Some time ago, I posted an item demonstrating that, as it related to cars, Motability was a long way from being a rip-off. In fact, it’s a bloody good deal.
Update, September 24 2008: Before going any further, be aware that some dealers may try to steer you away from your choice of scooter to one with a larger profit margin (and profit margins on some scooters are huge – 50% or more). You obviously have access to the Web, or you wouldn’t be reading this, so do lots of research and make an informed choice. Don’t be swayed by a dealer telling you – as happened to me – that the scooter you fancy is deeply crap, and the one he recommended is far better. Now I knew for a fact that the profit margin on the one he was trying to sell me was about £2,000, while having no idea what it was on the one I wanted, but ask yourself – if it really was so crap, why was he offering it for sale in the first place? Oh, and if you search deeply enough, you’ll find that everything sucks to some degree – just remember that the satisfied majority of customers rarely go online to say so, but the dissatisfied minority do. Now, on with the show. . .
However, I’ve now reached the point where I shall have to give up driving quite soon, and I’m looking at getting a large-ish, long-range, mobility scooter, and there the deal isn’t anywhere near as good as a car.
For sheer convenience, and economy, a scooter for journeys up to, say, 4 miles in fair weather, can’t be beaten (indeed, with an 8mph, road-legal, Class 3 scooter – not available last time I was a scooter user in the nineties – 20-mile round trips are perfectly feasible). Financially, though, leasing a scooter on Motability is horribly expensive. On the other hand, having a scooter wins out on convenience.
Let’s look at the cost of the Shoprider Torino, apparently a very popular scooter. The RRP is around £4,200, and on Motability Contract Hire (the deal same as the car scheme, but here including batteries), it’ll cost me £138.80 every 4 weeks for 3 years – that’s only £41 less than I’m paying for a £10,000 car – how can that possibly be justified? Servicing is included in Contract Hire as are batteries – which does make CH attractive, as a set of batteries is good for about 2 years, less with heavy use as they can get jolted to bits, and can cost £200 or more – sometimes very much more. It also includes insurance, too, which I consider absolutely essential, and which can be expensive. Even then, you’re getting nowhere near the costs involved in leasing a car.
On the other hand, were I to buy it on Motability Hire Purchase it’ll cost £122 every 4 weeks for 3 years, including extending the warranty to 3 years.
Back to insurance – I used scooters and powerchairs for 10 years, and in that time never felt at risk from other road users. Pedestrians, however, are a whole different ball game – they simply do not take heed of their surroundings and, if they do see you, they couldn’t give a shit anyway because they’re just too dumb (other pedestrians are available, and may be brighter – around here they’re brain dead!). Take out the best insurance you can afford (or use the Contract Hire scheme, which is what I intend to do, overpriced or not). You may be the the best scooter pilot in the world, but you’re still at risk from blind sods on foot, if nothing else. Insurance for a scooter, or powerchair, will set you back around £300 over three years for a new machine, which includes electronic component failure – always worth having. Insurance is included, of course, in the Motabiliity Contract Hire scheme. Second-hand machines are cheaper to insure as you probably won’t get component cover. NB – you may think insurance is a needless expense, but run over someone’s toes in Sainsbury’s and the resulting litigation could ruin you.
Dealer servicing, in my view, is a needless expense for many people, though it’s included in Contract Hire. A look at a downloaded user manual shows that there is little in the annual service by a dealer that can’t be done at home. OK – they stick a dedicated multi-meter gizmo on the electronics to make sure they work OK, but hey, the user already knows this from its day-to-day performance.
If the electronics go bang, that’s beyond me, the rest is purely mechanical – checking electrical connections are sound, nuts and bolts for tightness, wiring for chafing (this is mostly a problem on scooters that dismantle for transport – I’m not getting that type), and checking for general wear and tear. The motor, and wheel bearings, are sealed. So apart from the electronics, it’s basic common sense (I’m excluding from this comment those people with no mechanical aptitude at all), and the electronics either work properly or they don’t, and if they don’t it’s obvious. Having the electronics checked annually is a pointless expense – they could fail the very next day and the test will probably give no indication of that. Ever had a computer work perfectly one day and be stone dead the next? Exactly!
By the way, here’s a tip. If you have a scooter (or powerchair), with suspension, put an extra 10-20lbs of pressure in the tyres – it reduces rolling resistance and extends the range a little. Likewise with manual wheelchairs – pumping the tyres up hard will make it roll far more easily.
One alternative is to have no personal transport and use taxis – for a variety of reasons, public transport isn’t an option for me – which I have done in the past. These days, though, it’s ferociously expensive (a very short journey that cost £2 a few years ago is now double that), and one does spend an unconscionable amount of time standing around in the rain waiting for the buggers to turn up (they always say 10 minutes whether it’s going to be 2 minutes or 40!). There is another alternative – a small scooter or powerchair that will fit in a taxi. I’m still thinking about this one.
In fact, I hadn’t even thought about that option until just now. In, say, London, it may well work, but here (Wirral), only a small percentage of taxis (hacks – black cabs), carry wheelchair ramps. As for dismantling it to load it, I’ve tried this in the past – it doesn’t work, as most drivers just aren’t willing to lend a hand (and if I was capable of loading the thing myself I probably wouldn’t need it!). In fact, one taxi firm used to routinely send me their one-armed driver. Fuckwits.
All things considered, I think a long-range scooter is the best option, and I’ll use taxis in the rain and snow. Actually, that’s what worries me – rain. We do get a hell of a lot more wet days than we did 10 years ago, so would a scooter just wind up sitting here unused most of the time, waiting for a dry day? Decisions, decisions…
Notes: Two things are absolutely vital when using a scooter or powerchair – a loud horn, as those fitted sound like a wasp in a jam-jar, and a flashing strobe light. For years I used the AirZound cyclists’ air horn; even the deafest, asleep-at-the wheel driver, or dopey pedestrian, will be jolted into alertness by this thing. It’s widely available – check it out here. The other item is a mountain rescue strobe – a brilliant flashing beacon that can be attached to the machine or to you, so it faces oncoming traffic. There’s a problem – it seems to have vanished from the market, nor is there a suitable alternative. I find it hard to believe that such a useful piece of kit – I certainly never went into the hills without one, back in the day – has disappeared, but that seems to be the case. If I track it down, or an alternative, I’ll post the details here – something from the cyclists’ arsenal seems likely. OK – I’ve had a look, and there’s nothing I’d specifically recommend. Several of these on the front, and these on the back, look like a cost-effective option, and they have flashing modes. (Note: I’ve found a strobe here – bought one, looks pretty good). Self-adhesive Velcro pads are ideal for attaching these things, so they can be easily removed when you’re away from the machine. And don’t forget, battery lights don’t deplete your machine’s batteries the way its own lights do – I had a set of these on the front of my powerchair, and a few flashing red LED lights at the back. I’ll have the same set-up on my new scooter, too, as using the onboard lights reduces the range somewhat.
NOTE: The mountain rescue strobe, mentioned in the last para, really has vanished from the market both here and in the US, apparently having been replaced by electronic radio locator beacons. Bummer. Update: A different model is available here – as far as I can tell after spending hours on Google, this, in terms of function and price, is the only one available that’s worth buying – so I have. Conversion to amber is easy – I used a sweet wrapper last time.
A pack of cable ties is always worth having in, too (a few cable ties, a bit of scrap plastic pipe = a walking-stick holder!).
I’ve made my choice – it’s going to be one of these two scooters:-
Click for full-size image.
This, in the UK, is the Handicare Trophy. Access to my flat is restricted, and while I’d prefer the four-wheel version, it just won’t fit. My only reservation is the “steering wheel,” which may put too much stress on my hands and shoulders. Obviously, a test ride is essential, and if it doesn’t work I’ll go for this one instead
Click for full-size image.
This is the Handicare Winner, and it has conventional handlebars. Both scooters come with 80Ah batteries, giving a claimed range of 37 miles, and are class 3, road-legal, 8mph machines.
The Trophy has the better wheels/tyres. The larger-diameter, skinnier tyres will have lower rolling resistance than the fatter tyres of the Winner, which will aid range. A few more pounds pressure than recommended will reduce the rolling resistance still more, and make for lighter steering, too, and, as both machines have suspension (the Trophy’s is the more sophisticated), the harder tyres won’t impair rider comfort.
The Trophy is my first choice, as taken all round it’s the more sophisticated machine, though both have the same power units, as far as I can tell. The Trophy has an electronic “dashboard” read-out showing distance travelled, speed, and other stuff as well. Knowing how far you’ve travelled can be vital in not getting stranded with flat batteries, and most scooters, the Winner included, don’t have this feature which, in my view, is a serious omission.
By the way, if, like me, you like to get out and about on your scooter, use the Multimap Directions feature to plan your route (select the walking option and halve the time given to get an approximate duration).