Back at the beginning of this year, I bought a new scooter. Needless to say, I formed some pretty strong opinions about the new machine within the first couple of weeks. I restrained myself from writing a review right away, though. I though it would mean more after I put a thousand miles or so on it. This morning I looked down at my odometer and saw 1749 km, which works out to about 1050 miles.
I chose a 150cc scooter because it is big enough to go 60 mph on arterial streets, but small enough to be fuel efficient and easy to park. There are hundreds of models of 150cc scooters on the market. I chose a Kymco because they have a reputation as a reputable company, with offices in the US and a 2 year warranty. Kymco makes a lot of the fact that they use ISO 9001 quality control. I thought that a Kymco would be reliable “out of the box”.
If I had it to do over, I would still buy a 150cc scooter, but probably not a Kymco.
First, the good:
The scooter handles great. It points well, and the front-back balance is as good as any motor bike I’ve owned. The wheels are big (16″), which helps a lot on the crappy blacktop we have here in Los Angeles. Kymco seems to use a better grade of hoses and lines than most of the mainland scooters. The carburetor and other parts are made by vendors whose names I actually recognized.
The luggage rack, which looks like it would be small and useless, is surprisingly handy. I do wish, though, that they had made it out of metal. The paint is already wearing off of the plastic. Then again, I haul a lot more cargo with my scooter than most American’s, because I do not own a car.
Now the bad:
From the beginning, the scooter has had an annoying and dangerous habit of stalling unexpectantly in traffic. Initially, I tried to get it fixed under warranty. The clueless dealer called Kymco and was told that I, the owner, had probably over-filled the gas tank and swamped the evaporative emissions canister. Kymco send out a new canister, which did not fix the problem. the mechanic mentioned that KymcoUSA is “sort of hard to deal with”.
Apparently many California-model Kymcos have fuel system issues because of the after-thought nature of the emissions system. It occurs to me that if the gas-tank vent line were to vibrate off the check valve, then the problem would go away with no noticeable decrease in performance… Get it? Got it? Good.
My own problem had nothing to do with the fuel system, however. Once I gave up on the dealership and the warranty process, I eventually tracked it to a defective CDI module that was overheating. So much for ISO 9001 quality control. I put on a $25 generic module that seems to have fixed the problem. All in all, my new scooter was unreliable and dangerous for about four months while I spent hours working on it.
Next time, I will just get one of the cheap no-name scooters. I’ll probably still need to spend a few weeks fixing the bugs, but it will cost about 1/3 the price. I paid a lot of extra money for a scooter that I thought I would not have trouble with, and that money was wasted.
That being said, the scooter is working out for me now. I’ll probably keep it for at least a couple of years before I trade it off.
In the past month, I have added one more transportation mode to my arsenal: a 150cc Taiwanese motor-scooter. I dragged my feet for some time before going motorized. During the past ten months of living with no car, though, I realized that I had a lot of trouble with trips of between 15 and 50 miles. They were too far to ride my bicycle (if i wanted to get there on time and/or carry any amount of cargo). They were too short to justify borrowing or renting a car. If the train went close, then no problem. A lot of trips around here are only served by bus, however. Here in Southern California, a thirty mile trip across town can cross the territories of three or more transit authorities. Just working out the transfers was a headache.
Even after realizing that I needed some sort of motorized transportation, I spent several months researching various forms of powered bicycles. Electric bikes are cheap to recharge and low maintenance. Unfortunately, the good ones are expensive. Also, the batteries wear out after a couple of years. During this period, I wrote a rather chilling research paper about the environmental problems of recycling batteries. Too, few e-bikes can much faster than 30 mph–fine for downtown, but too slow to keep up with traffic in OC and the South Bay.
Next, I looked at gas powered bicycle conversions. They are much cheaper than e-bikes. I could have gotten everything I needed to convert a beach cruiser for about $250. If I was willing to cheat a little on engine displacement, I could probably build a 50 mph motorized bicycle. The only problem was, I have already owned one. I remember it as a noisy vehicle with poor handling at speed, with inadequate brakes and tires that wore out as fast as I could change them.
From an environmental point of view, motorized bicycles have engines about the same size as motorscooters. Because they have no transmission, however, they are inherently less efficient. Thus, they tend to burn more gas to travel the same distance. They also have more lenient smog requirements, so they tend to pollute more.
I was already considering some kind of scooter when I went to Thailand on vacation. In Thailand nearly everyone rides scooters. They use them to carry passengers and cargo in all kinds of weather conditions, everywhere from the freeways of Bangkok to remote country roads. Needless to say, I resolved to buy an Asian-style scooter as soon as I got home.
The most popular scooter in Thailand is the Honda Dream, which has large wheels and uses Honda’s famous 125cc GY6 engine. Unfortunately, Honda no longer sells Dreams in the US. Luckily, Kymco (who used to build scooters for Honda) makes several GY6 based bikes which are quite similar. I settled on their People 150. I decided that, since I am a bit larger than the average Thai, it was reasonable to choose the next larger GY6.
So far, I have been fairly happy with the Kymco. It does a splendid job of the mission for which I purchased it. I can load it up with ten bags of groceries, and still keep up with traffic. It does not take up much more parking space than a bicycle. The only problems I have had so far have been mechanical. It stalls inexplicably when running. Vapor lock, perhaps? I have had it apart three times now, but I am sure I will find the problem soon.
The real question, of course, is weather it is morally acceptable to buy a combustion vehicle. I have wrestled with this one, and concluded that it is a necessary compromise. A small scooter still has far less environmental impact than a car. Having the scooter allows me to borrow cars less often. Sure, I would like to live in a city where it was practical to get everywhere by bicycle and train. Los Angeles, however, is a city that was designed for driving. As long as I am stuck here, I think I will need to keep the scooter.