Some next, but cautious, steps for beginner scooterists?
March 25, 2013 2:09 PM   Subscribe

What are some helpful tips in buying a scooter and then practicing driving it within a major urban center? Snowflake details below

I wanted to say up front that I have no preconceived notion that I will be cruising around with my hair flowing and a wicker basket full of puppies hanging from my scooter, waving at friends sitting in cafes... I've done a month or two of researching, have taken the motorcycle training program and passed, and am about to get a Class-M license. I have discussed with friends about the dangers of injury / theft / cost, had the fear of death instilled in me by our instructor, and trained in rainy, windy, and freezing cold weather on a range with terrible gravel (for two days only, though). And somehow... I STILL want to ride a scooter? Yes indeed!

I live in downtown Dallas and there is a huge scooter community here that sparked my interest. My car is my primary mode of transportation and I plan to use the scooter to make small trips around town or ride with other people on nice days.

My next step - to purchase the right scooter, the right gear, and practice riding, but I need yet more advice.

1. Scooter - I trained on and am very fond of the Genuine Buddy 125cc. Has anyone tried the 50cc (two-stroke) vs 125/150cc (four-stroke) for this or other scooters and what do you prefer?

2. Full or half helmet, based on the intended purpose?

3. Most importantly, I want to participate in upcoming rallies. There are some abandoned parking lots I can practice maneuvers in but I think in reality if I want to participate in these I'll need some experience on the road first. Where would be good places to ride for beginners and places to avoid? How much experience should I have before joining a scooter rally? For example - is a huge one but coming up way too soon. Would it be a mistake to join this with hardly any experience? Would I be left in the dust with a 50cc moped?

4. I'll be storing this in a gated parking garage, but when out and about what kind of locks, chains, or theft-prevention techniques can I use to prevent it from being stolen?

Any general advice is highly welcomed. When I was first interested in getting a scooter up until now, my views have changed drastically and I keep learning more and more. Thanks in advance!
posted by hillabeans to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
1. Scooter - I trained on and am very fond of the Genuine Buddy 125cc. Has anyone tried the 50cc (two-stroke) vs 125/150cc (four-stroke) for this or other scooters and what do you prefer?

Can't speak to the Genuine scooters, but I've ridden the Vespa 150cc and 250cc models and notice the extra oomph. Also, the 250cc has a greater top speed and could go on the highway, if that was necessary. The 150cc, probably not.

I didn't look into the 50cc, two-stroke models of older scooters because there is additional work with those. It was once necessary to mix oil and gas by hand, though with direct oil injection on newer scooters, I don't think that is a requirement any longer. You may want to double-check this, though.

2. Full or half helmet, based on the intended purpose?

Since you took the motorcycle class, you probably know that a full helmet is best. A half helmet won't protect your jaw and it won't protect your neck as much as a full helmet. You can still get into a very bad accident even on nice, sunny days with good road conditions and full visibility. It is up to you to device what level of risk you want to balance with aesthetics.

4. I'll be storing this in a gated parking garage, but when out and about what kind of locks, chains, or theft-prevention techniques can I use to prevent it from being stolen?

Kryptonite makes a heavy chain lock that you can thread through the wheel. Not cheap, but they are options. Some Vespas have theft-prevention devices which inactivate the engine without a transponder in the key. You might ask about this or research it with the Genuines.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:21 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a Genuine Buddy 125cc, and it is such a workhorse and an amazingly easy ride. I can tell the difference between it and even my boyfriend's 110cc Symba, which was sadly stolen (no lock, in Brooklyn at night). Really, though, if I could have any scooter, it'd be the Genuine Stella 150cc four-stroke. Those things look rad and get like 100 mpg. 50cc scooters are toys, IMHO.

If you've taken the motorcycle safety class, you already have your license, so go for a little more power, especially if you want to rally or get out of the way of aggressive Dallas drivers.

Personally, I'd never join a rally. Riding in groups is just too dangerous. Get comfortable riding on your own, and then try riding with one or two friends. It's a totally different experience.

I don't lock my scooter up when I'm out and about. I just don't see it getting stolen in the middle of the day. I'm not even particularly good about locking it up at night, either. I've had it for four years, outside in Austin and in Brooklyn, and no one's ever messed with it as far as I can tell.
posted by lunalaguna at 2:48 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you like your face, go full helmet.
posted by mollymayhem at 3:08 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

There are plenty of non-full helmets that offer protection for your face. I've been wearing an Arai Freeway for years, rode around the Sahara (literally), managed to fall flat on my belly several times, and never got so much as a scratch on my face. In fact it never touched the ground.
So full helmet is not the only safe way to go; if you opt for an open helmet, find one that has cheeks.

Here's a pic of me on the bike.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:15 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have landed on my face, and boy was I grateful for that chin bar.
posted by mollymayhem at 3:30 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

50cc scooters just don't go fast enough to be useful in most places. If there are any stretches of road that could conceivably get above 40mph, the 125cc is the way to go. Also you will be able to ride on rallies on a 125cc. I have done in-town rallies on a 50cc Buddy, but it's too slow for rallies which actually have scenery.

That said, I happily commuted on my 50cc Buddy for a year with no problems. It really depends on your particular route.

Full helmet, full stop.

I've never used a lock on my scooter (beyond the ignition key's steering column lock) and have never had my scooter stolen.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:36 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most others have addressed the main points---yes you need a full-face helmet, yes, you need a jacket, gloves and boots.

On riding in groups, probably the most important thing to know, apart from riding staggered (either to the rear left or right of the bike in front) rather than single file, to allow for more stopping room, is not to let yourself get caught up. Ride to your own pace and to the conditions you feel are safe, rather than trying to keep up with more experienced riders or those with more powerful bikes.

If they're well organised, the ride will have a leader at the start who'll give some guidance to new riders, and someone experienced ticked off to ride at the back (in Australia: 'tail end Charlie') to keep a rough count, help anybody who breaks down, gets lost, and so on.

Have a bag of fun, though, that's the main thing. I'm about to go for a ride myself.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:54 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Full helmets are warmer.

Don't ever think to yourself "Well, you know, it's only just starting to rain, I can get home okay." The first few drops bring all the oil out of the asphalt and make the road super slippery. Learn from my mistakes!

REI has windproof gloves. They will improve your life dramatically.
posted by NoraReed at 4:34 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't understand the "no rally" comment. Rallies are the most fun thing ever for scooter riders. We just returned yesterday from one in New Orleans and our Memphis club is having one next month. For every one of your questions, I would advise you to attend meetings of the scooter clubs in your area. Mainly, to interview the clubs and decide which one you want to join. Like-minded scooter buddies are the icing on the cake of scooter ownership. Secondly, these folks are the experts you need for any questions, and as great as Metafilter is, there's no comparison to sitting in a bar and having a real conversation about this stuff....But here I go:

1. Get a 125 at least. You will quickly outgrow a 50.
2. Full helmet for long rides at higher speeds, half helmets for fun rides in town. I don't know ANY scooter rider that owns only one helmet.
3. Rallies - As noted above, the most fun thing ever. The big rallies will have separate rides for the smaller scoots, usually called city rides or slow rides. The one you linked does have a city ride, and a 50cc would be fine. But I do think this one is too soon if you haven't bought your scooter yet. You need some road experience before attending a rally, but not really a lot. Joining a scooter club will help with this, as you will make instant friends, get tons of advice, and they usually have regular club rides you can use to gain experience. It's all about hours in the saddle and you will be up to a rally in no time. There's a pretty good learning curve there, so keep that in mind.
4. I don't use any extra security on my Vespa. Scoots have a locking mechanism that prevents the handlebars from being engaged unless the key is in the ignition. But mine is parked on the porch in my fenced back yard, so ymmv. Most of them do have something to hook a chain lock to, but I don't know anyone in our Memphis club that uses one. (Although we do see notices posted a few times a year from other folks who had theirs stolen.)

I've had mine for two years now, and I'm jealous that you are just starting out with this really fun hobby. Feel free to memail me any time. You can also post questions on scooter club facebook pages and will get a wealth of information. People do this all the time, and scooter folks are always happy to answer any questions.
posted by raisingsand at 6:01 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

One more piece of advice: Go to that rally and make friends, even if you don't have your scoot yet or plan to ride. You will have a great time just hanging out and talking to people. Mods vs Rockers rallies are motorcycles vs scooters, in case you don't already know that. The ad says free to spectators, but the $35 will get you some cool stuff. BUY RAFFLE TICKETS! They usually give away some really cool stuff in addition to the bike.
posted by raisingsand at 6:07 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dispel any thought of a 50cc two stroke. Way too gutless and dissatisfying. A four stroke is better in every way, a larger capacity engine permit you to also do your shopping and other errands around town with greater ease.

I first rode a 125cc in Vietnam for six months, a 200cc Piaggio and then a 300cc model. The extra power is so apparent that I'd get the largest that you feel comfortable with and can afford. It gives you the confidence to get out of dangerous conditions with more confidence and speed, and will allow you to keep up with others on a rally.

The Vespa / Piaggio models have excellent security systems fitted, and will prevent any attempts at theft (and reduce your insurance premiums). I can't speak for other makes, but expect that you get what you pay for, with the cheaper Taiwanese and Asian models needing heavy duty protection.

Seconding the two helmet option. I always wear a full face for longer / high speed journeys, and when the weather is likely to rain and the road gets oily, or when it is cold. For simple trips around town, an open face with full cheek guides and a visor. Invest in good gloves.

Consider doing an advanced rider training course as soon as you can too.
posted by Flashduck at 7:15 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much!
I'm just soaking all this in and I really appreciate it.
I think my considering a 50cc was because the price is lower and, not that I anticipate banging it up too much, the riding course and talking with friends taught me it's very likely that I could damage it as a beginner rider. BUT considering the performance you guys talk about, it may be worth the extra cost.

One more piece of advice: Go to that rally and make friends, even if you don't have your scoot yet or plan to ride.
For sure! I've gone the past several years because they always organize awesome bands but now I have a better reason. Taking everything into consideration I won't join this year.

If you like your face, go full helmet.
Noted. I see tons of scooterists around here that do the half helmet but was highly encouraged to get a full helmet in the course and on here.

I am now leaning towards a Seafoam colored Buddy 125cc and possibly a used 2006 Vespa GT 200. I'm excited!
posted by hillabeans at 7:54 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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