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As gas prices shot for the moon last summer, the tide of scooters and small-bore motorcycles began rising right alongside as commuters did all they could to save a buck or two on fuel bills. The folks at Consumer Reports took it upon themselves to reintroduce motorcycle testing to the popular magazine for the first time since 1981 in order to help their readership make informed purchasing decisions.

Safety is of paramount concern when riders first take up the switch from four to two wheels, and this fact is hammered home by the rag's editors who designed a new 5.2-mile course that tests each motorcycle's handling characteristics, acceleration and braking capabilities. So, uh, how'd it go?

The big winner was Vespa who's LX scooter managed to take top honors in the smallest 50cc class and also performed well against the slightly larger 150cc competitors where it tied with the Kymco People for the win. CR's first series of tests stopped at the 250cc class, where the Kawasaki Ninja handily dispatched the Honda Rebel to earn the recommendation. Full results are now available online to subscribers, who will also get to read the results in the March 2009 issue of Consumer Reports.

[Source: Consumer Reports]



Rising consumer interest in transportation alternatives spurred CR's Auto Test Center to test two-wheelers

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.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      rrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiIIIIIIIINNNNNNGGGGGggggggggddddiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnggggg ding ding ding.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hmmm, who do I go to for motorcycle reviews, UK Bike or Consumer Reports? On enthusiast subjects, it's hard to take Consumer Reports' approach seriously. Alex makes a good point, it's kinda dangerous/irresponsible to cover two wheel vehicles like appliances. There are legitimate dangers of sharing the road with cages and a casual mindset exacerbates the issues.

      Though CR arrived at a solid conclusion here. I bought an '08 Ninja 250 about a year ago. Love the thing. The price is a bit inflated now and it's hard to defend as a legitimate bargain, but it's for sure worth the dough for anyone that wants one. 100% capable motorcycle--fantastic commuter, freeway worthy, weekend back road slayer--with enough power to always be entertaining without intimidating.
      • 6 Years Ago
      great, now they can be biased towards something new.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Several things:

      The Honda Rebel is NOT a single cylinder, it's a twin cylinder based off the CB platform. Yes, they're still using it. But, it's a decent commuter with a top speed of 75mph, and it IS stable.

      The new Ninja 250, on the other hand, has been TOTALLY redesigned for '08! It's a sweet little 250 that can be slung around pretty hard (even with it's skinny wheels) and they really improved the rider ergonomics! If you can FIND one for sale, they're worth it. And, as a 250cc track bike, it's a blast!

      And, I ride a Vespa GTS250ie, and I can honestly say that their review is pretty spot on for Vespas. Their build quality IS amazing, but the parts on the other hand... that will KILL you. Their dealer support is HORRIBLE!! It takes 2 to 4 weeks just to get parts, and the labour is insane ($130/hr!?!?). Granted they are VERY fine bikes, but I wouldn't discount Kymco just yet. They're a great scooter and really have their game together. I myself just don't like the "plastic" feel of them, even with the rock solid build they do put into them and the great parts service. Also, the GTS will smoke the Honda Rebel in performance and top speed (I'm able to get 85mph with a comfy ride on it), and is alot easier to manage. But, it is a heavier bike... something to keep in mind.

      I'm surprised bikes like the Yamaha C3 and Honda Metropolitan didn't rank as high. They're quality scoots (although I'm not big on Japanese scooters, I'd still sport one. They're not as embarassing as the Chinese junk). They also needed to put a disclaimer about all the fly-by-night cheap junk Chinese GY6 clones flooding the market. THOSE are deathtraps...even have seen a few calling themselves "Based on Vespa" or "Developed by Yamaha" When they have NOTHING to do with the company!
      • 6 Years Ago
      "....and slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission..."

      Can CR show us a mass produced bike with an automatic? No... no they can't.

      "Even a moderate 40-degrees F temperature can feel like sub-freezing wind chill to a rider."

      Those suffering from "sub freezing" chills ought to check out Aerostich. Having the right gear for the ride makes all the difference.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "Can CR show us a mass produced bike with an automatic? No... no they can't. "

        Other that the Aprilia Mana 850, which is a much bigger and pricier bike that they were testing, who makes a bike with a automatic (not including scooters, obviously)?
      • 6 Years Ago
      That 250 Kawi Ninja FTW.

      It took me months to actually find one in stock, and even getting it home had me questioning whether it was all worth it...

      Until that first ride. Haven't looked back since.

      On topic, getting a reputable, mainstream publication to independently review two wheeled vehicles is a great thing for all motorcycle enthusiasts. With the relatively small market for riders, a clear industry leader has not emerged to be a trustworthy source of information for safety and performance reviews like Consumer Reports could be. I wish they had done this sooner- it may have made my personal search a lot easier. As a new rider, the sheer number of publications each with a different opinion was completely overwhelming, and throw in the numerous message boards with their own differing opinions, and I'm amazed I made it out of there with any information at all.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I like that CR is reviewing motorcycles and scooters but i think they should approach the whole SUBJECT of motorcycling. The last thing we need are people getting on a motorcycle or even a scooter for the sake of fuel economy.

      Riding a motorcycle is not the same as driving a car. I've seen a fair share of people get a bike thinking it'll be a cheap alternative to a car. Its not.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Out of the group, I'd probably still go with the Rebel. I'll come right out and admit that I'm not comfortable enough with my masculinity to get a scooter, and I'm not really down with the rice rocket thing. I don't think I've ever said this, but the Honda wins on its masculinity alone.
        • 6 Years Ago
        If you think a 250cc cruiser is more masculine than a scooter, well good on ya then. Not that there aren't good reasons for choosing a proper motorcycle over a scooter, but the image I equate Vespa with being sophisticated and urban, while a Rebel screams "Village People" but maybe that's just me.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Rice Rocket? You get that Honda is Japanese right???

        I don't get how guys feel they need to drive a certain vehicle to demonstrate their masculinity. Trust me. If you are that unsure of yourself us girls can see right through it.

        Nice to see CR testing bikes. Just hope this doesn't mean they test fewer cars.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Eh, I know a bunch of Vespa riders in Portland. Some female, mostly male. But the one thing they have in common is a sort of indie-rock thrift-shop vibe that is as far from what you are describing as I can imagine. I don't really get where you are coming from.
        • 6 Years Ago
        indie rock, hipster, emo, it doesn't really matter. none of them are very masculine groups to be a part of.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "...the Honda wins on it's masculinity alone."

        "I never said the Rebel was masculine."

        Umm, sorry, but that's saying it's masculine, even if just a little. And no, the Rebel is not masculine. At least a Vespa says you're a dude that's urban chic. A Rebel just means you're a dude planning to buy a Harley once the trailer house is paid off.
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