I get a lot of emails from people looking to buy their first scooter, usually people want to know specific answers to questions, or want to know which scooter they should buy, and I generally find myself telling them other things they hadn’t thought about, and they generally thank me for making them better-informed, rather than running away screaming. So I thought it might be a good idea to compile these thoughts into one post and share them with everyone, because what I say is so important. Ha!
Are you thinking of buying a motorscooter? They look fun, don’t they? Well they are. That’s why there are more scooters available right now in the USA then there have ever been, at least ten major brands, some with several models each, and several smaller brands. Vintage scooters are more popular and more available than ever with frequent containers of old Vespas and Lambrettas coming from Europe and Asia. There are scooters of every size, shape, and function, and those of us that have been into scooters for a long time are excited.
We’re excited because our hobby and way of life has finally been vindicated, people are finally listening to what we’ve been telling them all along, scooters are great, and they’re for everyone. Some of us have finally been granted an opportunity to turn our “obsession” into a “living.” The restorations we’ve spent years on are finally worth as much financially as they are emotionally. Parts are available that we thought we’d never see again. We see more scooters on the street, in ads, and everywhere we look, than we ever imagined possible.
Most of us old-school scooterists want nothing more than for you to go out and buy a scooter and join the fun. But there are a few things you won’t hear from anyone but us, and if you’re thinking of diving in, please read my ramblings and think carefully about your decision. I wish the following words could be cable-tied to every scooter on every dealer showroom floor in America, but that’s not gonna happen.
I certainly have no intention of talking you out of making the best purchase of your life, but I really want to dispel some myths:
1. A scooter is a motorcycle. No matter what your state laws say, a scooter is a two-wheeled motor vehicle and is ridden on the public roads with other motor vehicles and thus should be considered every bit as dangerous, if not more so, than a motorcycle. There is, without any doubt, inherent danger in riding a two-wheeled motor vehicle. I’ve heard so many people say “I don’t need to wear a helmet, it’s only a scooter.” A truck heading straight at you isn’t going to make that distinction, is it? You can die at 30mph as easily as you can at 70mph. If your state doesn’t care enough about your safety to legally obligate you to learn how to ride safely, you MUST take on that responsiblity yourself. A safe scooter rider must know everything a safe motorcycle rider knows. If you’re buying a scooter, take a motorcycle safety class and get a license. Understanding the physics of how a motorcyle works is integral to riding safe, you will NEVER learn important riding techniques if you teach yourself how to ride.
2. A scooter is not a toy. While modern scooters are far less maintenance-intensive than vintage scooters, they require constant diligence by the owner. Cables, brakes and tires are all infinitely more important to your safety than on a car, and they all must be checked regularly. The battery must be charged, and the electrical system must be monitored, a burnt-out taillight on a scooter leaves you almost invisible. Oil must be added regularly, or your engine will seize. The scooter must be kept in perfect condition to be safe. The less it’s ridden, the more likely it is that problems will appear. The more you familiarize yourself with the scooter and how it works, the better off you’ll be. When it’s time to repair something, do it carefully and do it right, or pay a professional to do it. Especially if you’re thinking of buying a vintage scooter, you’re in for a world of hurt if you have no interest in maintenance and repair.
3. “Park Anywhere” is a lie. Any dealer you talk to will use that as a main selling point. In Chicago, no indoor parking garages allow scooters or motorcycles. It’s illegal to park them on the sidewalk. It’s illegal to park them in the same marked-off space as a car. It’s illegal to park them at the end of the block. Even if you live somewhere where “creative parking” is tolerated, you’ll learn fast that parking between cars is a bad idea, and vandalism and theft will be a constant concern. Most unchained scooters can be lifted into a truck in seconds by two or three teenagers. That immobilizer or alarm won’t stop them. A chain or disk lock will slow them down, but if they want it, they’ll get it. Computer-coded keys will prevent them from ever riding it, but they won’t prevent them from taking it. A ‘Lo-Jack’ will allow police to find the burnt carcass of your scooter in a dumpster, you’ll wish they hadn’t found it, you’d be better off with the insurance money. I keep my rusty beat-to-shit scooters locked, chained to the wall, floor, and each other, and blocked-in by two cars in a locked garage, and I still lie awake nights worrying I’ll wake up and they’ll be gone. Comprehensive insurance is your only friend.
4. Speaking of insurance, it’s expensive to own a scooter. In Chicago, there’s a vehicle sales tax that can be a couple hundred dollars, then title and plates cost more than a hundred dollars. That can add $250 or more to the base price. It doesn’t end there. Every year, you must renew your city permit (where applicable) and registration. In Chicago, that adds up to almost $100 a year, not including insurance. Insurance has been on the rise lately, it could be anywhere from $75 to $750 a year depending on the scooter’s value, coverage, where you live, and several other factors. Think about that when they’re telling you how much gas money you’ll save.
5. Lots of people buy scooters and ride and are happy without ever meeting another scooterist, but for many of us, the friendships and social scene that goes along with scootering is at least half the fun. If you want in, great, but keep in mind that you can’t “buy in” to the scootering life. We’ll gladly welcome you, but just as you might feel a bit out of place in a ’03 Mustang at a classic car show or on a Honda sportbike at a Hell’s Angel’s rally, if you show up at a vintage scooter rally with a brand-new scooter and a “look at me” attitude, you might not be welcomed instantly with open arms. A lot of people say we’re stuck up, and some of us probably are (it definitely gets cliquey with all the clubs and everything), but consider the fact that a lot of us have known each other for years, we’ve been to each other’s weddings and funerals, we’ve seen each other naked every other weekend, we’ve stayed up all night together, crying, drunk, in each other’s arms. We’ve been through a lot together, and someday soon you might be one of us, but if you show up and demand a place in our world, you might not get it. Just be yourself and do your thing. Introduce yourself and buy as a beer or two or three and we’ll see how it goes. Chances are we’ll like you, because you were smart enough to buy a scooter. Most vintage scooterists have (at the very least) a passing interest in modern scooters, and new scooterists are welcome at most rallies, and most newbies have a good time, but if you don’t, try another club, rally, or newssgroup (more and more are focusing on new scooters), or start your own. You’ll quickly find people like you, there’s room a lot of variety in scootering.
Now that I’ve bummed you out and scared you away, let me say this: Scooters are god’s gift to motor vehicles, and you should go buy one right this minute. Owning a scooter is worth twenty times the trauma listed above. Do some research and look at all the makes and models available and buy the one that best fits both your aesthetic and performance needs. Then buy a full-face Snell-approved helmet and gloves, and an armored jacket, or at least don’t ride around in flip-flops. Take a class and get your license, or at least read Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough. [I just found out there’s a new volume called More Proficient Motorcycling -bb 7/31/03] Get some practice somewhere safe before hitting the road. Promise me you won’t ride drunk. And THEN, and only then, have fun. And you will. Trust me.