If you’re thinking about buying a scooter, now is the time to do so. There are plenty of deals to be had as the industry tries to recover from the recession.
Dealers have a huge oversupply of 2009 and even 2008 scooters—the result of a 62 percent drop in sales last year—so it’s a true buyer’s market. (If you’re looking for a 2010 model, however, the pickings are slim.)
Although the MSRP of scooters climbed in the past 4 years, you can expect to knock at least 12 percent off that price at a dealership. We haven’t seen this type of reduction in the market in more than 20 years.
What’s even better is that across the board, today’s scooters are considerably faster and more powerful than ever before.
HITTING FOR POWER. When we looked at scooters 4 years ago, dozens of Chinese importers had flooded the market with cheap two-stroke-engine models. Industry watchdogs speculated that these scooters would run into quality issues. And that’s exactly what happened.
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New Environmental Protection Agency emission requirements in 2007 required two-stroke engines to have catalytic converters or other emission controls, which wiped out the market for cheap Chinese, Indian and Korean two-stroke models. That’s good news for the consumer, because the market is no longer saturated with fly-by-night manufacturers who have questionable (or nonexistent) parts support. And consumers no longer will be fooled into buying one.
A few small-displacement two-stroke models were grandfathered in by EPA’s rules because they had catalytic converters. Most manufacturers, however, have moved to four-stroke, fuel-injected engines, which run cleaner than two-stroke engines do because more valves equal less unburned fuel. Manufacturers also introduced fuel injection and more-efficient overhead-cam engines to small scooters (50cc to 125cc). The result is that all little four-stroke-engine scooters scoot along in the 40-45 mph range, and a few 125cc models can reach 55 mph. (Four years ago, these scooters putted up to no more than 25-30 mph.)
Engine improvement isn’t limited just to the small scooters. Medium-size scooters that have engines that range in size from 150cc to 300cc have evolved into a new category that manufacturers call sport scooters. The development of water-cooled, four-stroke engines has led to larger, smoother powerplants in some of these models. Four years ago, air-cooled, two-stroke engines maxed out at 225cc because of problems with cooling and vibration. The result of becoming sport scooters is that these scooters now carry a passenger, cruise at 55-65 mph and still have enough room to store a helmet. These are serious vehicles, rather than the weekend short-trip crafts that they were 4 years ago.
Of course, the improvements in all of these scooters come at a price (although that could be knocked back a peg or two at the dealership): In the past 4 years, small scooters have increased on average by $200, medium scooters by $500 and maxi-scooters by $900.And although the biggest scooters, which also are known as maxi-scooters, still top out at 650cc, they have received enough tweaks to cause some experts to say that they rival the smooth and balanced ride of larger motorcycles. (We agree.) Remarkable!
HOW IT HANDLES. As speed and engine size have increased in all scooter categories, manufacturers have made chassis, brake and handling changes to make their products more aerodynamic and more agile through turns. Scooters at all price ranges now have front disc brakes, and most scooters that are larger than 300cc have disc brakes on both wheels. Telescopic front forks (essentially, large shock absorbers) have become commonplace; your back will appreciate the absence of bouncy, trailing link suspensions. Put all these changes together and you can count on a better, safer ride than ever before—one that we believe is worth the increased cost from 4 years ago.