Soaring gas prices fuel trend of trading in for two wheels

Fueled by painfully high gasoline prices, 2008 saw many consumers looking for new alternatives to big-bucks fill-ups at the pump, according to the editors of Consumer Reports. With rising interest
in lower-priced two-wheelers that sip rather than guzzle gas and thousands of new riders on the road, CR tested small motor scooters and motorcycles for the first time since 1981.
CR 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.
Like CR’ s 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 livability 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.
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 Allegro getting the worst marks for vibration, harsh ride and subpar fit.
In the 125cc to 150cc category, the tested models’ top speed range of 55 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 six-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.
Scooters and motorcycles can be a fun, fuel-sipping alternative for everyday commuting. But there’ s a high probability of serious injury with motorcycles. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2006, motorcyclists were about 37 times more likely to die in a crash per driven mile than someone riding in a passenger car. To minimize risk, professional instruction is a must for new riders, as is protective gear.

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