Help me buy a scooter
May 10, 2007 1:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a (used) scooter, something under 2000 AU$ (preferably under 1500!). Is there anything I should know? Assume I know absolutely nothing about cars or scooters!

Live in Brisbane.

—Are there any particularly good used scooter dealers?
—Should I steer clear of ebay?
—Any brands or engine/body types I should be looking out for/avoiding?
—Any red flags re: condition that I should be looking for when I inspect the scooter?
posted by mjao to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: One more question:

An odometer reading of 10,000km (for example) is not a lot for a car, but is it a lot for a scooter?
posted by mjao at 1:24 AM on May 10, 2007

I can't help you with price, but what size are you looking for? I have a 50cc 2-stroke scooter (basically a lawnmower engine). They are loud and create a nasty cloud of exhaust compared with a 4-stroke engine, which are generally quieter and cleaner. A 2-stroke needs gas as well as oil, which is why you get the pollutants, kind of like a diesel engine. The benefit of the 2-stroke is speed, especially acceleration. If you're driving in an urban area and need the occasional burst of speed while in traffic, a 2-stroke is great for that.
posted by zardoz at 3:44 AM on May 10, 2007

I've owned more than my fair share of scooters, from a Honda Spree (50cc 2-stroke) to my current Reflex (250cc 4-stroke; also known as a Jazz or Forza in other countries). What works for you depends on a fair number of factors.

In the US, you can ride a 50cc scooter without a motorcycle license (in most states; you still need a driver's license). A 50cc scooter will top out around 35mph going downhill with a tailwind. If you live in the city and need to putter around town at distances no more than a few miles and always on 30mph or lower roads, it'll do most of the time.

The downside is that 50cc is really the absolute bare minimum. And your weight is a significant factor: the heavier you are, the slower the starts at red lights, etc. And the carrying capacity (trunk, rack, etc) is pretty limited.

The next step up you'll encounter is 80cc, usually Honda Elite or Yamaha Riva (in the US at least). They'll be a little bit larger than 50cc scooters. Pickup is a little better, fit is a little better (esp if you're a little taller). Most 80cc scooters are 4-stroke. 80cc is also where you can (theoretically) have a passenger. Theoretically the power is there. The reality is not so much. Top speed on my 1980s Honda Elite was about 45mph.

I don't know if anyone makes 125cc or 150cc scooters anymore but there are plenty older ones out there. All good sizes, especially for beginners. They're still light and small enough to handle easily but have decent power (esp for one rider). They're great sizes for city scooters and even some longer (20-30 mile) rides.

In the 250cc and up range you start to get into the "maxi-scooters" like my Reflex and the many newer Suzukis, etc. They're a lot bigger than traditional scooters and heavier. Once you're up and balanced, it's not an issue but I wouldn't throw a rank beginner on one.

As far as price, everything I've owned prior to the Reflex I paid well under $1000 (US) for. I think the Honda Elite 80 was about $600, my Spree was about $300, a Yamaha Riva 125 about $800, and a really old (and cool) Passport was about $250. These are late 80s/early 90s prices. Adjust for inflation and ebay. Used maxiscooters on ebay are running about $2-3k.

10k is kind of unusual in most Japanese scooters; the Italians (Vespa/Lambretta) are different. In my experience, most folks get a scooter and ride it a little then put it away. I've never personally seen a Japanese scooter with more than 10k miles.

The difference in engines (2-stroke vs 4-stroke) for you is what to do with the oil. 4-stroke engines are what you'll find in cars and most motorcycles. The oil goes in its own place, there's a filter, you change it, etc. 2-stroke requires you to mix oil into the gas at some specific ratio. There are plastic measuring cups you can get at most motorcycle stores just for that purpose. 2-stroke is dirtier because the oil is burned up and comes out the exhaust. It's also a lot easier to destroy a 2-stroke engine if you don't pay attention to the oil/gas or run the tank dry. A beginner should probably avoid 2-stroke.

As with any older vehicle, you'll want to have it checked over by a good mechanic. Dealer mechanics usually know the various places to look. My Riva 125 had an oil leak that was finally traced to an o-ring. The bike had been sitting for several years.

Things you can check are:
- tires (should be fully inflated and in good condition; look for cracks, etc)
- battery (a bike that's been stored a long time shouldn't have had the battery in it)
- how difficult is it to start?
- do the brakes work?
- was it in an accident? (scrape marks, mismatched panels, panel joints that don't meet properly)
- how was it stored (gas tank empty? gas varnish is no fun)

At your price point, you're looking at used scooters. No matter what you buy, plan to spend several hundred having it cleaned up/fixed/whatever.

Good luck! And wear a helmet. Really.
posted by jdfan at 6:05 AM on May 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, thank you! Let me just add here:
I have never had my licence before, and I weigh 110lbs so smaller engines shouldn't be too much of an issue.
posted by mjao at 6:10 AM on May 10, 2007

Unfortunately, all of my advice will be US centric, so I can't give you ideas on local dealers, but I can hopefully get you started.

I picked up a Genuine Buddy 125 (4 stroke) last August and have been loving it. It is a rebranded PGO BuBu, which is a Taiwanese manufacturer. I'm not sure if this is available in Brisbane. Another reputable Taiwanese brand is Kymco.

The most common piece of advice I hear is to stay away from Chinese scooters. The general consensus is that they are lacking in quality.

Here are some scooter communities/resources that might be worth checking out:
posted by bwilms at 6:18 AM on May 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

A big question that is worth asking is are you looking for a manual shift or a twist and go. Any classic metal scooter is going to be manual while most plastic ones are TnG.

Also important, do you care what the scooter is going to look like? There is a huge difference in the look you get with classic Italian style scoots vs Asian platics.

For that much money you might be able to snag a solid P series Vespa (i'm not too sure of Australian prices though). It won't be in the prettiest condition but they run great and make wonderful daily drivers on pretty much everything.
posted by teishu at 6:55 AM on May 10, 2007

My wife rides a Stella, basically a replica of a 80s-era Vespa. This is a 150-cc 2-stroke w/ 4-speed manual. Bajaj is another company selling basically the same scooter.

jdfan gave you a lot of good info, but here are a few additional comments:

- 125/150-cc bikes are still common. Manual transmissions on scooters are extremely uncommon on newer models—basically only found on replicas of old Vespas (or actual old Vespas).

- For a given engine size, a 2-stroke will be considerably more powerful than a 4-stroke, but has much worse pollution.

- My wife is smaller than you, mjao. She looked at 50-cc bikes and found them unacceptable. Although she avoids high-speed roads for the most part, sometimes she needs to wind it up to speeds higher than 50 kph, and a 50-cc just wouldn't do.

- Electric scooters are increasingly common, though (at least in the USA) these tend to be roughly equivalent to a 50-cc in power. Might be worth a look.

- In the USA, you can take a motorcycle-safety course relatively inexpensively. My wife and I took it before she got her scooter, and found it to be very helpful. Also made it a lot easier to get a class-M driver's license.
posted by adamrice at 7:18 AM on May 10, 2007

Ex Australia Post "postie bike" Honda CT110's are supposed to be quite good ... for abouts $1000 Au
posted by jannw at 7:29 AM on May 10, 2007

I'm in the UK and have been riding a Honda Pantheon 125 since October last year, and I love it. I'd second the advice to think before going for a 50cc 2-stroke - my ride is smooth, gets me up to 65MPH and does on average about 85mpg. I ride about 25-30 miles a day and that was the factor in getting a 125. I'd say a 50cc might be OK for short urban runs, but for anything more you'll find the smaller engine a bit limiting. Plus, I get twice the storage under the seat, which is also nice and comfy for two. I bought new so no tips on buying, other than I'd go on the assumption that it's been abused unless i see proof otherwise. One other thing to check if you can would be the belt drive, or buy on the assumption that you'll get a new drive belt fitted when you take it straight for a service after you buy it. Otherwise enjoy, scootering's a real joy!
posted by dowcrag at 8:15 AM on May 10, 2007

You don't have your license? In all seriousness, I would NOT be going on the roads in Brisbane without road-sense on a scooter. The drivers here are maniacs. Seriously. If you are only going to be getting your car license, 50cc is as high as you can go without also getting your motorcycle license. And if you're going to get THAT, just get a motorbike.

For the record, my partner and I have a 50cc Bug Jive scooter. It's a 2-stroke, and is.. slow. Faster than the 4-stroke honda's in your price-range, mind you, and will get to 60kph eventually. For an idea of acceleration speed for most 50cc scoots, take a ride on one of the new BCC buses. The fastest they go? That's about it.

We paid ~$2200 onroad for our scooter, brand new. It's done the job, and it's not overly difficult to maintain -- you don't have to worry about getting the mix right on modern 2-strokes, they all have an oil resevoir for 2-stroke oil, and you fill up the petrol tank as normal. The scooter sorts out its own mixture.

Personally, I ride a 400cc motorbike. For your weight, and if you're set on 2-wheeled transport, I'd recommend you seriously think about getting a 250cc motorbike (Honda Spada's are notriously hard to kill). They'll give you more options for safe riding (specifically, staying ahead of traffic, and the ability to 'squirt' out of the way) that scooters (particularly 50cc ones!) simply don't have.

And finally -- buy the damned safety gear. This means not just a helmet, but gloves, a jacket, and some proper pants. Coming off at 50kph, whether it be off a mbike or a scooter, will HURT, and it WILL strip your skin off. You need all the protection you can get.

Okay I lied. One more thing. Netrider is an Australian motorbike site which has some good forums and some great people posting. There's a fairly big scooter contingent (with their own subforum!) so might well be worth you checking out. A good place to buy second-hand, too.
posted by coriolisdave at 2:54 PM on May 10, 2007

notorious, damnit. Also, buy the damned safety gear ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 2:56 PM on May 10, 2007

I hope this isn't too tangential with regards to your specific questions, but I know four people who have and love these. New, they're about 2000 bucks, so second-hand they ought to easily fit into your price range.
posted by bunglin jones at 7:41 PM on May 10, 2007

Response by poster: Maybe a bit late, but if anyone notices this: Does anyone know where I can buy some really bitchin' scooter gear!? As in, jackets, gloves, etc.
posted by mjao at 6:30 AM on May 13, 2007

Motorcycle shops are your best bet. There's a street (Moss St!) down at Slacks Creek that is literaly lined with them. Worth a trip down on a Saturday morning to walk along and check out your options. Because there are so many together, they tend to be very price-competitive.

Also, ask for a deal. Seriously. I've never done it before, but it seems to be the tradition with motorbike stuff -- "what's the best you can do for me" has ended up with me getting 15-30% off the ticketed price, just for asking. I'd particularly recommend the Yamaha dealership there, as they were very helpful and friendly when I bought my jacket and gloves.

Failing that... the Yamaha dealership at Moorooka has a pretty good range, and they're also pretty friendly. Haven't bought any gear from there, but I have my bike serviced there and I can't recommend them highly enough.

Finally, on the northside.. the Yamaha dealership* @ Toombul (Northstar Yamaha) has a TINY range, BAD service, and will rip you off as soon as look at you. I bought my bike from this mob, and regret it. RUNAWAYRUNAWAYRUNAWAY.

Really finally.. ebay CAN have some decent deals. A friend of mine bought a good quality leather jacket from there, but he already knew his size. So you could try on some jackets and go a-bayin', but as always YMMV.

Honest-to-god finally, the Netrider forums really do have some decent second-hand gear too, from people upgrading to bigger/better/faster gear. Well worth checking out.

*Yes I DO go into non-Yamaha dealerships :p Hell, I ride a Honda for crying out loud. I guess the Yam's just have better service or something ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 2:51 PM on May 13, 2007

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