Scooters. Love them or hate them they exist. They are many different things for many different people and appear to be going through their ‘awkward teenage years’ at the moment in the UK. With production scooters ranging from 50cc to 750cc there is plenty of choice but what is being produced is answering questions that nobody asked and leaving other questions unanswered.
To break it down; there is a resurgence for classic scooters, there is trouble afoot in the 300cc market, larger capacity scooter are in a fierce battle of tech while other larger capacity scooters are living in a land of obscurity and three wheeled scooters (that make more practical sense than anyone is willing to admit) are gaining traction.
The more niche of these markets, though going through a resurgence, is the ‘classic’ or ‘retro’ scooter. Comparable to the classic segment in motorcycling riders are getting all nostalgic and want to pay to remember their youth. For those do not want the authentic classic scooter experience of hard to find parts, oil soaked skin and cold waits on A-roads around the UK modern four strokes are abundant. Notably, the Peugeot DJango and the Scomadi range are great choices as is the ever-popular timeless Vespa range.
Scomadi are a UK importer using Chinese parts and engines to produce Lambretta styled scooters. With clear style cues from the now defunct manufacture these are proving popular and dealers are reporting that it is difficult to keep any on the showroom floor. Similarly, Peugeot are keeping scooters with classic styling and modern engineering well within their product range. Vespa are kings of this market with timeless style and with ever improving tech your classic scooter needs have never been so readily fulfilled.
The 300cc market is bewildering especially from the Japanese side of things. One example to support the idea that scooters are becoming more popular in the UK was that Kawasaki released its first Scooter in 2014/15 – The J125/300. Based on a Kymco Downtown it had the reliability and handling of a well developed product but was then styled up to make it look more ‘Kawasaki’. From all reports it is suggested that it is a good scoot however in a competitive market 3000 mile service intervals are not acceptable. Though you do get the backing of a more reputable dealer this could sway some buyers away from other eastern offerings.
More akin to this market is the Honda Forza 300 and Yamaha NMAX 250. Firstly, the Forza with its to the moon and back reliability, 8000 miles service intervals and ease of use leaves the Kawasaki dead in the water which ever way you cut it. With Honda making their own scooter instead rebranding another manufactures they have put themselves ahead in the scooter game with the Forza which is continually praised and ridden all year round.
The Yamaha NAX 250 has always just lost out in power to the Forza but can match it with reliability, build and ride quality. So for the last few years it has been a three horse race between the Forza 300, NMAX 250 and Vespa GTS 300 (the Suzuki Burgman tips into the larger capacity offering 400/600cc machines).
The Vespa sells to a different buyer than the offerings from Japan. The Vespa GTS is unique in many regards and plays up to its infamous classic style and comprises practical application whereas the Japanese do the opposite.
So as 2017 rolls around things begin to shift. A new Vespa GTS 300 has broken the £5000 mark. This immediately makes the Forza and NMAX much more appealing. However, with scooter sales in the UK being the lowest across Europe Honda have made the decision to no longer sell the Forza 300 here in the UK. To be honest I was not shocked when my local Honda dealer told me this. I knew the Forza was a good seller across Europe but not in the UK. Compound this with the fact that the Forza 125 is so capable for UK roads the 300 has clearly lost out. It made sense and I was happy to look into buying a used Forza 300 instead if I needed.
Yet, I wanted to compare the Forza to the NMAX before making any decisions and was told that Yamaha have made and released a brand new NMAX 300 which they will be selling in the UK. With traction control, more power, better fuel economy and boasting all the features and more of the Forza I was intrigued.
So why is it that Honda have pulled the Forza 300 out of the UK and Yamaha are keen to bring in a new 300? It’s a strange turn of events with one manufacture pulling out of a market and another doubling down.
So to the larger scoots. With a growing interest but tough market place ‘Maxi Scooters’ appear to be another scooter solution – if you needed one. These can be a bitter pill to swallow because they come with the baggage of ‘only being a scooter’ but with motorcycle or even small car prices. The Yamaha T-Max changed this landscape dramatically by producing a scooter ‘with motorcycle handling’ that is to say the engine is not un sprung weight on the rear like you would typically see on a scooter. Also with a premium feel, motorway miles and touring holidays easily digested in a comfortable package scooters now appear to be getting serious.
Two other examples in this field are Suzuki’s Burgman and BMW’s C scooter range. All selling between £8000 – +£10,000 they become more than a run around or cheap bit of kit. Sadly, owners are reported to typically be ageing less able ex-motorcyclists or women. But stepping into a BMW car and climbing aboard the C65 you will find some similarities very quickly. With refinement, smoothness and unflappable diversity to handle any situation it begins to make sense to sell the car whatever your age or gender.
Honda for some reason or another have produced a very unique scooter recently. It is still unclear as to who sneaked this design past the head table at Honda but it is a looker and I will guess not something you will see very often on the road. They have released an off road cable, long travel 700cc scooter. With sharp styling, plenty of power and a toe in ‘go anywhere’ camp this really could be the do-it-all scooter.
And lastly, we also now have the option of a three-wheeled scooter that can lean left and right like a motorcycle. With a handbrake, a boot, mid capacity power and unprecedented stability it is a less daunting prospect for frustrated car drivers to give a try. The Piaggio Medley appears to be the class leader with Peugeot close behind. With both ever improving their machines, making them more user friendly coupled with the excitement of a motorcycle but with the stability more a kin to a go-cart these again are proving popular as well as giving scooter enthusiast yet another string to their ever stretching scooter bow.
So as I said the scooter market is trying new things, developing new products and now offers diversity usually reserved for cars and motorcycles. As a motorcyclist if you can get past the childish notion of it being a scooter and as a car driver if you can get over the fear of the elements we may have found a nice middle ground for our travelling needs. Now just to pick one…