Thought Catalog

We Bought Chinese Made Scooters And Drove Them Across America On An Epic Adventure

  • 0

Road trips are cool. Cross country road trips are Epic. On a motorcycle it’s badass, but what about on a $1,000 scooter with a max speed of 50mph?

We tried it and lived to tell this story:

Departing California

My travel partner Eric O’Dell, overlooking California’s Pacific Coast.
My travel partner Eric O’Dell, overlooking California’s Pacific Coast.

The entire idea began when Eric and I were brainstorming travel ideas. The only date I had set in stone was a wedding I had to attend in New Jersey in a few weeks. Other than that I was pretty flexible. At the time we were in San Diego, California and settled on road tripping to the East Coast.

Driving across the country would have been fun, Eric had a better idea: doing it on Motorcycles. Only problem was, motorcycles are expensive and we didn’t have a whole lot of experience riding. So we settled on the next best thing: Scooters.

We figured two weeks should be enough time to get us to New Jersey, especially with our two brand spankin’ new scooters. We departed San Diego on a weekday evening. The Sun had just set and we were already making plans for wine-tasting in Napa Valley the next night.

The Two Scoots

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-4-52-55-pm

I can’t even remember the name or brand of these things. What I do remember is that they had 125cc engines. To put that into perspective, small motorcycles have a 500cc engine. In fact, walking lawnmowers have 140cc engines or more.

These machines were brand new when we got them and they cost us about $1,000 each, after taxes. Don’t go running to tell all your friends about this great deal. They weren’t the most reliable things.

Napa Valley

Flickr / Mat79
Flickr / Mat79

Here is where I thought I’d be telling you how great the wine was in Napa, but Napa didn’t happen.

Within ten minutes of saying goodbye, and hugging all of our friends, we got pulled over by a cop.

Our scooters weren’t street legal, according to the officer. They each had a tiny red light on the front side of both rear view mirrors. Only emergency vehicles can legally have red lights aimed to the front, not scooters.

To make things worse, one of us didn’t have a proper motorcycle license, just a permit. A permit doesn’t allow you to ride at night in California. We also didn’t have license plates; they wouldn’t arrive in the mail for another few weeks.

The cop could have ticketed us and had our scooters towed, but as luck would have it we were saved by, what I would call nothing short of a miracle. What happened was, the officers partner knocked my scooter over on its side, by accident. He apologized, and I could tell he felt really bad about knocking over a brand new scooter. Personally, I really didn’t care, I just didn’t want to get into trouble. Thankfully the cops didn’t ticket or tow us. They did tell us to fix the red lights and only ride during the day.

Night At The Park

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-4-56-16-pm

Being the semi-law abiding citizens we were, we spent the night under a bush at a local park. We were too ashamed to ask one of friends if we could spend the night at their place after having said our farewells. We used this green camouflage tarp to hide the scooters.

Los Angeles

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-4-57-20-pm

Here’s Eric trying to blend in with a Harley. Anyone who’s ever spent time driving through Los Angeles knows how awful it can be.

The thing about our scooters and other vehicles that can’t go over 55 miles per hour is that they’re not allowed on interstate highways. We considered breaking the rules but we’d already been pulled over once already, so we stuck to the side streets.

It took us nearly an entire day to drive through Los Angeles. At one point a wasp stung my chin and I looked like Jay Leno for a three days. I’d show you a picture but I made Eric delete it.

We made it as far as Ventura, CA, that day, just north of LA. We found an avocado field to sleep in that night, or maybe it was an almond orchard. We tell our friends it was avocados, because avocados are cooler than almonds. The next morning, we woke up right before the sprinklers went off.

People Like To Shoot Things

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-4-58-22-pm

This sign just north of Santa Barbara is littered with bullet holes. The map made it seem like this was a normal road, and it was until we reached this point. The pavement ended and it was pretty much off-roading the rest of the way. It was the only road to travel along the coast that wasn’t a highway into Northern California

We weren’t making good time but we were having fun. The different views and landscapes are something you often miss when you’re taking the highway. At least we’d be in Napa by the morning, right?

Just as my scooter reached the 600 mile mark, the drive belt in my engine snapped. We were stranded outside of Santa Maria, California next to an onion field. You could tell it was an onion field by the smell. You could also tell they recently applied a fresh layer of manure.

A tow truck picked us up and dropped my scooter off at a Harley Davidson repair shop. We splurged and spent that evening in a motel.

The Gross Motel

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-4-59-20-pm

The Gross Motel is the unofficial name we gave this place. In the bathroom they had two sets of towels, ones for any, ‘dirty jobs,’ and another set for your face, I guess.

I still used the face towels to scrub my ass, tho.

With only basic cable and dial-up internet speeds, we spent a luxurious evening watching ‘I Love Lucy,’ reruns.

After two days in this place, waiting for my scooter to get fixed at the Harley Davidson, we hit the road. We even ordered a spare drive belt in case Eric’s scooter would encounter the same issue.

At this point we’d eaten up four days out of our two-week trip. We also ate too many burritos, and down multiple cups of vanilla lattes and mochas. We made the decision to cut Seattle out of our itinerary, and Napa Valley too.

Nevada Bound

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-01-27-pm

Eric and I, trying and failing to take a cool photo in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

My scooter was roaring and ready (more like purring and puttering), after getting fitted with a kevlar drive belt that cost 15% of the entire scooter.

We began heading east, since we’d lost so many days, and if we were going to encounter this many hiccups down the line then we needed to book-it fast.

We drove all day through Fresno and the California Valley, up into Sacramento, CA where we stayed the night with Eric’s cousin, Leanne. The next day we’d be driving through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Truckers Hate Us

Drivers too.
Drivers too.

I counted four middle fingers by the time we reached Nevada. Not only were these scooters barely able to break 50mph, they sucked going uphill. Here you can see a semi-truck on Eric’s heels.

Drive Belt Problems Part 2

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-03-39-pm

The drive belt in Eric’s scooter was bound to break. We just didn’t realize how much of a pain in the ass it would be to replace it on our own, in the middle of the Nevada desert. Without sufficient tools, we were stranded.

Stranded In Nevada

We were stranded for nearly two days.

A biker gang of about twenty leather-clad Hell’s Angels offered us some help, but without the proper tools there was nothing they could do.

The Problem?

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-05-18-pm

The belt wouldn’t squeeze around the cylinder. We tried everything and nothing worked. We were going bonkers.

We tried stretching the drive belt by pulling on it. After doing this for the hundredth time, we realized it wasn’t going to work.

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-05-56-pm

The nearest town was an hour and a half away, if you were going downhill. With Eric’s scooter out of commission I rode back to town by myself. There was a small saloon with a sign that read, ‘Hippie Entrance In The Back,’ along with a hardware store and a bunch of sun stained ‘going out of business’ signs.

There was an old guy sitting outside of what appeared to be a junkyard, but it was really just his front yard. He looked to be about 80 years old and had one of those going out of business signs leaning against an old jalopy. There were a bunch of used rusty car parts scattered outside, some were close enough to touch from the road.

I told him our problem, and he gave me some free tools, advice, and wished me luck.

We Fixed It…Sort Of.

Eric, getting on his sort-of fixed scooter.

After being frustrated for hours we finally managed to fit the drive belt around the cylinders! We were exchanging high-fives and loaded up our scooters for the next leg of our trip.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that we pulled the drive belt onto the cylinder so hard that the cylinder was permanently stretched into a high-gear position. Not just any high-gear. The cylinder was stretched too much to the point where the scooter couldn’t change into low gear and could reach speeds of over 80mph!

Colorado Bound

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-07-36-pm

Finally, on the road, Eric and I drove right through Utah and into Colorado.

Eric’s scooter had trouble going uphill, but on flat ground he was going faster than his speedometer could read. At one point, he said he was going at least 85mph.

Going up the Rockies wasn’t easy. Eric’s scooter couldn’t handle the steep slopes. A couple of times I had to tow him. I tied our tarp to my scooter and Eric would hold onto it as we chugga-chugged uphill. Unfortunately, my tent fell onto my tire as I was towing him and it ripped several holes into it.

This Stupid Smile

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-08-29-pm

There were eight holes in my tent. Here I am trying to make light of an awful situation. I wasn’t smiling later that night when I went to sleep on the side of the road, wrapped in my tarp like a burrito.

Tarps are pretty much sturdy sheets of plastic, so my neck sweat like a set of balls in New Orleans. I wouldn’t have covered my face if it wasn’t for the thousand mosquitos hungry for blood.

Almost To The Top

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-09-44-pm

Riding a scooter through the Rockies was my favorite part of the trip. The smells that hit your face are intense, especially when you reach the higher altitudes. Must be why dogs love sticking their heads out the window. You should try it sometimes, the scooter part, not the head out the window thing.

Did I tell you about our spark plugs?

Spark plugs are these little things in your engine that you have no idea exist, until they don’t want to work anymore. These things basically create the spark in your engine when you go to start it. Both of our scooters were having spark plug issues so we kept buying new ones, but they kept breaking.

Instead of buying and installing new plugs every couple of hours, we put a few drops of gasoline directly onto the spark plugs to get the engine started.

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-10-32-pm

The Rockies had amazing views. The people were pretty cool there too. We met some people who offered us a place to stay overnight. I wish we would have taken them up on the offer, but these views only got better and we never thought about where to sleep until well after the sun set. We stayed the night in Aspen, behind a construction site.

The Very Top

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-11-35-pm

Eric and I stopped at the very top of the Rockies. Our scooters were more sluggish than usual, given the altitude. We still didn’t have our license plates, by the way.

Later that evening we pampered ourselves and stayed at a hotel. We even had pizza delivered to our room. The next day Eric woke up with an entire slice stuck to his foot.

Kansas Sucked

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-13-23-pm

Let me tell you something about Kansas that only motorcyclists and I know. It’s flat, it’s boring, and the bugs hurt like hell when they hit your neck. I’m talking grape-sized bugs. Imagine randomly getting hit with a paint-ball every ten minutes for ten hours straight.

Thank God for visors.

We found that we had to change the oil in our scooters every 300 miles. One time I waited until the 600-mile mark and about a teaspoon of used oil came out when I went to drain the engine.

That’s probably why my muffler melted off in the middle of Kansas. I was going full throttle at a steady 50mph, when my engine got curiously louder than usual. Upon inspection, my muffler had completely fallen off somewhere in the Mid-West.

Two Hours Sleep And Three Cups Of Coffee

Eric, after about two hours sleep and three cups of diner coffee.
Eric, after about two hours sleep and three cups of diner coffee.

We needed to get to New Jersey in 5 days. So we began doing 14-17 hour days of straight scooter riding. It didn’t help that the starter in Eric’s scooter stopped working. Thankfully these scooters had an old school kick-starter.

Major Malfunction

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-16-06-pm

Eric ran over one of those orange reflectors they put in between lanes on the highway. It wasn’t just any orange reflector. This one stuck four inches out of the pavement because the road was under construction.

Yea, we weren’t supposed to be on the highway with these scooters, but it would have saved us two whole hours.

I thought this pretty much ended our scooter journey. We stashed Eric’s scooter in a ditch near the highway, and draped the camouflage tarp over it. We happened to be really close to a truck-stop motel about an hour east of Des Moines, Iowa.

The next morning, we both hopped on my scooter and sputtered into Des Moines, where the plan was to rent a car and drive the rest of the trip to New Jersey.

Piggyback Ride Though Des Moines

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-16-56-pm

Driving through Des Moines on the back on my scooter was Eric’s least enjoyable part of the trip. I tried taking a picture of us but he made me delete it, so this one of him will have to suffice.

I need to remind you that my scooter didn’t have a muffler, so it was really really loud. I also forgot to mention that my scooter was in such poor shape that whenever it was going less than 5mph, the engine would die. At every stop sign or stop light, the engine would announce to everyone within a square mile that it was tired of working.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Here’s a demonstration of us starting my scooter. Notice how we have to hold the brake and throttle the gas to get it going.

This same the evening it started pouring rain. I still had to ride my scooter to the spot where we stashed Eric’s, so we could hide them together.

All Night Drive

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-19-33-pm

We drove all through the night and made it in time to iron our suits and attend the wedding. I don’t have any wedding photos, but we ate a lot of cake and slept better than we had in a while.

The Last Ride

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-20-24-pm

We came back for the scooters and got them loaded up into a truck for their last trip. Fixing them would have cost us more than buying new ones. From this picture it looks like they both still have mufflers, but at that point those things were just props.

In Conclusion

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-5-21-10-pm

Despite the misadventures, we had a blast. I’d recommend this trip to anyone, just figure out how to change the oil and bring earplugs incase your muffler falls off.

Eric now lives in Michigan with his wife and new born baby. I currently live in Boise, Idaho with my wife, where I operate a sweet podcast. TC mark

If you’re interested in finding out more about my travels and misadventures, find me at http://www.gothepodcast.com

More from Thought Catalog

Thought Catalog Videos