Is this what a midlife crisis looks like?
March 10, 2014 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about buying a used Stella scooter. I have questions.

The one I have my eye on is a low-mileage 2008 with performance enhancements (two-stroke rather than the current four-stroke engine). It's beautiful and shiny and retro and RED, and it has my name on it! Obviously I am far gone in scooter lust.

Background: I am 52, a novice rider but a pretty good driver, not a bicyclist, 230 lbs., not mechanical but willing to learn. I have a car for rainy days and hauling loads, so I'm looking at the scooter for bopping around town and weekend pleasure riding.

My questions:
Do you own a Stella? How do you like it?
Does this sound like a good scooter for me?
Is there something else I should look at?
What do you wish you had known as a novice scooterer/scooterette?
What are the hidden downsides to scooters?
posted by ottereroticist to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, if you ride a scooter, what kind of safety equipment do you wear?
What other accessories do I need most?
posted by ottereroticist at 8:25 PM on March 10, 2014

What are the hidden downsides to scooters?

The jokes almost write themselves and people will make those jokes. Scooters get none of the respect or sex appeal of either motorcycles or bicycles. Bees fly down your neck and gravel hits you in the face. Drivers will routinely pull out in front of you.

Plus sides: They are practical urban transportation and get amazing gas mileage (though depending on the "performance enhancements" you may lose some of that practicality and the two-stroke engine won't get the mpg of a modern four stroke engine). You can get away with parking on sidewalks and in crevices of parking lots.

Also, if you ride a scooter, what kind of safety equipment do you wear?

The smart answer is that your Stella will go at least 50 mph and you should dress like you would on a real motorcycle (full face helmet, armored jacket and pants, boots, gloves) and that you shouldn't leave the driveway otherwise. ATGATT: All The Gear, All The Time.

The real answer is that wearing all that crap takes a lot of the practicality out of an urban errand running machine, it will be a beautiful warm and sunny summer day, and you will end up riding around in a helmet, maybe gloves, and your regular street clothes. The wind will feel wonderful, you will grin, and if someone runs you off the road you may be badly hurt. Therein lies the tradeoff between enjoyment and safety, and don't buy the scooter without googling up some images of what sliding on asphalt at 40+ miles per hour does to the body.

What other accessories do I need most?

A safety class. There are scooter-specific classes in some places, but a regular how-to-ride-a-motorcycle class will do fine. It's not a legal requirement, but it's the smart thing to do.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:42 PM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I was just coming in here to say what Dip Flash did: take a safety class. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation probably runs courses near you.
posted by asterix at 8:48 PM on March 10, 2014

"Performance enhancements" in the form of a 2 stroke instead of a 4 stroke means you are going to have to become a Stella mechanic as well as a Stella rider. A 2 stroke is theoretically easier to maintain, but the fact that it's an aftermarket mod negates that. Personally I would not buy a scooter with a mod like that unless it cost $500.

Scooters don't take bumps as well as motorcycles. Potholes can take you down. Also watch out for streetcar tracks, especially when it is wet. I can't remember if the bridges in PDX have the extended metal grating as a driving surface... those suck on a scooter. The other issue is that scooters are pokey coming off the line, and in general do not accelerate quickly. This may be vastly improved by the 2 stroke mod. However, you're also a fairly heavy person which will likely offset the performance enhancements. The 2 stroke mod also means you are going to be as loud and stinky as a weed whacker. In general, scooters are too slow to ride outside of city streets.

Safety equipment: full face motorcycle helmet, boots, leather gloves. You could probably get away with a scooter helmet. I don't really think you need full motorcycle gear, as you won't be going very fast, but most will probably disagree.

All that said, PDX is the only place in the states I'd want to own a scooter, besides maybe the western half of San Francisco.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 9:07 PM on March 10, 2014

I don't own a Stella but I just bought an older PX125, which is 2 stroke. I love it only cause I've wanted a vintage (well that is arguable, but at least classic metal design) forever. It's a project bike.

As long as you have a very reliable main form of transport you should be fine, and it seems like you do with your car. And since you only intend it on pleasure rides, it if breaks down it isn't a big deal. I'd recommend getting AAA motorcycle coverage because it gives you 4 free tows up to 100 miles per your annual year.

The potential red flag to me is that it's a modified scooter. Quality of modifications can vary wildly. I would potentially look into any other P-series bikes, especially P200/P200E and check that that they are not a viet bodge. Two strokes are much easier and straight forward to fix/modify than 4 strokes, but you WILL have to constantly wrench even if they aren't modified to begin with.

Read and don't be afraid to ask questions on Modern Vespa. Their vintage forum (not so modern) is very helpful and doesn't have too much ego or snark as could potentially run into.

Before you even purchase the scooter, TAKE THE MSF COURSE. It is essential in learning safety, rules of the road, and especially how to drive and operate a shifting bike.

Because it's a 2 stroke, oil and gas have to combine for the engine to work, but because it's a Stella it's probably going to be automix (separate containers for gas and oil) over a premix (you have to mix gas and oil yourself into the tank) for you but you will still have to feed it 2 stroke oil as well as regular fuel. Keep that in mind.

Downsides: it will break down and you might be stuck on the side of the road checking your spark, cables, etc. You'll have to rebuild your carb every so often, and if you let the bike sit for months you will most likely have to because the gas junk builds up and it will be very difficult to start. You will encounter the occasional snark or judgement. Brakes aren't going to be nearly as good as a modern scooter. Please take that in mind and always give yourself space.

Upsides: it's fun. You'll learn how it works from all the wrenching you'll do. Easy parking. Street cred from other scooterists and occasional compliment from those that appreciate.
posted by xtine at 9:14 PM on March 10, 2014

As far as what I wear: Shoei full face helmet. Armored Corazzo jacket. Steel toe Doc Martens (has saved my feet from a crash before). Leather gloves.

Accessories you need most are tools. Socket wrench set, screwdrivers, pliers, tire pressure gauge, tire inflator.
posted by xtine at 9:27 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to clarify on the performance enhancements, the 2T is stock on older Stellas. The performance enhancements consist of aftermarket exhaust, air filter, carburator, and piston head kit.

Thanks, this is great. I was already planning on the MSF class, but I appreciate tough love from my elders. Keep it coming.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:31 PM on March 10, 2014

A guy who has a LOT to do with the above-mentioned scooter safety training (Team Oregon) lives across the street from me. I can track down some info if you have questions about the program. Strange that I see this on Ask, as I see the Team Oregon logo/trucks, and I'm pretty sure these exact types of scooters, every day.
posted by efalk at 10:00 PM on March 10, 2014

Re: the two stroke, especially with performance enhancements. You also have to be cool with emitting the smog forming emissions (NOx, uncombusted hydrocarbons, etc) of a dozen-plus modern cars.
posted by rockindata at 4:34 AM on March 11, 2014

For what it's worth, I once had a Vespa that looked just like that Stella, and rode it from Miami to Tampa non-stop (except for gas and bee-stings). It was great fun, and then a nice second-option ride in the city.
For a few months, then it became a big pain in the ass. No fun if you have to dress up at all for work.
I'd make sure you get a good-enough deal on it so that you could re-sell at not too great a loss.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:17 AM on March 11, 2014

You also have to be cool with emitting the smog forming emissions (NOx, uncombusted hydrocarbons, etc) of a dozen-plus modern cars.

More like a hundred cars. Two-stroke engines are incredibly dirty. You'll be burning very little fuel, but you'll be putting out a huge amount of smog- and cancer-causing pollutants.
posted by Dasein at 6:43 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

My wife owned a Stella. Past tense.

It sounds like this particular one has received a lot of love, but based on her experience, I have to say that the build quality on these was terrible. The disk rotor damn near fell off, the headlight damn near fell out, etc. The battery would not hold a charge, so although it did have an electric starter, she always had to kick-start it. Because the engine is on one side of the rear wheel, the weight distribution on them is lousy—rearward and lopsided.

Despite loving the idea of it, she eventually realized she just wasn't riding it that much. She replaced it with a Buddy (also from Genuine) and likes it much better, apart from the aesthetics. Better ride, better build quality, better engineering.

Also, yes, 2 strokes are incredibly polluting.
posted by adamrice at 7:43 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hidden downside-
According to a friend who is very into motorcycles/scooters, there are only two kinds of scooter: scooters that HAVE been stolen, and scooters that WILL be stolen. Get a really good lock, and store it inside if possible. YMMV, based on your local used scooter economy.
posted by Adridne at 8:45 AM on March 11, 2014

Do you own a Stella? How do you like it?
I've not owned a stella, but I've ridden them a few times, worked on several more for friends, and owned a half dozen Vespas, several of which were P-Series bikes (the bike they used to clone the Stella…). I rode as scooters being my only form of transportation for almost a decade. They're good machines, their build quality is hit and miss. The nice thing is that almost all the parts that are suspect are replaceable very easily with aftermarket parts that fit both vespas and stellas. As mentioned they sometimes have problems with the disc, but replacement parts are readily available, and they're rarely catastrophic.

Does this sound like a good scooter for me?
Yes. My first bike was a P125 with a 150 jug on it. Basically the same bike with shit brakes. This is a great starter bike, with pretty solid resale value.

Is there something else I should look at?
Not right away, no. But if you get competent at working on the machine yourself, feel safe with the work you do on the bike, and you can do everything on it short of an engine rebuild, you'll probably want to get a vintage bike eventually. They're nearly the same mechanics, just a bit pickier.

What do you wish you had known as a novice scooterer/scooterette?
You will need access to a truck. Get yourself a rental account somewhere like zipcar or get a friend to lend you theirs whenever you need. Even the most reliable scooter shits it's pants sometimes. pushing them around at 4am down the street in the rain is pretty shitty.

You need to buy an insane lock. You need to lock that bike up in your garage. If you park the bike outside, get full coverage insurance and cross your goddamn fingers. It will get stolen. Two dudes can pick up a stella and throw it in the back of a truck in a minute flat, and you'll never see it again. The police will not give one. single. shit. about your scooter when you file a report (unless you do actually live in PDX? Scooterists have friends on the force around here…)

What are the hidden downsides to scooters?
They're not really all that cheap. You can pick up a similar displacement motorcycle, one which is much more reliable and cheaper to maintain for about half the price. Sometimes less. Scooters are expensive machines. They don't save you money on the grand scheme. Dash this illusion.

Also, if you ride a scooter, what kind of safety equipment do you wear?
You need good, kevlar lined gloves, a full face helmet (because, you like your jaw, right?), abrasion resistant jacket…they do make kevlar sewn into jeans that look casual, but they're mega expensive. I'd get some in a heartbeat if I could afford it. Sometimes I take the risk and ride in a light jacket, but I always wear gloves, boots and jeans along with a full face helmet. Half helmets will protect your dome, but not your money maker.

Do not skimp on cheap gear. Spend money here. You're paying to keep your skin on your body. Shell out. Do lots of research and try stuff on. Pay more than you think you should.

What other accessories do I need most?
Always carry a charged cell phone and get yourself a AAA membership that covers motorcycles (or other equally good

In terms of aftermarket parts? Every single aftermarket modification will most likely sacrifice you two of the following: reliability, gas milage or safety. The exception to this rule on a 2 stroke is your exhaust. If you feel like your bike is lacking pickup, spend serious cash on an expensive exhaust. If you replace the stock exhaust on a stella, you'll get some serious performance gains without any impact to the rest of your ride, except gas milage. The best modification I ever made to every bike I owned was upgrading to a german made, stupid expensive exhaust. Don't just bolt this on; take this to a shop and have them re-jet your carb otherwise your engine could brick itself. If you are feeling like the bike's not enough, pay attention to the exhaust first.

Also, if you ever need to drop the engine out of the frame for any reason, even if you don't need to replace them, spend some money and get yourself some race engine mount bushings from Clauss Studios. Your bike will handle much better, and you'll feel safer on it.

If you take your bike to a shop or a mechanic to work on the bike, tip them. Well. This will come back to you in advice and knowledge.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:32 AM on March 11, 2014

Yeah, two-stroke engines are very, very dirty. By design, they burn engine oil as they run. That's why it's an after-purchase modification; they're such terrible polluters that they can't normally be sold in this country. They're somewhat more powerful, but you'll be belching toxic smoke everywhere you go.
posted by Scientist at 2:21 PM on March 11, 2014

I don't own a Stella, but have friends who do. First suggestion is to join a scooter club. Lots of fun riding together, good referrals to scooter mechanics, and someone you can call if you break down on the side of the road. I do have a full-face helmet, Kevlar reinforced jackets and jeans, leather gloves and good boots. It took a while to compile all the stuff that's comfortable and useful, the scooter club members were a huge help there also. But when I take quick trips around the neighborhood I've been known to ride in shorts and flip flops. But ALWAYS a helmet, even when riding in states that don't require one.

Scooters are great fun, I'll ride my Vespa until I just can't any more. I'm. 57-year-old grandmother and I have no idea when that might be. Relax and find your own style.
posted by raisingsand at 3:17 PM on March 11, 2014

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