What's it like to own a Chinese scooter?
Earlier this year, I was faced with a dilemma. I had just finish university and was moving from Cambridge to a small town in Bedfordshire about two hours away. I wanted to stay employed with the company I was working for but their closest store was 15 miles away from me in Milton Keynes.
I took a place at the Milton Keynes store and had to find a way to commute into work. I tried, very naively, to cycle there and back once and it was horrible. The way there via canal paths was fraught with peril and returning via the dual carriageway was scary and reminded me that I'm horribly unfit. For a while, I caught the train there and back but this posed two problems: I would potentially have to work from 6:45 am or to 9 pm and sometimes trains weren't available. Secondly, the walk from my house to the train station was 40 minutes. The train journey was a further 15 minutes and then I had another 20 minute walk in Milton Keynes. Furthermore, it was bloody expensive (thank you, London Midland).
I decided I needed an engine. I have no full driving license so I opted to take a CBT road test and buy a scooter. Since I'm lazy, slightly stingy and foolish, rather than take time out to hunt down an expensive Japanese second-hand bike I simply bought a brand new Chinese-manufactured scooter, a Lexmoto Valencia 125cc. Enquiries online and with shop owners revealed it was apparently reliable and popular.
I paid £1,059 for the scooter and the shop very kindly paid for the first tax disc and also threw in some L plates for me. To insure the bike cost approximately £40 per month with Swinton Bikes, who sent me an extraordinary amount of spam, which, considering I had already bought their policy, was bloody annoying.
I was very pleased with my little scooter. Sure, it was a Chinese Verspa knockoff but it was a good looking one. Nice to ride too. Supremely comfortable seat, nice engine sound and relatively good fuel economy.
It wasn't without it's problems though. Firstly, the storage compartment under the seat wasn't big enough to store a helmet, which was quite irritating considering how fat the bike is. This also led to some surprising fragility. My girlfriend was sitting on the seat while the scooter's stand was enabled and the key was in the storage compartment key slot on the side of the body. The scooter rocked back, causing her leg to brush ever so lightly against the key and this tiny lateral force snapped the key in half.
Love nor effort would convince the damn key to come out so for more than a month, I was stuck with an inaccessible boot compartment and only one key. Attempts to get a new key cut at well-known locksmiths (Timpsons) didn't work as they didn't have a template key to match my scooter's. Luckily, an independent locksmith in had a match, though only one of two keys made worked with the scooter. Weird. Eventually, the key was taken out at the bike's first service for the sum of £15.
A second major problem I had with this bike was when I returned from a two week holiday to find a breather pipe to the engine had mysteriously snapped. How it managed to break during two weeks of inactivity is beyond me. It goes to suggest further fragility with the bike though—bearing in mind that these events occurred in the space of two months. I probably qualify as the World's Least Technical Man so I contacted the dealer who assured me that the bike was perfectly safe to ride in such a condition. It didn't affect performance, just made the bike's exhaust noise rather shouty. Think of a kitten pretending to be a lion.
As you may have noticed, the bike I bought was garnished with an amount of chrome detailing. If you do buy a bike with similar design, please, for the love of God, cover it up every day. I neglected to for a couple of weeks and the English weather proceeded to tarnish the headlight housing with rust. All other areas were mercifully untouched by the rain.
After a few months, a position came up in a local store in town. I changed jobs and my commute was now one mile rather than 15. I still kept the scooter as it was exceptionally handy for popping to work in five minutes or for late night visits to the supermarket. Ultimately though, I couldn't justify keeping the scooter. It was making me really lazy (why walk when you can pootle?*) and my out of town trips were rare. Also, riding on dual carriageways in severe crosswinds is a life endangering experience. I sold it a few weeks ago for £650. Now that does seem like steep depreciation and it may be, but I am a terrible salesman. I hate haggling. I was happy to accept a number just to get rid of the thing.
I don't want to make it seem like my ownership experience was entirely bad though. I genuinely did like my scooter and if I was rich and lazy, I would have kept it. I believe that my negative experiences I had with it were relatively isolated. The bike itself was easy to ride, pretty safe (fat tyres, a top speed of 53 mph downhill) and cheap. Even the problems that I had, if fixed out of warranty, would have only cost £40 or so. I genuinely hope the man that bought it off me is not having a bad time with it.
For anyone buying a Chinese scooter, rather than a Japanese second-hand bike, I offer the following tips:
Be prepared to lose some money on it. It may be manufactured to a better degree than Chinese machines traditionally are, but these is still a lot of scepticism regarding Chinese bikes. Also, don't say you have a Chinese bike on an Internet forum unless you wanted to be trolled relentlessly.
Search for vendors who will sell with the best warranty available. With these machines you are betting that your choice will be reliable and won't ruin your life by breaking. Much better that someone else has to pay for the repairs if it does break.
Do not buy from www.scooter.co.uk. It's pretty much a scam. They were featured on Watchdog with severe safety issues. They don't even come fully assembled. I was tempted by the cheap prices but I'm glad I didn't.
If you do buy a scooter from a Chinese manufacturer, be prepared for some trouble during things like my little key episode. Had I rode a Suzuki or a Honda, I could have gotten a key cut anywhere. Because I rode a Lexmoto, I had to keep on searching.
* I'm a firm supporter of 'pootle' being the official verb to describe travelling on a scooter.