[Note: You can skip the next 6 paragraphs or so to the mildly amusing anecdote if you don’t like my seemingly endless diatribes. If you don’t like my mildly amusing anecdotes either, you can jump right to the final 4 or 5 paragraphs and enjoy my grandiose moralizing.]
When I bought my scooter last March, a lot of people asked about it. What kind is it? Is it fast? What kind of mileage do you get? Where’s the clutch? Can I ride it? (answers: “a Genuine Buddy”, “60-65 mph on a straightaway”, “90-ish mpg”, “it’s a continuous clutch—just twist and go”, and “no.”).
(a photograph of my erstwhile office)
But the best question has been, “Why did you buy that scooter and not some other kind?” I’ve mostly handwaved my way through that question with something like “I researched it for two years” yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s true that other people who have owned multiple scooters really like it, and that influenced me. There’s also the great support group and local service shop. But every major brand has its loyal following: these reasons are not completely unique to my scooter.
In reality, you’re fairly safe with any scooter from not-China: Kymco, Honda, Yamaha, Genuine, Sym, Lambretta, Bajaj, etc. These are all good brands that have been around for a long time. The Chinese scooters you see for sale on every other corner of major thoroughfares are what the cognoscenti call “disposable scooters.” They usually offer 90 day warranties, which I’m told you’re lucky to make it through without incident. If you go to any scooter shop that’s been around for more than a year or two, you’ll find dozens of these sub-$1000 disposables in the junkyard behind the shop and none for sale in the shop itself.
The owners and mechanics of good scooter shops will tell you what the Chinese scooters are made of: $%*#@! In layman’s terms, this means they’re made of inexpensive plastic parts and poor quality, brittle metals that are not designed to last long under heat or stress. They’re the scooter equivalent pressboard furniture: it may do just fine for you if you don’t move it far or often. And keep it out of the rain.
[I’m not bagging on China. I love China (sometimes). Most of the nice things I own were assembled in or have parts from China. But Chinese-made scooters are terrible. Ride a few of them and then ride something from the list above and you’ll see what I mean. Talk to scooter mechanics, ask around. There’s a reason they’re so cheap.]
Another reason I bought a Buddy was the 2 year warranty and roadside assistance (at no extra cost). I always thought roadside assistance was for sissies. I’d never needed it for my car (I somehow always managed to find a phone and call someone), but today I was proven wrong. I am proud to say that roadside assistance is awesome.
I’m cruising north on Geneva Road this afternoon. A dump truck in the left lane and an 18-wheeler ahead of me in the right lane. The truck in my lane is drifting occasionally into the shoulder and stirring up a lot of dust and gravel. My face is being pelted with little objects, so I start to slow a little and BAM and then rat-tat-tat-tat-tat over and over. Something is making a terrible noise in my rear wheel. I slow down and pull off the road. The rat-tat-tat stops, but I dismount to see what’s going on.
Protruding from the rear tire is about a half-inch of a rusty nail. Crud. Air is already hissing from the tire, so I pull the whole thing out. Three-freaking-inches of nail. It was nearly all the way in. Crud. I think I can make it another quarter mile—maybe.
I turn on the hazard blinkers and creep along the shoulder until I get to the next gas station. I can feel the rear tire is completely flat before I get there, so I walk it from the curb to the building and park it on the sidewalk in front of the store. A nice guy on a skateboard mentions a scooter shop nearby (which isn’t there anymore actually, but he didn’t know that, so I just thanked him). We chat a little bit. Then I remember a month or so ago getting my roadside assistance card in the mail:
I call the number, and a pleasant voice asks, “Are you in a safe location?” Sweet. “You bet I am.”
In another minute she’s asked for my policy number and verified all of my information. She asks for my location and where I want it towed. I walk into the air-conditioned convenience store to get out of the 90°+ heat. The guy with the skateboard is charging his cell phone from an outlet behind the garbage can. “Things ok?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “I remembered I have roadside assistance.”
“Awesome!” he says. Then he turns away to make a call now that he’s got some juice in his phone.
15 minutes later and the tow truck is there. I sign a paper saying that Larry’s Towing has my scooter. In 30 minutes the truck is on its way to The Scooter Lounge (“the best scooter shop in the universe!”). No charge for any of this—it’s all part of the package. For 2 years. It also covers car rental, but I don’t need that today (I’m hanging out at the gas station’s convenience store writing this until my wife picks me up).
But this essay isn’t really about scooters and flat tires. It’s about quality. There are companies that care first about what they do, and there are companies that care first about making money. Some folks think that you can do the latter without doing the former, and I think in the short term they’re often right: you can fool some of the people some of the time.
While most people care about quality in something, whether it’s the TV shows they watch or the beer they drink, many people don’t seem to care about quality in most things. They’re going to buy the cheapest things over and over, rather than wait and save up for something better. It just doesn’t matter to them.
I don’t know if there’s any correlation between people who don’t care about using quality things and people who don’t care about creating quality things (or doing quality work) but I know that people who care about making quality almost universally appreciate it in the things they use themselves: their cars, homes, food, clothing, music, furniture, plumbing, computers, software, tools, and even scooters.
This is not to say that everything we have must be the best. We make do with many things and budget constraints often force us to temper what’s important to us. But the things that are important should be of adequate quality to give satisfaction.
It’s also important to keep in mind that tastes change over time, often for the better: what was satisfying to you at one time may not satisfy you later on (e.g., making dough by hand used to be great, but a Bosch makes making bread oh-so-much more fun). Having quality nearby makes making more quality enjoyable.