Learning, Buying, Riding a Scooter: One Car Driver's Journey

Discussion in 'Motorcycles' started by GilesGuthrie, Feb 29, 2008.

  1. GilesGuthrie

    GilesGuthrie Staff Emeritus

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    So I figured I'd write a bit of a diary of my exploits in choosing & sourcing a scooter, learning to ride it, and my first steps out on the busy city streets of Edinburgh.

    The Story So Far
    I passed my car license test in 1991, and since then have owned and driven a variety of cars, including a three year stint as a taxi driver. I reckon I've driven around 100 cars, and probably more than 250,000 miles during my life to date.

    I live in Edinburgh, around four miles from the city centre. One of the buses has its terminus 100m from my house. You'd think that this would be nice and convenient. But in reality, I have to take the children to nursery, which is an eight-mile round trip, in the opposite direction to work, then get a bus (40 minutes) into town, then a 15 minute walk to work on my client's site. My employer is moving its office from a 45 minute bus ride + 5 minute walk location to one requiring the 45 minute bus ride, followed by a 20 minute bus ride, followed by a 10 minute walk. Yet both of these sites are four miles from home, and the client's site is five miles. Clearly then, public transport is not working, and there is nowhere to park a car at the existing company office or client's site. Whilst there is parking at the new office, it will take me 40 minutes to drive there, and my car does 28mpg in town.

    Clearly, I need a means of transport that is rapid, economic, and flexible. (I didn't mention that most of the bus services are at 15 minute intervals). Seems like a scooter is in order.

    License Requirements
    There are two basic types of scooter, and in the UK, if you own a car license, your entitlement to ride is as follows:
    - 50cc scooters. Limited to 30mph, generally two-stroke engines, automatic gearboxes. A car license holder can ride one of these on Learner plates with no training. Sitting the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) test allows removal of the L plates.
    -125cc scooters. Top speed around 70mph, four-stroke engines. More economical and cleaner than the two-strokers. A car license holder can complete CBT, and ride a 125cc scooter on L plates. At some point within the next two years, the rider must either sit the A2 bike test (to become qualified) or resit CBT to remain on the Learner plates.

    Expect to pay around £120 for a CBT session. This will be a full day, and will include a loan bike and clothing & helmet. This is ideal if you haven't ridden before as you can do the training, and if it all goes horribly wrong you can walk away. There are options to do it cheaper if you provide your own gear. Training centres offer an intensive, 5-day A2 course, which shortcuts all that messing about with L plates, but it tends to cost around £500. A2 training lessons are £20 per hour.

    My plan therefore is to do the CBT on 20th March 2008, and buy a scooter shortly thereafter (early April, to get it on an 08 plate). I'll ride around on L plates for a couple of months, generally getting the hang of it, then I'll do three or four hours of A2 training, and take the A2 test. My understanding is that in September the A2 requirements become more stringent.

    So, which scooter?
    I've selected the Honda FE125 S-Wing. It's quite a big bike, could seat me and a pillion with ease. It's capable of around 70mph, and will do around 90mpg in town. Fully automatic "twist & go" gearbox, and it has Honda's Combined Braking System, with disc brakes front & rear, both activated by pulling the left grip lever. Front brake is activated with the right lever as normal. It has excellent underseat storage, so should be able to take my laptop bag and my camera bag (but not at the same time). This will mean I won't need a top box, which is good as they're expensive, and only the larger one will take my stuff. I've sketched out a preliminary deal at 5% off the bike, plus 10% off anything else I buy in store at the same time, i.e. helmet, gloves, security etc.

    I'll update this as I proceed through the plan.

    The CBT Day
    CBT day dawned wet, dried out, then got windy. There was much to learn. I did it on a standard 125cc motorbike, rather than on a scooter, which made life harder, because I had to learn the clutch and the gears too. There was chat about what to check on a bike before each journey, and also on the regular maintenance that we car drivers tend not to bother with. A tour of the bike itself, and then some practice riding. We were in a small car park area about 70m by 50m. We started off with some simple start & stop. Then we learned to do control braking (slipping the clutch and riding the rear brake). After that there was standard braking to a halt, and then turning. Finally it was emergency stops and gears.

    Lunch.

    More chats. This time on road safety, and how it applies to bikes. Then it was time for the 2-hour demonstration. We had some difficulties though, with the wind, and my training partner & I were completely out of sync. So when he rode well I rode poorly, and vice versa. I think it stopped either of us getting into any kind of rhythm. By this time it was rush hour, and our instructor was increasingly unhappy about the wind. He felt we both needed about another hour, which wasn't available to us with the light, the traffic and the weather. So, it's back to the test centre at the end of the month.

    I'm pretty disappointed, and quite hacked off not to have completed the course in the one day. Circumstances conspired against me, and I could have done a better job. Oh well.

    I enjoyed riding the bike on the road. The car park bit was a trial, frankly. I didn't really think that the car park was big enough to be able to mentally settle prior to attempting whatever the task was. Being out on the roads was fine, ironically, and I would have smoothed everything out had we maybe had a clearer run with the traffic. I'm keen to get back at it so I can start scooting!

    CBT Part Deux
    So often in my life, I will try to do something, find it very hard, and either fail, or give up before the failure makes itself evident. Then, later, I'll go back to whatever it was, and blast through it like I've been doing it all my life. And so it was with my second attempt at a CBT demonstration ride. I had been trying not to think about it too much in the ten or so days since my training, but even so, I know my brain had been sorting out the muscle movements. My first pull from a standstill was better than any I'd done during the training day, and so it continued throughout the two hour ride. I made hardly any mistakes, and was able to show a much better level of control of the bike. This added to my general awareness of the road and conditions, plus the ready way in which I incorporated the hints the instructor was giving me, enabled me to convince him that I'm sufficiently able to ride a 125cc machine on my own.

    Passed!

    Rumours abound that the CBT is going to become a two-day training course. On the basis of my own experience, I have to say that that would be a good move. I'm not sure whether it would apply to everyone, but I know that the break between the training and the demonstration ride helped, rather than hindered, me.

    Buying Stuff
    So I've put down a deposit on the bike. Not sure when I'm finally getting it, but it's arriving in at the dealer on Wednesday 2nd April. Hopefully we'll be able to sort out the registration, insurance and tax in time for collection on 5th.

    I've also got the requisite clothing. A D-Dry fabric jacket from Dainese, a fully certified helmet from Shoei, and carbon-fibre/leather gloves from Richter.

    Quite excited to get scooting now!

    Buying stuff, part two
    So, it turned out that there was a bit of a fracas at the dealership. The inbound scoot, for which the dealer had taken my £300 deposit, had been mandated to be registered and used as a demonstrator by Honda. Except that the dealer doesn't allow demonstration rides for scooters, since they're normally ridden on a provisional license, and the garage's insurance doesn't cover this. Further, there seems little point in having a demonstrator - which is there to stimulate sales - when the manufacturer has a waiting list and can't actually supply the demand!

    So, the sales dude was very apologetic, and went off to talk to the area sales manager for Honda. I said that I did have some limited scope for patience, and I expected him to come back to me with either a promise that I could have the inbound scooter, or a firm delivery date for another example.

    He came back saying I could have the inbound scooter. He came round to my way of thinking. He did well.

    Insurance
    I used a range of insurance comparison sites, none of which were entirely clear with all of their options. Still, I entered the following options:
    - 35 year old male
    - Provisional Bike License (1 month)
    - Full Car License (>15 years)
    - Use of own car
    - No insurance claims within last 5 years
    - No incidents within last 5 years
    - Zero no claims bonus on motorcycles
    - Bike garaged at home
    - Serious (2m x 20mm chain)
    - 3000 miles per year: Social, Domestic, Pleasure & Commuting
    - Third Party, Fire & Theft with Personal Accident

    Best quote was £150 for the year from Hastings Direct.

    Collection
    And so dawn came on the day of the collection. I'd made an appointment with the salesman so that he'd be able to block out the time in his diary, and it was a good thing I had, because the handover process was quite involved, and he was a busy man. Nonetheless he took the time to ensure that I had everything I needed, that the important bits of the manual were clear, and that he'd given me a thorough tour of the bike. It was very good service, all in all.

    The Bike Itself

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    So, the bike. It's a Honda FES125 S-wing, in black. Brand new, so it's on an 08 plate (which combines quite unfortunately with the preceding location code SL). 1 mile on the clock. Full tank of fuel.

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    The dash is very car like, with a small fuel guage, large speedo, warning lights, large rev counter and small temperature guage, left-to-right. Twist throttle and front brake lever on the right, plus starter button, and on the left are the turn signals, lights, horn and combined brakes. Insert key, twist to the right, pull the brake, press the starter. Choke is automatic.

    [​IMG]

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    There's a cubby hole and a shopping hook on the steering column, and the fuel flap is just by my right foot. A 9 litre tank should be good for somewhere just shy of 200 miles. Under the seat is a deceptively useless space. Yes, it'll take my helmet, with a good slam, and yes, it'll just about take my laptop bag, but it is still a pretty small space, with the remainder taken up by the chain and my waterproof trousers. Still, I'm not yet moved to buy the £250 35L or £350 45L top-boxes just yet.

    Underneath, the 125cc engine is small and quiet. Drive is twist-n-go through a belt-drive CVT 'box. There's a very shiny heat shield on the exhaust. The wheels are quite small, but each of them is braked by a drilled disc. There's both a centre and a side stand. Putting the side stand down kills the engine, for reasons of which I'm not quite sure, but it is by design.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    That First Ride
    The family had left me in the dealership, so I rode around to my in-laws (where they were) on my own. It was, in truth, quite a leap of faith. Yes, sure, I'd breezed through the CBT demonstration ride, but that was on a full geared bike, not an automatic scooter, and there was an instructor behind me at the time. So I'm faced with pulling out onto a busy road, unsupervised, on my first go with the new machine.

    Twist-n-go should be simple, yes? I was quite expecting it to be a creeper, like an automatic car, but in truth it's more like a chainsaw. Idle speed is around 2,000 rpm, and it won't move until it's doing 4,500 rpm, at which point it sets off at a brisk walking pace. Quite a leap of faith to pull away then: nothing, nothing, nothing, woah!

    Once away I felt very stiff and awkward. It was raining (obviously), and I was acutely aware of my own inability. Nevertheless, I settled in, and enjoyed it, until I came to the first of the tight turns on the route. I think I'm just a bit timid, and yet expecting too much, to be honest, but I've been having a bit of a problem turning the bike tightly enough at times. I think it's a combination of not wanting to overload the tyres (especially given that they're new tyres and the road is wet), and feeling that the turn is very slow. Something to work on.

    100-mile Update
    So, been working on the turning thing. It's getting better, not least because I'm learning more about what the bike can do, how to balance it, and also noting that taking a 90-degree junction at 15mph in the wet on a scooter probably isn't that bad. Really enjoying the freedom, and it is realising the reduction in journey times. 20 minutes into work this morning compares favourably with 40 minutes on a bus plus a 15-minute walk.

    Scooting = teh funs.

    1,000-mile Update
    After 300 miles, the run-in period was complete. After a few full-throttle blasts I settled back to my normal riding style. I'm rarely needing to use full throttle to be honest, and when I do it's harsh and drinks fuel. At 500 miles, it had an oil-change service, for which the labour was free, and the oil was about £11. Fuel economy is steadily increasing as the engine loosens off, currently running at around 84mpg. Fastest speed attained so far is 65mph.

    I've become increasingly confident on the bike. I'm thinking ahead of it, and naturally adjusting to differing levels of grip in wet/dry conditions. I've had a few emergency stops, when others (mainly pedestrians) have pulled out in front of me. I've sussed out the best route to and from work, which gives me a nice safe ride and good options for bypassing the traffic.

    It's fun, I've been safe, and the economy has worked out as expected. Using the scooter has increased the overall fuel economy of the Espace, and the scooter is within the manufacturer's claimed economy scale. And it cuts a minimum of 40 minutes off my commute. Each way. It has returned 80 minutes a day to usable time. Marvellous.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2009
  2. Duke

    Duke Staff Emeritus

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    Sounds like a nice plan and a good scoot. I've never had anything but good luck with Honda motorcycles. Keep us posted and show us pics!

    Resist temptation to get it in black and go for the most garish color available. Alos get a helmet in a plain but bright color. High visibility is your friend.
     
  3. Diego440

    Diego440 Premium

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    and a fucsia full-body suit will probably make you look very smart. Guaranteed.

    Don't forget to post pics as well.
     
  4. GilesGuthrie

    GilesGuthrie Staff Emeritus

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    There aren't many colours for the bike, and all the ones that there are are dark, save for a rather tepid "silver". I'm planning on a bright helmet though, and I'll probably sling a hi-vis waistcoat over my waterproof (but black) jacket. If only I can find it.
     
  5. Duke

    Duke Staff Emeritus

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    Yeah, silver won't help. Have fun with it!
     
  6. GilesGuthrie

    GilesGuthrie Staff Emeritus

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    Updated with experiences of CBT
     
  7. GilesGuthrie

    GilesGuthrie Staff Emeritus

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    Updated with more on CBT, plus some gear stuff
     
  8. UnoMOTO

    UnoMOTO Premium

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    Nice work! Thanks for sharing it with us.
     
  9. GilesGuthrie

    GilesGuthrie Staff Emeritus

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    Updated, since I now actually have the bike. Those of you who've been with me from the start: start reading at "Buying stuff, part two"
     
  10. Alex.

    Alex. Premium

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    Cheers, you've given me an impression of what a CBT is like, i've got mine coming up in a couple of weeks, and I've only ever been on the back of a friend's 125.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2008
  11. Speedster502

    Speedster502 Premium

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    Kind of off topic but, did you look into magazines to do with Scootering when going through this?
     
  12. MagpieRacer

    MagpieRacer Premium

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    The CBT is so much fun, what bike did you have to do it on? I got a 1999 Honda CG125, brilliant ride.
     
  13. GilesGuthrie

    GilesGuthrie Staff Emeritus

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    No, I just got on with it. Bit of internet research was all.

    It was definitely a Honda 125, but it was on an 08 plate. So if the CG125 is still going, yes, that one.

    I've now done nearly 1200 miles on my scooter, and I'm loving it. Left the house this morning in a foul mood, arrived at work full of the joys of spring. How many people can say that about their daily commute?!
     
  14. GilesGuthrie

    GilesGuthrie Staff Emeritus

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    1,000 mile update added to first post.
     
  15. ROAD_DOGG33J

    ROAD_DOGG33J Premium

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    Did you post any pictures of the scooter up yet?
     
  16. GilesGuthrie

    GilesGuthrie Staff Emeritus

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    Pictures added. Nearly 2,900 miles done on the bike now, and it hasn't missed a beat.

    I bought a new set of waterproof trousers at Christmas. Berghaus, from a camping/hiking store, they're about the waterproofing, not accident protection. They're very good, which is handy because riding when wet is miserable.
     
  17. ExigeEvan

    ExigeEvan Premium

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    I gotta say it seems well worth it for the efficiency and the time saving :tup:
     
  18. wfooshee

    wfooshee Premium

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    Nice-looking scoot!

    BTW, killing the engine with the sidestand prevents riding off with the stand down, then being surprised when turning left levers the bike up and you fall to the right in the intersection. Bad juju.

    Can you pass stopped traffic while on the scooter? Illegal in the states except for California, but something that absolutely sould be allowed. But only if there's more than one lane in your direction. Riding the shoulder is suicide, and riding the centerline is worse.

    And once you break down and get a cargo box you'll wonder how you ever got along without it. You'll then be able to do some food shopping with it, other tasks you'd normally need the car for. And you should be able to find them cheaper than you posted, by companies like Givi, not necessarily from Honda.
     
  19. GilesGuthrie

    GilesGuthrie Staff Emeritus

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    Thanks! I'd like a smaller one, but then I'd lose the practicality of it, and I really like the practicality.

    Ah, well thanks for clearing that up! I use it to kill the engine when I'm stopped at an intersection that I know I'm going to be at for a while (I've learned all of the light sequences for all of the junctions I travel through). Killing the engine with the sidestand means I don't have to kill the ignition, which in turn switches the lights of, which would be confusing for other drivers.

    Thank you for asking this question! You motivated me to do some research on it. It's something that I do because all bikers do, but I was never sure of the legality of it. And I would never pass a Police car in a queue (a sure sign that subconsciously I know it's wrong!!)

    According to Section 88 of the Highway Code, "when filtering in slow-moving traffic, take care and keep your speed low". This is advice on how to do it, and there are none of the usual directives (e.g. "you SHOULD not" (means "you're screwed if something goes wrong while you are") or "you MUST not" (means "you're screwed if a Policeman sees you doing").

    However, even this isn't really clear enough, so more searching turned up this article from respected paper Motorcycle News. This details the fact that not only is it perfectly legal to pass a queue in the UK (providing you observe standard rules concerning road markings) but also that in recent incidents involving bikers and queued cars, courts have shown due consideration of the fact that the act of passing the queue is not in and of itself wrong.

    As always with my riding though, I tend to err on the side of caution.

    Thanks for the tip.
     
  20. Dragonistic

    Dragonistic

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    I just asked on my first CBT (for twist and go as I was only 16 at the time) whether you could go between traffic, to which I was told it was perfectly legal. I've since in almost 3 years of riding done it past the police and such (at first I was nervous doing so) and they've never bothered me.

    I have to say I found the CBT, for both twist and go and 2 years later, geared 125s to be very easy I didn't even know what a clutch was really used for when I went in for my geared CBT, plus my moped had been rode into the ground so I hadn't been using it in about 5-6 months. I to was on an 08 CG125 I think, and I just got right into my stride straight away, the moped experience didn't really help but more general road experience did as I was able to worry about my gearing and clutch etc. without concentrating particularly hard on my awareness as I was used to always looking around and such.

    I passed first time both times almost flawless with only one mistake across both tests which was when I was leading on the geared, instructor behind me and the other rider behind him, I pulled out on a roundabout perfectly ok but had to wait up the rode in a lay by as the other rider on the test stalled. Then as I waited up ahead I watched my mirrors moving my head to see my blind spot (as in, moving my head to see a different angle in my mirror rather then over the shoulder) and the instructor left me a huge gap so I knew it was clear, but I didn't look over my shoulder because I frankly didn't need to and wanted to get out ahead again quick back into position.

    The really amazing thing was my first CBT the other moped rider on the test almost went down a motorway the wrong way because they were supposed to take the 2nd exit, but they were told off for not getting into position which got them confused so they took the 2nd road they saw on the roundabout, the off ramp from the motorway below. Luckily the instructor shouted just in time before they fully turned down the ramp. The real miracle? The guy still passed! He made numerous minor mistakes on the rest of the ride as well I honestly question the instructors judgement to let this guy pass.

    Luckily on my second CBT the instructor had some sense and the guy who was doing the test at the same time failed after so many mistakes (it was also his third attempt at the CBT) although none were as bad as almost taking the wrong way down a motorway...
     
  21. wfooshee

    wfooshee Premium

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    As it ages and the battery gets weaker you'll wish you hadn't developed that habit. Just sayin' . . .
     
  22. ROAD_DOGG33J

    ROAD_DOGG33J Premium

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    Cool, finally got some pictures or where they up before? What's the plan with the learner license?
     
  23. PAPPACLART

    PAPPACLART

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    Fantastic right up!!!