Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Motor Scooter Tire Maintenance

Maintaining the tires on your motor scooter is one of the biggest safety things you can do for yourself. Your tires are your link with the road. If you neglect them, it will eventually cause some pain, and at the very least, early expense...

So what is vital? tire pressure, tire pressure, tire pressure! The reason we say that is under-inflated tires are the primary cause of tire failure! If you want long life from the tire, the correct pressures will reduce rolling friction and road heating on the tire, and that will promote performance and longer tire life. Sure that alone is a big benefit, but the biggy is a reduction in side wall flexing. Side wall flexing? Yeah, that is the distortion of the tire wall because it is under-inflated. When you drive on an under-inflated tire, the side walls flex a lot, or little, depending on how much under-inflated it is. This constant flexing eventually breaks down the tire chord fabric holding the tire together. The more road heat caused by this situation, the quicker the wall chording breaks down.

Can you see it? No! the damage is internal to the tire. Sometimes a tire that has been run under-inflated for a long time, and then inflated to the correct pressure fails shortly thereafter. It's called a blow out...

This situation is true of any vehicle tire, but for a motor scooter rider blow-outs are not an option.

Note that even a cheaper grade of 4-ply rated 2-ply scooter tire each has a load capacity of 350 to 400 lbs. So the tires can handle quite a heavy load. Tire load capacity is not a particular safety issue, because even cheaper tires have plenty.

How do I know what the tire pressure should be? Look at the tire itself for the answer. Inflation pressure is molded right into the tire! Another choice is to check the manufacturer's tire pressure label on the scooter. Sometimes the manufacturer will suggest a slightly lower pressure for the front tire. This occurs for reasons of the center of gravity of a particular scooter, and the bearing weight on the front wheel.

Some people think reducing the tire pressure helps the tire have more traction. Those are the people who have never watched a motorcycle race. Those guys lean over 45 degrees sometimes at far greater speeds than a scooter runs. Ever see one slip? Nope traction, and plenty of it.
Notice next time you watch a race look when the bike is coming in to stop. Those tires look completely inflated, and of course they are. Nice and fully round!

There are a couple more things a scooter rider can do with tires to enhance safe riding. For one thing a good inspection of the tread regularly. Often a bit of sharp gravel, metal or glass fragments will be discovered lodged in the tread grooves. Put the scooter on the stand and rotate the tires to look closely. When you find a piece of something pick it out. Otherwise it will eventually inbed deeper into the tire and be a problem.

The last thing to check is the cap on the tire air stem. That little plastic cover protects the tire air valve. If it's missing it allows dirt to accumulate at the pressure valve. Not cool! Ten cents will fix it. Put on a new one.

My pet peeve is when a new scooter owner puts tire shine on his scooter tire. That stuff looks nice, but it's so slick it it can cause a person to slide out of control! Wash your tires with soap and water and leave it at that!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Motor Scooter Muffler Inspections

Motor Scooter Riders need to be aware that a Scooter muffler, and anything connected to the muffler system, needs to be checked once in awhile!

What are we looking for? Loose bolts and fittings, fracture cracking of metal muffler attachment flanges. In short, anything mounting the muffler, or connected to it. As the scooter ages it becomes an even better idea. Time works against the muffler mountings, just as it does in any gasoline engined vehicle.

The why look? is to prevent an event which could put your personal well-being at risk. It is no joke to be thrown out of control while your rear wheel attempts to eat your muffler or attached parts at speed!

Chances are if it happens you won't go out of control, but you could when something falls off and engages the rear wheel. The point is, why risk it?

Automobiles have mufflers and parts falling off on our roads and highways all the time, but cars have four wheels, you have only two. The mufflers and pipes falling off would be a serious road hazard if it weren't for the work of the State DOT crews cleaning junk off our highways. The idea is a car can lose a muffler and is more stable during the destruction than a motor scooter.

So what's the big deal here? The big deal is that scooter engines, either 2 or 4 cycle turn at high RPM. The exhaust pulses cram into the muffler setting up ultrasonic vibrations which have the power to loosen bolts and nuts, given some time. Worse, our engines are run at different RPMS,
up and down, thus parts get the full vibration treatment!

OK, you say your muffler bolts are locktited in. Great, that will certainly be a big asset to prevent loosening and should always be done. Problem is it can still fail over time, albeit a longer time, still no excuse not to check those muffler attachment points for lose bolts... While you're snooping around look at the welded muffler attachment flanges too to insure they don't have a crack developing on them. Welded steel tabs are bad that way, even if not rusted!

For the most part, the motor scooter manufacturers use isolating hard rubber vibration dampening pieces in their muffler mount arrangement. Some don't, and those are the ones that need frequent inspection. Let's be honest. Nobody really looks at the muffler system.
Most believe if it was about to fall off they would know it! Feel a strange vibration sometimes?
Look at the muffler mount.

I figure if I help one person avoid some inconvenience and a bad experience it is worth it to encourage a muffler mount inspection as a routine item to check. How often? You decide!

Friday, December 1, 2006

Frame Welds on Chinese Motor Scooters

Scattered throughout the web forums on scooters you come across complaints occasionally of poor welds. This is because something welded has failed. No doubt in a few instances the construction of the weld was poor, as many factories both with and without ISO certifications have been building motor scooters in China. Maybe that's not too surprising since the object of the OEM builder is sometimes too concentrated on price, and not safety.
In general the welding is very good on most Scooters. Especially so in the Motofino brands I hawk. By far the biggest problem is buyer ignorance!
People will too often buy a scooter without checking the specifications for max load! Just dumb! You cannot buy a bike rated for 100Kg, and put two fat people on it and expect the Scoot to hang together! Seems obvious.
1 Kilogram is 2.204 lbs. If the spec says ok for 100Kg., that's all it is rated for. An awful lot of riders already
weigh 220 lbs! Not much chance the scooter will survive a long time without breaking a support weld if routinely subjected to 440 lbs. when people try to ride two!
Notice the Scooter usually withstands this abuse for a time, but may fail at any time when overloaded. Why not check the load specs and buy one rated at 330Kg or more? duh...
In my mind, a 100Kg load capacity is only a good choice for a single rider weighing under 175 lbs. who drives on smooth surfaces. Keep a little safety load margin.
The good Chinese scooters sold in the United States are those which meet federal highway safety standards and EPA emissions criteria. Despite the Federal Highway certification, you can cheat it by buying something with a low load carrying capacity if unaware of the rating.
Motor Scooter frames are by and large welded tubular steel. Very strong and tough. One characteristic is they are soft, or mild steels. This is good because these steels bend, instead of snap. The welds are more brittle, and do snap, when severely overloaded. My purpose in pointing out load carrying capacity is only in the interest of personal safety for riders. I have no other "axe to grind."

The Aggressive Chinese Motor Scooter Industry

Ever wonder why so many inexpensive Chinese Motor Scooters have arrived in the U.S in the last 3 years? The ethic of "work hard work," making and selling them is responsible. Making them attractive for export. China is truly doing that!

China is Wooing the buyer everyday to commit to container loads of motor scooters. Many business people in the U.S. have had a number of ISO certified factories build them on an OEM basis, for the market in the United States. We all seem to be gobbling them up as a fill-in alternative for transportation of the gas-saving type. No arguement on the fuel savings, since they all seem to get 80 to 120 miles per gallon. Safety, and comfort is sometimes another issue. Not everyone can ride one, or wants to do it, but many welcome the availability of a cheaper mode of personal transportation.

Ningbo, China is a major seaport from which many containers of motor scooters depart, bound for the United States. Within 200Km of Ningbo are several motorcycle and motor scooter factories. If you examine the factories you will discover the people there are very committed to the work. Competition and productivity among workers, and factories is very keen. I was surprised, knowing that this is a Communist country. Each factory in the industry sports ISO certifications at various levels, and while cheaper less desireble motor scooters are being exported, for the most part the quality of the product is very good. Especially the engines and controls, many which are cloned designs from Honda and others which were produced in China, and are even today. A lot of Taiwanese know-how also filters to the mainland.
China is, and isn't divided. People travel regularly from Taiwan to mainland China.

Seemingly, the biggest problem for the United States buyer is how well the selling OEM corporation in this country supports parts and service, or even technical issues. Even more important,is how much money they spend to insure they are building a quality product in China. Often, they could specify better! The Chinese are very attentive. If you say you want this built, you will have it at the price you asked to pay. That may not be the best interests of the end user in this country!

For the most part, OEM builders in the U.S. have realized they can't have China make junk and expect to sell it here. Word gets around fast. Better quality Chinese made Scooters are available. The brand I hawk is Motofino.

Still quite reasonably priced compared to the major Taiwanese or Japanese Scoots. The better body panels make a big difference along with the engine components. It turns out all Chinese made scooters look amazingly the same. That's because all the body designs belong to the "people." Any factory can use these communal molds to make product and they do!

In future posts I'll try to talk about things like hardware and welds, longevity of product. We have lots to share!