Scooter or Motorcycle - Which is right for you?

There's not a lot of price difference between a new Chinese scooter and a used motorcycle that's only a few years old. For example in the images below on the left is a Chinese Roketa-72-150 150cc scooter, purchased new in 2008 for around $1400 (delivered). On the right is a 2006 Kawasaki 250 Ninja, purchased in 2009 for $2000 with about 2250 miles on it. A new 250cc scooter would probably cost about the same as the used Kawasaki Ninja 250, around $2000.

Of course prices are all over the map. In 2007 a new Kawasaki Ninja 250 was $2999, in 2008 it was redesigned and sold for $3499 and in 2009 it's now $3999. Right now a new Chinese 150cc scooter sells for around $1400 (including shipping) and new 250cc Chinese scooter sells for around $2000. A new Honda SH150i scooter (153cc) sells for $4499 and a new Aprilla 250 Sportcity sells for $4699. So a scooter can be either cheaper or more expensive than a similarly sized motorcycle, depending on what you buy.

Chinese scooter or small motorcycle. Roketa-72-150 vs. Kawasaki Ninja 250

Scooter - Roketa MC-72-150 (2008) Motorcycle - Kawaskai Ninja 250 (2006)
 $1400 new  $2000 used
 150cc Single Cylinder  250cc Parallel Twin
 2 valves  8 valves (4 per cylinder)
 9.5 HP (7500 rpm), 7.4 N-m torque (6000 rpm)  36 HP (11000 rpm), 18 N-m torque (10000 rpm)
 $1400 new (some assembly required)  $2000 used (no assembly required)
 1.3 gallon fuel tank  4.8 gallon fuel tank
 75mpg - 95 mile range  60mpg - 280 mile range
 Top speed 55-60 mph  Top speed 95-100 mph
 0-60 acceleration...forever (or seems like it)
 0-50 around 16 seconds
 0-60 acceleration - under 6 seconds
 0-50 acceleration - under 5 seconds
 13" Dry weight - 230 lbs  Dry weight - 304 lbs
 13" wheels  16" wheels
 Brakes - front/disk, rear/drum  Brakes - front/disk, rear/disk
 Air cooled  Water cooled
 Automatic transmission (CVT)  Manual transmission - 6 speed
 Underseat space - lots  Underseat space - none to speak of
 Rear carrier and top box standard  Rear carrier and top box custom installation
 Quality control - Chinese  Quality control - Japanese
 Easy to ride (no clutch, no gears)  Requires more skill and training to ride
 No dealer network (chinese scooters)  Extensive dealer network

Scooter Advantages

  • A scooter is (or can be) cheaper, especially if you get a 150cc scooter.
  • A scooter has more underseat carrying capacity and either comes with a rack and top box or can easily be fitted with one.
  • A scooter gets a little better gas mileage (especially a 50c or 150cc)
  • A scooter is easier to learn to ride. There's no clutch to operate and no gear changing.
  • A scooter is more manouverable. The smaller wheels and lighter weight allow it to turn quicker.

Motorcycle Advantages

  • A motorcycle such as the Ninja 250cc has a greater range before needing refueling.
  • A motorcycle is faster and accelerates quicker (good for highways)
  • The larger wheels and heavier weight of a motorcycle make it more stable at speed (but less manouverable at low speed)

Bottom Line

For local commuting and negotiating city traffic there's no doubt that a scooter is the more useful vehicle. It can carry groceries under the seat, it's very manoeuverable, it gets great gas mileage and there are no gears to change. The engine and transmission are somewhat easier to work on than the equivalent parts on a motorcycle which makes things easier for the home mechanic. However it may be harder to find professional mechanics to work on a scooter (especially a Chinese scooter).

On the other hand, for longer commutes, particularly those involving highway driving, a motorcycle is probably more useful. It's more stable at speed, it can keep up with highway traffic at 65-70 mph and it has a longer range before refueling. Underseat storage is practically non-existent. Maybe enough room for the manual but not much more. You can add a rack and top box, but this may require some custom work. It's pretty easy to find professional mechanics to work on motorcycles and the major brands have an extensive dealer network (though don't expect professional servicing and repairs to be cheap!)

Comparing the engineering quality of a Chinese scooter with a Japanese motorcycle, the Japanese motorcycle is likely to win every time. The finish of the parts is better, the wiring is neater and everything is just better engineered. The scooter may be good enough, but typical Japanese motorcycles are very well built.

The final choice comes down what type of riding you do and what type of rider you are. There's no doubt that it's easier to learn to ride a scooter than a motorcycle, so if it's your first experience on 2 wheels and your main reason for owning a 2-wheel vehicle is short distance commuting and saving on gas, then a scooter is ideal. If you want to ride longer distances and you want to ride just for pleasure, then perhaps a motorcycle would be a better match then a small scooter, though a larger capacity scooter is certainly also an option.

In terms of safety I don't think there's much to chose between a scooter and a small motorcycle. In each case the skill and sense of the rider is the most important factor, followed by wearing the right helmet and protective clothing. Small scooters may be "safer" simply because they won't go as fast as larger scooters or motorcycles, but there's nothing that says you have to ride fast just because you can! Really small (50cc) scooters may be less safe than larger (150cc) scooters because the small scooter may not be able to keep up with traffic and so will constantly be being passed by cars. With a motorcycle like a Kawasaki Ninja 250, you'll be faster off the line than most cars and easily be able to keep pace. Even with a 150cc scooter you should have no trouble accelerating as fast as most cars normally do and riding at the same pace as the traffic, except on the freeway.

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