Thoughts on a scooter-based lifestyle

Two years ago when I bought my People 150cc scooter, I was teased ceaselessly by my car-loving friends. It wasn’t so long ago that gas was under two dollars a gallon, and the need for more efficient wheeled transportation wasn’t as “in your face” as it is now. Today, when my friends talk about my scooter (or my wife’s) it’s to ask where I got it, for how much, and how much we save by having them.

J.D. recently mentioned he was thinking of forsaking his dream of a Mini Cooper for a scooter instead, but he had some questions. How much money would he save? Could we quantify with some certainty the impact of a scooter on one’s budget? Here’s my attempt based on my experience.

Safety First

First, I’d like to talk about a few misconceptions. Scooters are not necessarily slow-moving vehicles. Your speed depends on your engine size. I’d think of them more generally as small motorcycles. You’re exposed to the elements (more so than a car), and you’re giving up the “safety” of a steel box, but you are getting a more maneuverable vehicle.

I’d strongly encourage anyone riding a scooter to take a motorcycle safety course, such as the one given by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Safety, either in a car or a scooter, depends greatly on the operator. In my opinion, driving a scooter is no different (in terms of safety) than driving a motorcycle.

In my four years operating a scooter, I have not been involved in any accident. I’ve been able to avoid unsafe motorists better than I would be able to in a car. I don’t feel any more unsafe operating my scooter, but I’ve had many years of experience, and that confidence can create a noticeably different ride. I would expect first-time riders to be much more nervous.

Pinching Pennies

But the big question here is: How much can one save if you go from a car-centric lifestyle to a scooter-centric lifestyle?

First, purchasing a scooter will cost significantly less, even for models that can keep up with highway traffic. The average new four-door sedan costs about $20,000. A scooter that can achieve a constant speed of 70mph and legally be driven on interstate highways will cost around $3,000. Costs for used vehicles of both classes can vary by large degrees, but the scooter will always be an order of magnitude cheaper. Thus, a scooter can more easily be financed directly out of pocket, avoiding an expensive car loan.

Operating a scooter — gas, insurance, maintenance — is also much cheaper than operating a car. Astonishingly enough, the difference in just one year represents a brand new Buddy 125 (a scooter I highly recommend).

Not Quite Car-Less

However, transferring to a scooter is just one lifestyle choice. We can choose to locate ourselves so that we can walk to work and shop using a rolling cooler. We can locate near bike-friendly areas and strap storage racks to our bikes. We have many choices. None of these choices allows for long-haul, heavy or large lifting, however.

My wife and I have a car, along with our scooters. While seldom used except for long trips and large item hauling needs, we do need a car for those purposes. But we are better off using our scooters, bicycles, and legs for daily commutes and grocery store visits.

J.D.’s note: After our discussion of high gas prices and alternative transportation, not only did Stephen volunteer to share his experiences above, but Bev Brinson sent me a copy of her book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motor Scooters. It’s a great introduction to the subject. If, like me, you’re interested in scooters, but don’t know where to start, borrow a copy from your library.

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There are 68 comments to "Thoughts on a scooter-based lifestyle".

  1. Beth says 19 October 2008 at 05:10

    I’ve always wanted a Vespa Scooter. If I lived in the city, I would buy one in a heartbeat. Scooters rock!

  2. Bart says 19 October 2008 at 05:23

    Another decent alternative to a Vespa / Gas Scooter are electric bikes. You don’t need a license or any registration and it’s basically the same rules as riding a bike. (Main streets, no highwas, stay to the right) They don’t go as fast (32 km/h is the legal governed limit here in Ontario) but they are growing in popularity here especially in populated, but dense towns

  3. Kirk says 19 October 2008 at 05:26

    Great to see the safety aspect and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course mentioned at the start of this article. As a longtime motorcycle commuter (for nearly 2 decades, albeit not for frugal reasons) I am amazed at the behavior of some scooter riders (not to mention those that don’t wear helmets) and believe the MSF would be a great idea for scooter riders.

  4. meoip says 19 October 2008 at 05:47

    I would buy one but… I’m not picturing myself riding a scooter mid October – mid April, in the Indiana cold. I would also want to know how they handle in the wind, it can get windy here with little warning and being stuck at work doesn’t seem pleasant.

  5. dan hassler says 19 October 2008 at 06:09

    I have owned my scooter for three years now and it has been the best investment I have ever made. I live in a small town and work at a University. If I were to drive, I would have to pay about $400 a year in parking, but the scooter is allowed to park for free in the bike rack. In addition, I fill up the one gallon tank every week and a half.

    With a little additional investment, it even works out in the winter (warmer clothes, helmet, etc). I do still take the bus on really nasty days, but the scooter is a great way to get around.

  6. Traciatim says 19 October 2008 at 06:18

    Also remember that if you are trying to buy a scooter for environmental reasons over your own savings that unless your scooter is electric, or a 4 stroke engine with a catalytic converter that you are better off by FAR just getting a small car that is descent on gas. 2 stroke engines and engines with no catalytic converters spew emissions worse than any car on the road. A quick google turned up this gem of a quote:

    “As for the SUV, we borrowed WW publisher Richard Meeker’s 2006 Subaru Tribeca. The six-cylinder engine in Meeker’s SUV pumped out less than 10 ppm of hydrocarbons and 1 percent CO2. In other words, the two-stroke scooter WW tested produced about 490 times the hydrocarbons and more than eight times the Co2 of the SUV.”

    Also keep in mind that the hydrocarbon output is the problem of smog in cities, as well as ground level ozone. The O3 is produced either by the magnetic field around electric motors as well as when the atmosphere reacts with the hydrocarbon output from all the vehicles. Ozone is extremely toxic, unlike CO2 which has some benefits not talked about by enviro-loons(and is not toxic unless in very large quantities in the air).

    So remember, 4 stroke with cat, electric, or small car.

  7. Anne says 19 October 2008 at 06:39

    One thing the author fails to mention is the often increased cost of living when relocating to a place where all of your shopping, etc., is within walking/scooter distance.

    My sister, a student, crunched the numbers this summer, and found it was cheaper to live in the suburbs and drive 80 miles/day round trip than it was to rent an apartment in the city near school and work.

    Sometimes the decision to go scooter isn’t financial, but rather something a person would choose for environmental reasons. My husband and I love living within walking distance of all of our needs, but we would absolutely save more money if we didn’t live in the city.

  8. arun kamath says 19 October 2008 at 07:17

    I am waiting for the launch of Tata Nano…..

  9. Stephen Popick says 19 October 2008 at 07:35

    @Meoip

    How a scooter handles in strong wind depends on the size of the scooter. Smaller ones (<50cc) will be impacted. I have a 150cc and I can’t say I’m very affected by the wind.

    @Anne

    Yes, living in the city is more expensive, dollar wise. But, living close in is less expensive time wise. While its cheaper for your sister to live in the suburbs and commute 80 miles to and back, she’s giving up what, 2 hours of her day, just to commute. That time has a dollar value as well.

  10. Richard says 19 October 2008 at 07:38

    I ride year round in Provo, UT. There are probably two or three non-consecutive weeks in the winter when I don’t ride because of ice.

    Two vehicles was going to make our lives very much easier. The scooter was much cheaper than a second car and insurance is only $160/year. I get a little less than 60MPG.

    Riding a scooter isn’t something everyone can get into though. My wife has her license but she hates riding it. She’s dropped the bike twice and won’t even consider getting on if there’s a cloud within 1000 miles of us.

    For me it works great though and it saves us a bit of money.

  11. Louise says 19 October 2008 at 08:09

    We have no car and two scooters and love them. We can carry groceries, laundry and even our pets on the scooters. Before the scooters, we had two motorcycles for over 10 years. We sold our last car in 2003.

    They aren’t for everyone, though. My husband used to teach a motorcycle safety course, and part of his job was to gently discourage from riding those who lacked balance and the ability to learn. A heightened sense of awareness is also necessary when sharing the road with four-wheelers.

    It is important to note that whether your goal is to save money, pollute less, or enjoy the fun of two wheels, it requires CHANGE. Yes, it is different than using a car. It is a compromise with benefits and costs. Everyone who approaches any change by saying, “I would do that, BUT…” simply isn’t ready for the change. That’s okay, too.

  12. HollyP says 19 October 2008 at 08:20

    I’d love a motor scooter, but it isn’t a viable means of primary transportation for those who have kids.

    I did just buy a kickbike (adult-sized foot scooter) and love it. I wanted a way to get to work other than walking, but the street to my office is unsafe for bicycles and motorscooters. I can use my kickbike on the sidewalk. It is a ton of fun, too.

  13. Caleb Nelson says 19 October 2008 at 08:23

    @JerichoHill

    I think that you’ve brought up a very valid point. People often forget to attach a dollar value to their time. Even self-employed folks sometimes forget that their time is worth something. I think that you can go allot further financially if you remember to attach a value to your time. And then find ways to improve that value.

    The math is easy. X = How much money you brought in last month. Y = 720 (for the number of hours in a 30 day month) X/Y is your time value for that month. You can improve your time value by increasing X. You can analyze this more by seeing what is effecting your ability to increase X.

    Simple equations lead to strong philosophies.

    Caleb
    http://www.mefinanciallyfree.blogspot.com

  14. Andrew says 19 October 2008 at 08:31

    If you’re worried about stability, you may want to consider a trike scooter, such as the Can-Am Spyder (http://spyder.brp.com/en-US/) or the Piaggio MP3 (http://www.piaggiousa.com/pScooters/MP3.cfm).

    @Traciatim – That’s a startling statistic, but it makes sense. Because of the way 2-stroke engines are designed, they require fuel-oil mixtures to stay lubricated as they operate. So basically 2-strokes burn oil, albeit by design. And this isn’t just in scooters, btw. All 2-stroke gas engines are designed this way.

  15. Birgit says 19 October 2008 at 08:44

    I had a Vespa scooter for ages, now I have a Smart (this very short car). Not as cheap to buy but great for the city, with a roof, better security and still small needs. My four-wheeled scooter *G*

  16. KC says 19 October 2008 at 08:55

    I’ve seen quite a few more scooters and mopeds on the road lately, especially from people you wouldn’t expect (people in suits, old folks, etc). But I live in a eclectic, artsy part of the city and it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. However in the burbs you never see rednecks on scooters, but they have traded in their trucks for more sensible cars.

    I just can’t get over the safety problems, though. You are so exposed. My husband is a physician and he tells me all these horror stories of motorcycle accidents (of course at high speeds), but I just can’t shake the feeling that they aren’t as safe as my car. I do offset my gas usage with walking and taking my bike to local stores. But I wouldn’t go further than a mile (really wouldn’t need too to get everything I want).

    I think this decision is much harder if you are married or have children. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a scooter, I just think you need to think of what the worst case scenario is and go with that. Also make sure your life insurance will pay up if you have a fatal accident. Many policies don’t cover motorcycle accidents.

  17. Jeremy says 19 October 2008 at 09:00

    “None of these choices allows for long-haul, heavy or large lifting, however.”

    That’s not entirely true.
    There’s a number of cargo bicycle options that will let you haul your choice of heavy load for your choice of distance. There’s the Bakfiets, Xtracycle, Madsen, Yuba, and many others in that market segment. They aren’t cheap, but mine paid for itself in six months of reduced gas use.

    I routinely haul 200+ pound loads from Home Depot, the pet store, and so on, on my cargo bike.

    However, I designed my life to live as car-free as possible, and none of the places I shop are more than 5 miles away, and I’m within a mile of the regional transit system, in case I want to go and buy large/heavy things elsewhere.

  18. BrianD says 19 October 2008 at 09:33

    Understand the risks, and carry sufficient insurance unless you are pretty well off. Do not assume that what the insurance salesman or website suggests is sufficient.

    I, too, had ridden over 4 years as the author has, and enjoyed my 150cc scooter immensely. I had taken the MSF course and wore protective gear routinely (helmet, armored jacket, armored gloves, at least jeans). One day during the lunch hour I collided with an oncoming car that turned directly in front of me, ending up on my back after flying over his car. Thanks largely to my gear, my injuries were minor compared to what they could have been, but did involve a broken bone and I wore casts for a few months and my wife did have to get the call that she dreaded. The medical expenses were in the tens of thousands, and the injuries affected something I was involved with, career-wise.

    Kind of wipes out the cost savings.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think 2 wheeled vehicles are the right way to go and plan to scoot again. My main advice is gear up and insure.

  19. Diatryma says 19 October 2008 at 10:15

    I think that safety carries some community factors, too– it’s like buying a small car vs a tank. SUV-SUV crashes are worse than small-small crashes, so if everyone drove small cars, everyone would be safer.

    My main problem with the popularity of scooters is that most people here park them at bike racks.

  20. Wes says 19 October 2008 at 10:38

    I’ve had my Genuine Stella scooter (150cc) for 3 years now and love it. Here are a couple thoughts:

    * It’s a motorcycle. Take a motorcycle safety class. Get a motorcycle helmet and riding gear. Some people use the saying “Dress for the fall, not the ride.”
    * A windshield goes a long way to keeping the wind off of you in the winter. I ride all year long as long as there isn’t snow on the roads and I’m in Kansas City. It also helps with stability when the winds is gusting. For comparison, my scooter weighs about 400 pounds, so the wind affects it, but not too bad.
    * Yeah, I park at the bike rack. Too many of my friends park in normal spots and someone pulls in and knocks their bike over and then takes off leaving them with a scratched up bike. When there’s motorcycle parking, I use it, which is never.
    * I’m in a scooter club, so I know a lot of riders. Only 1 experienced rider has had an accident. All the motorcycle accidents I know about are either: brand-new scooterists or motorcyclists going too fast and doing stupid stuff. Yeah, people have pulled out in front of me, but they do that in my car, too. I just act like I’m invisible and always have an emergency out, just like I do in my car.
    * I have a bag hook so I can put groceries between my feet, along with a rear rack that I put a milk-crate on. Sure, I can’t go to Home Depot and get a sheet of plywood, but I can get groceries and lawn-mower blades and grass seed and stuff like that.
    * Don’t buy a Chinese plastic scooter. You pay for what you get. Vespas are good scooters, but you definitely pay a premium for the name.

  21. Gloria says 19 October 2008 at 10:52

    I live near public transit and ride my bike for neighborhood errands (including grocery shopping). I hated not replacing my car when it died three years ago, but I couldn’t afford to. I’ve had the opportunity since then to receive a used car free (as my last one was), but from the three years of enforced carlessness, I’ve realized that car rental makes more sense for me.

    I could rent a car once a month for the heavy lifting and occasional foliage trip, and even with gas and insurance, it costs less than just the insurance would cost for owning a car. And if I choose the rental day right, I’m not risking the $125 parking tickets I’d be likely to get a couple of times a month by forgetting, on my weird schedule, to move the car for alternate side parking in an increasingly dense neighborhood. Rental agencies use much newer cars than the used one I’d have, so the gas mileage and emissions situation are probably better, too.

    I find Enterprise has the best rates, plus it’s very cool that they’ll pick you up (not something I need where I live, but useful when I travel). They’re not open from noon Saturday to Monday morning, and that can be a problem; on the other hand, a lot of locations participate in the 50% off weekend specials.

    Even though I often find myself longing for a car of my own, I’m not renting once a month anyway — so far, it’s just twice in the three years.

    Another option for some people is Zip Car hourly rental. It’s not convenient yet for my neighborhood, but other urban folks might find it worthwhile to check out.

  22. Christy says 19 October 2008 at 11:03

    I would love to get a scooter for work and local driving, but I am afraid about security. My work wouldn’t be able to store it inside and the parking lot isn’t very appealing. In addition, I live in an apartment with just covered parking. How do I prevent my (future) scooter from being stolen? Some people talk about a chain through the tires or a steering column pin….any thoughts from scooter riders that don’t have a garage/private parking???? Thanks in advance!

  23. Rob in Madrid says 19 October 2008 at 11:13

    Scooters are hugely popular here easily out number bikes by about 10 to 1, go pretty much anywhere downtown Madrid and you’ll see line in rows on the sidewalks. Biggest advantage here is you can zip between the lanes (or even in the opposite direction if traffic is light) Biggest negative is learning to look before changing lanes, I’ve had a few close calls that way.

    The range from the tiny vessbas suitable only for the city, to full sized ones that you can go cross country on.

  24. magicBC says 19 October 2008 at 11:17

    Well said KC. I have to be very aware of vehicles with my scooter style electric bicycle, I know of people who have been seriously injured. For me though “ships in harbour are safe …”.
    People will often say, ‘that’s so cute!’, not just about the bike, but also about our 600 sq ft house, and my 10″ laptop, but something holds them back from going small. To each her/his own, say’s I.

  25. Adam says 19 October 2008 at 11:24

    Wear a full-face helmet! And though some may disagree with their importance, I suggest wearing good gloves.

    Mopeds are great for getting around the city. Much more compact than scooters. Easier to maneuver and better on gas. They go slower, but city traffic is never really moving that fast anyways. You can park them anywhere. They are considerably cheaper than quality scooters. Registration in California is a one-time only fee and insurance is much cheaper. Mopeds ftw.

  26. libraripagan says 19 October 2008 at 11:27

    Mmm… I wish the weather factor had been brought up more. I wouldn’t want to be on a scooter in driving rain, or, worse, snow.

  27. Adam Rice says 19 October 2008 at 11:41

    Hauling Children and Hauling Cargo.

    Hauling Cargo:
    Ask yourself a question. How often do you haul cargo? I mean enough that a scooter can’t take it?

    For me it’s almost never. But there are times when something small, public transportation, or even a gas efficient electric car just won’t cut it.

    I go rent a truck. When I need to move I rent an over sized truck from Penske load everything up, haul it in a day, and return the truck that night or the next morning.

    When you go small and live a minimalist lifestyle you do give up many immediate options. But on the other hand you gain the ability to use other people’s stuff. Rent it from them.

    Hauling Children

    I actually see this as a huge concern…but only in the immediate future. For instance, how to bicyclists cope with children? They’ve got these cool trailers. Some entrepreneurial lad or lass will have a bright idea and say “I want to adapt those buggies for the road!” and they’ll crash test them, certify them, and do whatever it takes to bring them to market. Mothers and fathers will feel comfortable bringing their kids along for a ride safe in the knowledge that nothing less than a Mack Truck moving at 50mph will harm their kids.

    Actually I’d probably think that bicycle companies would have the wherewithal to bring these scooter gems to market.

    They might even have the cargo trailer option to allow for larger loads.

  28. DebtKid says 19 October 2008 at 12:15

    While I was in college I had a scooter, and absolutely loved it. It was also a Kymco. For nearly 3 years I didn’t have a car, and got around everywhere I needed to go on the scooter. I really miss it sometimes (had to sell for $$).

    I would also second the motorcycle safety class. I learned so much taking that class, plus it feels cool to know I could hop on a motorcycle as well as a scooter and feel comfortable.

    Especially for a single, young person….a scooter is a fantastic way to get around cheaply. Insurance was inexpensive as well, I think I was paying around $17/month….I mean, if run into something, how much damage are you really going to do? (to whatever you hit. Not yourself…that’s another story)

    And 60-70MPG….heck yes.

  29. Stephen Popick says 19 October 2008 at 13:02

    @KC

    I think your safety fears are overstated. Yes, you are more exposed. However, you are also more manuverable. It’s no more risky than many activities we do every day. Whether or not you’re married or have children does not, in my opinion, change the decision. Aware riders who have a good background in motorcycles safety (MSF Class). If we lived our lives by avoiding every worse case scenario we wouldn’t leave the house.

    Like Brian, when I ride I gear up with a proper riding jacket and a full-face helmet. I don’t understand motorcyclists who do not wear helmets. You can wear jeans if you don’t have anything else.

    @Diatryma

    Many scooters can legally be parked at a bike rack. Further, even though my bike is a street legal 150cc, I lock it up because scooters are targets for theft. Many of the scooters you see locked up are locked for that very reason.

    @Wes

    Good advice all around. If you get a scooter, join your local scooter club. You’ll get solid advice.

    @Christy

    If you get yourself a good solid Kryptonite chain and lock your scooter up to a post, bike rack, or similiar non-movable object, you won’t be a high priority target. Further, if you get a scooter larger than 50cc, it must be licensed and tagged, which further reduces the chances.

    @pagan

    With a helmet and some Frogtogs, you don’t even know its raining.

    @DebtKid

    Great to see you on here! Hope your situation is going well!

  30. Mike Panic says 19 October 2008 at 13:41

    I own a 35+ mpg civic h/b and a street bike (2003 Yamaha r6) that still gets 40+ mpg when I’m beating on it. A scooter wouldn’t fit my lifestyle. I’ve currently owned the motorcycle for more than 4 years and will probably be selling it in the spring when the weather warms up because I rarely ride it anymore.

    A scooter is not in my lifestyle because I don’t live in a very urban environment, don’t have a garage (I keep my motorcycle in my Mom’s garage) for easy access and often take my dog to friend’s houses or need to transport things larger than what would fit in my backpack. Likewise, I’ve taken to riding a rode bicycle this year and use that to commute to work as much as possible and run short errands to the farmer’s market and friends houses.

    That being said, I do know a few friends who have scooters and here is my 2 cents. The scooter boom is about to have a serious problem. There are so many small companies that some are bound to fail. Also, most of these off brand scooter companies don’t have parts readily available or qualified techs to work on them. They are too small of a segment of the “two-wheeled” marketplace to have an authorized dealer in every state, much less a real place to have them worked on. I already know several people who have 2,000 miles on whatever brand scooters and had to have the entire motor rebuilt and / or replaced because the tiny 1 piston engines just give out. They are small and so are the tolerances inside them.

    I understand their place in the market, for a lot of people they make sense, my advice is to stick to the big named ones though. Look at something like the Honda Ruckus which has a near cult-like following to it and one of the best names in small motor powered vehicles. I think a lot of people who buy the off-named scooter brands with the hopes that they will recoup the money spent on it with gas savings in year one are going to be disappointed when routine costs of ownership start to kick in during year two for wear and tear items like brake pads, clutches and tires, and they are nearly impossible to find the oddball sizes or parts for the unknown brands.

  31. Guy says 19 October 2008 at 14:14

    Living in a city like Chicago, scooters are most places as are bikes. The only issue really is the issue of the weather. For a warmer city, I’m all for it.

    I personally bought a Prius when the govt had a nice tax credit to do so, so the gas component is moot for me.

  32. Dody says 19 October 2008 at 14:55

    I’m a mom of 5 and we have a scooter. One of us stays home with the kids all the time. It is only a 50 cc so all environmental conditions affect it. We also live on a dirt road so riding through a foot of mud is hard. We plan on buying a 125 to 150 cc soon. After that we’ll fix up our Chevy Nova for once a month shopping.

  33. J.D. says 19 October 2008 at 15:01

    My neighbor came over today while I was working in the yard. “Are you still looking for a Vespa scooter?” he asked.

    “Yes,” I said.

    “I’ve got one that you can use,” he said. “Assuming I can get it started.”

    “Really?” I said. “That’d be great.” (I tried to be enthusiastic, because I was, but I’d just been stung by a bee, so it was difficult.)

    So, I’m eager to see what I get to borrow. I’m betting it’s a 1965-era scooter, probably sea-foam green. But I’ll bet it’ll be a fun to ride! 🙂

  34. Nat says 19 October 2008 at 15:44

    Aaahh a topic close to my heart! I’ve been a scooter rider for 2yrs now. Here is OZ (well in NSW anyway) they make you do a comprehensive safety/knowledge course before getting your license – which is a good thing.
    The thing that gets me is that even though a scooter/motorbike is cheaper to run than a car the cost of keeping it on the road isn’t!
    I own a 200cc, fully comprehensive insurance is $250, registration is $100, Compulsory Third Party insurance is $170. For a 200cc scooter that is fair enough.
    If you start talking bigger scooter/motorcycle (over 300cc) then it starts getting expensive! Compulsory Third Party insurance is about $450 & I’m sure if you could afford it fully comprehensive insurance would be around the same cost! This is how much a car would be … not all that fair when your husband owns 2 motorbikes over 300cc!! (Like why do you have to pay for 2 lots of Compulsory Third Party insurance when you can’t be riding 2 motorbikes on the road at the same time?!)
    The things we do for our passions hey…?!

  35. Nat says 19 October 2008 at 16:01

    Oh also, just on another thing in Sydney, NSW, Australia a scooter/motorbike pays the SAME PRICE tolls as a car!! Yes we do! To those in the rest of the world … go figure that one!!!

  36. Betsy says 19 October 2008 at 16:25

    This is a terrific post, J.D. We’re considering becoming a one-car family (husband’s car is from work, and he’s job hunting), and while I live within walking (and biking) distance of my office, I work until after dark most days.

    A scooter (or moped) has been on my mind, but the responses here have yielded a ton of interesting information. Thanks, gang (especially for the heads up about 2-stroke vs. 4-stroke).

  37. Kiri says 19 October 2008 at 17:45

    I would love to have a scooter and get rid of my car, right now it’s just not practical though.

    In Australia the scooters on sale are overpriced, overpowered ugly. I loved the scooters on the asian market though. One I get my lifestyle to where I want it I won’t be needing a car and I will definitely switch to a scooter.

  38. Shirley says 19 October 2008 at 19:50

    We have motorcycles that get 45 mpg, but scooters can be great depending on your environment (on our rural roads, we’d be run over for sure). The motorcycle safety classes are amazing. Even if you’ve been riding for many years, you will learn valuable information. Long pants and closed toe shoes (boots are best) can really make a difference if you go down. I wince when I see riders with shorts and sandals/flip flops. Even the best riders can have accidents. That’s why they are called accidents.

    J.D.-I really like the mix of posts lately!

  39. seb says 20 October 2008 at 02:08

    the line between scooters and motorcycles has been getting increasingly blurred recently! i just sold my 125cc zongshen motorbike (not recomended!! what a ‘wednesday-gonna-break’ that was!!) i got the same fuel milage out of it as a scooter with out the masive sail at the front slowing you down! (it even handled highway traffic, though hills could be stressful)
    bought my self an old mini clubman now as i got tyred of getting wet and my fuel and insureance costs are only very slightly higher! iv also noticed that honda have come out with a very nice 125cc version of their cbr racer! so you can have the style without sacerificing your fuel economy! how fantastic is that!! 😀

  40. Tzctlpc says 20 October 2008 at 05:54

    “None of these choices allows for long-haul, heavy or large lifting, however.”

    Long-haul: take a train, rent a car.

    Heavy or large lifting: rent a car.

    Don’t you have home delivery in the US?

    Everything I buy here in the UK can be delivered home, more often than not for free or for a very low charge….

    As for the person that finds living close to work more expensive that having a car, are you sure?

    I moved from the suburbs to London (zone 2, almost central) and I am saving £10000 a year in car related expenses (that is $20000 folks in the US).

    But of course the government here is more interventionist: petrol (gas) is very expensive due to taxation as is road tax, congestion charge to enter central London and so on. Factor in the time you waste to travel (I refer to the recent article talking about calculating your actual real hourly wage: hint, sitting in your car is throwing money out of the window).

    So in a way people that sit down and do the maths find the gentle encouragement they need to do the sane thing: ditch the car. Living tens or even hundred of miles away from where you work is a pipe dream that should be addressed, preferably at an individual level, otherwise economics and legislation will force us to make the correct choices.

  41. Stephen Popick says 20 October 2008 at 06:13

    One of my motivating reasons to ditch the car and get a scooter was that my insurance was around 900 a year on my car, and I was fairly sure it was only worth 2000.

    Full comprehensive insurance for a scooter is around 150 dollars a year.

  42. CoolProducts says 20 October 2008 at 08:55

    $3,000 for a highway able scooter? Why not just opt for a used motorcycle?

  43. RenaissanceTrophyWife says 20 October 2008 at 09:15

    Thanks for raising the safety issue! Personally, I think car drivers should have to take motorcycle awareness classes. Scooter/motorcycle riders are obviously concerned for their own safety; accidents that I’ve seen are almost always the fault of the auto. One of my good friends got rear-ended on his motorcycle at a stoplight (!) and miraculously walked away. After multiple back surgeries and a lot of pain, he’s slowly getting back to walking/standing/sitting for extended periods of time– things we might take for granted. There’s a reason 2-wheeled vehicles are called “donorcycles” in the emergency dept.

    That said, the financial benefits of a scooter/cycle are hard to resist– I think the smartcar is going to draw quite a bit of interest as a slightly larger alternative, esp in urban areas. J.D., ever think about downsizing from that Mini? 😉

  44. Dave G. says 20 October 2008 at 09:28

    I’ve been a motorcyclist for 20 years and originally got into it for the economy and fun. My first petro-powered two wheeler was a 49cc Honda Express No-ped. These days I commute 3 miles each way and my vehicle is a trusty old bicycle. With the right mindset, clothing, and a few inexpensive accessories one can ride all year long, even through an Iowa winter. It is the most economical and environmentally sound vehicle I have found. Jeremy #17 has a terrific solution for cargo, and passengers.

    For those of you leaning toward scooters, here’s my 2 cents: When I ride a motorcycle(scooter) I wear protective clothing and a helmet. Consider this line of thought before pressing the starter button; imagine yourself standing on a sidewalk. Would your person be protected if you jumped up in the air and then landed on your back, your face, your side, etc. How does it feel to hit your elbow on the sidewalk? Knee hurt from the fall? Will your jeans keep road rash at bay? Is your mellon up to the task of hitting the road without a helmet? Now factor in your speed on the street, and other traffic. Still want that scooter?

    Granted, one can’t live life in a bubble, but if we’re all saving for the future and looking ahead, I for one want to have all my faculties when the future becomes the present. Fun rides can end in a crash (financial pun intended). Protection is good insurance.

    I still like to ride motorcycles, but it no longer makes ecological and economical sense to me. Mine will be sold next Spring. My bicycle, arguably equally risky is simply better, and more fun.

  45. Dave says 20 October 2008 at 10:54

    Nat wrote: “…in Sydney, NSW, Australia a scooter/motorbike pays the SAME PRICE tolls as a car” It’s the same in the rest of the world. I worked for several years on automated toll road systems, and they all work based on the number of axles. Any 2-wheeler has just as many axles as a 4-wheeler. If you really want to get upset, try towing a trailer behind your motorcycle, as I do. I end up paying the same toll as a big SUV hauling a boat!

  46. BladeDoc says 20 October 2008 at 13:59

    Lets be perfectly clear motorcycles and scooters have a VASTLY worse safety record per mile traveled than automobiles. The “I’m more maneuverable” line is just plain meaningless vs. the fact that in a fender-bender your leg is the fender and in every accident you’re ejected from the vehicle automatically.

    Per mile traveled motorcycles have a 21 times higher fatality rate than cars. And even ignoring the fact that motorcycles are driven fewer miles per year than cars there were 68 deaths per 100,000 registered motorcycles in 2001 compared with 16 deaths per 100,000 in cars. See

    http://www.oneida-abate.org/legislative/Articles/Fatalities.htm

    Make your own decisions but make them with the real data at hand.

  47. lookout says 20 October 2008 at 15:14

    For what it’s worth, my friend just hit a dog on his scooter two days ago. He was wearing a helmet, thankfully, but still ended up with stitches in his head, a few broken ribs, a fractured clavicle, and some gnarly scrapes and bruises on his hip…

  48. Traciatim says 20 October 2008 at 16:51

    Maybe I’m just being insensitive, but I had to take the shot. How did they train a dog to drive a scooter?

  49. Steve says 21 October 2008 at 05:12

    I’ve been riding a scooter for 2 years now. I opted for a maxi because of the larger fairing and windscreen. Canberra winters can be punishing. My scooter is a Piaggio X9 250cc.

    Plenty fast enough for the freeway. In fact it will do 135 km/hr (84 mph) flat out and will cruise at 110 km/hr (68 mph) all day. It has LOADS of storage, enough for 2 helmets under the saddle and loads more in the top box, room for 2 more helmets. Which means I can carry HEAPS on this thing – and I do!

    My scooter is a move up for me. I have been a long time bicycle commuter and started seeing motor scooters everywhere and thought “why not”. I still ride my bicycle when the weather is ideal, but most of my commuting is by scooter these days.

    This is my first motorised 2 wheeled vehicle EVER. Another reason for choosing a scooter. The controls are simple to operate and the the CVT means the bike accelerates and decelerates smoothly. No clutch or foot controls to have to learn. Great for an old cyclist like me!

    The down side is car drivers just don’t see us. I’d learnt that lesson on bicycles. But I have been knocked off my scooter twice in the last 2 years. Both slow-speed rear-end collisions that where not my fault. But still – it hurts when you hit the road. I only suffered minor bruising both times fortunately. And the scooter was only slightly damaged. My protective clothing saved my from worst injuries!

    Wear a proper helmet, motorcycle jacket with kevlar armour, motorcycle gloves, solid boots and jeans as a MINIMUM! I’m thinging of getting some Draggin Jeans next. I ALWAYS wear EVERYTHING. Even when it’s 36 degrees ( over 100 F ) outside. It’s just not worth taking the extra risk.

    Also I try to do at least one “brush up” defensive riding course each year just to remind myself I don’t know everything, and to pickup some handy skills. Avoiding trouble is the best place to start.

    Oh and did I say, riding a scooter is huge fun! I love this machine. I got on long touring rides every other weekend when the weather is fine. It’s just too much fun! And cheap as chips to run.

    I read some people say they wouldn’t ride in the cold. I ride ALL YEAR. Rain or sun. It’ll sharpen up your riding skills and let your learn how to handle the bike in all weather. You can’t rely on it being ideal all the time. This can be scary at first, especially in high wind. But just relax, slow to a speed that YOU are comfortable with and stay safe.

    Ride safe!

  50. Matt Caldwell says 21 October 2008 at 12:07

    Excellent post! I’ve been riding motorcycles for 2 years now and the experience cannot be replaced by anything else. Saving on gas money is just one additional benefit of riding. I believe it has several psychological benefits as well. There are risks, but they can be managed if approached maturely.

  51. khurt says 21 October 2008 at 12:53

    For me … scooter .. too much increased risk and loss of utility for not much significant financial gain. I can reduce my living costs by buying a set of tents and selling our home but …

    NJ winters can be tough.

  52. Steve says 21 October 2008 at 16:15

    khurt: I’ve done the sums and my (big) scooter costs me $2000 a year. Our other car ( a diesel sedan ) costs us $8700 a year. That includes all running costs, depreciation, registration and insurance. So the purchase price of $8500 means the scooter has already more than paid for itself. Sure there is a increased risk, but this can be mitigated by a proper mental attitude and sensible riding. As for the weather, the only thing that would prevent me riding would be ice on the roads or extreme winds.

    Otherwise – wear appropriate clothing and just do it! Like Matt said, there is a psychological benefit. It’s good to be not one of the herd.

  53. Paul says 22 October 2008 at 00:18

    There’s another economic benefit to just scooting. You don’t end up buying large crap you don’t need on a whim. I’ve always liked sailboats for instance, but with my scooter–blowing several hundred dollars on a boat that will at best see use every other weekend, is immediately out of the question.

    Same goes for things like big-screen TVs. A scooter-based lifestyle naturally increases the time-complexity of large purchases, increasing the psychological barriers that advertising and easy credit tries to break down. Furthermore this benefit extends to consumables like groceries. Past a certain amount of groceries, you simply will not be able to safely carry them home.

    Thus you are forced to evaluate what you really need and plan accordingly–if only in the back of your mind. In a way living with just a scooter is self-enforcing frugality.

  54. Steve says 22 October 2008 at 02:46

    Paul: I don’t exactly agree that a scooter “lifestyle” forces frugality. Sure I can carry less therefore I shop more frequently. This has an upside as we tend to eat more fresh food. Other than that I figure the scooter is saving us money, so I can spend more on other important areas of life, like wine and cheese.

    Big screen TV coming soon. 😉

  55. Cory says 22 October 2008 at 08:14

    @Traciatim follow up tests show that modern (2006+ not 1968) scooters run release about 17x more hydrocarbons (in ppm) and 3x more CO2 (as a %). The thing to remember is that these numbers are ALL basically ratios… amount of pollutant per volume of exhaust. The total exhaust put out by a scooter motoring down the road is small compared to the SUV.

    Lets assume that the total volume of exhaust is proportional to MPG rating. Then an 85MPG scooter will dump 4x more TOTAL hydrocarbons per mile than the SUV but the SUV will pump out 50% more CO2 per mile. (In reality a scooter probably puts out far less total exhaust than even that.)

    Also, a new 4-cylinder scooter that gets 85MPG will spit out far less pollution than a scooter with a 2 cycle.

    Then there is the difference in environmental impact building the two vehicles, maintaining them (far less oil, etc. for the scooter) and disposing of them at the end of their life.

    Personally I don’t even drive a scooter since it doesn’t work well in my lifestyle/location, however, I think it’s irresponsible to claim that an SUV is a better environmental choice than a scooter based on incomplete science/facts. The only good thing about those types of news articles is that perhaps it will help pressure scooter manufactures to clean up the exhaust a bit and make them even better for the environment.

  56. Traciatim says 22 October 2008 at 08:52

    Cory, that’s exactly why I stated to be sure if you are buying a scooter for environmental reasons that you don’t choose one that spews goo out it’s tailpipe.

    For a single person that lives close to work and a grocery store who likes getting groceries a couple times a week they work. Even as a second vehicle for a daily commute through town with a fuel efficient vehicle for one family member they work too. A bicycle is better for you, the environment, and your wallet however and basically goes all the same places.

    I like being in a heated cabin, in comfy seats, being dry, not using my face to sweep the pavement . . . I also like being in a heavier car since they are generally safer, and have less injuries and fatalities in accidents. Small things turn in to pinballs in accidents, big things just keep going . . . here’s a visual (warning, not for weak stomachs, possibly not work safe):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mARVNtGq6WU

    Looking for a scooter now? I realize the accident is the car drivers fault . . . but guess who is walking home.

    Here is a second video for those that like small cars instead of scooters (uses crash dummies, fine for everyone):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02eghIfyHP0

  57. Michael West says 22 October 2008 at 10:24

    I own a 2008 Genuine Stella (150cc). I’ve had it a little less than a year. Before that I bike commuted for a little while.

    A few comments…
    On pollution- There are kits to reduce two stroke pollution that are relatively easy to install. So that really isn’t an issue and unless your using a manual lawnmower and an electric yard edger worrying about a scooter is a little short sighted.

    On bike commuting- Bike commuting is fine, but it requires a much more dedicated person or flexible situation. My scooter gets me to work faster, in the same clothing I wear to work all day, and without as much concern about the way I’ll carry my gear.

    On safety- If you drive a scooter the way you drive a car it IS less safe. I don’t take the same roads on a scooter or make any assumptions about whether or not someone else is going to do what they’re supposed to. Also I don’t drive a scooter while eating or on a cell phone. Things I did all the time in a car. So while not all people are safer on a scooter, I’m pretty sure my odds are actually better than when I drove a car every day.

    On gas mileage- 80 mpg is hard to argue with.

    On hauling kids or miscellaneous- We have a Trailblazer for that, one car to take care of all the situations that require it. However a side car on a scooter increases stability, storage space, and the likelihood that other drivers will notice you (out of novelty). It also reduces mpg but you’ll still beat any car.

    On scooters vs. motorcycles- Scooters get much better gas mileage, they’re easier to control, and I’m never tempted to get on the freeway. My scooter does exactly what its supposed to without adding variables to my life I don’t want.

  58. beth says 22 October 2008 at 11:16

    I would love to get a scooter again. I had one in college and it was great for my life at the time. Currently, though, I live in a city where it is NOT safe to be out on anything with two wheels. In the 20 months I’ve lived here, I’ve personally driven by 2 scooter accidents (both appeared to have been car hitting scooter), a half-dozen motorcycle wrecks, and 2 motorcycle fatalities. I won’t let my kids ride their bicycle to the corner store here because the native drivers simply can’t navigate around cyclists of any kind.

    However… once my sports gear- and art supply-toting teenagers have moved on to college and if we move back to a college-sized and -minded town, then I will absolutely be all over using the smallest and most efficient means needed to get around.

  59. Mule Skinner says 22 October 2008 at 11:47

    When my two boys were little I had a scooter and used to ride them around on it. The older one got hooked, and by the time he was a teen he had to have a motorcycle. For the next ten years I always worried that he would become a casualty. Fortunately when he got married, his bride quashed the motorcycle riding.

  60. Murph says 22 October 2008 at 14:01

    Re: Scooters & families with children:

    My wife and I have three kids (soon to be four). We have one car, and my wife uses it to haul the kids around. I sold my car three years ago and bought a scooter. While the logistics of raising a young family will not allow us to go completely car-free–we live in Fort Worth, where public transportation exists, but just barely–owning the scoot has allowed us to get along with one car just fine. There have been occasions when another car would have been useful–like the time the family car broke down–but we worked around the inconvenience by adjusting our schedules or renting a car for a day or two.

    Owning one car instead of two has resulted in substantial savings, some predictable (insurance, gas, maintenance, depreciation) and some surprising (no impulse shopping on the way home from work when I’m on the scooter because there’s not much room to carry purchases).

  61. Steve says 22 October 2008 at 15:49

    Michael West:On safety- If you drive a scooter the way you drive a car it IS less safe. I don’t take the same roads on a scooter or make any assumptions about whether or not someone else is going to do what they’re supposed to.

    That is an excellent point Micheal. After my first accident I didn’t just think, what a dumb fcuk car driver, I though about what I could have done to avoid that situation. And the answer was – change my route!

    Actively avoid situations where car drivers have to make decisions for themselves like on-ramps and roundabouts. My route now replaces uncontrolled intersections with traffic lights where possible, because in-general car drivers obey traffic lights.

    Less room for independent car-driver decision making = safer scootering for me.

  62. Tzctlpc says 22 October 2008 at 15:59

    “So while not all people are safer on a scooter, I’m pretty sure my odds are actually better than when I drove a car every day. ”

    It is sad to see how people talking about finances, a discipline deeply rooted in mathematics and statistics, can come with such statements.

    The statistics say clearly that riding a scooter is far less safe. Yes, you can try to improve your odds, but your odds are substantially worse, thinking otherwise is simply foolish.

  63. Michael West says 22 October 2008 at 18:24

    That depends on what we mean by safe. Statistics show that if in an accident a scooterist is far more likely to be badly hurt or killed. However I’m not aware of any statistic that shows that a scooterist is more likely to be in an accident in the first place. I’m fairly sure that air travel is considered safer than automobile travel even though once in a plane accident fatality is almost inevitable.

  64. steve in MA says 22 October 2008 at 20:36

    “while I live within walking (and biking) distance of my office, I work until after dark most days.”

    If the darkness is your concer, then you can just get a good headlamp and taillamp for your bicycle. There’s no need to have a motorized vehicle to have a properly equipped vehicle. If you use a bike for practical transportation, equip it like a car is equipped–with a headlight, a taillight and (I recommend) a 3″ diameter amber trailer reflector as well.

    AS far as those concerned with hauling large cargo, assuming you are going a bikeable distance, I have carried much larger cargo on my bike (with my bike trailer) than will fit in my Honda Accord. Like, an entire desk (fully assembled).

    I have even towed my bike trailer (illegally at 1AM!) behind my car at 20mph to move a heavy piece of furniture across town. So my point is, if you want to maximize the use of your bike, get a decent cargo trailer for it.

    Cheers!

  65. Steve says 22 October 2008 at 22:00

    >If the darkness is your concer, then you can just get a good headlamp and taillamp for your bicycle.

    You can make them yourself easily enough. My current lighting kit is a DIY setup based on 2 x 3 watt (12v) Luxeon LED lamps hooked to 10 x 1.2v NiMH AA batteries wired in series. And a 12v Red Xenon strobe in the rear. Total cost – about AUS$90.

    The NIMH batteries are lighter than lead-acid, and will run these lights for over 4 hours on a single charge – on high beam! LED lighting is the way to go.

    And seriously, these headlights are brighter than my Piaggio scooter’s.

  66. Rob Hoehn says 07 April 2009 at 16:08

    I noticed some people mention electric scooters. I’ve been riding an EVT 168 Electric scooter for over a year now here in Seattle. Charges from a regular 110 Volt household outlet in about 4 hours. It basically costs me about 1 cent per mile to operate it. The one I have is here:

    http://soundspeedscooters.com/store/vehicles/evt-168

  67. Lisa Loperfido says 09 December 2013 at 14:17

    I made a similar lifestyle choice recently! I have a People 250cc. I love it, it’s wonderful. I love the thrill and freedom of the scoot. The cost also has its perks.
    Now that it’s getting colder and wetter I am a little nervous about my choice, but I live in Southern California and am simply hoping for the best. If riding conditions ever suck I think I can manage the bus system for a day or two.
    Thanks for sharing!

  68. Mark Garvey says 18 February 2014 at 08:23

    I owned 1986 Honda helix for 2 years. it may well have been the best vehicle I have ever owned and I regret to this day selling it

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