Scooter Shopping

(Gas) Scooter Shopping in Oregon
© Steve Duncan, 2007

I recently went through the process of shopping for a scooter and I’d like to share my experiences.  With the gas price situation, I’m sure a lot of people are thinking about a scooter.

1. Understand the legal requirements.

I’m always seeing Craigslist ads that say you don’t need a motorcycle endorsement. One even said you don’t need a driver’s license! Well, no matter what you have heard or read, any scooter in Oregon that goes over 30 mph requires the operator to have a motorcycle endorsement, even if the engine size is 50cc or less.

Scooters that only go 30 mph are typically speed-restricted by the manufacturer so they can meet this requirement. Examples are the Honda Metropolitan II, Genuine Scooter Company “Buddy” (50cc), or the Kymco People 50.  Furthermore, to be classified as a moped, the scooter must be fully automatic and not have a clutch and gears.

These scooters should have been registered as mopeds when originally titled with the DMV and will display a unique Oregon “moped” license plate.

Even for mopeds, you still need license plates and insurance.  You can in Oregon, however, get a special drivers license starting at age 16 that is for mopeds only.

If you can’t deal with all that stuff, you may want to consider a smaller electric or gas scooter or electric bicycle which get special treatment under Oregon law and can use the bike lanes.  See the sidebar at the end of this article, “Gas and electric assist bikes and scooters”.

2. Choose the engine size based on your needs.

Where you want to ride will dictate what engine size you will need.

50cc class scooters

If you just want to tool around inner SE Portland on 25-35mph roads, a 50cc will probably be just fine. Unrestricted 50cc scooters tend to top out at just less than 40mph.  Up a hill, a 50cc scooter may be lucky to maintain 30mph+ speeds.  This means driving on 35mph roads is a little iffy, and you might feel ill at ease in traffic.  50cc scooters do get incredible mileage however and are very easy to manage because of their light weight; typically under 200 lbs.

70-80cc class scooters

The main entry here is the Honda Elite CH80, and they are everywhere.  They are easy to find used and top out around 45mph.  With an 80cc scooter like the Honda Elite CH80, you will be much more comfortable on 35MPH roads, and may find it usable on 45MPH roads for shorter rides.

100-150cc class scooters

These scooters will easily go on 45mph roads, and most will do 55-60mph. Still, they are light enough that you probably won’t feel comfortable on the freeway with one.

250cc class scooters

These, and even larger ones are the big boys.  You’d better be comfortable with your motorcycle riding skills, but they will go anywhere you need.

3. A 2-stroke or 4-stroke engine?

2 strokes have more power for the same displacement, feel peppier, and might do a little better in holding their speed.  They typically get slightly lower MPG than 4 strokes. To me, they feel a little rougher at idle and during deceleration. Some people may not wish to consider 2 strokes for environmental reasons. Modern two strokes have an oil reservoir and automatically inject oil at the proper ratio so there is no mixing of oil and gas unless you buy an older used scooter.  2 strokes are no longer sold by the big Japanese companies in the US, but can still be purchased new from other companies.

4. Choose a brand and/or country of origin

This is where you need to do some soul searching.  Some folks have already decided they want a specific brand and can skip this section.  Otherwise, read on.

At some point you are going to have to get that scooter serviced.  Even if you service it yourself, you may need a part, so having access to a dealer network is a necessity. The major Japanese brands are of course the best supported. You can go to any local motorcycle shop and get or order a part. If you are considering a scooter from Europe, India or Asia, you had better be sure that there is an established dealer to take care of your needs. Otherwise, you may be scouring the internet for parts, and may even have trouble finding someone who will install it for you.

Quality is another concern.  Every brand has its winners and losers, but in general the Japanese have the reputation for quality.  Imported Chinese scooters have the reputation for being at the other end of the spectrum. Since they are so attractively priced, many people will consider these Chinese scooters, and they run the gambit of quality and price. They can even be purchased directly from the internet, but I personally would not purchase a scooter that I had not had a chance to inspect for quality, comfort and fit.  Go to a local dealer that carries these and then compare them with competing models from other countries before making a decision. Some Chinese scooter importers actually perform final assembly and inspections at plants in the USA, and these may be a better bet for initial quality and availability of parts.

A more recent entry is scooters from Taiwan and Korea. They are likely to cost more than the Chinese scooters, but my impression is that they are well engineered and better supported.

5. Choose a style

Modern, retro, or touring styles are all available.  Many folks have a strong preference here. You may even favor the style of a certain brand (e.g. Vespa retro style) because of the club you would like to join or the image it conveys. That’s fine. Express yourself!  Remember to consider engine size and weight as well to make sure it is a style that you are comfortable riding and handling as well.

6. Features, gadgets and gizmos

Extra features, especially safety features like dual disc brakes can be a selling point, but some features, while cool and fun may add complexity and eventually need repair. Simplicity is a virtue when it comes to owning a scooter.  Tape decks, built-in alarms and remote start systems are examples of things that can fail and that are known to run down the battery in a fairly short period of time when not ridden. Some scooters even come with little battery chargers!  You may wish to consider if you want to deal with the additional complexity and possible eventual repair of these systems.

7. Consider price, age, condition and warranty

Based on your price range, now select which new or used scooters meet your criteria discussed in steps 1-5. If you are considering used scooters, I’m sure you have noticed that people are pricing them at a premium, and realistically priced ones go quickly. If you only have $500-1000 to spend, you are going to be limited to scooters that are either quite old, have small engines, high mileage, or are damaged and need work. Some are offered without title and I would personally never buy one.  If the title is easy to replace, the owner should do it before offering it for sale. Plus, it could be – heaven forbid – stolen! 

For $1000-$2000 you will see newer 50cc Japanese scooters, larger displacement Chinese scooters and (much) older European brands. For $2000 and up, you can get something much newer and nicer, but now you are talking some serious dough.

In the new scooter arena, you can’t get much for under $2000.  Don’t forget that you will have to pay the shipping charge (just like on a new car), a setup fee, and DMV fees.  DMV fees alone will run you about $120.00.  Some shops show an “out the door” price, which may or may not include DMV fees. Unlike a car dealer, many scooter dealers will simply hand you the MCO (Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin) and send you to the DMV yourself. Back to pricing, that means that most new Japanese 50cc scooters are now over the $2000 mark, and closer to $3000 for the 50cc European brands.  Taiwanese and Korean brands can be quite a bit less, and Chinese brands even cheaper.

Prices go up fast with engine size, but again the pricing hierarchy is the same: Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese and European. In there between the nicer Asian scooters and the Euro models is the India-made 145cc Bajaj, priced at just over $3000.  Want a larger displacement, newer Euro scooter or Japanese touring bike?  You could easily spend $4000 and up.

Warranties on new scooters vary quite a bit in both duration and what is covered.  Some warranties are graduated, covering more in the first months or year than in subsequent periods.  You are likely to get a more comprehensive warranty on a Japanese scooter.  In any event, a warranty is hard to take advantage of if the nearest dealer is 200 miles away or you bought the scooter on the internet.

8. Check it out thoroughly before you buy

For a used scooter, a mechanical inspection is a must. Please don’t skip this step even though it is a big hassle. 

Sit on the seat. Is it comfortable or too hard? Is there room for your legs in the footwell?  Does it have adequate storage?  Having room under the seat for a full-sized helmet is a very nice touch.  If it has a cargo box is it sturdy and attached well? Do the controls work easily or feel like they will eventually break? Does the key insert and turn easily or do you have to jiggle and wiggle it to get it to turn? Does the seat have a remote lock, and does it work easily? Check the fork lock too. Check all lights and signals, brake light and license plate light too. Is the electric start working? How old is the current battery?  Does it smoke?  Do you smoke? You should quit.

Take a test ride.  Does it go down the road straight and even or bounce and wiggle?  Is the exhaust quiet, or does it sound like it might have a leak? Try both brakes together and one at a time. Do they feel strong? That’s good. Do they squeak?  That’s bad. Are the tires in need of replacement?  Look at every piece of plastic and metal for cracks, scrapes, dents and any kind of damage that might indicate a crash or fall-over accident.  I mean with a fine tooth comb! 

For a used scooter, ask to see the title before you complete the transaction to make sure it is free and clear.  Beware a title that is in the name of someone other than the owner.  Bring a simple bill of sale (two copies) and get buyer and seller to sign both. If any accessories or work are included, list them on there.

9. Insurance

As I mentioned in section 1, everyone needs insurance on every scooter, even a “moped”. What coverage you select is up to you, but my observation is that Progressive is the cheapest and you can get instant quotes online. Geico says they will give you a quote online, but they actually email it to you a few days later. I did have one rude experience with Progressive, however.  They took my $83 for full coverage on my $2400 Korean scooter, but a month later told me I could only have liability insurance because there was no resale value listed in the NADA motorcycle guide. Then, they only reduced my premium to $75! Geico wanted $134 for full coverage, by the way. I don’t know if they would change their mind later too.

10. My choice?

I found it frustrating that there were lots of 50cc scooters available in my price range (around $2000) but not much else.  What I wanted was 1) Light weight, 2) Inexpensive to insure 3) Great MPG 4) Quality construction 5) Modern styling 6) 55mph top speed.

 I stepped up one notch and bought a new (2007) Korean-made Daelim Delfino (for “dolphin”) 100cc 2 stroke scooter at $2350 + DMV fees.  It is very sweet and has a comfortable seat with tons of storage. I felt this Korean made scooter was well made and would have good factory support.  It also is a rocket ship when it comes to acceleration. The red color is a knock out too.

 I was also very impressed with the Daelim History, a 125cc 4-stroke that is very substantial looking and comes in ~$2700.  It is heavier, however.  My Delfino is under 200 lbs - light by scooter standards, and about the same as most 50cc scooters.

11. How to write a good Craigslist scooter ad

Take four good pictures with a real digital camera, and include the following information

a. Exact make model, year and color
b. Engine size and two or four stroke
c. Current mileage
d. Condition – include any needs, defects or damage
e. Your real-world MPG
f. If the title is clear and available
g. What state it is registered in and how current the tags are
h. Remaining warranty, if any
i. Where it is located
j. Any included accessories
k. Contact information

Describe the appropriate use for the scooter and any other information you deem helpful. Do not list specs from the manufacturers web site.

Example (sample ad only!)

Red and white 2003 Honda Metropolitan, $1250.  4-stroke, 50cc engine.  1900 one-owner miles. Cosmetically perfect. Never wrecked, never laid down.  Will need a new battery soon, and a rear tire in another few hundred miles. Gets 95-100MPG reliably.  Free and clear Oregon title.  Tags good until 8/08.

This is not the speed restricted Metropolitan II.  Good for surface streets with 35MPH max limits.  Gets looks and smiles everywhere you go.  Great underseat storage. Will include a scooter cover and size L helmet for a full price offer. Located in Beaverton, OR.

Call Ernie at 503-XXX-XXXX.

12. Sidebar: Electric and gas powered bikes and stand-up scooters

Power-assisted bikes and scooters receive special treatment under the law. They must be under 35cc (gas) or 1000w (electric).  For these, you still have to be over 16, wear a helmet and obey traffic laws, but they are basically treated like bicycles.  You don’t need a driver’s license or insurance and can ride them in the bike lanes.  There are other rules and restrictions pertaining to passengers, maximum speeds, and requirements for lighting when riding at night.  Still, they are a great alternative for someone who needs to go 5-10 miles and cannot afford the expense of a real motor scooter.

“Pocket bikes” are the exception.  Under no circumstances can these be ridden on public streets. They are off-road only.  For details, check out this great chart:

It also details the legality of mopeds, power-assisted bikes and scooters, and yes, even Segways!

SLD 8/7/2007

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