Last year I decided I was sick of my daily struggle with public transport and decided to get a moped. It would be quicker than the bus, more economical than a travel card, and would invest me with the type of ‘cool factor’ that you only get in Shoreditch. Alas, my budget wasn’t quite as big as my dreams, so I settled on buying a Chinese import scooter from import company Direct Bikes– and this is my tale.
There are many options when buying a Moped, and they range from purchasing a brand new model from a dealer, to getting a second hand version on eBay. Models and prices vary from around £500 for a used version to £1900 and up for a brand new scooter. Options do tend to get a bit more limited when your budget is low and you’re set on owning something pink (repressed Barbie fantasies) so I was a little bit stuck when searching for one. I have a full car licence, but annoyingly it was issued in 2003, which means I need to complete a CBT (a one day training course, approx £110) to ride a 50cc or 125cc scooter. Anything above 125cc required an investment of around £1500+ to get the correct licence, and I wasn’t willing to go there.. yet. The rest of the costs are negligible, as I live in London and scooters don’t have to pay congestion charge. Parking is also free in most places in central London, apart from Westminster where it’s £1.
With these facts in hand I set off to buy a moped and experienced issues at every turn. Either they were well out of my price point- like this beautiful pink Vespa, or they were based in Manchester and I had no easy way of getting there. eBay wasn’t a huge help, nor was Gumtree, and then I stumbled across a site called DirectBikes. They ship all their bikes in from China, and sell them brand new in the UK at a markup. Even with their markup it was still only £649 for a BRAND new bike, plus a non negotiable £80 odd pounds for delivery. And no, you couldn’t pick it up yourself. Boo. OK, so that’s £731 all in so far.
I ordered it online.. and it didn’t go through. I rang them and they said my address had been wrong (it wasn’t) and reordered it. Same issue. Different card tried, same issue. Now my bank was calling me because they though there had been some fraud taking place and I had zero cash (frozen ) and no bike. Four days later I tried again, this time ringing them straightaway. Exact same problem. Losing hope, I got the boyfriend to try them, and somehow it went through. No apologies from them about this, and no mention of when they’ll fix their website ordering process- consider yourself warned.
Three days later the bike arrived, in a packing crate. Isn’t it lovely???
A few things needed to be adjusted before I could go ahead and ride it- the battery had to be charged and the mirrors attached, but this was pretty simple stuff, and I’d been informed of this prior to purchase. The bike had no number plate however, because the Direct Bikes folk are cheap and make you pay to register it themselves. That isn’t their excuse though as they laughably say , ‘By registering the scooter before the scooter is sold makes the scooter second hand, you become the second owner. This significantly reduces the value of your scooter. We only sell new scooters where you are the first owner’. Yeah, bollocks. If there’s 0 miles on the clock you’re the first owner.
I can live with this however, as registration is £55 pounds- yep price is mounting for the £649 scooter, which is now at £786. When you register is you also pay for a tax disc (£15), so we’re up to £801. To register is you need documents from the DVLA and forms to fill in.. but the DVLA phone number has a recorded voice mail going ‘due to unseasonable amounts of calls we want you to check online…’ BEEP. Ta, very much then.
Online it says that the number plate ordering process can take 4-6 weeks for you to get a number plate and that you have to provide insurance documents to get it. Hmm. So you’re paying for insurance on a scooter you can’t ride yet? Grreat.
I checked with the insurers, and because my bike doesn’t have plates yet it costs an average £100 more to insure, for f**ks sake. The story gets more convoluted- don’t give up!
As it’s a cheap bike, the excess on third party, fire and theft works out at around the same cost as the insurance- so like, £350 insurance and £350 excess.. not really worth it. Will keep looking. The Direct Bikes company recommends their ‘friendly’ insurers Rampdale- who refuse to insure freelancers as we’re not a viable option. Ta very much, back to square one.
GoCompare has given me more favourable rates, but there’s still that dratted excess to contend with. I have heard (don’t quote me) that pink bikes are the least likely to get stolen, but it’s my baby… and I want it to be safe! I know that London has a high incident of moped theft and I’m worried that something as pretty as my bike will just get walked off with. Finally I choose an insurer, and just grit my teeth and go with it. Next up-bike plates. Deciding I didn’t want to chance my number plates to the deep recesses of the DVLA I travelled across town to their London office (Wimbledon is so not central) and gave my forms in there. They said it would take around ten days (much less than their prerecorded message said) and the documents arrived within that time. Then I had to take them to a shop and get the plates created (yes, more money- kerching!). Now my bike was finally ride-able.. and I’d spent £820 plus insurance- higher than anticipated.
So, the big question- how did it drive?
I’ll be honest with you here- it is AMAZING. The engine purrs nicely into life, the moped accelerates quickly and the brakes are very responsive. It’s comfortable to sit on, and is great for taking on London traffic. The bike is a lovely bright colour- way better than hoped for, and looks really striking and riding it is fun. Sure, there could be more power, but I knew what I was getting when I got a 50cc. I rode it without the free (finally!) topbox for a while, then after one Tesco shop too many put it on, and it holds everything very nicely. I feel very in control when on it, and the bike handles wet weather well. The quality of the seatcover isn’t the best- it’s most definitely ‘pleather’, but it feels nice to sit on and looks fine for the price.
Issues with the DirectBikes bike
Six odd months on and I’ve had one or two problems with my bike. The first was when I managed to smash both lights (oops) as the bike toppled over (1 of them) and then I managed to hit the other into a lamp post. Brand name Vespa’s have the lights integrated as part of the frame, but this cheaper model has them protruding- not good for someone like me. I was worried it would cost a lot to replace, as I knew parts were scarce and expensive and eBay showed me the lights at £14 each. I decided to call DirectBikes (just in case) and found they could do replacement lights for £5.50! Woo hoo! And they arrived within two days. Score.
The second problem was when the indicators suddenly and without warning stopped working. Cue scary driving, and the bike not leaving the house. The issue was the ‘indicator relay lights’, and the parts were cheap when I checked on eBay. As I have a year warranty for parts however, I rang DirectBikes up and asked for a new part.. only to be fobbed off with, ‘You need a service! Call Greg on 0777xx to arrange this and he’ll sort it out’. When asked how much that was they said, ‘You’ll have to negotiate it’. Hmm, suspicious. Phonecall 2. Technically under their T’s and C’s I did need a service- but at only 3 months of usage I didn’t want to pay for one! Greg was actually great to talk to, and arranged for the relay light to be sent free of charge. I fitted it easily (OK, with an online tutorial) and the bike was 100% once more.
The final verdict
Overall, I’m happy with the bike. It didn’t help that I found out they’d been featured on Watchdog, but despite that fact, I was pleased with what I got. I bought a budget bike, and it performed very well. The DirectBikes people may not have been the most helpful staff in the world, but things (eventually) got done, and my bike remains in good nick today. It does scratch quite easily and the design of the indicator lights is a bit silly, but it’s a comfortable drive and handles roads well. Be aware of the hidden costs involved in this purchase and the extra effort needed to get set up and then you won’t be caught out.
You can try out DirectBikes for yourself here. What do you think of the brand- any personal experience?
Here is an image of what may have subliminally motivated me to buy this. I’m not sure if I see the resemblance, do you?
Check out some cool looking scooter helmets to go with your moped here.