In the fall of 2014, Nashville Motorcycle Repair stopped working on Chinese-brand scooters. Here’s why.
Imagine Sisyphus, sweating away in Hades, pushing his rock up the hill every day, only to watch it roll back to the bottom, where he’s forced to start over. Now imagine the rock is actually a poorly-made machine that’s always breaking down, and halfway up the hill, you have to stop and pay $150 to get it fixed. Pardon the mixed metaphor?
This is the life of the repairer of Chinese scooters, and it’s unfortunate. It’s not that China can’t make a good scooter — Lance and Yamaha both have good, Chinese-built machines — it’s that the cheap ones are apparently built to appeal to people looking to get a good deal. So they buy a scooter online, and it’s shipped to their home, and they do the final assembly work out in the driveway, and they’ve got transportation!
Sure, the handlebars are wobbly and it’s slow, but it works! And then not much later, these experiences: Cracked piston at 300 miles. Ruined front variator and destroyed crankshaft nose at 600 miles. Dangerously loose steering head bearings at 400 miles. Bad source coil (part of the ignition system) at 800 miles. Stripped bolts at 0 miles, but those don’t matter until you have to take something apart to fix it (50 miles).
We’ve seen a few cheap scooters actually stay running and relatively reliable, it’s true. Generally these are the ones that are ridden every day of the year, not too far, and not too fast.
But overall, it’s a false economy. We’ve told over a dozen owners of cheap Chinese scooters that they should sell them as soon as possible (before they break again), then buy a heavily-used Japanese scooter from the 1980’s or later. Similar cost as cheap Chinese, and there might be an additional investment to take care of the previous owner’s neglected maintenance. But after that? Gas, oil changes, and tires will be most of what it ever needs.
My friend Mike once said that the bad thing about repairing scooters is that when you’re done, it’s still a scooter. I like scooters just fine, but the reason we stopped fixing cheap Chinese scooters is that when we were done, we knew we’d be fixing some other problem before long, and it was just too depressing. (And several customers never picked them up after we finished.) We’ll leave the Sisyphus routine for that once-scheming king in Hades.