The days of the “off season” are in the final third for me. This summer has been particularly hard for my household as some of our regular readers know since the death of the Genuine Scooter Company Rattler 110 I was riding. Ultimately not proving up to the task, I had to reconsider what I need in a daily driver scooter and have been coming up with some great options. But, many of them lack that “thing”: Style.
Before we talked about the Kymco line of bikes: Well engineered, well “liked” and affordable. But, shopping for one of those is about as passion-stirring as buying a new laptop. It’s an appliance with Kymco. Granted, they are some nice appliances and fun to ride, but they don’t have that “fun” built in with an image and a scene like Vespa (who now charges heavily to be a member of that club). But, I started thinking about what I like about small motorbikes and scooters and why I don’t ride a Harley or a sportbike anymore. It’s that world-culture factor: Knowing that what you ride is not only universal, but in any culture carries a certain identity. Vespa will always be the fashionista’s transport: Style on a budget (at least back in the day). It was glamorous and Bohemian. Hip and very European. But, that’s not the only direction one can go…
The most popular motorbike in human history was the Honda Super Cub. The original Honda Cub was actually a bolt-on motor that was made to convert bicycles into motorcycles by Honda back in the early 50’s, and was quite popular. But, Soichiro Honda wanted MUCH more for his customers, so he developed the Super Cub: A 4-stroke (high tech for the time) 50cc scooter that could hit 50mph with a “semi-automatic” transmission, large stable wire spoke wheels and bicycle-like simplicity.
It was a hit! EVERYONE on Earth wanted one. It wasn’t the style that grabbed you, but the simplicity and affordability. It was the great equalizer. Everyone from farmers in Vietnam to university students in Kent to the son of a coal miner in Kentucky could afford one and ride it until Armageddon. Everyone in all corners of the world has a story or two of their encounter with a Cub. Even the Beach Boys wrote songs about it (granted they were under commission by Honda, but even that was forward thinking for the time). It was truly the People’s Bike. By 2008, over 60 MILLION of these sewing-machines-on-crack were sold and it had secured it’s place as not only the most popular motorized form of transport in human history, but fell into that position of being the Vespa’s alternative nerdy cult-bike. If you couldn’t afford a Vespa, you sure as hell could afford a Cub!
And, it’s that everyman approach that makes the Cub so appealing. While Vespa took great lengths to avoid being a motorcycle at all costs, Mr. Honda examined why motorbikes were difficult, and stripped away the bits that weren’t needed. He then invented ways around the parts that made riding a motorbike hard, and designed everything to be easy to maintain, fix or replace for anyone with a box end wrench and a screwdriver. Vespa made motorbikes stylish and desirable, Honda made them practical and effective.
Sadly, Honda pulled the Cub (known as the Passport in the US and Canada) out of the market in 1983, and production stopped on these bikes by Honda and it’s affiliates in 2008. Granted in most of the world, there are hundreds of metric tons of these bikes around and parts are plentiful and still produced in mass quantities. But, in America’s bike-deprived culture, the Cub really isn’t as well remembered. They sold well here… for a small bike. But, they didn’t have the cult status that the rest of the world (especially in Japan, Southeast Asia and Western Europe) attached to them. But, in 2009, yet another major Taiwanese motorbike firm took a note from LML’s playbook and dusted off the factory machines of a bike they once made…
SYM was another “sub-factory” out of Taiwan just like Kymco, PGO and companies like LML and Bajaj in India. They took on the task of making the popular bikes for the big boys in Japan and Europe when the factories were too full and the orders too great. SYM’s claim to fame was being the 2nd birthplace for tens of millions of those same Honda Cubs sold worldwide. And, when Honda retired the model, SYM saw that the nostalgia and desire for these bikes was still high. And, with the new retro trend sweeping the post-industrialized world, how could they say no?
Hence, the SYM “Symba” was born!
Get it? “SYMba” Cub/Lion Cub? OK… so it was a ploy on naming, but at least it’s a better name than most Taiwanese translations (That, and the Taiwanese name for this bike is the “WoWow”. Yeah. Not kidding). The new Symba took the exact frame and tooling of the Honda Cub, but improved it: Bumping the displacement from 70cc’s in the 2008 final model to 101cc’s, adding modern telescopic forks and adjustable suspension, CDI ignition and increasing the horsepower from a whopping 4bhp to …6.7bhp. Yeah, may not seem like much with a whole 5 lb/ft of torque, but this will scoot you to 55-60mph and give you a REAL WORLD 100mpg! Other than that, nearly all of the measurements and design elements remain the same as the original. This can be a good thing for spare parts and accessories, but this also means that the “quirks” of a semi-auto transmission, drum brakes and carburetion remain. It’s truly a vintage bike updated to keep that exact feel, but with a higher quality finish.
And, there’s a SYM dealer in North Phoenix!!!!!
The downside is that I cannot test-ride one. They only order them from California since they aren’t as big a seller here in the Southwest. But, in 3 days they can get one in my choice of black, red or baby blue and they don’t even charge “dealer fees”, “assembly” or “document prep” fees. Refreshing in an era of death by a thousand service fees. The now-standard-for-Taiwanese-major-brands 2 year parts/labor warranty is also appealing. The only downside is that SYM’s import partner, Alliance Motorsports, weren’t the first ones to bring them to the US. They had a shaky partnership with a group called the Carter Brothers who weren’t so truthful about their financial status when SYM first started wanting into the US market. Soon, the Carter Brothers were so underwater that their warehouse in the US suffered a “mysterious” fire that took out all of their backstock of bikes and made it rather convenient for them to claim insurance money that was greatly needed. This led to SYM dropping them like a hot rock, but also set back their US plans and leaving a bad taste in the customers they had won over. They are back in the game, but supplies and dealer support are still a back burner concern. They retain a solid and well-loved reputation overseas and in many parts of Europe and Asia, but they are on the mend in winning back US confidence.
But, at $2399US, this is a tempting bike. It’s like the flipside of the Stella by Genuine Scooters. It’s retro, original and true to the bike that started it all, but in a nerdier fashion, and that has some appeal!
I still have a little over a month and a half since there is no hope of early financing before my new season starts and my grants hit. So, there’s still room to reconsider. But, this is winning. Even my wife is starting to *really* want one! She finds it non-threatening and “quirky cute”. It will definitely stand out on US roads, and if other reviews are anything to go by, it may be the smartest choice for my desire to have a vintage bike but a need to have it reliable.