Why not a Chinese Scooter? They’re “Cheaper”! Well, this is why…

I’m a bit of a scooter snob.  I only ride “major market” bikes.  Why? Well, because I enjoy breathing and really don’t want to die on a Chinese POS  made in the same fashion you make toasters or Hello Kitty rice cookers!  I also dislike companies that make deathtraps and purposely lie to gain sales, and who copy designs simply to mislead you from your money.

“But, they’re cheaper!  You must have something against the Chinese.  Or, perhaps you’re just a snob!” is the usual response I get.  I also hear many claim Chinese scooters are superior to Vespa for the low, low price of $999, but by people who still have the 30 day plate on their bike.  I have yet to hear this argument from anyone with a  Chinese scooter older than 1 year.  Also, the most vocal of those insisting people NOT buy bikes from companies like Honda or Vespa are the ones selling them, and insist it’s a “plot” by the oil companies to keep scooters expensive to keep the poor from having efficient transport.  But, there’s always a line…

I always insist that if you have either never heard of the bike, or you cannot find MULTIPLE brick-and-mortar dealers within one state that have a legit company and product line behind them, don’t buy.  But, how do you know what’s Chinese-made and what’s not? And, what makes Chinese bikes so bad? If you’re new to the scooter scene, you may not of heard of a lot of the vintage bikes like Heinkel, Lambretta or Italjet that everyone keeps raving about… so what makes Chinese scooters like Roketa, Lance and TN’G any different?

Long story short: China is currently the masters of mass manufacture.  They have the ability to copy, retool and produce at an alarming rate.  When it’s something like a Microwave or computer components, that’s a good thing since they are easy to quality check and don’t normally have lives on the line.  But, the more complex the machine, the more quality control is needed.  The problem is that many scooters made in mainland China are slapped together and use copies of copies of old engine designs from Honda or Yamaha.  And, they use the cheapest materials in order to bring the price point down.  You get bikes made like bargain basement dishwashers and Wal-Mart TV’s that you’re supposed to trust your life to at 55mph?  They have ZERO delaership networks too!  You won’t find parts for a Chinese scooter, because once they crank out a few hundred thousand of one model, they scrap the ENTIRE line and re-tool from fresh for the new model.  That means they don’t have compatible parts on hand, since dead-stock=no profit. 

Another trick they use is to claim the engine is “Honda Made” or “Same as Honda”. This has some origin: 99% of all Chinese scooters are powered by a copied variant of an engine developed by Honda called a GY6.  Now, this was a very innovative engine and pretty high tech… for 1989.  It’s a good engine when you have an engine blueprinted, built and inspected by the high-tech plants at Honda of Japan and when high-end metals, rubbers and electronics are used.  Chinese copies are just that: Copied plans that have been copied several DOZEN times.  Ever put a picture through a Xerox machine a dozen times?  Then you know what I mean when I say that once you copy something too many times, the end result is pretty messed up and garbled.  Things get changed along the way, and the quality of materials gets worse each time in order to cut down on costs.  Soon that “Honda Engine” has a sort-of similar shape, but not one part will fit it from the original engine design, and nothing will look the same on the interior.

They will even ripp off the names and appearance of well known bikes!  One Chinese scooter company even bought out the Shwinn bicycle company just to get it’s copyright to sell electric kick-scooters AND China-made motorscooters under the same brand!  Needless to say, they both failed.  This aping also applies to the exterior look, with designs from Kymco, Honda, Vespa and even Harley Davidson applied to make the bikes look as much as their Asian and European cousins in order to con people into thinking their bike is in any way related to the big guys.

Also, most Chinese bikes don’t even pass basic DOT road worthiness inspections or air-quality standards.  How do they get around it?  Well, they sell them as “off road only” bikes, and don’t give a buyer a title.  You get what’s called an MCO (Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin) and the dealer leaves it up to YOU the buyer to fight the DMV to get a real title.  And in the US, without a title you don’t really own an automobile or motorbike, and can’t get it registered for street use.  If the ‘dealer’ makes you get the title yourself and doesn’t provide you with actual plates, then you are at a China-bike dealer!

Other “major market” bike builders like Vespa, Honda, Kymco, Genuine/PGO, LML and the like think different.  They put the money into inspecting the bike and using QUALITY components first, and know that the true money is repeat service with reliable supplies of parts to keep bikes on the road for a long time.  This keeps the rider coming back for upgrades and parts, and that makes good money.  It’s good business.  And, unlike no-name Chinese scooters bought from Habib at the corner tire shop or from Pep Boys, you can go to a DEALER who has direct contact to the manufacturer if there is a problem.  Good luck trying to get that park-n-swap guy to service your Chinese copy of a Kymco/Ruckus/Vespa. 

But, I can only extol the dangers so much.  The man who can accurately describe WHY is a legend in the Scooter scene: Phil from Pride of Cleveland Scooters.  His shop deals in the best of bikes, and are renowned nationwide for not only their service, but aftermarket support for all things scooter. Be it Vespa, Buddy, Stella, Lambretta or Honda, they see it all and Phil can fill you in.  He’s responsible for making a series of “public service announcement” vids that show what a Chinese scooter looks like, what it is, and why they are dangerous!  Once you see his run down on what to look for, you’ll start to spot Chinese scooters all over the place and will begin to understand why they are so cheap, and so reviled by the scooter community. 

Check these few out:

A great example of the “low grade” materials issue”
You hear a lot of Chinese scooters claim “Anti-Lock Brakes”, but in truth they are FAKE and actually are dangerous! Phil explains why in this classic example of a Chinese scooter style very popular in the US…for about 100 miles
This is the BEST example of what a true “China bike” is, and what to look for. Phil knows his stuff, and probably sees HUNDREDS of these. Heed his words!

Are all cheap scooters bad? Well… yes!!!  But, there are inexpensive major market bikes that will blow these China-rific scoots out of the water.  In fact, one of the biggest bike manufacturers in the world, Kymco, is constantly ripped-off by China and two of the three bikes in the videos above are clones of their own Cobra-Cross!  Their bikes start at a low $1299 and go all the way to $8,000.  But, unlike the bikes made in China, Kymco has a long reputation, hard dealerships and excellent quality.  They are also based out of Taiwan, which is NOT subjet to mainland China’s lax laws and ignorant copyright approaches.  Did I mention Kymco is also a manufacturer of a bunch of engines and components for other bike companies such as Yamaha?

PGO is another company that sells great bikes that you may not know off the bat. But, if you have seen the Genuine Buddy or Blur, you’ve seen their bikes! In fact PGO under partnership with Genuine Scooters currently makes the most popular scooter in America!  And, they’re so good that even Vespa dealerships sell them next to their Italian wares.  And, unlike Chinese scooters that may come with a 30 day “warranty” Genuine’s Buddy and Blur come with a 2 YEAR warranty!  And, since they’re sold all over the world, the aftermarket is huge for them.  And, like Kymco, they’ve even built scooters for other bike companies you may of heard of, such as Vespa!

So, while a cheap scooter is tempting, ask yourself: Would you hurl yourself down the road on a bike with the same build quality as a Wal-Mart blender (and on a bike that probably uses the exact same bearings as previously mentioned blender)? Or, would you rather have a bike you KNOW is going to work and is sold worldwide legally?  While many of us can’t afford a $4700 base model Vespa, you  don’t have to resort to a $999 Pep Boys China clone.  Research is your best friend, and don’t be afraid to join popular scooter club message boards and to even stop the average rider on the street.  If they genuinely love their bike, they’ll gladly chat about it.  I myself have owned a $500 Chinese scooter all the way to a top of the line Vespa GTS25oie with every engine upgrade imaginable, dropping nearly $10,000 on it over all.  And, I learned the same way: Asking others, researching like mad and getting my hands on as many bikes as possible.

And, in the end, even my happy butt is picking up a Genuine Scooter Company bike next month!  Be it the Stella 150 or the Buddy 125 (not sure yet… both are VERY tempting), I’ve learned that in some cases, you get what you pay for but it doesn’t hurt to try to get a good deal when it’s a SMART deal!

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About neotrotsky

A Technical Director at a somewhat-sorta-prestigious live performance studio, audio engineer and secondary engineering student (the second time around) by day. But, by night I am a daring (if not slightly melancholy) motorscooter enthusiast and gearhead searching for a garage and steady paycheck. View all posts by neotrotsky

15 responses to “Why not a Chinese Scooter? They’re “Cheaper”! Well, this is why…

  • michael

    I understand your point. But you can not deny the fact that Kymco uses the same engines as most. The GY6 has been used in Kymco and PGO and many others such as SYM and Kawasaki for years.And I do take the same parts I sell for Honda CN250 engine for the Honda Helix and add to the CF Moto Fashion as well as the parts for a Yamaha Majesty 250 as far down as the Cylinder and piston to the Chinese made Linhai engines. I am certainly not defending Roketa, I think they are slime balls period. As for dealers you are right. On the other hand I personally have worked over 8 years to help the Chinese scooter owner. I do carry most parts just like your number one Vintage parts dealer does.

    • neotrotsky

      The engines used by Kymco are NOT the same engines cranked out like bad renditions of over-photocopied prints by many Chinese factories. They may of started off as GY6 plans from the same book, but revisions mid-production and poor materials application and compensation for poor materials in many Chinese factories have made their copies of the GY6 practically worthless. And, quality control in the average Chinese motorscooter factory is non-existent as compared to the higher paid and better trained workforces hired directly by Piaggio or Kymco

  • michael

    BTW the Buddy 150 GY6 engine, the Piaggio Fly Made in China with a chinese company building Piaggio engines. I just work hard for my customers so I need to know these points in order to help fix their scooters and help the DIY like yourself. Plus I have shops and I pay mechanics to work on them all thats how I found these points out.

  • Roger Wynn

    I agree with most everything you said. However, I will stick my neck out for Lance(SYM). I work for one of the top 10 Lance dealers in the U.S. I spend most days trying to breathe life into Tao Taos, Velocity, wildfire, Roketta, and ALL the nightmare Chinese scooters. When I get a lance(SYM), 90% of the time it is for routine maintenance. I ride a 2009 Lance Cali Classic every day.I have several thousand miles on this scooter with NO problems whatsoever. In fact, Lance has extended the warranty on the Calis and Havannas to 2 years. I love my 74 vespa, I aslo love my Cali Classic 125. It is absolutely dependable, and much better made than the aforementioned deathtraps. Keep up the good work, I try to warn consumers as much as possible to RUN from the cheap bikes myself.
    Sincerely,
    Roger Wynn

    • wendemachete

      Thanks for the great comment Roger. We try not to discriminate against certain scooters, because, let’s face it… there are just too many people that are loyal to their bands. Most scoots have their pluses and minuses, they are machines after all. But the scooters that are cheaply made, poorly maintained and just generally “disposable” give the rest of the scooter world a bad name. We just can’t have that. It’s great to get some insight from someone that isn’t just a rider, but also works with them.

      Thanks again! Please continue to post comments or info that you might have. :)

  • diamond

    doesnt anybody have anyhing to say on saga scooters was thinking of getting one but im not sure. trying to do research… please help me out

  • wendemachete

    I’m glad to hear that there are good scooters coming out of China and that they’re not as bad as people think. It’s important for us to try and remain impartial as far as manufacturers go, but in our area of the country, it’s tough because we see far too many dead scooters.

    Thanks for the comment Frank!
    ~wem

  • wendemachete

    Hi Sheldon,

    Thanks so much for the great information. I hope that this will be helpful for the readers that are looking for a new scooter.
    My recommendation for anyone looking to buy a scooter is to do your research on price, parts and overall quality of the bike. These things factor quite heavily in your happiness with your purchase.

    Thanks again!
    ~wem

  • kris stivers

    Its no different than buying a car… Remember the GEO.. it was disposable too and they are still on the streets.. rusted through.. The buyer needs to know why he’s buying it and what to expect. I like my Chinese scooters but I didn’t buy them to run for 100,000 miles. Neither do I recommend them in LA traffic.. Buy for the purpose.

    • wendemachete

      You’re absolutely right. I wouldn’t buy one of those foam ice chests with the intention of never having to buy another one, no doubt. But I think that often the rider isn’t as knowledgable as perhaps they should be when making this kind of investment. Let’s face it, beyond the stigma and jokes, people are buying a vehicle and hopefully this vehicle won’t let you die. I have bought well beyond my fair share of lemon cars that have almost killed me. However with a scooter or other motorbike, you don’t have a protective shell. What has always been my stance is this: know what you’re buying and understand the possible flaws. If its worth the price and you can live with the flaws, it could be a keeper.

      Thanks so much for your comment Kris!

  • Tracy Wallach

    Thanks ! My wife was just about to get one….until I saw the videos .

  • Warren

    Thanks in favor of sharing such a pleasant thought, article is
    pleasant, thats why i have read it completely

  • wendemachete

    Thank you for the comment and you are correct, not all scooters of any make, model or nationality are created equally. I’m sure there are millions of happy customers riding Chinese imports. I wish them all the luck and safety, as much as anyone riding a Genuine, Vespa, Honda… etc. :)

  • Brad Tyrrell

    Don’t buy a Chinese Scooter unless you are willing to put time, money and effort to keep it running. If your new to mechanical stuff, like changing rear tires, or finding the oil stick, but you want to learn, get a Chinese Scooter!
    One major issue with these scooters is that “Reputable Dealers/ Repair Shops” won’t touch them. I understand why. It’s not so much that the “drive trains” go wankers, or can’t find parts. (Ebay) . It’s all the body panels you have to remove just to change the rear turn signal bulb!
    Think about it, do you want to pay someone $50 or $100 an hour to remove plastic parts so he can get to the real issue at hand?
    No. Do it your self! Learn how these things work, buy the few tools needed to keep them up and running. These Scooters will “Nickel and Dime” you. For some people that’s easier than big lump payments, when your Vespa, or Honda need repair, beyond upfront costs.
    Remember these are cheap for a few reasons, labor being chief .

    • marc

      well i have sold over 80 new in the last 3 1/2 years and around 40 used. a lot of the reason these get a bad rap is the dealers that just throw them together and dont check any other nuts,bolts,screws. as long as you keep the oil & rear end grease & run premimum gas i have not had very much warenty issues. have had no bearing failers at all. i beat the crap out of mine with a 80cc big bore 150 intake & carb high output coil iridium plug and no-rev cdi lighter rollers and open the muffler up. everyone wants to bad mouth these mopeds. the few name brand i have worked on low oil light fail or temp.light by time you know it its to late and your motors locked up. i wont touch the water cooled motor comes apart in 10 pieces. and whats the deal with the honda have a 22 coil stater anduse the crank for the starter. no thanks an opion like every one else

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