What advice do you have for scooter shopping?
February 5, 2005 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Scooters--my wife is thinking of selling her car and getting a scooter for commuting to work (about 2 miles each way, on city streets, in Austin TX). It's pretty clear she wants something with more oomph than a 50cc; right now she's leaning towards a Stella (an Indian clone of the old Vespa).

I'd appreciate any specific tips on models to buy/avoid, tips on buying used, online resources, etc.
posted by adamrice to Travel & Transportation around Austin, TX (23 answers total)
The Vespa ET4 has a 150cc engine. The Honda Helix has a 244cc engine.

I looked into this a couple years ago but the terrain between job and home did not make sense. I spoke with a number of scooter owners who gave me some advice. They suggested it is a bad idea to buy a used scooter unless you plan on fixing it up. Used scooters can take an incredible amount of abuse without outward signs of problems, and you can't be sure what you're getting until you take possession and actually use the thing.
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:15 PM on February 5, 2005

Helixes are good bets. I've ridden quite a few and known quite a few other people who had them. Also look into Aprilia - a bit more money, but quite a bit of style, too. They have a really cool one called the Scarabeo.

I'm partial to the Atlantic, myself.

I wouldn't go less than 125cc in any case, and if she decides to ride it on the Mopac, she's going to want more like 500cc.

Also - even if it's just a Scooter, remember two things:

1) MSF course. You can take them all over Austin. Call a dealer or the local community college. What you learn there will make you a better driver as well.

2) Buy the best helmet you can afford. I happen to be Arai-headed, had one save my life and will never wear anything else. YMMV.

Good luck to you. Email me if you want to talk further about this. Addy is in my profile.
posted by TeamBilly at 4:38 PM on February 5, 2005

Some online resources: max's scooter page and the scooter bbs
posted by squeak at 4:52 PM on February 5, 2005

I owned the Aprilia Scarabeo 50cc. I am 205 lbs and it moved me quite nicely...better than I expected. But if I had to do it again I would go for 125cc engine. Another thing to consider when comparing models is wheel diameter. The scooters with small diameter wheels (Vespa) handle much differently that those with larger diameter (Aprilia Scarabeo). Yamaha and Honda have some nice models with the retro/Vespa look.
posted by punkfloyd at 5:01 PM on February 5, 2005

i've been riding and working on vintage scooters for about 7 years. the stella's are great bikes. they're indian clones that have had some key parts swapped out with more reliable parts. all in all i think they're a great deal for the price. but, this is still 30 year old engineering. as such, these bikes require at least a minimal amount of upkeep and work to keep them going. they're not as troublesome as vintage bikes, but they're also not as realiable as the newer vespas or other newer automatic scooters. if you realize that it might take a little more work to keep it on the road and are ok with that i would strongly recommend the stella. if you really want to some more advice or answers on this i recommend going to scooterbbs.com and posting some questions or even looking through the archives. you'll probably find more information there than you even want. also, just in case you didn't know...pretty much any bike over 50cc (and i would recommend not getting anything less than 125 for safety reasons) will require a motorcycle license.

also, i would strongly recommend against a lot of the newer bikes that have a lot of plastic. many of the new hondas, yamaha etc will have lots and lots of plastic parts that are easily broken and expensive to replace. stellas, new vespas, and some of the other bikes are primarily metal and will be much more durable. of course, i live in new york city where things are my prone to getting beat up than many other places.
posted by m@L at 5:30 PM on February 5, 2005

I have a Vespa "Sprint Veloce" 150. It's an amazingly reliable bike, especially for the money. Mine was rebuit in 2002 and it's been a daily driver for me (for the 9 months I didn't have a car). I had exactly 1 day of mechanical trouble and 1 flat tire.

I heartily recommend the MFC course, a good helmet, and also a jacket with some reflective stripes on it -- a real motorcycle jacket.

I also recommend going above 125cc if you want to move comfortably with traffic. Being able to cruise at traffic speed, and still have a bit left for evasive manuvers is really important for being safe. 150 is totally enough.

Also note that Stella's have manual transmissions, instead of the twist-n-go (actually continuously variable transmission if you must know). That's not a bad thing, just a stylistic / philosphical difference.
posted by zpousman at 5:37 PM on February 5, 2005

Of course, if you're going to go whole hog with the MSF course (and you should!) and helmets and crash protective clothing (you should!) then you maybe should go for an entire proper motorcycle, too.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:01 PM on February 5, 2005

Or maybe, just maybe, get a bicycle. It is two miles, right?
posted by fixedgear at 6:37 PM on February 5, 2005

There was a long thread about scooters over on Mofi.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:10 PM on February 5, 2005

I've sort of been in and out of the market for a scooter for this past year. When following one of the usenet scooter groups, I heard a lot of good things about the People 250, made by Kymco (Japan).

This girl in Orange County really seems to like hers.
posted by Boydrop at 8:52 PM on February 5, 2005

Just to chime in - I don't know where your wife is at experientially, but she will need a class M license (motorcycle) license for anything over 50cc, even to test drive one at a dealership - which she will need to do regardless to see what is a fit for her.

My wife took the MSF course here in Austin and had a great experience. If your wife doesn't have her class M, and is looking at a bike over 50cc, that is a good path to take.
posted by jazzkat11 at 9:20 PM on February 5, 2005

I'm with fff. Scooters are a great way to go short distances cheaply. But if you're worried about oomph, and are willing to spend more than a couple thousand, might as well get a motorcycle. For about 3k you can get a 250cc motorcycle that looks way better than any scooter and is much more fun to ride. See, for example, the Kawasaki Ninja 250 or the Honda Rebel, both very reliable bikes.
posted by epimorph at 1:47 AM on February 6, 2005

Thanks, all. Some comments/responses:

- My wife feels put off by motorcycles; in fact, she feels put off by some of the larger scooters we've looked at (she's quite petite herself). She wants the smallest thing that'll work. I think there's a style/philosophy issue here as well.
- A bicycle would in theory be preferable, but A) would result in arriving at work soaked in sweat (think Texas summers), which isn't really an option for her, and would add enough time to her commute to make it unfeasible (she has a hard enough time getting to work on time as it is).
- Her commute, as it turns out, is 3.5 miles each way. This would not be highway driving at all, but some of the major city streets here do have sustained speeds of ~45 mph, and any vehicle she chooses would need to be able to keep up.
posted by adamrice at 8:47 AM on February 6, 2005

A 50cc scooter will be able to hit 45-ish. Still, it can take a while to get there, and you're probably better off with 150cc or so.

I had a chintzy dirt-cheap plastic scooter. It lasted a year, during which it ran about 75% of the time. Get something metal and less than low-end.

A friend has a 2001 Bajaj, which is still going strong and seems like a nice piece of engineering. He rode it from Asheville to Wilmington, North Carolina — about 6-7 hours in a car. AFAIK this didn't have any significant deleterious effect on the scooter, which is pretty impressive. It's also cool that it carries a spare tire. Most of their models are 150cc, I think.

Scooters are insanely fun. Good luck.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:40 AM on February 6, 2005

Er... 3.5 miles is about 40m brisk walk, or 20m slow bicycling. Seems to me there's really no need for oil-based transport here: it's a very short distance.

A scooter would take all of five minutes drive. She doesn't need anything more than a 50cc for that, even for the major streets.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:56 AM on February 6, 2005

Hell, she could rollerblade it in less than 20m...
posted by five fresh fish at 9:56 AM on February 6, 2005

3.5 miles is about 40m brisk walk, or 20m slow bicycling. Seems to me there's really no need for oil-based transport here: it's a very short distance.

Serious, dude? 3.5 miles each way . . .
Plus, that would seem an even worse option than the bike:
A) would result in arriving at work soaked in sweat (think Texas summers), which isn't really an option for her, and would add enough time to her commute to make it unfeasible (she has a hard enough time getting to work on time as it is).

As a former Austinite, trust me, walking to work 3 and 1/2 miles each way during the 11-12 weeks straight that the temperature can top 95 degrees F would be no fun. And most streets in Texas cities are not conducive to biking/walking - some of them don't even have sidewalks, and it's very dangerous.
posted by sixdifferentways at 10:33 AM on February 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

3.5 miles is about 40m brisk walk, or 20m slow bicycling. Seems to me there's really no need for oil-based transport here: it's a very short distance.

While your anti-fossil fuel stance is admirable, a scooter is *way* more fuel efficient than the car she's currently driving. Scooters routinely get 60 miles per gallon, and some get upwards of 70 mpg. Filling up once per week at $2.50 is a lot different than filling up once per week at $25.50.

I'd recommend a four stroke engine, if you or your wife are environmentally conscious. It's true -- four strokes have a bit less low-end torque for acceleration, not to mention that they don't sound as sexy as 2-stroke engines. But they're MUCH better for the old earth mother... no spewing motor-oil into the air / water (which two strokes do, in spades).

The 2-stroke scooter vs 4-stroke scooter rivalry is the vintage vs modern scooter rivalry, only geekier. Check out the 2-stroke smoke yahoo group, for a community of folks who can help you decide which side of the fence you belong on. If your wife drinks pbr, the decision's basically already made...
posted by zpousman at 10:51 AM on February 6, 2005

hey, five fresh fish, how would you have felt if i'd dropped comments like that in your "please recommend an suv so i can go drive into the middle of nowhere and enjoy the wilderness before it's fucked up by global warming from idiots using too much fossil fuel?" thread.

oh, i forgot, paedophiles don't care about moral consistency, right?
posted by andrew cooke at 11:40 AM on February 6, 2005

2strokes also require more maintenance than 4stroke.

andrew, you can go fuck yourself. Thx, k, bye.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:23 PM on February 6, 2005

I think it is a good question why someone would pick a fossil-fueled vehicle for a 3.5 mi commute. Is it unreasonable to look at the question a different way? I was thinking the same thing. Besides, I think we got a satisfactory answer being the unbearable Austin heat.
posted by scazza at 12:43 PM on February 6, 2005

If she is petite - have her start going into show rooms and sitting on different scooters. I am also short legged - and some of the bigger new Vespa's were still to tall for me.
I've owned vespas and motorcycles for years - but it took finally taking the MSF class that others have recommended for me to finally really love life on two wheels. I would highly reccomend it.
According to Yahoo maps - my daily commute is also about 3.5 miles. I can walk to a BART station and ride to work or I can ride my motorcycle. It takes about the same amount of time - but every day that I can I choose the bike. After recently looking at a lot of scooters and motorcycles - I went with a 1975 Honda 400 - 4. Small bike, enough HP and plenty of vintage aesthetic. If she goes forward and wants to compare notes - i'm wolfie at gmail.
posted by Wolfie at 7:19 PM on February 6, 2005

Having read the responses thus far, I'd like to amend my earlier suggestion somewhat.

Have her take the MSF course first. Put off any purchase decision until she has completed the course, for the following reasons:

1) Once she has a class M, she can test-ride various demo models at dealers.
2) She will be more confident on two-wheeled vehicles, and just might change her mind on a regular bike, but if not, she still has the experience.
posted by TeamBilly at 10:15 PM on February 6, 2005

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