The Chinese scooter offers an intriguing mixture of affordability, wide variety of style, and mechanical simplicity that can satisfy the tinkerer. Much has been said about the dubious quality of these scoots but that has greatly improved in the last five years or so. True, the Japanese and Taiwanese makes have better reputations but can cost as much as a motorcycle and be prohibitively expensive for a student or someone seeking recreational riding.
There are several types of scooters the most common of which are the smallish Classic or Retro, slightly bigger Sporty, Racer with the larger fairing front, large Touring model, and the off road types such as the Ruckus. Yes, there are more than these, and even sub-divisions of these, so calm down, this is just a general representation.
The history of the Chinese scooter is somewhat murky as the Chinese government is not exactly open about internal affairs. However, it appears that when the patent ran out about ten years ago on the GY6 engine (more on the engine later), the Chinese began wildly exporting scooters they had been making for in country use. At first the quality was decidedly sub-par but has gotten much better through the years. The search engines bring up a confusing array of Chinese firms and names. Some of the more famous are: CF-Moto, Linhai, Keeway, Znen, Bashan, and Zongshen. Presently, there are approximately 2800 Chinese scooter factories , most of these produced parts such as body panels, engine components, etc. A few like Znen (Taizhou Zhongnen), and Jonway, produce most of their own engine and frame assemblies as well the finished scooter for export. They tend to have different quality tiers for the importer to choose from. For example, Flyscooters chooses many Taiwan components to be used in their Znen produced bikes, a higher quality tier. Not much attention is paid to copyrights, so most of these scoots all look the same. Then there are some distributors of scooters that assemble parts from the factories. A few examples of these are: Qlink, Keeway, TNG, and Motorino. These lists are NOT complete by any means and you can further your knowledge of this confusing topic by further confusing yourself with the search engines.
The GY6 engine powers most Chinese scooters but that is slowly starting to change with the evolution of new power plants. This web site will deal mainly with the GY6 powered units as most are still fitted with this motor. The GY6 was developed by Honda in 50cc, 125cc, and 150cc versions. Honda no longer uses this engine but clones of it are still widely manufactured in Asia. It's a very simple four stroke design with the piston running essential horizontal. The carburetor is a CV (constant velocity) that sits on top of the engine and is fed gas by gravity, a vacuum fuel pump, or an electric fuel pump. The GY6 can develop about 7 to 15HP but is capable of more with performance parts. A CVT or constantly variable transmission turns the rear wheel via a belt. When ordering parts for your scooter it is important to have the engine number that you can find at the bottom of the transmission case. There are variations but this pictured code would translate as follows: first number is always a "1" meaning one cylinder. The next two, in this instance "57" is the bore of the motor in millimeters. The "Q" means a GY6 motor. The last two letters denote the size of the engine, MJ being a 150cc.
The type of scooter you buy, Classic, Sporty, Racer, or Touring will be determined by your intended riding style. Obviously the smaller engines and wheels will be for putting around town, and the bigger motors and wheels are capable of getting out on the road. The websites and dealers are usually fairly accurate on the top speeds and capabilities.
There are three main ways to purchase a scooter, a brick and mortar shop (B&M), online, and used. All three will be touched on here.
A B&M is not a hospital procedure, although it may feel like one with some of them. Generally though, they are nice people trying to run a business and make a living. Brick and mortar is a scootdom term meaning an actual dealership in a building (hence brick and mortar). Like a car dealership, there will be salesmen,scooters on display, a parts department, and a service department. The good thing about this experience is that you can "kick the tires", get some info from a person face to face, and possibly a test ride; at the very least sit on it. Also, once you buy the scooter, you have a place to get it worked on and warranty repairs. You also are provided with a title and paperwork, a big plus.
Finding a good B&M can be difficult. In the scooter business, shops tend to come and go with regularity. So it's best to ask around and see if your friends have bought from one and what kind of an experience they had. Look them up in the local BBB and see how long they've been in business. See how it feels when you go in the shop, you can generally tell if a business is stable by what the shop looks like and how the people treat you. If the place looks shabby with just a few scooters and some cardboard cut outs set up, be suspicious.
B&M's are going to cost more, they have overhead, it's that simple. So how do you know what to pay? Well, a good place to start is look up the scooter you're interested in on resources such as Kelley Blue Book. It will give you a ballpark figure in dealing with the salesman. Yes, some dealerships are just like some car dealerships, they set the price high and you're supposed to argue them down. Some people enjoy this, to others it is like a colonoscopy; but at least for most of those you're unconscious. Others are very straight forward and set a firm, fair price. Again, you should ask around.
Like any online buying experience, it can be a jungle. Online dealers come and go much more frequently than B&M's. It doesn't take a great deal of capital to set up what's called a drop ship business. They need a warehouse, a supplier, telephones, and an internet connection. Obviously they can sell much more inexpensively since their overhead is much less. Be wary though, like any online seller,they can make exaggerated statements. One common practice is to say the scooter normally sells for a huge amount, but it's on sale for much less. Obviously the sale price is the regular price. Be cautious of add ons with some sellers; they will charge for warranty (see below), shipping, insurance, etc. Some B&M dealers also will ship to you, they generally charge a little more but the prepping is better.
Drop dealers can get crates of scooters right from the Chinese supplier, and ship them to you without opening them.These dealers often crow on their web sites about how the scooter is assembled, started, and ridden before being shipped to you. Yes they are, over in China, and then disassembled, put in a crate, possibly stored for a while, then shipped overseas to the drop ship seller, and finally sent to you. You then have to do a great deal of assembly including putting on the front wheel (not fun), mirrors, fairing, prepping and installing the battery, changing all the fluids, and getting it to start. Some dealers WILL assemble and prep before shipping to you; some of them charge extra for this, with some it's included in the price. So do some research, make some notes (you can use word pad, you don't have to actually touch a pen), call them, ask questions, take your time, impulse buying is where the big mistakes are made.
One more thing that needs to be touched on about online dealers is the warranty. Read the warranty on the web site VERY carefully so that you know what you're getting into. Most of the time the warranty is PARTS ONLY! This means that if something breaks,you have to determine what is wrong, take it off the scooter, and send it back to the online dealer so they can determine if in fact they feel it needs to be replaced. Often, you pay all the shipping. If you're not mechanically inclined and know how to turn a wrench, you better make sure there's a scooter mechanic in your area that will work on your scooter. Scooter mechanics are rare so make sure you know what your local stuation is like. More often than not, the dealers who sell Japanese and Taiwanese scooters will turn up their noses at a Chinese scooter and refuse to work on them. So again, make sure you know what you're getting into.
This can be a good way to get an inexpensive scooter. You can find them in your area through Craigslist, newspaper, Trader's Helper, and neighbors that are sick of the scooter in their garage that they bought for Elmo who soon lost interest in it because he actually had to go outside. Once again, see what it is and look it up in Kelley's so you know where to begin. See if it is in working order, check if it needs repairs, and VERY important: make sure it has a title and tag! People often find they buy an inexpensive scooter with no papers and they can't get a license plate at the DMV. One way to check the manufacturing quality of the scooter, and at a B&M shop, is to use the following checklist:
Generally, the cheaper manufacturers will try to cut corners with the above issues.
I hope this doesn't scare you off, Chinese scooters can be an inexpensive and fun experience, especially if you, or someone close to you, has a little mechanical know how.