Find the best scoot for your bucks

Talk about the dearth of young folks coming into our sport with old-timers, and they’ll start telling you about their first motorized two-wheeler. Generally, the story will have the following elements:

  • The purchase was funded by returnable bottles, a paper route or a summer job at the carwash, grocery, saddle-and-tack store, etc.
  • The motorcycle was small and light.
  • They crashed, wheelied, rode through a fence, or struck a small animal and/or a car in the first 500 yards of ownership.

Those good old days are gone, as faded as a sepia-toned Instagram post. After all, a “starter” bike like Kawasaki’s Ninja 300R is around $6,000 out the door – about $1,000 in 1970 dollars. If only there were a light, cheap, easy-to-ride alternative, something to introduce (or re-introduce) people to two-wheeled transportainment.

And then you smack your wrinkly bald noggin and think, scooters! There’s actually a nice selection of scooters (and even some motorcycles) under $3,000, which is $500 in 1970 dollars. But what is there for the really budget conscious? What if your budget is under $2,000 – a mere $331.80 in 1970 dollars?

That’s when your choice shrinks to just a handful of models if you want to stick to the largest manufacturers. We wanted to see what the shallowest end of the pool was like to splash around in, so we called up our media-relations friends at the biggest OEMs to see what they had.

Pickings were slim. Honda sent its recently redesigned $1,999 Metropolitan 50. Yamaha’s cheapest street-legal ride is the excellent Vino 50, but it’s just too spendy at $2,290 – who do I look like, Donald Trump? Kawasaki doesn’t even sell scooters (yet?) in the U.S., and Suzuki’s rides are too big and pricey, though the new Burgman 200 ABS is a step in the right direction.

In the Euro corner, BMW just entered the “Urban Mobility” market (as the Bavarians call it), but you better have five figures to join that party. Vespa? That’s a luxury brand. But Piaggio (parent company of Aprilia, Vespa and Moto Guzzi) does offer two models for under $2,000: the $1,899 Piaggio Typhoon 50 and the $1,999 Aprilia SR Motard 50. Send them over!

Is that it? Don’t forget KYMCO, a big name in the scooter and quad market. That Taiwanese firm makes quality stuff that’s a good value, so I expected a serious contender – and got it. For $1,899, you can get a KYMCO Agility 125. It’s like getting a 1000cc sportbike for the price of a 650 Twin.

Sounds like the bones for a good old-fashioned shootout, just on a miniature scale. I’m usually a lone wolf, but I needed some bodies to help photograph, video and test ride all the scoots, so I made the trip down to the MotoUSA offices in Irvine, California, to put the four bikes through their paces. Helping out with the riding was the pragmatic and detail-oriented Motorcycle USA staff Zack Galifinakis impersonator, Justin Dawes, along with the enthusiastic, sometimes incomprehensible, but always hard-charging Adam Waheed. We were still short a body, so I called up an old friend, David Lander, roadracer, bike-builder and actual professional engineer whom people pay to engineer stuff, to keep us grounded in the real world.

For two days, we rode back and forth across Irvine, putting hundreds of miles on the little bikes to see if we could figure out what you’d want out of a scooter in this price range – and what you’ll actually get.