The “Replacements”: So long, Piaggio. Hello… Kymco?!

So, as the few regular readers on here know, it’s been a bit of a fight as of late to keep a scooter on the road here.  Much of it is funds, since I work in the arts and life has this pesky way of taking that meager artist’s salary and finding ways of spending it before I can.  But, a lot of the issue is finding a bike that can put up with the insane environmental conditions of where I live in Phoenix, Arizona.  Where temperatures are in the high 110’s to 115’s, and on the street surface can easily climb over 122 degrees machinery doesn’t last too long out here.  Cars literally burst into flames on the side of the highways and tires become so overheated blowouts are as common as the ubiquitous Filibertos Taco Stands that dot the city. 

There is another factor that keeps many scooters off the roads here in the US: Parts.  You see, Piaggio thinks we in the United States are no better than a rural farm town in Russia, or a tiny island in Malaysia.  This is because scooter sales here are tiny in comparison to the rest of the word, and for Piaggio and Vespa, if it’s not the number one market, they simply won’t care.  In fact during the LARGEST Vespa rally in North America, Piaggio USA did not send ONE representative.  Not one person from Piaggio came to support the largest group of Vespa riders.  Also, if you have ever tried to order parts for your Vespa, you pretty much can’t.  If you do get it, expect to wait a month to 4 months for it.  And, then there are the dealerships… or lack thereof.

Of course, then there is the price for being a member of the “elite” Vespa brand image.  What was once a shining example of transportation and style for the masses has become the iProduct of the motorcycle world, commanding prices that only the upper middle class can afford and twice to three times that of an inexpensive used sedan

It’s enough to drive you up the wall!!

So, what is a scooterist who values affordable, fashionable and fun transportation to do?  Companies like Genuine Scooter Company in cooperation with LML and PGO have done wonders in keeping the nerdy spirit of scootering alive, but they aren’t the only ones in the game.  I myself LOVE , LOVE, LOVE the Stella but their “Buddy” line of scooters are just too small to fit my tall, skinny English frame.  The Japanese makers see scooters as an afterthought in the US, where they can easily sell a liter superbike faster than a 50cc.  So we get the cast offs and the most sparse of offerings from them.

But  another company has caught my eye, and knows what they are doing when it comes to scooters.  They are the 5th largest manufacturer of motorbikes in the world, have offerings that outsell Vespa in Italy itself and have decided that the United States is where it’s at next.  It’s Kymco.

After 15 years in the US, they have gained traction as a reputable company with amazing ATV’s, Quads and scooters.  They started out working as a Honda OEM manufacturer in the 60’s, and now make some of the most popular bikes in the world and are even the manufacturers of the new BMW scooter engines and the BMW 450cc engine they use in their enduros!  They dominate in Taiwan and Austriallia, have taken HUGE positions in the market in Japan and Italy and are known for reliability and quality that rivals Honda, and that puts Piaggio in it’s place. 

And, Kymco has been building their image in the US by partnering up with NHRA race teams, sponsoring giveaways at local scooter rallies where winning a T-shirt isn’t an option, but an ENTIRE SCOOTER!  And, they have themselves thrown some crazy rallies in the US in an effort  to show that not every company ignores it’s enthusiasts.  And, it’s People 150 scooter is still considered one of the best bikes on the market nearly 10 years after its release in the US.

And, it’s down to two of their scooters for me: The Like 200i and the Agility 125.

The “Like” 200i must be one of the most bland names in scooter history.  It’s not passionate, driving or even sensible!  But, for what it lacks in creativity, it brings in features!  Now, the Like 200i isn’t actually a 200cc… it’s 163cc.  Yeah, a little misleading.  But what it doesn’t tell you is that it makes up for this with a Fuel-Injected engine with front and rear disc brakes all on a largeframe scooter chassis backed by the typical bullet proof Kymco engine and a 2 year/unlimited mileage warranty!  While some are quick to point out that it’s “retro” styling is too close to Vespa, I tend to disagree.  Vespa didn’t invent the scooter even if it wants the world to think so  (much like Apple not stopping people from thinking it invented the touchscreen smartphone).  To me, it says more “Lambretta” with those flat vented sides and strong front rake. 

So it’s fuel injected, well equipped with braking and even comes with the topcase as standard.  What’s to make *me* buy this over a Vespa LX150?  Well, the LX150 starts at $4,200US plus fees.  The MSRP on this? $2,599US.  And, Vespa will only give you a 1 year warranty.

This is the front runner because a local dealership has TWO on sale for the low, low price of $2,095US!  You get all the features of a Vespa (save the all steel body) with a lot more piece of mind.  And, you can actually find more than one Kymco dealer in your state as opposed to the Italians (if your state even has a Piaggio dealer).  In fact, many states have more Kymco dealers than Yamaha dealers, and I have respect for the tuning-fork logo!

The other scooter on my radar is at the bottom of the price range, but not the last in the line when it comes to quality: The Agility 125

This is a bare-bones scoot, but well put together: 125cc air cooled, carbureted mill.  Front disc, rear drum.  It’ has all the modern scoot basics and an engine that will get you to 60-ish miles per hour… and that’s it.  No auto-stability system, no GPS systems, no nothing.  Just scooter.  It’s the modern smallframe and that’s a good thing.  It’s the same base engine as the Kymco 125cc lot of other scoots, but in a clean, poly shell and tube steel chassis.

So, why the hell is this thing so interesting?  Try an MSRP of $1,799US.  No, that’s not a clearance price.  Yes, that includes the 2 year warranty.  Their 50cc Version eeks in at under $1,399US!  You can hardly get a China-Clone scooter for that!!! And, it’s one of the top 10 selling scooters in Italy, known for being one of the largest and most competitive scooter markets in the world!  They sell more scooters there than in the entirety of North America!  So, that’s a lot of Agility for the buck.

To be fair, these scooters aren’t manufactured in Taiwan, where Kymco is headquartered.  They are made in a Kymco-only owned factory in China.  Now, some may balk at this idea especially after how much I rag on Chinese scooters.  BUT, this is a Kymco run facility and they have a rep around the world for running a *tight* ship.  Also, consider that the Vespa S150, Piaggio Fly and Piaggio Typhoon are ALSO made in China under a plant owned by Piaggio.  Yep: You think you may be buying Italian and thus buying “better”, but as it turns out Piaggio is taking a page from Kymco in an effort to stay competitive. 

So, it’s down to these two for me.  There will be another Stella in my drive, make no doubt about that!  But, for the winter and for commuting, it’s down to these two juggernauts of the scooter world that 10-15 years ago would have been unthinkable: Taiwanese scooters out-performing and out lasting Japanese and Italian competitors?  Then again, who would of thought ten years ago that our cell phone choice would depend on what operating system and what video phone options we could get.

The times, they are a’changing….

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About neotrotsky

A Technical Director at a somewhat-sorta-prestigious live performance studio, audio engineer and secondary engineering student (the second time around) by day. But, by night I am a daring (if not slightly melancholy) motorscooter enthusiast and gearhead searching for a garage and steady paycheck. View all posts by neotrotsky

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