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

27 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.
    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!

  • 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!

  • 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!

    • Roj

      So is a vespa ok in LA traffic?

      • wendemachete

        Most small engines are not into being idle. I know that my Vintage Vespa doesn’t because the engine is air cooled. However, many new scooters have liquid cooled engines instead of the old air ones that require you to basically keep moving to keep the engine relatively cool. I would suspect that LA traffic will be hard on any vehicle you drive, since even the nicest of cars do not typically stand the test of time. However, the one advantage is that motorbikes are allowed to “split lanes” in many California cities, making riders have to wait less in the parking lot that is the freeway.

        Has anyone experienced heavy traffic situations on a scoot that would like to chime in?

  • 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

  • Kris Goff

    Gassed up my 2008 Lance Vintage, it has about 1300 miles on it, headed down the road and about 2 miles out it started cutting out real bad. Thought it had over heated but after letting it rest overnight it is still running the same. I can’t even get it to go 10 mph, its never done this before, can you please give me some idea what’s wrong with it? Its a 150 cc. I thought I may have pushed it too hard as I had it just barely up to 50mph for about half a mile when it started doing this. The speedometor red lines at 50 so I kept it below that but just barely. Can you also tell me how long or how far this particular scooter should be able to go before needing a rest. Thankds so much!

  • El

    great to find a dude what’s in the know. having hard time right now trying to find rear tire size 90.90-12. any ideas.

  • Will

    The old addage “you get what you pay for applies”.If you want a the best quality scooters get one from Italy or Japan. I sell & service scooters including those from china (Tao Toa,Peace Motor Sports ect).I have found the workmanship to be shoddy in most cases but I have found the parts for the china scooters readily available and are dirt cheap in price.Mostly everything is assembled/built in china these days -Lifan is a Chinese company that built Honda motors(and others).In short if you can afford a non-Chinese scooter brand than get one but if you buy a Chinese scooter expect it to start falling apart soon after the factory warranty expires but even after the repairs that WILL be needed you’ll still be hundreds if not thousands cheaper then a higher end non-Chinese scooter.Also before you risk your life on any scooter Chinese or not -new or used you should have a mechanic you trust go over it.-Just my opinion:)

  • don

    This is why I only buy Honda, suzuki or yamaha scooters. Kawasaki doesn’t seem to make any scooters?! My 1987 honda ch150 scooter was stolen 2 years ago. The thieves drove it mostly offroad for over 300 miles and beat the crap out of it. I mean… really rode it like they stole it. When I got it back over a year later (the police caught a guy riding it in the city!) the plastic bodywork was all busted up and hanging off it, the battery was dead and it had mud caked in every orifice. You could not ride a bike harder than this one was ridden. I bought a new battery, hit the starter button and after a few turns the old girl started right up! It was built so well that the frame, the front end, and the rear end were all intact and not bent even though the scooter had been wiped out hard many times. I took off everything that was broken and turned into a skeleton scooter (skelly). It runs like it always did except now it’s faster with the weight loss and because it looks like crap, it is less likely to be stolen again. HAD THIS BEEN A CHINESE SCOOTER, IT WOULD HAVE NOT SURVIVED THE FIRST NIGHT OF ITS ORDEAL… NEVERMIND OVER A YEAR OF HARD HARD RIDING. Dont cheap out folks. Buy a Name brand Jap scooter.

    • marc

      ok so your telling me that you owned a Chinese scooter and you beat the crap out of it and it didn’t survive it don’t sound like that. well I have done that to a couple Chinese scooters because we have a motocross dirt track we built and me and a friend rode our so called junk Chinese mopeds just like they were motocross bikes and never broke down. most dealers that sell them just put parts on that need to be when they come out of the crate don’t check any other nuts,bolts or screws to see if there tight don’t change the shipping oil don’t tell the customer that it has shipping oil in the crank case. I have 86 new tao taos on the road and around 40 to 50 used on the road. and any I have fixed for a customer don’t return after there problem has been fixed. if u keep the oil & rear end grease changed run high test gas they don’t have any problems. you like what you like and we like what we like that’s our and your choice you act like your right and were all wrong you are a snob that’s for sure. I have worked on your so called name brand mopeds there a pain and the price of there parts are way to much. $3,000 rukus wire harness made in china and a lot of other part the same with your other preferred mopeds. water temp light or gage fails by time u no it to late complete rebuild same with 2 cyc. low oil light fails by time u no same thing. I wont even work on them anymore just a pain compared to my good ol cinese parts r cheap and easy to fix. bye bye snob

    • Peter

      Why do people make comments with no experience with a particuliar product. How do you know that a Chinese scooter would not stand up to a bad treatment. Most Chinese scooters have the GY6 Honda designed motor and CVT. i have a Chinese Scooter coming up to 10000klms much to many brand snobs disapointment it has been very reliable and performed well. Parts are at a price brand snobs could only dream about. Nothing wrong with the more well know brands names but they are expensive which moves away from the whole idea of owning a scooter that is it being cheap to buy and run.

  • ScooterMadness

    The key with Chinese scooters is that you have to know what you are getting: http://www.scootermadness.com/blog/should-i-get-a-taotao-or-chinese-scooter/

  • Roj

    I just ordered an ssr turino 150 here in California and by state law it has to be registered by the dealer with the dmv. That means it must be California carb compliant and good enough for the DOT to allow people to ride them. The turino looks far nicer than any modern Vespa and I’m still trying to figure out the 6000 dollar price for one. It’s still a scooter at the end if the day.

  • Joseph

    The Vespa is a well known brand with an honest reputation for quality. As with so many products, you get what you pay for.

    • wendemachete

      Hi Joseph,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree with you about Vespa being reliable and honest. However, that’s not to say that people who work on these machines are either of those things, not to mention, machines are designed to wear out. In my case with Vera (see photos), she’s old, finicky, and the people who had her before me… not the greatest mechanics. So, I’ve had Vera for more than 4 years, but have ridden her about that many times.

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