by David L. Harrington
Winter? As I write this, it’s nearly Thanksgiving and we are still enjoying unseasonable warmth. I’ve been riding my Kymco People 250 (the same model of scooter that MMM tried to destroy over 24 hours a few years back) to work almost every day. Still, this IS Minnesota, and we WILL have to face winter at some point. There will be waaaaaay below freezing temperatures, icy winds, snow, and all that good stuff that makes riding hazardous and not terribly enjoyable. So what to do with the scooter? You have three basic choices: keep riding, do nothing, or store your scooter for the winter.
A number of scooterists (and motorcyclists) do continue to ride through the winter. There are even some events that celebrate those demented enough to get out on two wheels during a Minnesota winter. Bob Hedstrom of Scooterville is a previous winner of the Cold Weather Challenge, having ridden over ten miles at 16 degrees below zero, that’s air temperature, not wind-chill. I believe Kevin Kocur of the MMM staff will run his sidecar rig during the winter. Personally, I believe this is due to ordinary (for Kevin) mental confusion and not necessarily intentional winter riding. If you elect to continue riding your scooter over the winter months, there are some things you should be aware of and ways to make the ride tolerable.
Road conditions in the winter are the biggest obstacle. I do ride year-round, but NOT when the roads are snowy, icy or otherwise severely traction-challenged. It’s been my experience that there are plenty of days during the winter when the roads are in pretty good condition, even if there is a chill in the air. Depending on the model of scooter you ride, you will likely have pretty decent protection from wind, road grime and so forth; at least for the lower half of your body. A good riding jacket can do wonders to battle the cold. I recommend getting a good quality, textile jacket with reflective material, armor, and an insulated liner. Expect to spend from $130 – $300 for a good jacket.
A full-face helmet will help keep your face from freezing. At least a good ¾ helmet with a face wrap or balaclava should be part of your gear. Warm boots are essential, and on a scooter you don’t have to work the shifter with your feet so you can get away with some nice, thick snow-boots. Insulated pants are a good idea and, most importantly, a really good pair of winter gloves. I use gloves made for riding, with armor and insulation for most winter situations and have a pair of Gerbing electric gloves for the REALLY cold days. Your hands are typically the most exposed part of you when riding a scooter and it can be just miserable to be out in the cold without proper gloves. If your budget will tolerate it, a complete suit, like the Roadcrafter or Darien from Aerostich really helps fight the winter cold.
Bundle up, ride carefully, and be aware that the cars and trucks on the road will be REALLY surprised to see you. Seriously, they are NOT looking out for scooters and motorcycles in the winter.
You can just park your scooter and walk away. This is not a good choice and is likely to result in some frustration and expenditures come springtime. The vast majority of fuel available is an ethanol blend. Over time, the ethanol will separate from the gasoline and can cause clogged carburetor passages and jets. By NOT winterizing your scooter, you are likely going to need a carburetor cleaning in the spring. This can cost $75 – $150, require hauling your scooter to a shop, and delays your riding time when the warm weather returns.
On a side note, non-oxygenated fuel is available at several places in the Twin Cities area. This is gasoline that is NOT blended with ethanol and is intended for use in small, carbureted engines. There is a link to a list of stations with non-ox at www.msra.com. I have also placed a link to the station list at www.JustGottaScoot.com.
That small battery in your scooter isn’t likely to fare too well over the winter, either. A replacement battery can cost $35 – $100 and this expense can often be avoided with simple maintenance.
Winterize and Store
Getting a typical scooter ready for winter storage is fairly simple. Bob Hedstrom at Scooterville put on clinics this year to show people how to do it. Videos from these clinics are available at JustGottaScoot.com, on the Scooterville page (go to the “Links” page to find Scooterville).
First, stabilize your fuel. Personally, I suggest filling your tank with non-oxygenated fuel and then adding the appropriate amount of a stabilizing product like Stabil or Sea Foam. I use the marine formula of Stabil (the blue fluid) and it takes an ounce to treat about 2.5 gallons of fuel. Run your scooter for several miles, or about ten minutes, to get the stabilized fuel throughout your fuel system. Next, drain the carburetor (not necessary for fuel injected scooters). Now remove the battery and store it in a warm location. The battery should be charged throughout the winter. I suggest using a battery tender with very low charging amperage. In most cases, you can charge the battery one day, every two to three weeks over the winter. With a fully automatic tender, you can just hook it up and leave it. I also cover the scooters in my garage (the ones I am not riding all year) to keep them protected from damage when I toss snow shovels there in disgust after having spent the better part of a morning digging myself out after the plows pass through.
Come spring time, you can re-install the battery, check the tires, brakes and lights, and fire up your scooter.
Let Someone Else Do It
There are several shops in the Twin Cities that offer winter storage for your scooter. My favorites are BlueCat Motors in St. Paul, Scooterville in Minneapolis, and GoMoto in Osseo. All three offer winter preparation, storage, and service in the spring. You’ll be able to drop your scooter off (or have it picked up), pay a reasonable fee, and have it all ready to ride, freshly serviced, come spring time.
Oh yes, if you see Kevin out in January on a sidecar rig that has seen MUCH better days, ask him if he knows it’s winter. If he looks confused, well, don’t worry. It’s him, not you.