It's mid-March, the snow is (slowly) starting to melt, and in Portsmouth, NH, us New Englanders are being graced with the occasional sunny day where it's marginally warm enough to ride. Heck ya! Needless to say, the warm(ish) weather is being felt by everyone... motorist or not. Moped riding extremists are starting to tear their rides out of the snowbanks to "enjoy" the balmy 40°F temps, the casual riders are starting to think about a spring tune-up, and the would-be scooterists are starting to say, "Hmm... I'd really like to buy a scooter for this summer." Very reasonable behavior on all counts, if you ask me.
We here at Port City Mopeds are starting to feel the buzz too! The phone calls are starting to ring in, we're getting our own rides back up to spec, and we're starting to plan the spring and summer seasons. Clicking around on the internet, trying to stock up on parts inventory, I came across some content at www.MotorScooterShopper.com that is pretty relevant for this time of year: people are thinking about buying scooters, and the go-to resource for many will be a quick Google search, which will certainly turn the prospective buyer onto a slew of imported Chinese options that can be drop-shipped to their doorstep. Many buyers will be turned on by the fact that, in many cases, a brand new Chinese scooter can be had for $800 or so... "What could possibly go wrong?! It's brand new, shiney, and red!" Well, there is more to it than that, and MotorScooterShopper.com does a good job explaining some things to consider when buying a Chinese scooter.
Now, I'm always a fan of websites that look like they got built in the mid-90s. I also respect that, despite being in the age of always-bite-sized digital content, websites like Motor Scooter Shopper will still feature thorough, thoughtful content that is almost guaranteed TL;DR for most readers, but is laid out and made available to anyone trying to do their due dillegence researching a purchase. This informative content includes tips on what to expect in a Chinese scooter, how to make the "best" decision possible buying one online, and some discussions on some stigmas associated with Chinese scoots, and whether or not those associations are warranted. If you are thinking of buying a Chinese scooter, give their website a solid read. If not, I'm going to summarize some of their, and our, key points here.
-Chinese scooters are very cheap, and it is for a reason: Simply put, if you are expecting superior quality and a ride that you could very well own for the rest of your life, we strongly suggest you buy a trusted name brand product like Honda, Tomos, Yamaha, Vespa, Piaggio, etc... You can be guaranteed those units will be "perfect" from day 1, and will be backed up with a substantial warranty in the event of failure. The initial purchase price of a Chinese scooter ($600-$1500 for a brand new unit) is very attractive, as the units are brand new, look pristine, and do give a "How bad can it possibly be?" feeling. But they're cheap for a reason... stuff WILL happen, problems WILL arise, and the scooter will probably not last forever. Don't expect a flawless relationship with your Chinese scooter. However, if you can maintain the scoot for yourself, or have a shop that will maintain it for you and some amount of a maintenance budget, most minor "hiccups" can be resolved quickly and easily, allowing you to get years of enjoyment and use out of a Chinese scoot.
-If its not a name brand (Honda, Yamaha, Vespa, etc), the particular brand name is all that important: Most Chinese scooters are "knockoffs" of designs pioneered and developed by the big-hitters at Honda and Vespa. Their designs, tried and true, will be replicated in China (or elsewhere), using inferior quality products, materials, and production techniques, to make a "clone" scooter that is just not quite the same as the real deal. These products are "rebadged" to give them some personality. Brands like Motofino put an "Italian" feel on the scoot, harkening thoughts of Vespa/Piaggio, but check the serial number/ID tag - the scoot was made in China despite the romantic sounding name. Other brands, like Red Streak, Tao Tao, Big Chief, etc... are largely the same scooter with slightly different plastic fairings and styling. Yes, some brands will be slightly higher quality than others, but the differences are marginal... if you're in the market for a knockoff in the first place, don't get too hung up on WHICH knockoff to buy.
-Chinese scooters can be viable modes of transportation for a reasonable lifetime: some of the stigmas associated with Chinese scoots are that 1. Nobody will work on them; 2. You cannot get parts for them; 3. There is no warranty or support.
These can be true in places, but around here, some can be debunked. 1. Scooters and mopeds are abundant enough these days that many motorbike shops WILL work on them. Port City Mopeds, of course, will service just about anything, modern, antique, Chinese, euro, moped, scooter, whatever. So don't use that excuse if you live near Port City Mopeds; 2. Scooters have been in the states long enough that businesses and industry has been developed specifically around sourcing these components! Port City Mopeds has pretty great access to most parts for most Chinese scooters. The bonus is that, since most of these scooters are pretty much the same, there is a LOT of parts interchangeability, which can make finding parts even easier! 3. Finally, most brands do offer some form of warranty, albeit limited. If you keep a close eye on your machine and take advantage of warranty you do have in place, the company will most likely support you. Port City Mopeds offers their own warranty on new and used mopeds, so you don't even have to worry about dealing with the company who made the scooter - just your friends at PCP.
-It largely comes down to how the scooter is assembled, operated, and maintained: We do get a lot of Chinese scooters in for repair for some pretty bad, even catastrophic mechanical failures. Many times it's not even worth repairing the scooter. But, to be objective, you cannot chalk these failures off soley to the fact that the scooter was made in China. Many scooters are delivered directly to the end-user, which means they assemble it with what little tools they have in their garage or driveway. This means that, right off the bat, your scooter was not assembled by professionals and, as diminutive and "simple", as a scooter can be, there's a good chance you didn't do something right (sorry to be blunt!). Next, the scoot gets put on the road. There is a break-in period on ANY vehicle that is brand new, and should be respected according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you ride it like you stole it from day 1 and expect great performance, that's just not a very fair standard! Finally, maintenance is key! You really can't blame a scooter for failing when the first time you have it serviced is at 3,000 miles... again, just not fair! Not only does the routine maintenance (air filters, oil changes, spark plugs, etc.), need to happen, but bringing a scooter in regularly will also ensure that a professional will be putting a close eye on your scooter on a regular basis. Stuff you may miss (exhaust shaking loose, cables stretching too much, handlebars/front forks getting a little sloppy, low tire pressure) will be picked up on and remedied BEFORE it becomes a problem. If these problems, although minor, are left unchecked, they will become big, potentially chronic problems, very quickly.
I don't mean to write this as an article encouraging anyone to go out and buy a Chinese scooter - certainly not! If you want perfect, reliable performance, your first option should always be a new unit from a trusted name brand. Next, we would suggest a used machine, like one of our refurbished vintage mopeds... these are hands down way cooler in the first place. If your budget is really forcing you to investigate Chinese scooters as an option, just take some time to do some research, and have a little "you" time: reflect on what you are getting into, what you can expect, how you can be prepared, and if its the right decision to make. Port City Mopeds will always be here to support you, and is happy to advise when it's time to make that decision!