With what machine shall I join the scootering masses?
November 2, 2009 1:12 PM   Subscribe

What kind of used scooter/motorcycle should I buy that will be relatively safe, repairable, and ~$1500 or less?

I previously asked a question in April about taking a cross-country scooter trip here: http://ask.metafilter.com/119706/Is-a-crosscountry-trip-on-a-scooter-feasible-reasonable-or-at-all-safe

The info was extremely valuable and cleared up a lot of misconceptions I had. I've been doing some research since then, but it can still be very confusing to see I should look for in a bike or scoot and for what price.

For example: I recently found two scooters I could see myself buying: a 2009 Kymco Agility 125 for around $1500 or a twenty year-old Yamaha Riva 180 for a little less than half that.

The Riva could probably use a new cooling fan as it apparently overheats around sustained 50mph+ driving, but it's a low price point for what seems like a powerful beginner scooter at only 7,000 miles.

The Kymco doesn't seem to have any issues whatsoever, but has a top speed of around 65 mph and costs twice as much. I am a little unsure about whether I will be able to find parts as easily for this machine as a Yamaha and it's a bigger upfront investment before I've learned if I really like riding a scooter.

I'm willing to consider other alternatives, but I don't want to spend hundreds of hours looking for the perfect deal.

My main priorities are finding a bike that is relatively safe, four-stroke (for lower pollution), has a top speed somewhere around 70 so I can ride 55 mph comfortably, is repairable by someone with enthusiasm but not experience, has replaceable parts that won't be a nightmare to find, and isn't too expensive.

It would also be a big plus if I don't have to worry about major depreciation if I decide that the two-wheeled life is not for me.

Also, if you have any tips on negotiating a low price, let me know. Was hoping the upcoming winter would drive prices down at the least.
posted by abkadefgee to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd prefer a Yamaha over any new el-cheapo machine, but I wouldn't buy it unless I could be sure about the cause of overheating AND sure that the engine hasn't been damaged by overheating. Take it to an objective mechanic for an inspection.
posted by jon1270 at 1:34 PM on November 2, 2009

Winter is definitely the time to buy, as folks will be selling off their bikes since they know they won't be riding and they don't want to bother with the hassle of winterizing them. I live in Texas and commute on my motorcycle all year, so that doesn't really apply to me.

I think it would be easier to get parts and perform repairs yourself on a motorcycle rather than a scooter. There's a wealth of resources for lots of bikes, but the ones I would recommend in your situation would be the Honda Rebel 250 or the Ninja 250.

They're cheap, extremely durable, very fuel efficient, and fast enough to go cross country if you really have to. Some will say that a 250cc engine can't be safe on the highway, but the Ninja 250 can do 100+ mph. At reasonable speeds it'll get 70+ mpg.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:41 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know where you live, but here's a 2005 Ninja 250 going for $1850. You could probably find one a couple of years older that's in your price range. As long as the scheduled maintenance has been done, there's no reason it won't last you many, many more miles.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:43 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

i'd go with a motorcycle over a scooter for pretty much any purpose, unless you're set on one for aesthetic reasons.

a couple of years ago, I purchased a used Kawasaki KLR-250 for $1200. It's a wonderful machine and doesn't have the feels-like-a-toy problem that some other 250s can have (cough cough ninja cough rebel).

plus it doesn't get much more intro-to-motorcycle-maintenance than a one-cylinder kickstart dual-sport.
posted by 256 at 2:20 PM on November 2, 2009

I have a Chinese scooter. While finding parts on the internet has not been difficult, learning how to repair it has been very frustrating. I live in a small city with half a dozen motorsports shops and none of the mechanics are willing to look at it.

I have to diagnose the problem myself, wait a week or more for the parts to come in the mail, then spend a couple of days dis- and reassembling the scoot, cussing at it and kicking rocks. Even though I have learned a lot about my particular scooter, it's not nearly as fun as I thought it would be.

If you're dead set on a scooter, I recommend a Honda or Yamaha for you.
posted by at the crossroads at 2:39 PM on November 2, 2009

Either the KLR or the Ninja are going to be solid bikes. The Ninja is faster, but the KLR is definitely simpler. The KLR also has crazy online resources for repair and mods, if that's your thing.

My wife has a Ninja 250 and it's a pretty sweet bike. She's only had it for a year, but no complaints so far.

Scooters are a bad idea. You can't really take them on the highway safely and there's fewer resources in terms of parts and mechanics for most models.
posted by electroboy at 2:41 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another inexpensive motorcycle is the Suzuki GZ-250. Your thoughts about buying in the fall are correct but the discount isn't too great.

I'm interested in motorcycles so it seems that there are more inexpensive motorcycles then scooters. I just don't look at the scooters too much so I don't know.

The only way scooters seem any safer than motorcycles is that you cannot go 100+ mph so you are less likely to get in trouble from your own aggressive riding.
posted by bdc34 at 2:42 PM on November 2, 2009

Response by poster: A scooter seems more comfortable to me for longer rides. I could be wrong about that, but that's my feeling.

I seem to be finding prices on these bikes running at least $400-500 more than what others are finding, here in central Iowa. I'm getting the impression that there may be a lot of looking before I found one for the prices you guys are finding. Maybe I can wait a little longer, but I would like to be able to test drive before it gets too much colder.

By the way, anyone have any familiarity with Kymco parts? When I travel, will I be able to find them?
posted by abkadefgee at 3:09 PM on November 2, 2009

A scooter is not meant for highways, even if it can theoretically reach a highway speed at best. Running it at max speed for any amount of time will severely decrease its lifetime. The only reason I'd recommend a scooter is for short/urban travel only, like commuting to work in a city - it's definitely easier to park, sips less gas, costs less, and is more failsafe in bad traffic situations (two brakes on the handles, no clutch on new ones, etc.).

I'd look at the Ninjette. Very common and very easy to find people selling as they upgrade from starter bikes. You'll find a lot of Rebels and such this way, too, but the Ninja will have fairings, windscreen, etc. for highways.
posted by kcm at 3:11 PM on November 2, 2009

Oh, and I've owned a 2009 Kymco People 150. No reliability problems, but again, I certainly wouldn't take it on the highway for more than a mile. With any wind at all you're realistically pushing 50mph, and getting blown all over the road doing it. Add in any hills or obstacles and you're asking for trouble with 150cc or less. That said, for the city, it's a blast and just perfect.
posted by kcm at 3:12 PM on November 2, 2009

In NSW in Australia the compulsory rider education seminar you do to get your licence is done on fleets of Honda CB-250s.

They're light to pick up and throw around, they're mechanically bombproof, very forgiving for beginning riders, and (depending on how much luggage you're carrying, and how heavy you are) surprisingly fast on the highway. It'll do 100km/hr (about 60m/hr?) without any trouble at all. Because they're so popular as first bikes, as well, they keep their value extremely well---there's a huge market for them. For the money you're spending, you'll get a 250 bike that's a much better quality highway vehicle than a similarly priced scooter.

You'll also enjoy yourself a lot more, I think, on a motorcycle proper: believe me, it's no fun at all to sit just below the speed limit, hunched down into the wind, with the throttle wide open and a below-par engine screaming protest.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:13 PM on November 2, 2009

One more thing - the Kymco brand is not in the "Chinese brand" umbrella. First, it's Taiwanese, second, those brands are all cheapo knockoffs without parts sources. Kymco has a wide network of dealers and the part sourcing is simple. If the Chinese brand is a Yugo, the Kymco is a Kia.. with the Honda still being a Honda. :)
posted by kcm at 3:14 PM on November 2, 2009

Are you an experienced motorcyclist? If not then I would agree that a scooter may be a better bet as you will not have to learn how to master using the gears and clutch, which can turn out to be a difficult task for a new rider. Regardless I would think about taking the MSF Basic Riders Course (if you haven't already) before you embark on the trip.

Do a search for the Scooter Cannonball Run, an annual coast-to-coast race for scooters only and I am sure that any of the riders that have done it would be happy to give you some advice. If you want to maintain 55 mph, then a 125 might not be the best answer, but you're not going to be riding on interstates so you might away with it. Kymco dealers could be few and far between and spare parts even scarcer - owners either rely on a close-by dealer they purchased it from or they get spares from internet sites shipped to them. I am guessing parts for a 20 year old Yamaha would be even scarcer. How about a newish Vespa? They probably have a wider dealer network and better likelihood of parts, also there is a rabid Vespa rider community that could give you advice and tips (modernvespa.com is probably the largest owner forum out there).

Good luck, take a couple of spare belts and an extra tire with you and ride safe!
posted by 543DoublePlay at 4:46 PM on November 2, 2009

A scooter seems more comfortable to me for longer rides.

It's the other way around, honestly. Scooters kick ass for local commuting. There's nothing better for running errands and going to work (at least in nice weather) -- the built-in storage space and ease of use are pretty much ideal when used as designed. Motorcycles aren't nearly as nice for those short trips.

But conversely, everything that makes the scooter great around town isn't so great on the highway. You have only one way to sit, the engine is small, the tires are small -- all things that make long trips unappealing.

If you are buying it for long trips, buy a motorcycle. If you are buying it for local commuting and errands, buy a scooter.
posted by Forktine at 4:50 PM on November 2, 2009

I have a 1984 Honda Elite in amazing shape, with the 125cc engine. The popup headlight eventually stopped popping up itself (there's a manual mechanism to raise it when that happens, and it happens to most of 'em sooner or later) but otherwise it's been bulletproof. The top speed is 55mph (I've seen 54 indicated.) Mine is also in perfect physical condition and has approximately 2,000 miles on it -- and I paid $1400.

So get out there, find one with a few more miles or sketchy appearance, that's got the 150cc engine (for a top speed of 65mph), spend several hours making sure everything's in tip-top shape (air cleaner box attached to the carb, final drive oil and engine oil changes, solid tires and brakes and such) and off ya go.

You can also get the Helix 250cc, which doesn't have the pop-up headlight (or coolness factor) but has a higher top speed.
posted by davejay at 5:10 PM on November 2, 2009

I seem to be finding prices on these bikes running at least $400-500 more than what others are finding, here in central Iowa.

Just because they're asking, doesn't mean you can't offer $400-500 less. Sooner or later someone'll take you up on it.
posted by davejay at 5:11 PM on November 2, 2009

Oh, finally: you might be better off buying a much cheaper scoot (like the Yamaha) to see if the two-wheeled life is not for you, then buy something bigger once you've got experience.
posted by davejay at 5:12 PM on November 2, 2009

I've ridden a Kymco 125 (not sure what model it is) for about 6 years living in Taiwan and the idea of riding a 125cc scooter across America sounds like the most ridiculous idea I've ever heard.

First, what Forktine and Fiasco da Gama said about scooters being awesome for errands around town while longer drives sucking is exactly right. The small wheels and inability to shift your position can be quite uncomfortable. I've done rides of a couple hundred km at a time, and I felt exhausted afterward. Doing that distance day after day for weeks across the heartland of American sounds like a recipe for losing your sanity and/or huge chiropractic bills.

Second, at least on my Kymco 125, I can't really maintain speeds faster than 80km/h for any appreciable distance (not like there's any road in Taiwan on which you could, but anyway). I have serious doubts that a Kymco 125 scooter is going to survive a cross-country trip going at 90-110km/h.

For the love of all that is good in the world, do this ride in a proper (used, beginner bike) motorcycle after taking all the proper safety courses, etc.
posted by alidarbac at 7:04 PM on November 2, 2009

I live in TX and commute on a motorcycle, have for roughly 4 years now.

I feel scooters are much more dangerous because you don't need any real driving course to be allowed to drive one, and their top speed is limiting. One of the things I was taught in the MSF course was use your speed and agility..but for defensive driving, not playing speed-demon.

Which leads me to: If you weren't planning on taking the MSF course, take some of your bike budget and do it. It is more than worth every penny when you're talking about reasonable practical precautions in defense of your life. I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned already as a matter of course but perhaps I missed it.

My one and only bike is an older Shadow model I bought for $2500. Today it's still worth $2500 per blue book, and I adore it. It's a full-on cruiser, it doesn't look cheaped out, like I feel a lot of the 250 single-cylinders do, but that is 100% personal preference. If you have the money or can find it, if you bump your budget up a bit you can get more of a bike than you're looking at now. If you bump it to 3k-4k territory you're looking at used full size metric cruisers.

A friend of mine prowled craigslist for a couple years and consistently underbid bike listings. He got more than a couple takers lowballing for even $1k under asking price. He spent most of his riding time on a Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 in excellent condition he got for around $3200 (but then after awhile its distributor cap started leaking and required some major work getting the engine out to replace it.. doh!)
posted by BurnMage at 3:12 PM on November 3, 2009

Response by poster: Turns out the Kymco sold by the time I was ready to take a look at it, but my brother reminded me that our uncle may have an extra motorcycle.

So, it looks like I may be picking up a well-cared-for 600cc machine for around $500.

I do intend to take an MSF course, but unfortunately, that will have to wait until February or March now that the weather is changing.

Thanks for the tips everyone. If I pick up the bike this weekend, I'll let you know how things pan out.
posted by abkadefgee at 9:51 AM on November 6, 2009

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