What a Ruckus

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“What are you gonna do with this thing?” asked my wife.  A valid question indeed.  One freezing day in January a Honda Ruckus moped was dropped off in my driveway as a result of a $900 Craigslist transaction that took place earlier that morning. A 2009 model with 4,160 miles and a tendency to stall after a few minutes of riding. It looked like a kids toy next to my Honda Nighthawk motorcycle. A bug-eyed chihuahua to your German shepherd if you will.

Yet I couldn’t stop smiling. I wanted to get another scooter ever since I got my first one as a teenager. Here I was 3 decades later holding a key to my very own Ruckus.

What was I gonna do with it? For starters, I just wanted to get it running right again. There is something very gratifying in taking an ailing machine and making it run 100% again. Ruckus would idle fine but then quickly stall after going full throttle.

The engine was starving for fuel. The gas tank sits lower than the engine so a fuel pump is needed to pump the gas into the carburetor. I took the hose off the carburetor to see how much gas was coming out with the pump on and it was just a tiny trickle. That would explain the stalling at wide open throttle. The fuel filter was clean and the lines were clear so the verdict was in – a bad fuel pump. After replacement the Ruckus was back in business.

I went ahead and replaced a few other things: spark plug, fuel filter, air filter (same as my lawn mower!), coolant and engine oil. The little Honda Ruckus was purring like new.

Now what? I had a motorcycle and a moped in the garage. Add two cars, three bicycles, a lawnmower, ski and fishing equipment plus all the other tools and you get a garage that was quickly becoming kind of tight. I found myself ready to sell the Honda Nighthawk.

I used to think that “I just don’t ride it as much” is a bad cliché that appears in almost every Craigslist ad for a motorcycle. Well, here I was using the same lame line. The only time I could ride a motorcycle was to commute to work. It was fun for a while but, to be honest, I’d rather drive my MINI Cooper to work. It just seems like such a hassle to get the motorcycle out, warm it up (carbs!), have to worry about the weather, work the clutch constantly in traffic, have no place to store my lunch bag or jacket, etc. The more I took the Nighthawk to work, the more these little things annoyed me.

I still loved the feeling of riding a motorcycle on the open road, travelling anywhere else other than downtown for work. However, I found it really hard to get away now that we had a kid. I decided to sell the motorcycle but keep the scooter. I can always rent a bike whenever I get a chance to experience motorcycling properly.  

My Honda Nighthawk was adopted by a really nice millennial who promised to treat it right. After talking with him, I was actually excited to hand over the keys to someone who has the time to enjoy this wonderful piece of motorcycling history.  

Goodbye, Honda Nighthawk!

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Financially, you just can’t beat a moped. Where I live mopeds are exempt from property taxes, you don’t need insurance, you don’t need inspection, you stop caring about the price of gas (114 mpg) and maintenance is dirt cheap. Half a quart is all it takes to do an oil change and everything else is inexpensive, including tires. It is much cheaper than owning a motorcycle. And there is just no comparison to cars. What you save on car depreciation alone can buy you a few really nice scooters per year.  

The caveat here is that you leave it as is. The cost of ownership can quickly skyrocket if you catch a modification bug. Which, of course, is what happened with me.

A Honda Ruckus can be a frugal commuter as intended. On the other hand, it has a cult-like following keeping hundreds of aftermarket part manufacturers in business. Word of advice – if you buy a Honda Ruckus stay away from the picture section on www.totalruckus.com. You’ve been warned.

I can’t seem to leave my toys alone. I fell into the same trap with my Jeep Wrangler, which too has a cult-like following and a vast aftermarket scene. How am I supposed to resist a 4” lift and 33” tires?!   Here is my Wrangler Sahara back in the day when I didn’t think twice about dropping a few thousand on “mods”:

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Of course it’s different with a Ruckus. First of all, it’s much much cheaper to customize a Ruckus than a Wrangler. More importantly, it might save your life. Let me explain.

A Honda Ruckus is slow. Yes, I knew that already. Something with a 49cc engine that puts out as much power as my lawnmower can not be fast. All stock Ruckus topped out at barely 35 mph and took a long time to get there. Any incline (and I mean any) would make the matters much worse. I created traffic backups taking off from a stop light. Cars would tailgate me then zoom around to get in front.  You’re never safe on two wheels but I felt really out-of-place on a 45 mph road, even if legally I had every right to be there. Last thing I want is a pissed off SUV driver tailgating my 194-pound moped with inches to spare.

After researching I found that there were a few things that could make a Honda Ruckus faster. It’s all about finding the right balance and here is a combo that worked for me after a lot of trial and error: 

Taken together it all made a big difference. The bike could now hit 45 mph+ and got there much faster – enough to keep up with cars on the road, for the most part.  I ended up taking the aftermarket pipe off though because it was a bit loud for my taste. I felt silly making as much noise as a Harley while still not going all that fast. That cost me a couple of mph but it seemed like a decent trade-off to quiet things down. The intake alone produced enough growl to make it sound much better than stock.

The little Ruckus was a perfect vehicle for all the errands. A trip to the grocery store, a trip to Lowe’s, a beer run, a pharmacy run…

Low on kitty litter?ruckus2

Need some pavers for a DIY fire pit?ruckus3

I also started commuting to work on a Ruckus. I had to take local roads instead of a highway which made the 20 mile drive into downtown 15 minutes longer than usual, but it was fun so I didn’t mind. I think the biggest plus was not having to shift gears all the time which made riding the Ruckus easier than taking a motorcycle and dealing with traffic on a highway. Twist and go utility is key if you are considering commuting on two wheels. And yes, a bicycle is even better but not when we’re talking about a 40 mile commute round trip.

For as long as I owned it, the Honda Ruckus never missed a beat. It would start right up, even after hibernating during winter months. Keeping it on a battery tender definitely helped.

If someone were to ask me whether I’d recommend a Honda Ruckus (aka NPS50), the first question I’d ask would be do you live in a place where most roads have a 35 mph or less speed limit? If the answer is yes then a Honda Ruckus just might be a perfect scoot to get. It’s light, dependable, unique, rugged and unlike any other scooter I’ve ever seen. If I lived in Key West or downtown in some city I’d be very happy with a Honda Ruckus.

I ended up selling the Ruckus after a year and a half mainly because I got tired of being tailgated and having to be relegated to the right lane. Honda Ruckus can safely pass a bicycle but that’s about it. It does what it’s designed for (35 mph rides) very well but I quickly found out that it wasn’t enough for me, even after the modifications. I live in the suburbs and need to be able to outrun all the soccer moms in their steel tanks.

With a 20/20 hindsight let’s quickly analyze the financial implications of buying, maintaining and modifying a Honda Ruckus.

1.5 Years of Operating Costs – 2009 Honda Ruckus

  • Bought in 2015 with 4,160 miles for $900
  • Required Maintenance: $108 (fluids, fuel pump, fuel filter, air filter, spark plug)
  • Optional improvements: $390 (variator, belt, CDI, sliders, intake, jet kit, LED lights)
  • Registration: $20
  • Delivery: $30
  • Total spent: $1,448
  • Sold in 2016 with 5,400 miles for $1,500
  • Total miles traveled in 1.5 years: 1,240
  • Total spent earned in 1.5 years: $52
  • Average out-of-pocket full cost of riding per year: Less than $0
  • Average cost per month: Less than $0
  • Average cost per mile (excluding gas): Less than $0

The bottom line is that after having fun for a year and a half I managed to spend less than zero dollars on this hobby. Sure, it doesn’t include time spent on maintenance and modifications but since I like tinkering in the garage, the time spent is a net positive in my book. Who said hobbies are expensive? Choose wisely and maybe you end up making some money doing what you like!

So the Ruckus is gone but definitely not forgotten. I had as much fun learning and modifying the scoot as I had riding it. 

There is an empty spot in the garage now… I wonder what’s next?  🙂

Parting Shots

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2 thoughts on “What a Ruckus

  1. Nice work again!

    It’s a very quirky looking moped, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in the UK. I’ve never even ridden a moped let alone a proper motorbike, would definitely consider getting one if I ever get a job local enough but too long to walk/cycle. Sounds like great fun

    • A moped is an excellent intro to “motorcycling”. You’ll either get hooked or decide it’s not for you. Of course where you live the weather is a big factor with all that rain. But on the bright side, I find European drivers to be more accepting of anything on two wheels sharing the road with them. Certainly better than all the distracted soccer moms/dads roaming the streets in their tanks we have here.

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