How to Buy a Scooter in New York City
Scoot MaGoot. That’s the name of my pride and joy. My ticket to freedom in this concrete jungle. I’ve lived in NYC for more than nine years – nearly all of those years without a car. Not having access to wheels for such a long time can drive a person a little crazy. New York City residents – not unlike other major metropolitan residents – are stuck in a finite travel zone, at the absolute mercy of mass transit. A quick trip to Wal-Mart or Target, a “luxury” that friends and family back home take for granted, is at least an hour long commute for most folks living in the big apple.
I’ve always wanted a scooter but it always seemed pretty low on my “priority” list. That is, until one fateful day in 2011 when I experienced a terrible subway ride; a ride that became my proverbial “last straw.” At that time, the MTA cut the No. 7 train service between Manhattan and Queens for 11 weeks straight for necessary repairs. Trying to get from point A to point B became a test in mental and physical endurance. Commuters sat/stood trapped on the train between stations at 20 minute intervals as rail crews slowly placed new rails on the line ahead of the train.
Following this event (and a honeymoon spent scooting around Thailand), a scooter quickly shot to the top of my priority list.
So you want to buy a scooter. Now what?
The first step in buying a scooter is to figure out what type of scooter is going to best suit your needs. Here are some questions you should ask yourself:
- Will you use it every day to commute to work, or only for weekend excursions? Or both?
- Will you be the only one riding it or will you ride “two up” (i.e. you and someone else)?
- Do you plan to cross the NYC bridges to/from Manhattan?
- Do you plan to take longer excursions (e.g. to Montauk or Bear Mountain) or simply scoot around on local streets?
- What features are important to you? Big wheels? Little Wheels? Storage? Bag hooks?
- How much are you willing to spend?
Answering these questions will help you determine the type of scooter you should be looking at, or at the very least prepare you to speak with the scooter dealer.
It’s all about the CCs. And I’m not talking Carbon Copy.
If you’re not familiar with engines, you may be a little confused when you start to hear the term “CC” thrown around. Example: “Hey man, how many CCs is your dirt bike?” "CC" refers to the total volume of engine displacement in cubic centimeters. In layman’s terms, it’s a loose measure of how powerful an engine is; the higher the number the more powerful the engine. Typically, scooter engines come in 50cc, 125cc, 150cc, 200cc, 250cc and up to more than 500cc.
Generally speaking, if you’re just looking to poke around on the local city streets by yourself, then you’re probably Ok with a 50cc scooter. 50cc Scooters will reach a maximum speed of about 30-35mph. You can be sure this speed with decrease if you plan to ride with someone on the scooter with you. More weight equals slower speed and more wear and tear on the engine.
If you’re a little more adventurous and plan to hit all five boroughs and ride with someone else on the back of your scooter, then your best bet is to choose a 125cc scooter or higher. My scooter is a Kymco People 150 – a 150cc engine. I ride mostly “two up” with my wife on the back and we travel all over the city comfortably. Our furthest ventures so far have been to Rockaway Beach, Great Neck and Riverdale. However, we are planning a ride to the vineyards on eastern Long Island and feel totally comfortable doing this on the 150cc scooter. We’ll stick to mostly side roads so it will take longer (but be more fun!).
If you’re looking to make really long distance trips (e.g. a ride up and down the east coast) or long distance trips at a greater frequency, you’ll want to consider a 250cc engine or higher. You’ll need an engine that has the stamina to maintain higher speeds for a longer duration. You can certainly do long distance trips on smaller sized scooters (e.g. 150cc and lower) by breaking up the trip in intervals, but you’ll eventually run into comfort issues as well as wear and tear on the smaller engine.
Time to Buy
When you nail down the type/size scooter you’re looking to buy, you have three options – buy at a dealer, buy on craigslist or buy mail-order. Speaking from experience, a brand new 150cc scooter can run from $2300 - $6000 depending on the brand. On the higher end are your Vespa models. On the lower end are the Honda, Yamaha, Kymco and Sym options.
I’m not going to spend time on the mail-order option. During your scooter search you’ll come across websites selling no-name brand scooters at dirt cheap prices. Buyer beware: you pay for what you get. I’ve read time and time again on various forums about people who have had bad experiences buying the cheap models online. There are nightmare tales ranging from parts replacement to customer service to having to assemble the scooter on your own.
The other online option for purchasing a scooter is Craigslist. You can find some really good deals on Craigslist, especially if you’re patient and know what you’re looking for.
Your best bet is to purchase a scooter is through a local dealer. I purchased my Kymco at Carbon Negative in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Carbon Negative is owned by the same folks who own Vespa SoHo. However, there are plenty of other dealers in the area like NY Honda/Yamaha and Vespa Queens. A reputable dealer sells scooters they know, trust and can stand behind. A local dealer is also helpful when it comes time for routine checkups or repairs.
When speaking to the dealer, ask about the manufacturer warranties and financing specials. My Kymco has an impressive two-year manufacturer warranty that includes road-side assistance. I was also able to get a great financing offer that essentially split my monthly payments up for 36 months with very little interest.
Also look at the features of the Scooter. Does it have big tires or little tires? Which would you feel more comfortable with? Does it have a storage hook for hanging grocery bags or purses? Does it have helmet hooks? If you plan to ride with two people on the scooter, be sure to bring your riding partner with you as it’ll be important for both of you to sit on the scooter. Passenger foot peg rests vary so widely that it could be a deal breaker for some scooter models.
Do I need a License?
Finally, the answer to a big question – do I need a license? If you live in New York City, the short answer is YES. Don’t be fooled by misinformation. Some people will tell you, if your scooter is under 49cc then you don’t need a license. The bottom line is if you’re driving a scooter on the streets in New York City, you need a motorcycle license. I plan to cover the process of getting a motorcycle license in a future post.
However, the good news is, the dealer will sell you the motorcycle and you can drive it off “the lot” without having your license. The only thing the dealer needs in order to send you on your merry way is proof of insurance. The dealer supplies a temporary registration plate. So technically, the dealer can let you drive it off the lot with a temp plate and proof of insurance. Legally, you’re taking a gamble getting the scooter home since you are driving without a permit or license. Whatever you do, do not ride the scooter without insurance. Here’s a cautionary tale.
If you’ve ever thought about buying a scooter or are currently thinking about it now but are on the fence, my advice is – DO IT! You will not be sorry. Owning a scooter has completely opened up the city to me in ways I have never been able to experience before. I can travel into new areas that I would never have considered going to before. I get unique perspectives of the city that none of my friends will ever see. It’s fantastic.
Stay tuned for future scooting posts including how to get a permit and license.