Getting your scooter ready for the riding season

If you winterized your bike properly, prepping it for the riding season should be pretty simple. Many of the steps below can be skipped if you covered them when you put the bike away.

Generally, older and lower-displacement scooters are simpler, while more modern or higher-displacement scooters have more features and thus more things to check. Items with an asterisk (*) may not apply to your scooter.

If your scooter doesn’t start, the most likely cause is a dead/damaged battery, second most likely is a clogged carburetor, both are pretty easy to fix.

Gearbox oil

Gearbox oil (not to be confused with 2-stroke oil, see below) lubricates your internal engine components. Your gearbox oil may be specified as “gear oil” or “engine oil;” both have different ratings and qualities, but are sometimes interchangeable if the specs are comparable (more info and a comparison chart here).

There’s endless debate on what oil brands are best. Really, any name-brand that’s the proper specification is going to be just fine, though it’s best to avoid mixing mineral and synthetic oils.

Non-detergent (usually mineral) oil is important for vintage scooter gearboxes, detergents cause the clutch to slip.

Read the manual to determine what type of oil to use, and how much you need. Look for YouTube videos that demonstrate the procedure for your model. We won’t go through the procedure or necessary tools here, becuase it varies quite a bit from scooter to scooter.

Check the level, then top-off or replace as necessary, depending on service interval, level, and appearance. Do not overfill!

Be very careful to not cross-thread or over/under-tighten the oil drain/fill bolts, the engine case is soft metal, so it’s easy to strip the threads. You definitely don’t want your oil drain bolt falling out while riding.

Replace fiber washers each oil change. Rubber or metal washers can generally be reused if they’re in good condition.

Oil filter:*

Replace at recommended intervals. Note the two different oil filters shown in the photo. If your scooter uses this type, they’re interchangeable, but the “hex” type is usually easier to loosen and tighten than the “slot” type if you don’t have an oil filter wrench (or space to use one). Be sure to remove the old rubber gasket and use the new one (included with the filter).

2-stroke Oil:*

If your scooter has a 2-stroke engine, you’ll also need 2-stroke oil (aka “2T” from the French “deux temps”). On older bikes it must be measured and poured directly into the gas tank at every fill-up. On newer (and generally 50cc) scooters, there’s a 2-stroke oil tank (not to be confused with the gas tank or engine oil filler hole!) that automatically mixes 2-stroke oil with the gas at the right ratio. Unlike engine oil, 2-stroke oil is burnt away with the gas as your engine runs, so it must be checked and topped off regularly.

Again, debate has raged through history what oil is best, but any decent brand-name 2-stroke oil will work fine. (Avoid cheapo generic lawnmower oil unless you’re in a pinch.) Mixing brands or synthetic/mineral will not irreparably damage your scooter, but it’s a lot cheaper to buy 2-stroke oil by the gallon, and committing to a single brand will give you consistent results.

Fuel Filter and Fuel System

Check and clean or eplace the fuel filter if necessary, (they’re cheap!). Make sure it’s installed in the correct direction to permit fuel flow. Inspect the fuel line to ensure it’s not dried or cracking. If you disconnected your fuel line over the winter, re-connect it. (At right: a vintage Vespa fuel tap with a glass sediment bowl (when was the last time you cleaned yours?) and a typical modern fuel filter. If you don’t have either, it’s smart to install one!)

Drain old fuel if necessary (pour it in your car or lawnmower) and replace with fresh gas. But if you filled the tank when you winterized it, and especially if you Stabil-ized it, it should be fine.

As mentioned above, if your scooter won’t start, it’s likely a clogged carburetor. If you didn’t prep your bike (or if your fuel tap leaks) and it’s been sitting for ages, it might be good idea to clean out your carb float bowl before starting the bike, otherwise sediment can get sucked into the tiny passages of the carb, and you’ll have real problems.

Airbox/Filter:

Remove any critter-proofing you did in the winter and once again check the airbox, exhaust and any airflow areas for critters. Check/clean/replace the air filter if necessary Some filters can be blown clean with compressed air, some can be cleaned with solvents, check your manual.

Coolant:*

Check level and top off if necessary, or drain and replace at specified interval with the specified coolant.

Disc Brakes:*

Check and top off brake fluid if necessary. Be careful, it’s corrosive!

Check for proper lever reach, check hoses for wear or leaks, and check wear of pads and disc, clean with brake cleaner, repair or replace components if necessary

Drum Brakes:

Check levers for proper reach, check brake shoes and drums, clean with brake cleaner, and adjust cables as necessary.

Cables:

Check throttle/clutch/shift cables and levers

Adjust and lubricate as necessary for proper tension and smooth operation.

Battery:*

Charge and check capacity and voltage with a hydrometer and/or voltmeter.

Inspect it for cracks, leaks, or bloating.

Clean and grease the terminals if necessary.

If it’s damaged or not holding a charge, replace with a new high-quality name-brand battery.

Lights:

Confirm all bulbs are working (even the speedometer!) and that brake lights and turn signals operate properly.

Check your horn as well!

Tires/Wheels:

Check air pressure.

Check tread wear, manufacturer date code (replace if several years old), and condition (dry rot/cracking/flat spots).

Check that your valve stems aren’t pinched or twisted, valve caps are in place, all lug nuts are present and tight, and that the wheels and wheel bearings are in good condition.

Leaks:

Check all over for leaks. If any are found, clean up, then find and repair the source.

Cleaning:

Clean and wax the bike, and polish any chrome/aluminum.

DO NOT use Armor-All on the grips/seat/tires (They’ll get slippery!), or Windex or Armor-All on clear plastic (it’ll damage your windscreen/visor/lights).

Other things to check:

Sparkplug: clean, adjust the gap, maybe replace it if it’s been a while.

Helmet and riding gear:  clean, check, and replace if old or damaged.

Title: in a safe place at home (NOT with the bike)

Registration: Original safely filed with the title, keep a photocopy with the bike

License plate and decal: up-to-date

City tag: up-to-date and mounted properly

Insurance: Ensure it’s valid, keep a copy of the card in the bike AND in your wallet

Roadside Assistance: Keep any necessary info in the bike AND on your phone. (Also friends/tow companies/etc)

Check your toolbox and make sure you have the necessary spares and tools to be ready for emergencies.

After everything is dialed in, take a relaxed 10-20 minute ride to warm up the bike and get a feel for any adjustments you’ve made. Stay close to home and out of traffic, at least at first, until you’re sure all systems are go. When you return home, check again for leaks and loose nuts and bolts. And as you clean up, be sure to responsibly dispose of batteries, oils, and other chemicals.

Spring Cleaning