gloves, a proper helmet (preferably full-faced, if you like your face) at a minimum.

My strong suggestion would be to find, enroll and pass the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) Basic Rider Course. In most states this will give you a waiver for your state’s road test, as the last day of the course includes a riding skills test. This course will teach you to ride (starting from zero) and also teach you the basic elements of street riding awareness and safety. It’s a good way to combine three important things for a new rider: (a) learning riding skills, (b) learning about safety, and © getting your license endorsement.

After that, you can decide on whether you want to get a small motorcycle or a scooter. I ride a maxi-scooter myself to work nearly every day (a Piaggio BV500), and for several years rode a Vespa GT200, but these are not cheap rides.

Some people buy a 50cc scooter (like a Vespa LX50 or a Vino Classic) and then modify the engine with aftermarket kits to increase the engine size/power to 70cc or so. I have no experience with this, however, so I can’t speak to how much they cost or what effect they have relative to simply buying a larger engined scooter in the first place.

Here’s a list of popular scooters by manufacturer, their sizes and price ranges. The dealers listed are all in the NYC area, but you could look up where they’re sold anywhere local to you, or on Craigslist. I strongly advise you to NOT buy a self-assembly scooter over the Internet. A reliable, >100cc scooter will run about $2500 new, or around $2000 used if you can find them (they’re getting quite popular now due to gas costs, and summer is always a hot market for motorbikes of any stripe). Looking for that $800 scooter shipped to you in pieces sent from Asia that gets put together by a lawnmower shop is really asking for trouble in the medium term.

I’d suggest you check eBay, Craiglist and other usual spots for used scooters. If you’re a new rider chances are very, very good that you will drop your first bike within the first 6 months, most likely in a low speed/parking lot incident.

Based on your comment about style, I might recommend a Yamaha Vino 125 (if you’re not too tall). This is a very cute and retro looking scooter that is yet thoroughly modern in technology. You can even get a fold-down rear rack to which you can bungee a box or milk crate for schlepping stuff bigger than what you can carry in a backpack.

As for security – let’s face it, most scooters are small, light and can easily be moved around by hand by two people, or even just one determined and strong guy with a little bit of leverage and a large dolly. The best place to keep a scooter at night is in a garage. If you can’t do that, lock it to something with a chain that goes through the front wheel, put a cover on the scooter (to discourage molestation and random people who like to sit on it and go “vroom vroom” or worse), and hope for the best.

I thought it would be cool to have one for quick runs to the store etc. IIRC you’ll find a lot of 49.5cc scooters b/c they don’t require a motorcycle license (50cc being the cutoff). You won’t be tooling down the interstate on one, however, because they top out at 35 or 40 mph.

I can’t speak to any quality issues but this place offered what appears to be some bang for the buck. IIRC they’ll ship as a kit or assembled, so read the fine print:

http://www.gsmotorworks.com/street_scooters.cfm

Be careful now, this will vary from state to state. For example, NY State (where I live) does not classify licensing requirements based on a 50cc cutoff, but a somewhat vague “maximum top speed” of the bike (of 30 MPH). As you point out, most 49.5cc scooters will top out at over 30 MPH, and so will still require an M endorsement in NY state where they do not in others.

This has led to many a confused scooterist in NY getting ticketed and having their ride impounded because “everybody told me I didn’t need a motorcycle license for this thing” (except the NYS DMV, but sometimes including even the retailer). I haven’t heard of any state other than NY with this rule in place but I sure would check first.

Vespa, for example, markets two variants of their smallest scooter, the LX50: the “regular” 49.5cc version and another “LMB” version that has a limiter that keeps it under the 30 MPH limit. You can register the latter as an LMB class vehicle that doesn’t need a motorcycle license in NY, but then you won’t be able to take it over any bridges either.

As for keeping up with traffic, you need to consider a <50cc scooter to be a fast noisy bicycle that you don’t have to pedal or get sweaty to ride. If you try to participate in traffic like a car or motorcycle, you might as well paint a target on your back. To stay safe, you need to ride within the limitations imposed by the lack of power. Right or wrong, if you can’t keep up with traffic, you won’t get any respect from the operators of the deadly 4 wheeled metal cages you share the road with. If you insist on exercising your leagle right to use the road, you may find yourself dead right.

That said,I ride one, (actually a motorized bicycle) as well as motorcycles up to 1150cc’s.

It is a bit safer than just a pedal-bike due to the reduced speed difference with traffic, especially uphill, but what I said in the first paragraph applies.

The motored-bike gets me around town fine, even though it tops out at 30 mph. I have learned all the bike routes, and which roads go through the residential developments. It does take a bit longer to get places, but not so much as you might think. Those residential streets often represent a more direct route than the arterials, and even though there are plenty of stop signs, those take but a second compared to a minute or so at stop-lights…and I am back up to “speed” by the time I cross the intersection, while it takes at least a half a block to get a car or motorcycle (due to traffic) back up to 40 mph.

There is one street I often use that has a bike lane and a 35 mph speed limit. Most of the cars push this to 40-45mph. There are stop lights at ~1mile intervals, and they are synchronized for ~30 mph. As a result, I typically cover the 8 miles I am on that street at the same rate as the 50% faster cars.

Now “real” scooters are a bit better than my motored-bike, due to automatic transmissions, but I have observed enough being ridden both intelligently, and stupidly I stand by my comments.

So if you are willing to stay on surface streets in an urban, or suburban area, and behave like a bicycle in many cases, then a <50cc scooter will serve you.

If you want to mix in and ride with city traffic, 150cc or so will do that, and 250 will do it nicely.

If you want to ride on freeways, or cover long distances, 500cc or bigger is what you want.

Instead of the bicycle survival skills needed with the 50cc class, the bigger scooters will need a motorcycle skill and mind set (and DL) to aid your survival.

Good points. OP should check with FL officials. That would include both drivers license reqs, license plate reqs, everything. It would be nice to think you could hop on your scoot and go, but you need to know before you buy so that you know what to buy.

Mrs. Rabbit bought at Genuine Buddy 125 a couple months ago. She paid sticker for it, which I believe was $2800. It’s not the right time to be haggling for one of those things.

Anyway, she likes it. There’s plenty of zip - she finds herself beating most cars off the line - and it gets up to 60mph.

It came with a two year warranty and one year of roadside assistance, which is good, because after leaving it sit for a week, the carb somehow gunked up and she couldn’t kickstart it.

I have to disagree with Kevbo. Anyone on a 50 cc scoot who acts like he’s riding a bicycle is going to end up getting forced off the road by drivers who want to squeeze past.
If you’re going to be on the road, you’ve got to take the lane, but at the same time be aware that you are riding the most under-powered vehicle on the road, and that you do have a low top speed – so stick to city streets.

Anyone getting on a scoot should learn how it handles. It does not act like a bicycle with an engine – it moves, brakes and maneuvers like a small motorcycle. The two are quite different.

You should be ready to wear full gear, because falling while you wear flip-flops and a beanie helmet will likely give you a nice ride in an ambulance.

Mr. Gazer has been riding a Honda Metropolitan for 6 years now, and here’s my take. As said above, definitely check out the maximum speed and compare that to where you want to go. Pay attention to the speed at which the traffic actually moves, not just the posted speed. There’s a highway here in Seattle that has a posted MPH of 40, but traffic almost always moves closer to 50 there, so Mr. Gazer doesn’t ride on that road. And definitely buy safety gear, and wear it every time you ride. Cars tend to ride your ass, and you aren’t as visible as other cars are, so some reflective gear is not a bad idea.

Also, check out your options for service before you buy. You probably won’t be able to take your scooter to the corner service station for an oil change, or to replace a tire. If your only option is to have it towed all the way across town, that will be expensive. You don’t want to be blindsided by that!

My husband LOOOOVES his scooter. It’s been a great little vehicle – if only the baby could ride on it, too! :wink:

Why not? If the Vietnamese can do it, after all…