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.

More about...Transportation

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
68 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Beth
Beth
11 years ago

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

Bart
Bart
11 years ago

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

Kirk
Kirk
11 years ago

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.

meoip
meoip
11 years ago

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.

dan hassler
dan hassler
11 years ago

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,… Read more »

Traciatim
Traciatim
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Anne
Anne
11 years ago

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,… Read more »

arun kamath
arun kamath
11 years ago

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

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
11 years ago

@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.

Richard
Richard
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Louise
Louise
11 years ago

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… Read more »

HollyP
HollyP
11 years ago

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.

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson
11 years ago

@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… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
11 years ago

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.

Birgit
Birgit
11 years ago

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*

KC
KC
11 years ago

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),… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

“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… Read more »

BrianD
BrianD
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Diatryma
Diatryma
11 years ago

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.

Wes
Wes
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Gloria
Gloria
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Christy
Christy
11 years ago

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!

Rob in Madrid
Rob in Madrid
11 years ago

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.

magicBC
magicBC
11 years ago

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.

Adam
Adam
11 years ago

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.

libraripagan
libraripagan
11 years ago

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.

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
11 years ago

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… Read more »

DebtKid
DebtKid
11 years ago

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… Read more »

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
11 years ago

@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.… Read more »

Mike Panic
Mike Panic
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Guy
Guy
11 years ago

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.

Dody
Dody
11 years ago

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.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

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! 🙂

Nat
Nat
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Nat
Nat
11 years ago

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!!!

Betsy
Betsy
11 years ago

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).

Kiri
Kiri
11 years ago

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.

Shirley
Shirley
11 years ago

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!

seb
seb
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Tzctlpc
Tzctlpc
11 years ago

“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… Read more »

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
11 years ago

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.

CoolProducts
CoolProducts
11 years ago

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

RenaissanceTrophyWife
RenaissanceTrophyWife
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Dave G.
Dave G.
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

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!

BladeDoc
BladeDoc
11 years ago

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… Read more »

lookout
lookout
11 years ago

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…

Traciatim
Traciatim
11 years ago

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

Steve
Steve
11 years ago

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… Read more »

Matt Caldwell
Matt Caldwell
11 years ago

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.

shares