Cheapskate Scootering

May, 2014
Getting the most out of every scootering penny

This section of was requested by several regular visitors. We get a lot of emails asking about impossibly inexpensive new scooters from people who simply want to, or need to, get by with the least possible amount of money invested. As we’ve mentioned many, many times before, DON’T fall for the too-good-to-be-true new scooters, usually from mainland China. In many cases, these machines are being sold at fairs, swap meets, low end used car lots, auto parts stores, mobile phone stores and so on. To quote well-known scooter dealer Bob Hedstrom, “If there really was a good quality new scooter I could sell for $700, don’t you think I’d have dozens of them on my showfloor“? Buy a name brand scooter from a reputable dealer and you’ll be much better off. We’re going to look at four different types of scootering: Moped/Scooters that often have easier licensing requirements and can take advantage of discounted/free parking. Small displacement scooters that have the performance to be utilized on most any surface street. Highway capable scooters and scooters for touring.

Used or New Scooter?

There are some new scooters that one can get at cheapskate prices. Sometimes there are “birthday bikes” or scooters that have been in a dealers inventory for a year or more. Still new, with warranty, just lower in price. Every once in a while, manufacturers discontinue models. This is almost always because a model didn’t sell as well as the manufacturer expected. It can also be because of sometimes boneheaded changes in management. Kymco USA, for example, has discontinued some VERY nice machines like the People 50, People 150 and Yager 200. Parts availability shouldn’t be an issue for many years, and the savings can be significant. Most of the time, a cheapskate scooter will be a used scooter.

What to Look For (and Look Out For) When Buying a Used Scooter

Buying a previously owned scooter involves some risk. You can mitigate this risk by purchasing from a reputable dealer who stands behind the vehicles they sell. I recommend that you invest some time in checking out any scooter you are seriously considering. Start with a general overview – does the appearance match the mileage? Are there any records of prior service work? Any signs of an accident? Clean title? In the majority of cases, a “salvage” title means you should walk away from this one. Check the function of every single component, try every switch, check lights, turn indicators, horn, and so forth. Check the tires closely, look at the underside of the scooter for damage, and leaks. Look at the back and bottom of the exhaust system as rust can hide in these spots. Check the fluids. Ideally, have a trusted technician go over the scooter if at all possible. Super low miles may not be a good thing. A seven year old scooter with 50 miles means it was virtually unused and may very well have been poorly stored. It could need a complete fuel system flush and cleaning, a carburetor overhaul and new tires (if the sidewalls are cracked) among other work. Remember, you’re getting a used machine and you are taking the risk of future repairs and possibly neglected maintenance. Be sure and include the cost of any needed repairs in your total acquisition price. That $1,000 scooter that needs tires, brakes, carburetor work, headlight repair and a new seat can take $2,000 out of your pocket before you know it. Stick with name brand used scooters. That in itself doesn’t guarantee a quality machine, but a crappy scooter when new DID NOT get any better as it aged.

For Every Scooterist

It doesn’t matter if you’re getting a 50cc city scooter or a 700cc interstate touring machine, there are a few basics you will need. Number one – get a helmet. I’ve heard every excuse you can imagine and NOBODY has been able to convince me that there is any excuse to ride without head protection. To the people who think that they don’t need one because they are on a moped/scooter, hop on your pedal bike, run it up to 30MPH, and jump off onto the pavement and THEN tell me how you don’t need a helmet because of how slow you are going. (If you thought I seriously wanted you to do that, stop reading right now and go out and get a large order of common sense) While damn near any helmet is better than no helmet, I’d stay away from the shorty versions and go with a 3/4 at the minimum and full face preferred. Make sure the helmet is DOT approved AND THAT IT FITS YOU. This is NOT something to buy online. Go to your local shop and try on helmets. Different brands have different shapes, but you should be able to find a 3/4 in the $85 – $150 range or a full face in the $100 – $200 range that will be a good value. Do NOT skimp here. Take care of your helmet. Don’t discard the cloth bag that likely came with the helmet. A lot of scratches and other damage happen to helmets when they are on a garage shelf or stored under the seat. That bag will protect your helmet and extend its lifespan.

Other minimum riding gear can likely be culled from things you already own or can acquire on the cheap. You need to cover all skin. This means good over-the-ankle shoes/boots, long pants, jacket and gloves, especially gloves. Road rash hurts. A lot. Landing on pavement, even in a low speed fall, will grind up your epidermis and leave you with a painful, slow healing set of injuries. There are a lot of riding-specific choices in this type of gear that offer wonderful protection along with enhanced riding comfort. They can, however, add up to a big chunk of change pretty quickly. My Nolan helmet, Firstgear jacket, Speed & Strength jeans, Alpinestar boots and Tourmaster gloves cost over $1,000 in total. Again, spend on the helmet, but that leather or denim jacket, Wrangler jeans, Redwing boots and leather gardening gloves set THAT YOU ALREADY OWN will keep you MUCH better protected than riding in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals.

You’ll also need to plan for insurance. Generally, scooter insurance is relatively inexpensive. Coverages include liability, medical, comprehensive and collision. There is likely a minimum base insurance requirement for your state with comprehensive and collision insurance being optional. Consider this area of cheapskate scootering carefully. The minimum insurance with the cheapest premium may well be sadly inadequate and leave you with huge bills in the event something happens. Get enough liability coverage and medical coverage to actually pay for property damage and injuries. I also suggest getting comprehensive coverage and an un-insured option that provides some protection if the person who hits you doesn’t have insurance. Collision coverage tends to be pricey and I question its value on a cheap scooter. One case when scooter insurance can be pricey is if the scooter is your only insured vehicle. Most people have a car they insure and the scooter is a “second” vehicle. If it’s ONLY the scooter for you, your base liability coverage may be pricier. Talk to a good agent and get prices on a range of options. The basic coverage might be $200 per year and for an additional $50 you may be able to get much more complete coverage. It’s good to be frugal here, but don’t be penny-smart and dollar-foolish.

Your cheapskate scooter budget needs an allowance for maintenance and repairs. This will vary WILDLY depending on your riding needs, the condition of your scooter, and situations beyond your control. I plan for a set of tires every 7,500 miles or so, brakes about the same, a yearly tune up and valve adjustment, and two oil changes per year. This is, more or less, a three-year plan for me with a total of about $300, or $100 per year with most of the labor provided by yours truly. If you are paying shop rates for these tasks your budget should be at least double that. Replacing mirrors, brake levers and body panels when some jerk in the parking lot at work knocks over your scooter with his SUV and leaves is one of those situations you HOPE won’t pop up, but sometimes does.

50cc Moped/Scooter

Depending on where you live, you may have a class of scooter that is licensed as a moped. The rules will vary by state, but generally this is a less than 50cc scooter that is restricted to 2 horsepower or less and a top speed on level ground of 30 MPH. Here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area of Minnesota, this is the type of scooter most commonly seen on campus and in the downtown areas. In Minnesota, they do not require a motorcycle endorsement on ones license and they can legally park in many bike racks. This is also the most common type of rental scooter. This is also the only class of modern scooters commonly powered by 2-stroke engines.

The moped/scooter is probably the most dangerous class so far as too-good-to-be-true new scooter “deals” are concerned. A lot of people considering this type of scooter are students with very limited funds. Wow, what a super deal, a brand new scooter for only $595 right here at the mobile phone store….. just walk away. The least expensive decent new moped/scooter I can think of is probably the Lance PCH. With taxes, freight, fees, etc., you’re looking at about $1,700 out the door (that’s in Minnesota according to Marty at GoMoto – one of the real good guy dealers). While I consider $1,700 a good price for reliable new transportation, it’s not CHEAPSKATE pricing, so we’ll be considering used moped/scooters here.

First, make SURE the used scooter you are considering is moped legal. Three a lot of very good quality 50cc scooters that are not moped legal. Here in Minnesota, the Yamaha Zuma is a “motorcycle” and not a “moped” which eliminates the parking advantage that is the driving force behind a lot of moped/scooter cheapskate purchases. I have a friend who works in downtown Minneapolis and his parking spot costs $280 per month. During the non-winter months here in the great white north, he rides a moped/scooter to work and parks for free. If you want/need the moped classification, be certain that the scooter you are considering meets the criteria.

The list of used scooters to look for is similar to the list of good news ones – just a few years older. In some cases, scooters that are not moped legal NOW, used to be and you may find a good used one with a “moped” license plate on it. The aforementioned Zuma falls into this class – can’t get a new one as a moped, but you might find a used one.
Genuine Buddy 50cc – A wonderful machine with great parts and accessory availability. I recently saw one that sold on Craig’s List for $500 that needed tires and brakes. The young lady who purchased it ended up with $800 invested in total and had a very nice scooter.
Genuine RoughHouse – Sportier, looks a bit like a Zuma, excellent ergonomics for taller/bigger riders.
SYM Mio – Might be the best 4-stroke moped/scooter out there.
Kymco People 50cc – Very likely the best all around moped/scooter ever made. No longer available in the USA new, but good used ones are out there. Big wheels and excellent reliability.
Yamaha Zuma, Vino & C3 – Again, look for a used one that has a “moped” license plate, otherwise these are considered motorcycles in states like Minnesota. If your state licenses these machines as mopeds, they are all outstanding scooters.
Honda Metropolitain and Ruckus –  Same as the Yamahas above, look for a used moped.

City Scooter – 100cc to 200cc

The scooters in this class are treated as motorcycles in Minnesota – a driver’s license endorsement is required. I like to call these “city” scooters because while they tend to be capable of speeds in the 55 MPH range, they aren’t designed or intended as regular highway scooters. Small wheels, short wheelbases, light weight and minimal protection do NOT a touring scooter make. Depending on your personal definition of “cheapskate” this class might include a new scooter or two. According to a couple of my favorite local dealers, a Lance PCH 150 can be had, out-the-door, for about $2,400 and a Kymco Agility 125 for about $2,200. This category is also prime for “birthday bikes”. Those new scooters that are a year (or two) old, but still in the crate at dealers. The very nice 2010 Honda Elite 110 was $2,999 in 2010. By 2012 some dealers were still selling new 2010s for $2,400 out-the-door.

The City Scooter should be able to handle cruising speeds of 45 MPH and short runs at 55 MPH. The idea is to be able to keep up with the flow of traffic on pretty much any surface street and make short highway runs. This is the most common type of scooter in a lot of metro areas. It’s another danger zone for crappy non-name scooters at impossibly low prices. There is no such thing as a really good new 125cc scooter for $795, despite what various websites promise. This is also a good category for the cheapskate scooterist as used City Scooters tend to be in better condition than used moped-legal scooters. If you are not looking for free parking via a “moped” license plate, the City Scooter will likely be the most economical scooter to operate. Comparing a 50cc 2-stroke and a 125cc 4-stroke scooter, the 125 will probably get better gas mileage than the 50cc. Running around on my Genuine Rattler 50, I got 70 – 75 MPG, while my wife’s Genuine Buddy 125 got 90+ MPG on the same rides.

Genuine Buddy 125cc – In my opinion, the best 125cc scooter currently available IF IT FITS YOU. The Buddy is not a big scooter, but it’s ergonomics can suit a wide range of rider sizes, especially for JUST a rider. An accessory solo seat makes the Buddy workable for fairly tall people. The Buddy is quick, fast, handles well, is durable and TONS of accessories are available. Genuine sold a lot of them, so good used ones are out there. I personally know of a cheapskate who purchased a 2008 Buddy in 2012 and set it up to suit her commuting needs while only parting with $1,300.
Kymco People 150cc – No longer offered in the USA (that’s a mistake on Kymco’s part) this big-wheeled wonder can handle just about any urban chore you throw at it. It’s not as quick or as nimble as the Buddy, but it is equally robust and reliable. The bigger wheels give a smoother ride, especially at higher speeds. I’d rather have a cosmetically rough used People 150 than any shinny new mainland China scooter.
Honda Elite 110cc – You MIGHT still find a new-non-current one, but more likely you will encounter a used one. It’s fuel injected and it’s a Honda. It isn’t the best looking, or fastest, or best handling (Elites tend to an overly soft suspension), but it will be as reliable as death and taxes. A top end of about 50+MPH will keep the Elite off the highway, but it’s reliability and cavernous under-seat storage will make up for that.
Yamaha Zuma 125cc – Like the Honda Elite, the Yamaha Zuma offers fuel injection and a non-highway top speed (maybe 54 MPH on a good day) along with excellent build quality and reliability. Nothing like as popular as the Zuma 50, the 125 didn’t sell in very big numbers so finding one may be a bit challenging. The used ones I have seen have been priced well below their real value making this a great cheapskate choice.

Urban Commuter/Do Everything – 200cc – 300cc

Need a bit more speed and stability than a Buddy 125 can offer? Have a regular highway run as part of your daily commute? Want ONE scooter for everything from parkway cruising to light touring? Want to do it all on the cheap? This is your category.

Nothing new comes under the heading of cheapskate unless you miraculously stumble across a new-non-current Kymco Yager 200. Do Everything scooters are capable of highway runs as well as city street cruising. In my opinion, they offer the very best choice in personal transit. Just you and some of your stuff getting around. Of course passenger accommodations tend to be better in this category than in smaller scooters, but we’re looking for the cheapskate choice and that means the rear seat will likely be utilized to haul groceries and other cargo as opposed to another person.

Those long-suffering of you who have read a lot on this site are probably expecting me to name the Kymco People 250 as the “King” in this category and you’re close – it’s my second choice.
Kymco Yager 200 – When is comes to a cheapskate Do Everything machine, the Yager has to take top honors. Fuel injected, liquid cooled, great under seat storage, highway capable, rock solid reliability and not all that expensive even when new. Kymco has demonstrated odd choices in naming and marketing their products in North America and the Yager is a prime example of a swing-and-a-miss. Yes, yes, I know the Yager is a bit “horse-faced” looking, but it’s a wonderfully practical machine that deserved better treatment in this market and I believe the cheapskates will latch on to this scooter.
Kymco People 250 – Carbureted and liquid cooled. Big wheels. Good ergonomics. As close to indestructible as one is likely to get with a scooter. It sold well and is VERY reasonably priced in the used marketplace. This scooter will do just about anything you ask of it.
Kymco People ‘S’ 250 – The updated version of the plain People 250. As angular as the predecessor was curvy, the ‘S’ People is another great machine, just slightly more expensive than the plain 250.
SYM HD200 – Another great scooter that suffered from questionable marketing and catastrophic North American distribution. They seem to have their USA supply lines worked out and the SYM HD200 is a very fine scooter. If I were getting one, I’d buy a couple of CVT belts, some brake levers and maybe a few other proprietary parts and hang on to them… just in case.
Honda Helix – The original barcalounger on wheels. You either “get it” or you don’t when  it comes to the Helix. For people unfamiliar with Kymco, this is the King of the ugly cheapskate do-it-all scooters.

Maxi Scooters – 250cc – 650cc

Seems a bit contradictory, doesn’t it – “maxi” and “scooter” together. As a person who has been riding for something like 40 years now (I’m not going to tell you if it’s more or less than 40 years) and has been on just about every kind of motorcycle and scooter, a good maxiscooter is an excellent touring choice. These are the longer-wheelbase, fuller coverage bodied, faster scooters that are designed and built to gobble up miles. A lot of these scooters were PRICEY when new, so the best cheapskate choices are going to involve some kind of compromise. If you’re planning to be a solo rider, you can probably get by with one of the 250cc models recommended, just don’t expect triple digit top speeds or push-you-back-in-the-seat acceleration.

When it comes to cheapskate maxiscooters, you are going to do better if you can perform some or all of your own mechanical work. It’s not that the models suggested need a lot of work, it’s just that they often involve a LOT of wrench turning for simple maintenance tasks. It’s not unusual to need more time to GET TO a component than is needed to service said component. There can be a lot of Tupperware (aka body panels) to remove before accessing the guts of the machine.
Suzuki Burgman 650 – The original and still King of this category, cheapskate or not. The reason I’ve put the Burgman at number one is because it’s been around for a long time and good condition used ones can be found at very reasonable prices with many, many miles of great service left in them. I’ve logged a fair number of highway miles on Burgmans and am always impressed by their comfort, performance and reliability. BMW and Kymco are both chasing the Burgman with new maxiscooter models, but at prices in the $10,000 range these new scooters DO NOT meet our cheapskate criteria.
Yamaha Majesty 400 – Better looking than the Burgman or the Honda SIlverwing, the Majesty is a good performer, comfortable and can often be a real bargain. Maintenance is not easy and this is a prime example of being able to save a lot of shop labor if you can do some work yourself.
Honda Reflex 250 – If you are of average to shorter height, the Reflex would be a good choice. It’s slightly cramped ergonomics and less-than-thrilling performance, are made up for with Honda build quality and reliability.
Kymco Xciting 250 – A full-sized maxiscooter with a 250cc powerplant. The Xciting 250 is adequate for a solo rider at freeway speeds and OK for 2-up riding at a slower pace. Look for the “i” version which is fuel injected. I have seen Xcitings in excellent condition going for bargain prices.
Kymco Xciting 500 – It’s no Burgman, but like it’s 250cc sibling, the Xciting 500cc can also often be found at GREAT prices.

You’ve got your cheapskate scooter, now what?

Time to accessorize. Proprietary items like scooter-model-specific luggage racks don’t have to be purchased from the OEM or even new. Scooter groups, clubs and your local dealer can be great sources of information on cheap, but good, accessories. Dealers will sometimes have “take-offs”, accessories that came on a trade-in scooter or even occasional new pieces that the purchaser of a scooter doesn’t want. A friend picked up a new Silverwing windshield from a dealer when the buyer of a scooter had a taller windshield installed and didn’t want the OEM one. Scooter riders tend to upgrade their machines and sometimes will have no-longer-needed parts. It often pays to ask around. Online sources like Craigslist and eBay can work out sometimes as well.

When it comes to one of the most common cheapskate additions, luggage, we can step away from the realm of scooter completely. Isn’t having a good way to haul stuff around a big part of cheapskate scootering? Just doesn’t seem…. right…. to get a cheapskate scooter and then pony up for expensive goodies. My favorite touring accessory is a square soft-sided “trunk” that I bungee to the passenger seat when I’m touring solo. I found it on a close-out of…. Goldwing accessories. $40 on the clearance table at a Honda dealer.

There you have it. A few of my ideas and suggestions for cheapskate scootering. I hope this serves as a starting point to get you on the road and enjoying the world of scootering while maintaining a tight grip on those purse strings.