Part of a scooter’s charm is its small size. Being lightweight, easy to maneuver and easy to chuck around corners are part of a scooter’s appeal for most scooter fans. For many people, they just don’t want or need all the heft that comes with a big motorcycle. However, that small scooter footprint can make finding a good ride tough for taller riders. At 6’3″, I understand this conundrum all too well.
Thankfully, however, there really are some great scooter options out there for big & tall riders, and some key things you can do to any scooter to make it perform better when you’re not so small yourself.
Some guiding principles
Look for a flat, firm seat
Being able to adjust your seating position is key when you’re tall. It’s amazing what one can ride with the ability to simply slide back on the seat. The more sculpted and saddle-like the seat, the more locked-in to a single riding position you are. If you’re tall, chances are you won’t be comfortable in a saddle position designed for the median rider, so look for a scooter with a bench-style seat.
Also, don’t underestimate firmness. A seat that’s too soft can actually be less comfortable than a seat with more support. Look for something either narrow enough to sit on more or less like a bicycle, or wide enough to fully engage and cradle your sitting bones.
In either case, if the bike you’re interested in doesn’t have a seat that works for you, you can commission a local upholsterer to modify the seat for you. That custom seat might run you as much as $300, but riding comfort will be worth every penny.
Look for adjustable suspension, and be willing to upgrade
Your shocks are about more than just road comfort. They hold the wheels down on the road during the very dynamic acts of riding a scooter. This helps maximize grip, which in turn helps cornering, braking and acceleration. The better the suspension, the more comfortable, quick and safe you’re going to be.
So look for rear shocks with adjustable pre-load. Adjustable dampening is even better. If that adjustment isn’t available, for a few hundred dollars you can fit most scooters with upgrade, adjustable rear shocks. This will make your ride more comfortable and make the bike behave better while cornering. Up front, talk to your local scooter mechanic about sourcing progressive springs or at the very least, going with a heavier fork oil. This will tighten up the front end, helping comfort, cornering, and braking. While the bike might feel stiff for smaller folks, chances are it’ll be just right for bigger riders.
Bottom line, if your scooter is bottoming out or pogo-sticking down the road when you encounter bumps and corners, you’re not getting the riding experience you deserve.
Some basic performance upgrades can make all the difference
For modern twist-and-go scooters, it’s common for riders to adjust the variator roller weights, clutch springs and clutch contra springs to tweak how the engine’s power is accessed. For any bigger riders, I highly recommend tweaking some of these items, or having your local scooter shop tweak them for you. Each scooter is a little different, but these are the mods that have worked well for me in the past:
Slightly lighter variator weights
The key term there is “slightly” — stick to a 10-15% change in weight. This will make your scooter a little more eager to “downshift” when you get on the throttle, but won’t rob you of all your top end. We’re not going for hot-rod starts. Instead, we’re looking to take the delay out of the engine’s power response in the low end and midrange. A more eager downshift will also help your clutch engage more smoothly because the engine will be deeper into its power band as it starts to spin up the clutch weights and engage the clutch bell.
A stiffer clutch contra spring
On the clutch end, I recommend leaving the main clutch weight springs alone and instead going for a “medium” stiffness contra spring (this is the big spring that runs up the center axis of the clutch). A little more contra pressure will help the clutch engage at a higher RPM. Another way to think about this is that the clutch will engage later. This way the engine is right in its sweet spot of making power and the CVT is in an ideal ratio before any power is transferred to the back wheel. Again, we’re looking for a moderate delay in clutch engagement, not a big change. We’re not trying to make a wheelie machine here.
These two modifications in concert will help eliminate the delay between when you twist the throttle and when the scooter gives you power you can use. You’ll be quicker and have a lot more fun without taking a big bite out of your top speed. Obviously, consult a knowledgeable mechanic you trust when making modifications to your scooters drive train components.
Some specific scooters to consider
Vespa “large frame” scooters
For decades Vespa has offered two distinct chassis sizes for scooters: the small frame and the large frame. The same is true today and of the two, big & tall riders should look for large frame Vespas and Vespa clones.
If vintage is your thing, find yourself a Vespa Rally 200 or P-series scooter like a PX150 or P200. Any large frame vintage will do (even some models of Lambretta). For the improved modern equivalent, snag yourself a Stella from Genuine Scooter Company. All these bikes share a ton of key parts like seats and suspension components, so dialing in your ergonomics and handling is easy to do. With that long bench seat, finding a comfortable seating position is pretty easy. There’s also ample space between the seat and the leg shield, so you’ll have plenty of floor board to work with. Properly set up, one of these scooters can be all-day comfortable. At 150cc or more, these bikes are more than capable of getting out of their own way, and you won’t look like a grizzly bear riding a bicycle at the circus.
In the modern Vespa fleet, the large frame scooters are the GT-series bikes — starting with the GT200L of nearly a decade ago, and coming forward with the GTS, GTS Super and GTV models you can still get today. Mix and match seats for the best fit for your height. Chances are the GTS Super’s solo-style bench will be your best bet. The GT-series scooters also featured adjustable pre-load on the stock suspension. Dial in the third or fourth position and you’ll feel the back end behave itself much better without sacrificing ride comfort. Upgraded shocks are also available. I used to own a GT200L and found the suspension setup more than adequate, especially with the preload adjusted correctly.
Lastly, if you’ve got the scratch, the new Vespa 946 is plenty big enough to accommodate big & tall riders. Chances are any available suspension upgrades for the upcoming Vespa Primavera will also fit the 946. Even if they don’t, other premium shocks are likely workable, presuming the 946′s suspension isn’t up to the task. Most shocks are off-the-shelf components and can often be mixed and matched.
Piaggio MP3 and BV-series
Cousins to the Vespa scooters, Piaggio offers a couple of bikes that big & tall riders can consider. First up is the three-wheeled MP3. While the MP3 is no longer novel, it’s still a very unique animal in the scooter world. While those two front wheels look mysterious, the riding dynamics of the MP3 feel just like any other two-wheeler. The advantage of that extra front wheel benefits bigger riders in a couple of ways. Added tire contact patch, an extra brake rotor and an additional front shock means the MP3 can stop shorter than its two-wheel contemporaries. With simple physics in play, we bigger riders want all the suspension and brake help we can get. That added tire contact patch also aids in cornering, and its position to the inside of the turn makes low-siding the MP3 extremely difficult, even on wet surfaces. Ergonomically the MP3 is a tad compact, but my 6’3″ frame fit comfortably. With engine sizes ranging from 250-500cc, there’s plenty of power available.
Piaggio’s other big-friendly offering is the midsize BV350. With basically the power-to-weight ratio of a 500cc bike in a 250cc chassis footprint, the BV350 hits a sweet spot for anyone looking for a do-anything bike with some style. It’s quick, smooth and on bigger wheels (14″ rear and 16″ front), the BV350 makes for a very, very stable riding platform. The seat wouldn’t be a perfect fit for some taller riders, but you’ve got more than enough scooter to work with, and with a few tweaks, you’ll have something you can ride with comfort and ease.
On the used market, the older BV-series bikes are also worth looking into. The BV400 and BV650 are both pretty roomy and have the performance of much larger bikes. Heck, the BV650 will do the ton, allegedly.
Kymco Like 200i and 200LX
These bikes are pretty shameless in their inspired-by-Vespa appearance, but the bigger Like scooters have the large frame ergonomics that make them accessible to big & tall riders. Sit a bit further back and you’re in business. With 200cc of power to outrun city traffic and a starting price well under $3,000, the Like 200i/LX is hard to ignore. Kymco’s stellar engineering and manufacturing reputation makes anything in their lineup worth at least a first look. The way I see it, if their engineering is good enough for Honda and BMW, it’s good enough for me.
Not all big scooters are good for big & tall riders
It’s counter-intuitive, but many of the so-called “maxi” scooters have extremely compact ergonomics that simply won’t work for long-legged riders. If I’ve got to pitch my knee out every time I need to make a sharp turn, that’s a dropped scooter waiting to happen. Obviously that’s a safety issue as well. Unfortunately, this puts many mid-size and maxi-scooter offerings from Honda, Kymco and SYM out of consideration even though they’re fine scooters with plenty of power. However, there are some maxi-scooters on the market that big & tall riders can utilize.
Honda Helix and Elite 250
In all their ’80s glory, the Honda Elite 250 and the bike it evolved into, the Helix, are great choices for bigger riders. They share the same bulletproof 250cc engine and transmission. For low and comfortable, go with the Helix. For quick and speedy, find yourself a good Elite 250. Be aware, however, that while both scooters offer plenty of room for bigger riders, you’re going to want to invest in upgraded rear suspension. This is especially true for the Elite 250, which will pogo-stick down the road after the slightest road disturbance. Obviously Honda no longer produces either of these scooters, but the Helix was produced up to 2007 for US consumption, so low-mileage examples are pretty easy to come by. I hear they’re even well suited to endurance racing.
Suzuki Burgman 650
Hard core scooter touring riders swear by the big Burgy. Plenty of power and plenty wind shelter make the Burgman 650 and 650 Executive the scooter to beat for long-distance comfort. Certainly not for everybody’s taste, but the Burgman has still managed to earn itself a decades-long, loyal fan following. It’s big enough to make room for some taller riders, but still suffers from some of the typical maxi-scooter compactness. Your knees will have to be the judge.
BMW C 600 Sport
For those who want a bit more bang for their big bucks, the BMW C-series scooters offer sport bike performance in a scooter configuration. For taller riders, I specifically recommend the C 600 Sport. It’s got a less restrictive seat, and though the C 650 GT offers better wind protection and a power-adjustable windshield, I found myself far more comfortable on the C 600 Sport. Don’t let the numbers fool you, underneath they’re the same 650cc twin-cylinder engine, chassis, ABS brakes and adjustable suspension. While the motor certainly motivates the BMW, it’s the superbike-quality suspension that makes this a great choice for big & tall riders. With suspension adjustments available both front and rear, comfort and handling can be dialed in with ease. As if that weren’t enough, creature comforts and technology abound on the BMW. Heated seats and grips keep you warm, while tire pressure sensors and other readouts keep you well aware of all your ship’s systems. Ergonomically, the C 600 Sport offers plenty of room to scoot your butt around and floor boards both below and up front for comfortable cruising.
Get to your local showroom
Bottom line: the best scooter for you as a big & tall rider is the bike you are the most comfortable on. Let initial brand and style preferences come secondary to simple comfort and fit. Go to your local scooter dealers and get some butt time on the different scooters they offer. Set them up on the center stand and have a seat. Put your hands on the grips and see how things feel. Camp out for 10-15 minutes and see how your body likes the way you’re sitting. Give yourself enough time to get uncomfortable. Turn the handlebars left and right. Are your knees interfering? Is there enough room for your feet on the floorboards? Have you got more than one seating position you can use? These are the key questions to consider no matter how tall you are. Figure out fit, then you can focus on which of the bikes that fit you have the style you’re looking for, are from your favorite brands, and fit your budget.
Lastly, for us big & tall riders, there really is no replacement for displacement. Notice there are no 50cc scooters on this list. That’s very intentional. Bite the bullet and get your motorcycle endorsement. It’s a good opportunity to take a rider safety course and be a safer rider anyway. Fundamentally, having more power to work with lets you flow better with traffic. Do the work (it’s actually really easy to get your license updated in most states) and make the investment in a scooter that really fits you as a rider and fits the reality of the kind of riding you’ll be doing.