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The case against vintage scooters

In a recent column, we discussed the case for vintage scooters. It was all about the fun, the one-ness with the machine and the undoubted cool factor of riding something like a vintage scooter. That while not the fastest or best-handling scooters on the planet, vintage scooters come with a street cred that a modern, automatic scooter could never match. And now, the downside -- the case against vintage scooters.

They are irresistible when shiny and new. And always were.
Detroit Scooter Examiner
Man made this. Man can repair this.
Detroit Scooter Examiner

While vintage scoots are undeniably cool, their functionality is… limited. Sure, when the sun is shining and it's warm, a vintage scoot can be great. Then the carburetor somehow becomes mis-adjusted, the clutch cable snaps, the inner tube gets a hole and you have a blowout or (almost) worse, the darn thing just won't start any more and when it does it runs for 1.2 seconds before dying. A vintage scooter can be frustrating.

I know that some modern "vintage" scooters like the Genuine Stella (in 2 and 4 stroke, plus a rumored automatic in the pipeline), offer less in the way of frustration. But those vintage designs still use carburetors to provide fuel to the engine and cables to operate things like the clutch (on the left handlebar), the shifting (also on the left handlebar) and the rear brake. Newer Stellas have a hydraulic front disk brake, which is frankly amazing. Did I mention that vintage scooters don't have very good brakes?

The downside of riding a vintage scooter is that they, as up to 50-year old mechanical devices, are not what they were. Like George Washington's axe, many vintage scooters have had engines, bodies, electrics, seats, lights, gas tanks and you-name-it replaced, and not all with the same care as the hard working assemblyman did on the scooter production line back in the 1960s. A vintage scooter will both steal your heart (when it's running right) and break it when it doesn't. You'll not be doing a lot of reliable commuting on a new-to-you vintage scooter until you get the bugs worked out. And sometimes, that means real bugs like ants nesting in the old seat foam.

While modern scooters are not always trouble-free, they often have the benefit of not being 50 years old. They also offer such luxuries as brand new wiring (minus a ratty, electrical-taped rally repair to the headlight wiring that will suddenly decide to come undone on your way home from a meet-up. In the rain.) Also, electronic solid-state or even a capacitive discharge ignition system that will fire off the cylinder at the touch of a button… a starter button, yet another luxury item that isn't always present on a vintage scooter. Modern scoots also have modern fuel and oil management systems as well. If it's a relatively modern two-stroke scooter, you'll not be needing to mess about with small bottles of two stroke oil and some mental math to determine how much oil to put in the tank at the gas station in order to achieve the required ratio of oil to gasoline. Modern four-stroke scoots keep the oil and gas separate (like a car) so it's really a gas and go experience. Finally, modern scoots have modern tires, tubeless (again like a car), and are often a bit bigger than the 8 to 10 inch tire found on vintage scooters. Those same 8 to 10 inch tires are usually mounted on a split-rim, and feature something that the young riders may have never experienced, an inner tube.

The case against vintage scooters is pretty clear cut. Buy one with the realization that you will have to be an active participant in it's health. You will be responsible not only for feeding (gas, oil, lubrication of various 40 or 50 year old bits), but also for repairs from minor to major that often happen at inconvenient times. Vintage scooters are not for everybody.

What's next: The case for modern scooters