by Jeremy Wilker and Derrick Edge
Here we go: a rough scooter comparison and buyer’s guide for all you two-wheel aficionados out there! Hopefully this little bunch of information gives you useful information for buying or selling a scooter. Not buying or selling? Then it just provides another object for your ever-growing archives of scooter-related articles and ephemera. If nothing else, surely it’ll be a highly entertaining bit of journalistic research that’ll last you through that cup ofcoffee in your hand.
Firstly, though, let’s get some disclaimers out of the way: this research was not funded with bribes, payoffs, soft money or donations from scooter manufacturers or dealers — we wish! Scooters were provided for our testing and use by dealers and individual owners only to participate in the glory of “science.” That said, we’ll try to throttle back our personal biases during the course of this article and give you (mostly) cold hard facts.
My partner in science for this article is Derrick Edge of Tonka Bay Scooters. Derrick’s experience fixing and restoring scooters should come in handy and he’s very much a vintage scooter lover so his views on the modern scooters should be interesting.
Price ranges for vintage scooters in this little guide are merely estimates — you will find a wide range of prices on vintage scooters depending on condition and location (i.e.: eBay is always higher). Around this region you’ll most likely find a high number of Vespa P200E and Vespa AllState (sold by Sears) models. Shop wisely and compare, when possible. This won’t be easy as there aren’t any vintage dealerships.
Speaking of condition of vintage scooters, you’ll be happier if you keep some common tips in mind when buying: Make sure the scooter is complete. If it already runs, great. If it doesn’t run, make sure the piston moves freely. Surface rust can be dealt with, but holes rusted through the frame are a huge hassle and expensive to fix. Make sure the frame is straight. Original equipment and paint is usually desirable, including badges and stickers. A dirty or crusty fuel tank can be bead-blasted or replaced. Seats can be repaired or replaced. Modifications by “inventive” farmers are usually not desirable–beware of these frankenscooters. Do a personal inspection whenever possible before buying. An actual title is a good thing on a vintage scooter.
There are a few things to keep in mind when buying new scooters as well. For example, are they even available in your area? The Vespa line is now mainly sold through the official Vespa Boutiques and the closest such places are Milwaukee and Chicago. Aprilia models are available at Delano Sports Center and at Leo’s South. Italjet, hmmm, these are suddenly harder to find. Most Yamaha dealers should be able to get you the Vino. Same for any Honda scooters. If you want a Gilera, Peugeot, Derbi, Malaguti, Benelli, Kymco, Hyosung or MBK, well, you’ll have a bit of task in front of you just to locate these models. Hint: start in Chicago at a place called “Baron Von Scoot.”
This is called the rough guide as there just wasn’t enough time to examine every scooter on our list. Notably missing are the Yamaha Vino and the Italjet, but we’ll get to those as soon as we can. You’ll also notice a focus on Vespa in this initial guide. And why not? At the top of their game Vespa was huge in America, taking something like 90% of all scooter sales. This may be why Vespa still has such name recognition after all these years of not being available in the U.S. market. Of course, their amazing style also speaks loudly.
Keep in mind that our battery of tests (such as they were) might not hold up under strict scientific scrutiny. The testing was done using a stop watch and the seat of our pants. Levi’s jeans, actually. We thought this more accurately represented the typical scooter inspection experience and, hey, who can afford radar guns these days anyway?
Reviews (with pictures):
VESPA 2001 ET4Price – $3950.00 Warranty – 1 year Motor – 150 cc 4-stroke, 1 cylinder Cooling – forced air 0-40 mph – 9 seconds Top speed – 70 mph Acceleration – smooth/even, good Transmission – fully automatic, very smooth Starter – electric + kick Signals – yes Horn – yes Lights – yes Battery – yes Tires – 10″ Tank – 2.2 gallons Gas Usage – 60 mpg, approx Oil Usage – n/a Ergonomics: Seat Height – 31.7″ Weight – 230 lbs Wheel base – 50.4″ Balance – much better than vintage Vibration – nothing worth mentioning Noise – very quiet Riders – great for single or double Construction:
Frame – pressed steel monocoque Body – steel (minimal plastic) Front Shocks – single coil hydraulic, sidearm Rear Shocks – single coil hydraulic Front Brakes – disc Rear Brakes – drum Gauges – nice, big, clear, accurate Switches – simple Seat – tapered bench, comfy Storage – glovebox, underseat helmet storage, rack Results:
Accelerates, brakes and corners like a dream compared to vintage scooters. Cost is a bit steep. Electric starter may not be foolproof as some have reported engagement problems. Great update in overall style/design. A very modern classic. The key is computer chipped for extra security. The rear storage pod is a costly $300 extra.
Derrick: Great bike with nice style. Handles and performs quite nicely. The only thing I don’t like is that it’s now too complicated. It has lost the simplicity and innocence of the vintage scooters. But this is a very nice scooter.
Jeremy: Vespa nailed it with the ET4. Unmistakably a Vespa, but very modern features. Rides very nicely, stops great, very quiet, comfy. For some reason it is not as quick off the blocks as Aprilia (which surprised me) but good top speed. A winner.
VESPA 1981 P200EPrice – $700-$3000 Warranty – none, vintage Motor – 198 cc 2-stroke, 1 cylinder Cooling – forced air 0-40 mph – 8.5 seconds Top speed – 65-70 mph Acceleration – very good Transmission – 4 speed Starter – kick Signals – yes Horn – yes Lights – yes Battery – yes Tires – 10″ Tank – 2.1 gallons Gas Usage – 60 mpg, approx Oil Usage – too much, auto-injector Ergonomics: Seat Height – 31.7″ Weight – 238 lbs Wheel base – 49″ Balance – not the best, engine off-center Vibration – minimal Noise – average Riders – single or double just fine Construction:
Frame – pressed steel monocoque Body – steel Front Shocks – single coil hydraulic, sidearm Rear Shocks – single coil hydraulic Front Brakes – drum Rear Brakes – drum Gauges – speedo only Switches – horn, lights, signals Seat – bench seat, not great Storage – glovebox Results:
A plethora of mod kit options are available for most classic scooters and many people race this scooter after tweaking the engine. The height, tall center of gravity and side-mount engine makes this scooter off-balance but most people quickly adjust after a ride or two.
Derrick: Great for touring due to power and suspension. Good handling at high speed. The styling is yucky in comparison to other vintage scooters — too angular.
Jeremy: Good power, decent handling. Braking is dual drum so a bit weak. Bench seat isn’t great. Goes fast, fairly easy to maintain. Probably the last vintage scooter before the modern styles/engines took over. Huge glovebox.
VESPA 1972 PRIMAVERA 125Price – $1,200-$2,500 Warranty – none Motor – 125 cc 2-stroke, 1 cylinder Cooling – forced air 0-40 mph – 10 seconds Top speed – 54 mph Acceleration – good Transmission – 4 speed manual Starter – kick Signals – none Horn – yes Lights – yes Battery – none Tires – 10″ Tank – 1.5 gallon Gas Usage – 60 mpg? Oil Usage – yes, pre-mix Ergonomics: Seat Height – 30.5″ Weight – 163 lbs Wheel base – 46″ Balance – pretty good, better than P200 Vibration – nothing much Noise – average Riders – single great, double possible Construction:
Frame – pressed steel monocoque Body – steel Front Shocks – single coil hydraulic, side arm Rear Shocks – single coil hydraulic Front Brakes – drum Rear Brakes – drum Gauges – speedo only Switches – horn, lights Seat – nice Storage – glovebox
Add on a spare tire rack or a rear rack. Add chromed crash bars. Tweak the engine. Like any vintage scooter, there are many options.
Derrick: This is a small-frame Vespa and it has good handling due to the smaller size and weight — it is highly maneuverable. The engine is more balanced than a Vespa P200. It has a good top speed for a vintage bike and is fast and comfortable. This was really the last great vintage design by Vespa.
Jeremy: Small frame Vespas are so nice looking and their performance is great for their size. A classic vintage scooter. Doesn’t have the high top-end speed but this is a super scooter for smaller riders.
LAMBRETTA 1964 Li125 Series 3Price – $2,000-$4,000 Warranty – none Motor – 190 cc* 2-stroke, 1 cylinder Cooling – forced air 0-40 mph – 7.5 seconds Top speed – 65-70 Acceleration – very good Transmission – 4 speed manual Starter – kick Signals – none Horn – yes Lights – yes Battery – none Tires – 10″ Tank – 2.2 gallons Gas Usage – 60 mpg Oil Usage – yes, pre-mix Ergonomics: Seat Height – 28.5″ Weight – 229 lbs Wheel base – 52″ Balance – very good, low center of gravity Vibration – yes, more than Vespa P200 Noise – average. As tested: loud Riders – single or double Construction:
Frame – tubular metal Body – steel Front Shocks – single coil x 2, fork Rear Shocks – single coil hydraulic Front Brakes – drum Rear Brakes – drum Gauges – speedo Switches – horn, lights Seat – bench, decent Storage – glovebox Results:
*Note on this model that the stock scooter is a 125 cc engine but we tested a modified version with a 190 cc kit installed. There are many such options for vintage scooters and this is a great example. Acceleration and top speed would be much reduced on stock equipment (maybe to 55 mph).
Derrick: A really cool “jet-set” style to this vintage scooter. Well-balanced, lower center of gravity. A little more rare than a Vespa, so that gives it some panache.
Jeremy: I used to think Vespas were “it” — until I spent time with a Lambretta. So well balanced it makes Vespas look clumsy. Low center of gravity. Cornering is really easy and fun. Longer, more sweeping body style than Vespa. Better seat than Vespa P200.
APRILIA 2001 SCARABEO 50Price – $2,399 Warranty – one year Motor – 49 cc 2-stroke, 1 cylinder Cooling – forced air Top speed – 50 mph Acceleration – slow but even 0-40 mph – 14 seconds Transmission – smooth automatic (variable) Starter – electric Signals – yes Horn – yes Lights – yes Battery – yes Tires – 16″ Tank – 2.1 gallons Gas Usage – insufficient data Oil Usage – n/a Ergonomics: Seat Height – 30.3″ Weight – 165 lbs Wheel base – 48.8″ Balance – very good Vibration – very smooth Noise – quite minimal Riders – single, double maybe Construction: Frame – tubular metal Body – plastic Front Shocks – telescopic forks Rear Shocks – single coil-over Front Brakes – disc Rear Brakes – drum Gauges – fuel, speedo Switches – nice, easy Seat – comfy Storage – glovebox
Derrick: Functionality is good – outperforms vintage in handling. You’ll be able to find one easily. The slower speed limits it to in-town use only. Doesn’t seem built for long trips. Quality package all around. Rigid frame. Nice finish.
Jeremy: This city scooter is impressive. Braking is much improved over vintage bikes. Doesn’t have quick acceleration or high top-end speed. Very nice construction, very solid. The 16″ wheels are nice but just look too big.
APRILIA 2001 SCARABEO 150Price – $4,199 Warranty – one year Motor – 150 cc 4-stroke, 1 cylinder Cooling – liquid cooled Top speed – 90 mph Acceleration – very good 0-40 mph – 5.5 seconds Transmission – smooth automatic Starter – electric Signals – yes Horn – yes Lights – yes, nice headlight Battery – yes Tires – 16″ Tank – 2.5 gallons Gas Usage – insufficient data Oil Usage – n/a Ergonomics: Seat Height – 31.5″ Weight – 308 lbs Wheel base – 54.6″ Balance – very good Vibration – very smooth Noise – minimal Riders – single, double great Construction: Frame – tubular metal Body – plastic Front Shocks – telescopic fork Rear Shocks – double coil-over Front Brakes – disc Rear Brakes – disc Gauges – clock, fuel, speed, temp Switches – nice, clear, easy Seat – huge seat, very comfy Storage – glovebox, topbox
One thing to note is that the Aprilia Scarabeo 150 seemed to have a slightly inaccurate speedometer. If not, then this scooter has an amazing reality-distortion field that makes 90 mph feel more like 80! But does it work on the highway patrol?
Derrick: The thing is killer for a scooter! It is a really heavy scooter and the center stand is perhaps difficult to use with all the weight. A bit lacking in design, in comparison. It feels like a feather when riding, though. Engine is powerful, handling is easy, really easy sensation of movement! The Aprilias seem like very upscale scooters compared to others.
Jeremy: Wow. This big and quiet scooter really moves. It handles great, brakes great, accelerates great and the seat is super comfy. A long-range scooter. Again, I don’t like the looks of the big 16″ wheels and it isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as a vintage scooter. This is a winner, though, and next year we’ll hopefully get the 200cc model! Wow. Expensive.
Derrick: The biggest difference in vintage vs modern is the transmission. Shifting has always been a difficulty on scooters. The new variable belt drive is very efficient, quiet, simple, smooth and powerful. The vintage transmissions have eight steel gears that have to mesh which are costlier and more complex. New scooters have belts than can wear out, but this is a minor repair.
Performance wise, the new scooters outperform the vintage models. The basic overall design of the two-stroke 50cc scooters is the same as vintage, but so much more refined. The new four-stroke is more like a one-cylinder car engine hooked to a belt-drive transmission.
If you want vintage looks you’ll have to sacrifice performance… but early Vespas and Lambrettas just ooze with style! The best overall choice for style and performance would have to be the new Vespa ET4.
Jeremy: The big decision is: vintage or modern? This debate could wage on for hours in your own mind, not to mention a large group of scooterists. It comes to down to performance and style. And make no mistake, style is a huge factor in the scooter world. The vintage scooters own the style category but I’d have to say the modern scooters have taken the performance category. The new transmissions are so silky smooth and quiet and pack quite a lot of power. Impressive stuff. Disc brakes are awesome and having an actual fuel gauge is quite the novelty!
I’ll have to agree with Derrick on the choice of the Vespa ET4. If you really love the vintage styling but want the modern performance, the ET4 is the only choice. But really look at the Aprilia line!
Thanks must be given to Bob Thompson, Tim Solien at Delano Sports Center and the crew at MMM for their assistance during testing. All scooter photos by Jeremy Wilker.
Until next time… Happy shopping.
Ride safe. Ride often.
The Twin Cities’ Vintage Scooter Club, The Regulars, meets on the first and third Sundays of each month at Pizza Luce in Uptown Minneapolis (32nd and Lyndale Ave) at 2:00pm for socializing and riding — as long as weather permits. Join us! The website is located at http://www.minnescoota.com.