One Reader’s Take on Using a Scooter for Transportation

by Kevin on September 27, 2008

Clair blogs over at Frugal Living Freedom. He recently left a great comment on my article, Ditch the SUV and Scoot Your Way to Gas Savings. I was so impressed I had to put it on the front page to share with everyone.

A scooter is a great way to have economical transportation in and around metropolitan areas, as long as you aren’t going a great distance. It also helps if you live somewhere the weather will permit you to make use of such a form of transportation for most of the year.

Many folks consider buying a new hybrid or other small car, and that is where I would caution us not to get caught up in the mpg frenzy. If you don’t drive that much, the cost of a new car will far outweigh the savings in fuel. (Not so with a scooter.) We should stay focused on total cost of transportation which includes: licensing; insurance; payments; fuel; repair; and, maintenance.

Hanging onto the older car and getting an inexpensive scooter can make a lot of sense financially. I think we will see this more and more in the major metropolitan areas.

In some asian countries, there is a sea of scooters on every street, and they’re parked like dominoes lined up on the sidewalks by the hundreds. I am always amazed at what I have seen people carry on a scooter, including a large sheet of plate glass!

The trick is to identify the point of diminishing returns and diminishing practicality, and stay well away from both of them. It’s a math and personal balancing act that should consider the following:

1. If you use a lot of fuel each week, you might be too far from work to comfortably get there on a scooter.

2. If you don’t use a lot of fuel each week, then your savings in fuel might not justify buying a scooter in the first place.

3. The amount of things you must carry each day will also dictate to some extent the viability of a scooter.

4. Some folks need more than two wheels for comfort, safety and security.

5. Will you have scooter friendly roads to traverse? Moderate speeds, no potholes, and sane drivers?

6. Scooters have weight limitations. Pushing those will affect safe handling and braking. Larger people (like me) will likely be more comfortable in a car or on a larger motorcycle.

7. Scooters are fun!

The high mpg of a scooter is tempting, but I can see the wisdom of owning a scooter being something much more than just an exercise in financial decision making.

Thanks again, Claire, for joining in on the discussion.

I agree there are multiple limitations for people interested in swapping to scooters. Some of the reasons he listed have kept me from buying a scooter… primarily work environment (can’t come into work in scooter gear) and safety. For some folks, this won’t be a problem. For those lucky people, why wouldn’t you want 70+ miles per gallon?

Hey You! Reader! Why not jump into the ongoing comment conversations that occur on my posts? Say something really good and I’ll put it on the frontpage. What do you have to lose?


Rudy September 27, 2008 at 8:11 am

I would love to be able to use a scooter, but my commute is too far and the other drivers on the road are not that friendly.

Steve in Denmark September 27, 2008 at 9:09 am

I use a Scooter every day to go to work (a scooter is called a ‘Knallert’ over here). I have something called a ‘Giantco Sprint’.

We have an excellent system of cycle paths, in the cities and countryside, and as mine is limited to 30kph (intentionally so) I can use it on those cycle paths. I also pay less tax/insurance because it is limited to 30 (though I can often get it up to 40). You can get them limited to 40kph or unlimited.

I do about 28 kilometers a day, there and back, as my wife takes our car – she works in the opposite direction to me. I often have to be in work for 06:00 (she’s not there until 07:00), or I have late shifts (I work at a hospital), so it’s by far the best solution and at around 50-60 Kroner a week in petrol ($9.78-$11.74), way cheaper than the two buses I’d need each way.

Russell September 28, 2008 at 8:52 pm

I was at an event yesterday where a prize drawing was held for a scooter, it said the load limit was 160 pounds. I’d need to buy another scooter and lash ’em together to haul the size of me down the road. The problem with scooters on American roads is they don’t have the power to maneuver out of the way. Drivers here seem oblivious to smaller vehicles, actually they don’t seem to notice larger vehicles sometimes.

Up until a few months ago I commuted about 400 miles a week, mostly traveling 130 miles to another town for the week. One of my motorcycles usually beats 50 mpg but the one I used mostly is closer to 40 mpg. There are some small cars that’ll challenge that economy, although like that scooter they might not fit me so well.

Another thing to consider is maintenance costs for the scooter, I don’t know how long those tires last but they’re pretty small, which means they go around a lot more times. That equals more tread wear. For motorcycle tires I get about 20,000 miles but that’s exceptional, softer compounds like those favored on performance bikes might last half as long, and they’re more expensive than car tires. (Mostly because they’re manufactured in smaller quantities.)

The weather thing never bothered me, carry extra clothes to change into at work if it’s a problem. I estimated what a taxi ride to work would cost and it was about $20 each way. I decided I could get really wet for $20.

Kevin September 28, 2008 at 10:35 pm

@Rudy: My commute isn’t too far, but it is on a main highway… plus I drive to client lunches a lot during the week. Would limit my scooter use.

@Steve: Awesome! Sounds like your country is setup for environmental commuting much better than ours.

@Russell: Eek, 160 lbs does seem quite low. I’d have to imagine there are other scooters out there with higher weight capabilities. Motorcycle is another alternative. I’d have to really research the tires and maintenance costs as well… but man if I could go from 25 mpg to 75 mpg I’ve got to imagine it would pay for itself in the long run. Especially with lower insurance costs.

Russell September 29, 2008 at 7:17 am

Kevin, yes that was a small scooter, there are larger ones now in the USA with 500cc and 600cc engines that rival small motorcycles. There is at least one (Baron) I know that comes with a convertible roof and windshield wiper, it would help you with the weather.

Insurance costs are low, at least in Florida it is. If you have health insurance to cover any expense due to injury to yourself, you only need liability (property and injury) coverage for your bike. Since scooters and motorcycles can’t cause much property damage the insurance cost is low (about $100 or $150 a year).

The electric scooter or motorcycle is being worked on, but it’s a challenge because of the weight of batteries, and like cars the expense is going to be great.

Steve in Denmark September 29, 2008 at 1:32 pm

@ Kevin. You gotta remember that Denmark is flat, so it’s much easier to cycle (or use a scooter) than in the USA, or where I’m from, the UK.

The commuting distances seem shorter too as industrial/factory areas are mixed in with residential areas and there are lots of apartment areas in the centre of towns.

And yes, they have built cycle paths alongside most roads here. There aren’t many roads I know of, apart from motorways or what they call ‘motortrafikveje’, something not quite a motorway, that don’t have cycle paths. And full cycle paths at that. Whilst there are a lot of cars on the road here now (I still say it’s no worse than Sundays used to be back in England in the ’70’s, when I was growing up) an incredible amount of people use cycles, from kids to grannies. It’s not quite as much as in Holland though, (even flatter, of course), where – from a recent trip to Gronningen – as I understood it, cycles have the right of way everywhere, even in what appear to be pedestrian areas. Here, cars/lorries turning right HAVE to give way to cycles/me using the cycle path coming up on their right. They have to wait until they’ve found out what I’m doing before they turn. Not something I ever bothered much about back in England! A driver must also hold back from joining the road he wants to at a junction, to keep the cycle path that crosses in front of him, clear.

A cycle would of course be an even more economic option for me, I admit. But I also have to admit to being: A. Not in shape enough for a 14km cycle to work at 05.00 every morning (as I’m working this week). B. I’d need to leave home around 04:30 – I don’t think so Tim! C. I’m lazy.

Kevin October 3, 2008 at 9:58 pm

@Russell: Gotcha.

@Steve: I guess it is a societal/economic difference. Our suburbs here and the length of most people’s commutes… is what kills us. (Admittedly, I live in the suburbs as well.)

I don’t think I could bike to work either!

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