YONKERS, NY - Fueled by painfully high gasoline prices, 2008 saw many consumers looking for new alternatives to big-bucks fill-ups at the pump. With rising interest in lower-priced two-wheelers that sip rather than guzzle gas and thousands of new riders on the road, Consumer Reports has tested small motor scooters and motorcycles for the first time since 1981.
Consumer Reports tested a total of eight fuel sipping, small-displacement models: three 50cc scooters, three scooters in the 125cc to 150cc range, and two 250cc entry-level motorcycles, all priced between about $1,000 to $4,400 and delivering as much as 60 to 100 mpg fuel economy, at a steady cruise. Among the scooters, models from Italy's Vespa and Taiwan's Kymco achieved the highest overall ratings, with the Vespa LX 50 leading the 50cc category, and the Vespa LX 150 and Kymco People 150 sharing best overall ratings in the bigger engine class. Among the motorcycles, the Kawasaki Ninja 250, an entry-level sports bike, achieved a higher score than the Honda Rebel.
"When fuel prices crossed the $4.00 per gallon mark, some consumers shifted gears and two wheels became a cost-saving alternative," said Rik Paul, automotive editor, Consumer Reports. "And, despite current low gas costs, interest in scooters and motorcycles may continue to increase, especially in urban areas where parking space is at a premium.
The full report on motorcycles and scooters is available in the March 2009 issue of Consumer Reports, on sale February 3 and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.
With their 35 to 40 mph top speed, 50cc scooters may suffice for short trips in suburban and city riding. Of the three models tested, the Vespa LX 50's smooth four-stroke engine, good ergonomics, controlled ride quality, and solid fit and finish made it the favorite choice, but it is very slow. Testers found that "you get what you pay for," with the inexpensive $995 Motorino Allegra getting the worst marks for vibration, harsh ride, and subpar fit.
In the 125cc to 150 cc category, the tested models' top speed range of 55 mph to 57 mph made them much better suited for keeping up with traffic but still not recommended for freeway or interstate use. The 150cc Kymco People and Vespa LX both proved well-rounded, easy-to-ride machines, with responsive handling and easy maneuverability. With its big 16-inch wheels, the Kymco offered superior stability and off-the-line acceleration while the Vespa excelled in ride quality, roominess, under-seat storage, and build quality. The third model tested, the Yamaha Vino 125 could not match the other two models' ride experience. While offering the lowest price point at $2,899, the Yamaha's harsh ride and sluggish engine detracted from its cost benefit.
Of the two 250cc motorcycles tested, the Kawasaki Ninja 250 was the clear winner, outperforming the Honda Rebel 250 in most categories. With its agile handling, and slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission, this entry-level motorcycle is an excellent choice for individuals who want to combine low cost of ownership with a more performance-focused ride experience. Agile, stable, and refined yet brisk, the Ninja also had the best braking performance of any model tested. Compared with scooters, which have easy-shifting automatic transmissions, step-through designs, and handy under-seat storage capacity, motorcycles, however, are less practical and their manual transmissions and higher performance require more skill to handle well.
Like Consumer Reports in-depth auto testing process, scooters and motorcycles were subjected to an extensive sequence of standardized tests to determine their performance in categories such as acceleration, braking, fuel economy, noise/vibration, top speed and comfort. To evaluate ride, handling and everyday liveability features, the staff designed a new 5.2 mile testing route, including stops and starts on hills and a variety of tight turns, utilizing the Auto Test Center's multi-surface, multi-grade facility. New testing procedures were also added to accurately evaluate the machines' response to common urban riding situations, such as the ability to quickly and safely accelerate through an intersection.
"Scooters and motorcycles can be a fun, fuel-sipping alternative for everyday commuting and they are certainly an enjoyable recreational choice, but consumers also need to consider their limitations," said Paul. "Proper protective gear is essential, especially in inclement weather. Even a moderate 40-degrees F temperature can feel like sub-freezing wind chill to a rider." And, says Paul, professional instruction to finetune defensive riding skills, such as a course offered through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, is a must for new riders as risk of serious injury is significantly higher than in a car or truck.
With more than 7 million print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site; the magazine's auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To become a subscriber, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org.