Scooting in SF?
October 28, 2005 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Scooting in San Francisco: Looking for good dealers, sources for used scooters (other than craigslist), info on licensing/parking issues, and general advice on scooting in hilly SF.

I'm moving to San Francisco, and thanks to the excellent advice in this thead, I have some idea of where to live and what to expect.

Now I'm trying to sort out personal transporation, and I'm thinking about getting a scooter (Piaggio, Vespa, or similar) instead of a car. Can anyone with experience scooting in SF help me out?

- Anyone know a good dealer?
- Any good sources for used scooters? I've been looking through craigslist but the listings are sparse.
- Do I need a special licence? Do I park it like a bike or like a car? Do scooters have to pay bridge tolls too?
- What sort of power do I need to get around effectively in hilly SF?
posted by nyterrant to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The hills you'll be able to manage - the actual danger for people on two wheels in San Francisco are MUNI tracks. They eat scooters and motorcycles for lunch. If there is even a hint of moisture (which is frequent) they become worse than ice. Be aware.

There is some free parking for motorcycles and scooters in the financial district and dedicated street parking in a lot of neighborhoods - but in general parking in SF is tough for everyone. If I don't get to work before 8:30 on my bike - I have to find a pay lot for a place to park. You are subject to all the same laws as a car - motorcycles parked on the sidewalk in San Francisco are a huge source of revenue for the department of parking and traffic.

You need 150cc engine to go on the highway - but in terms of scooters - I wouldn't with less than 200cc. We have a vespa with almost no horsepower from 1958 and my husband and me on the scooter together can get up all but the steepest of hills. If you like super vintage - you should feel handy with a set of tools - if new works for you - I don't think there is anything for sale that wouldn't get your around town just fine.

New Vespas are sold at Cars Dawydiak on Franklain.
New Aprillia and other brands can be found at Scuderia West
Used sccoters are best found on Craiglist but there are a few dealers in town:
First Kick is run by a guy who's been selling Vespas for at least 15 years - good guy with a good set of mechanics.

San Francisco Scooter Center is also run by a guy who's been around a long time - his reputation is not as good but he does often have a good selection of bikes.

You do need a license. I would highly reccomend the Motorcycle safety foundation. Take their class when you get out here - and when you pass - you automatically qualify for the full motorcycle license after passing a relatively easy written test at the DMV.
Email is user name at gmail if you have any other questions.
posted by Wolfie at 9:47 AM on October 28, 2005

Do scooters have to pay bridge tolls too?

You would be either very brave or very foolish to take a scooter over one of the bridges. Bay Area drivers are unbelievably self-absorbed and just sort of assume that everyone else will look out for them. Understand that a scooter will be geographically limited to San Francisco proper. If you need to cross bridges, think motorcycle. And think protective gear!

The advice to take the motorcycle safety foundation class is heartily seconded.
posted by ambrosia at 9:59 AM on October 28, 2005

Before we had kids and left the city, I was looking for a scooter.

My husband, who is an experienced (scooterer?) and motorcyclist was insistent that I stick to bikes with larger wheels, i.e. the Aprilia Scarabeo, because they offer more stability than a smaller-wheeled bike like a Vespa.

In some neighborhoods it was (two years ago at least, perhaps this has changed) an accepted practice to park motorcycles and scooters on sidewalks. We lived in the Upper Haight/Ashbury Heights/Cole Valley area and this was commonly done with no repercussions, but the sidewalks in this neighborhood are wide.

And this is a pretty hilly neighborhood, and scooters were all over the place.
posted by padraigin at 10:13 AM on October 28, 2005

If you really like the riding position of a scooter as opposed to a motorcycle and want to ride on the freeways and bridges - you can do it - the new Vespa GT is built for just that - but it'll cost about the same as Ducati Monster 620 - and I assure you will not be nearly as fun. I've ridden across the bridge and some of the area's sketchier highways on vintage vespa's - it is not something I would ever want to do on a regular basis.

And to follow up on ambrosia's reccomendation for gear - even if you never take your scooter off of San Francisco streets - get the best full face helmet (none of those stupid half helmets Vespa sells) and make sure you are wearing gloves, boots and some kind of protective jacket at least. A car that hits a motorcylist doesn't hit them any softer than a if they were riding a scooter.
posted by Wolfie at 10:14 AM on October 28, 2005

Bay Area drivers are unbelievably self-absorbed and just sort of assume that everyone else will look out for them.

Having lived in both NYC (where nyterrant is moving from) and the Bay Area, I assure you Bay Area drivers are better/safer.
posted by falconred at 10:16 AM on October 28, 2005

So, are all the bridges fed by on-ramp/off-ramp freeways, or are they extension of streets? What I mean is, aside from a desire for self-preservation, is there anything that would stop someone on a 50cc or 125cc scooter from popping over the Golden Gate to go to Sausalito?
posted by nyterrant at 10:26 AM on October 28, 2005

All the bridges are fed by on-ramp/off-ramp freeways. In addition, I neglected to mention another aspect of Bay area bridges: the potential for serious wind. I often feel the drag pushing across my car; the thought of being on a vespa trying to keep up with freeway traffic and being pushed around by bridge winds just makes me cringe.

And falconred, I've lived in NY too. We may not do the double-lane left turn maneuver that NYC taxis seem so fond of. We have people in the far right lane suddenly realize that they need to turn left, and cross three lanes in the middle of the intersection to do so. It's a different kind of bad.
posted by ambrosia at 10:41 AM on October 28, 2005

I've ridden bitch on a motorcycle crossing the Gate and the Bay Bridge, and I do not recommend it, honestly. I'd say take public transit for transbay excursions.
posted by padraigin at 11:04 AM on October 28, 2005

I live in San Francisco and was thinking about getting a scooter a couple of years ago, but reconsidered based on a friend's admonishment that scooters are fast enough to get you into trouble, but not fast enough to get you out.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:53 AM on October 28, 2005

Unless I missed it, you haven't indicated whether you want a new or an old scooter. Maybe it won't matter in SF, and any shop will be able to service any bike. But I imagine the parts and whatnot will be easier to source on a newer bike. Unless you're looking to learn a bunch about small engine repair (which I hear is fun), you'd probably do well to go for a new(er) model.

Of course, the people at the shop will be able to help you figure that out, should you decide to get a scooter.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:45 PM on October 28, 2005

(My own qualifications - licensed 6 years, >100k miles, 18 countries on m/c, 3 years riding in Bay Area)

For in-city driving, scotters are fine, but think about getting a bigger scooter (250cc) or a smallish standard bike if you plan on doing much/any riding out of the city and getting there via anything but city streets. I personally wouldn't want to ride a motorcycle that can't accelerate at least as fast as the average sports car, but I've always thought scooters are pretty neat, and the Aprilias look awesome.

I couldn't recommend the MSF course enough for first time riders, and even experienced riders will likely learn something from the class. Additionally, you'll need to take the riding test on a bike with at least a 150cc engine if you want a M1 license (good for any size m/c.) If you take the test on a < 149cc bike, you'll qualify for an m2 license, and will have to be relicensed if (when!) you>
One of the most incredible resources for motorcyclists in the Bay Area are Doc Wong's Riding Clinics. Don't mind the ugly html.

From Doc Wong's site: "Since these are not fast sport rides, any reasonably competent rider should be able to participate. We recommend that you be comfortable with your bike and knowledgeable about your (and your bike's) limitations and capabilities.

If you have been riding for at least six months, you've probably got the minimum level of expertise required."

Once you've got that experience, attend! You'll learn something new every month.

And finally, Golden Gate Tolls (which are collected only on the southbound trip (into SF)): From "5 am to 9 am and 4 pm to 6 pm, weekdays" (except some holidays), are designated carpool hours, and motorcyclists don't have to pay tolls. [Via] You qualify whether or not you have a passenger. Any other hour, you'll pay a toll.
posted by cactus at 11:53 PM on October 28, 2005

I've got to throw in my two cents for First Kick scooters. I bought my Vespa there in August and have been back a few times with a few issues that were dealt with not only professionally but QUICKLY.

I know from a few other friends who have 'Lambrokens' and older P's that their mechanics are absolutely top rate and pretty damn friendly to boot. I'm really happy that I started my scooting life in San Francisco with them.

This is my first scooter so I can't give you any relevant comparitive advice about San Francisco, but I can tell you that my scooter is now my prized posession. For getting around the city, especially in traffic, it simply can't be beat.

And, although I CAN take it on the highway, I don't because there are very few times when I need to even get on the highway (we're talking about San Francisco here. There are no other cities in the area. :-)

If you're worried about having to go across the bay or down the peninsula ever now and then, you can augment your scooter with a City Car Share membership, which again, I can't recommend highly enough.
posted by fooljay at 12:57 PM on October 29, 2005

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