The Junk Run was inspired by a variety of people doing things on scooters and mopeds and motorcycles that well exceeded the comfort zone the machine was designed to operate in. Nathan Milward, who rode a CT110 postal bike from Sydney, Australia to London, England over a series of months. (I had the chance to review his book and interview him for Canada MotoGuide back in 2013, you can find that article HERE.)
Or Walter Muma, who in 1978 rode a moped from Toronto, Canada across the country and up the Dempster Highway and into Inuvik, before coming back to Toronto – the longest journey ever made on an unmodified moped for decades, a journey of 18,660 km.
Or even back to 1903, with the first transcontinental motorcycle ride across the US, when George Wyman took 50 days to go from San Francisco to New York on a machine little more than a moped itself – quite possibly even less powerful than some modern mopeds and with even less suspension and power. During the trip he braved mud, sand, and said he was “tired of sand and sagebrush and railway ties.”
That’s what has appealed to me… the thought of taking the ride you have on a journey that it isn’t necessarily ideal for. The challenge of pushing the limits of a cheap machine, of showing you don’t need thousands of dollars of machine to go places out of the way. Even if it isn’t the best choice, can an inexpensive scooter or moped go to places that no scooter has gone before?
So with that history – it appeals to me, the concept of taking a cheap scooter that is designed for city streets and throwing it all the way out of it’s comfort zone – and then some.
So let’s consider what you might look at when you are getting a machine for the Junk Run.
Cheap is the new Expensive: Purchase Price
The guiding principle of the Junk Run is to buy a scooter for $800 or less in safe, mechanical operating condition and run it across offroad trails.
This isn’t a rule – you are welcome to bring whatever machine you want and join us so long as it is street legal, safe to operate and insured and licensed – but if you bring a Goldwing we aren’t helping to push.
You may also want to bring whatever you have – if you have something that fits the bill and you don’t mind risking offroad, bring it. In the end it’s all about having fun and we aren’t going to insist you meet a specific set of criteria.
Kijiji, facebook marketplace – online ads are great resources for buying this kind of machine inexpensively and as scooters (aside from Vespa) tend to have huge depreciation and lower resale values, you can often find a bargain in decent operating shape for a surprisingly low sum.
For example, the Kymco People S200 I picked up for the last Junk Run was only $700 – and needed nothing. It was even shiny, though we swiftly took care of that driving through Ganaraska.
You’ll want something inexpensive – because you don’t want to take any machine you care about on this particular ride. While I think most machines should make it, there is a very real possibility of basically destroying your scooter’s engine, frame, suspension, or more. You might end up with a machine that’s literal junk – so best to limit your losses if that were to happen.
The Weighty Subject of… Weight: Make it Light
Another big factor to think of when getting your machine is to keep it lightweight. Scooters have a disadvantage over a motorcycle in that the suspension isn’t going to allow you to stand on the nonexistant footpegs and the engine isn’t going to allow you to power your way over the soft stuff.
You’re almost certainly going to get bogged down, have to push, have to manhandle your machine. And you don’t want to be doing that with a monstrous machine.
Tires Tires and Tires: Putting what power you have to the Ground
Tire size is an interesting debate when it comes to scooters and attempting this kind of offroad challenge with them.
Larger tired scooters (like the People S200, which I took in the last Junk Run) tend to have narrower tires.
These can smooth out small holes and irregularities in the surface giving a “smoother” ride, but in the softer stuff they can sink further in, meaning you get bogged down more easily.
Smaller scooter tires are often wider allowing you to go over softer terrain without sinking in. They also can help in effectively lowering the gearing, making it easier to get up a hill with a likely underpowered machine. They may also help to lower the entire scooter, meaning you have a lower centre of gravity and making it easier to keep upright, but at the trade-off of reduced ground clearance.
I’ve even in the past done some offroading with a Vespa P series scooter, and was able to get knobby tires in 10″ sizes, something that just wasn’t available for the People S200.
The P series Vespa is actually not a bad choice for this kind of thing. They are surprisingly tough – in 1981 a French team of 4 entered the Paris-Dakar rally with 4 Vespa P200 scooters and two of them actually finished the rally. Something that on average, less than half of the purpose built offroaders failed to do. The P series Vespa also has better ground clearance than a KLR650 (surprising but true) and a metal bodied frame that may dent but won’t leave as much in the way of shattered plastic should you take a spill.
Of course finding one in mechanically sound condition for less than $800 may be a challenge as Vespa scooters tend to hold their value rather well, but you never know – P series Vespas are seen as less desirable than some of their curvier cousins due to the blocky styling and you may find a bargain.
Though it will be an older machine, and those come with their own mechanical risks.
Examples of Machines one *could* buy:
We aren’t going to pretend to tell you the best scooter for the job – that’s up to you, but we’ll put some examples of machines currently for sale online which *might* work for you for the Junk Run.
From Kijiji: A Yamaha 50cc (BWS)
Pros: Cheap $600. Claims in ad to be running well. Has “Muffler mods” that may increase power. (But may decrease ground clearance and reliability.) Lightweight, has reputation for strong chassis. Parts should be easy to obtain.
Cons: Lower power (50cc – even with mods you won’t be keeping up with traffic getting to the Junk Run start line – and some mods can rob low end grunt to give you top end speed.) Requires trip to Kitchener to look at, so if you are based in Toronto this may be a trip to go get it.
Kijiji: A 1986 Honda Spree Scooter
Pros: Lightweight (very). Cheap at $700. Very few people will get mad at you for destroying a classic scooter if you are riding this.
Cons: Power is in line with the weight – there isn’t much of it. It’s also a lightly built machine and may not stand up the abuse of the trail. Tires may be more of a challenge than some machines.
Those are some examples of currently – at the time of the posting of this article – scooters for sale – but if you keep your eyes open and are ready to jump you can also find the occasional Kymco or other fairly recent scooter for a good price. (You may have to keep an eye out as far as Quebec for the real bargains.)
Summary and Updates on the Junk Run:
So when you ask the question – what kinds of things should I look for in a machine for the Junk Run, what is the answer?
Cheap, lightweight, in good mechanical shape, cheap, cheap, cheap. Find something you can lift up when it inevitably falls over in the mud. Find something you don’t mind beating up on – don’t take your classic Vespa with new paint on this run. (Though if you do we want to see pictures before you… redecorate it.)
Make sure it has an ownership, is mechanically safe, is legal to ride on Ontario roads and that you have a license and insurance – the Park 2 Park trail requires this and you will not be able to participate without those things.
It’s all about compromise in the end – more power might mean more weight. Cheaper scooters may be tiny, or be on the weaker side. Some machines may have limited tire choices and traction may be an issue – you’ll have to trade off some things almost certainly.
But that’s part of the challenge and the fun. Picking what will be the best machine that keeps within your budget. (Which as we mentioned, is a suggestion and not a rule – your final budget is up to you.) Figuring out how you plan on riding….. slow and steady, or more power but at the cost of more risk of the bike breaking down as you bounce around on the trails?
We’ll end this piece with an update – we’ve picked a date! Saturday, August 8th, 2020 we’ll be taking our unloved, unlucky machines to places they were never designed to see.
It’ll probably be disastrous. It’ll probably be painful.
It’ll hopefully be one hell of a good time.