No, I didn’t ‘lay ‘er down’ as Eric Bass would call it – textbook or otherwise – instead I was actually gambling, kinda. Motorcycle magazines regularly race against each other to be the first to publish our stories, but Honda added the extra pressure of making a contest of the intro itself.
I don’t get to attend many biker rallies, but I know what a poker run is. I attended my first at the 2004 Star Days Rally in Roanoke, and my second attempt would take place in Hollywood, California on the new fuel-injected Elite 110, buzzing around town like actual owners on errand runs but actually picking up playing cards. Imagine a dozen journalists in a reality-show-type race against the clock to pick up the best poker hand at both planned and mystery stops.
First hurdle, the Elite's magneto-secure ignition keyhole. As a theft deterrent, Honda has integrated a sliding keyhole cover that requires the operator’s key fob to open passage to the keyhole. Each bike is individually coded to unlock only the one unit. Mighty trick little gimmick!
Key in, seat open. I packed up the Elite’s cavernous 35 liters of under-seat storage with camera gear, freshly-highlighted maps, and a big bag of wishful thinking. Had I the 27L accessory top box ($143.95), I instead could have stuffed an extra helmet under the saddle so I could recruit gaming assistance down the road if need be. And that’s a space capable of storing a full-face helmet, not just a half-helmet which is often the case. Honda has also included a pair of helmet hooks for storing your helmet when parked with a trunk already full of goodies. There’s also a lockable glove box within handy reach while riding for garage door openers, water bottles or poker chips.
Sparking up the fuel-injected 108cc liquid-cooled four-stroke engine is a snap thanks to an electric starter. It idles peacefully like a portable generator you might take camping or see in the race pits. But kinda like MO’s old friend Bumpy, you can ride this little powerplant around town!
With Honda prescribing destinations scattered all over L.A. County, I opted to race towards the farthest point first in order to have broader pick from the deck. Stopping first at Kushitani world headquarters, my first card pull was a lame 2 of Spades. Boo indeed.
No boo for the Elite’s snappy acceleration, though. It won't ever leave bits of rubber at the traffic light, but it can out-hustle normal four-wheeled vehicular traffic to typical street speeds. But the real advantage of a small vehicle like the Elite is its scale. It's capable of squeezing through traffic many other bikes cannot. Slinking to the front of the pack of traffic waiting at a stop signal is the easy part, and pulling away is as simple as twisting the throttle to full lock while keeping an eye on your mirrors – the Elite 110 won't win every battle with the cagers. Momentum is your friend here. Parking is also a breeze with its tidy 50.2-inch wheelbase and 254-lb fully fueled wet weight which makes popping it up on the centerstand effortless.
Second stop, third stop, and back to the Garage Company to pull my second card, an Ace of Spades. Now we’re talking! Then I took a side trip to my house to rub the nose of my 1987 Honda Elite 150 with the smashing good looks and shiny new paint of the 23-year younger model.
The original Elite debuted in 1984 in a 125cc version, and Honda followed it up with a 150cc model a year later. Side by side, you can see how much hasn’t changed in the 20-some years since my old Elite was built. The major differences are in wheel size, front suspension and foot position, the latter less like the cruiser-like foot-forward Silver Wing and more a Euro-style highchair and upright seating position. Ground clearance and wheelbase are very similar as well. The front end of the new model is much less bulbous than the nearly antique design of my '80s version. And on the street, forget about it! The new Elite 110 offers a 25% higher top speed than the aging 150. Rumor has it that the Elite smokes the Yamaha Vino 125 as well. Do I smell a comparo in the making? Kevin, dig out the track suit!
Incidentally, the ‘87 Elite 150 eventually turned in to the more stable and roomier cult classic Helix and then the Reflex, both discontinued in model year 2008.
The Elite's cockpit is compact and might be a little tight for taller riders, but I found myself edging forward and getting up on my feet. There are peg-like step-ups in the floorboard directly beneath the rider’s hips to create a more sporting-like ride position if you prefer. Using the Vespa-like flush-folding passenger footpegs as rear-sets are not an option, as any backwards pressure on the pegs collapses them as they do on the Vespa 300 I’ve ridden.
Honda claims 100-plus miles per gallon from the little Single, but it still picks up speed fairly quickly. It's able to cruise at 50 mph on the way to peaking at 55 mph as indicated on its simple instrumentation that includes a big analog speedometer, odometer (no trip meter), fuel and coolant temperature gauges. Its 1.6-gallon fuel tank should offer 160 miles or more of range. It's light, quick, affordable and efficient.
Forgetting about fueling up is easy, but the racing Fonz needs a pick-me-up and so I stop off at the Red Bull HQ for another card and an energy drink to keep me going. With a Jack of Clubs now in my pocket, a winning hand is falling off the back of the pack for sure. C’est la vie! But I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve.
Packed with the twist-and-go simplicity of Honda’s automatic V-Matic belt-drive system, zipping out for groceries – or playing cards – couldn’t be easier. The stop-and-go nature of such a life for utilitarian rides like this requires ease of use as well as lots of stop-and-go power. On the slower part of the equation, the Elite packs both a disc and a drum brake. On the 12-inch front (Cheng Shin 90/90) wheel you’ll find a 190mm single disc brake connected to the same Honda CBS, or Combined Braking System, you read about in my SH150i report. On the 10” rear wheel (Cheng Shin 100/90), there’s a 130mm drum brake as part of the CBS package.
As is with traditional motorcycles, the right hand lever applies the front brake. With Honda’s Combined Braking System, the left-hand lever applies pressure to both the two-piston caliper and 220mm single front disc as well as the rear wheel’s drum. Simultaneous application of both the drum brake arm and disc brake’s hydraulic piston is done via a mechanical crossover wire connected to the left hand lever for more balanced stopping power.
Now feeling the pain of my losing hand, I make a separate stop at the original North American Honda headquarters on West Pico Boulevard where today stands an acupuncture business. Then I snap up my last card at the Honda of Hollywood dealership, and I draw an 8 of Clubs. Geez. Okay, maybe I can pull off at least a pair of something with the finish-line card, but it’s not looking good. Good thing the springy saddle and 3-inch average suspension travel is there to soften my landing. The 33mm hydraulic fork has 3.1 inches of travel while the rear swingarm is supported by a single hydraulic shock with 2.8 inches of travel.
Had I the available accessory windscreen ($189) on my ride, the tears might have been still running down my cheeks when I arrived at the finish line. How high was it? Covering my chest only, topping near my jawline. I guess the tears would still be flowing.
With one card left to pull, I needed to ace the contest with bonus points in order to win that Honda hoodie. With extra points given for the most unique photograph of the Honda Elite, and a Hollywood theme, I arranged for a celebrity sighting after my last stop. You know the cliché, everyone in L.A. has a headshot. Well, I know a few actresses instead. Snap snap, zoom zoom.
I grab my photo of the Honda Elite with ‘Tween television and movie star and young co-star of Ray Romano’s upcoming ‘Men of a Certain Age,’ Brittany Curran and bullet back to the finish line. You do meet the nicest people on a Honda! Had I the forethought to carry an extra helmet, I could have also given her a ride on the two-up saddle, stored her wardrobe on the aluminum rear rack with integrated passenger handgrips and stole the show in the end. Alas, another editor won the contest, but I still had a fun day in the saddle.
With an MSRP nearly $1500 less than the next of kin SH150i, you’re probably asked yourself by now, why is there now two closely scaled models amidst Honda’s scooter line-up. Stashed in between the 49cc Ruckus and Metropolitan and the 582cc Silver Wing, the Elite 110 and the SH150i are similar yet vary in many ways. Price point first and foremost. At just $2,999, the 110 is a relative bargain, even against its competitors in the market. Although the Elite's 108cc powerplant won't run with freeway traffic in California, it’s probably not a safe idea to be on the highway with such a light machine anyhow. Stick to the city streets and ride for weeks on one tank of gas!
Both models are fuel injected and have the same combined braking system. As you'd expect from a more expensive bike with a larger engine, the SH offers bigger numbers. SH150i has larger 16-inch wheels which roll over big bumps easier than the Elite's smaller donuts, and it also has a 2-inch taller saddle height that helps make for friendlier ergos for bigger riders. The SH also has a 10-mph top-speed advantage over its little brother, making it more capable at keeping pace with fast traffic. The Elite has an advantage in being easier to manage for both big and small, aided by a weight 50 pounds less than the SH.
In 2008, scooters sales we’re up 40%, and more and more Americans are considering buying smaller vehicles. Wanting to serve those buyers, Honda aimed the Elite at a more affordable MSRP than the pricey SH150i.
Honda’s the only Japanese maker offering a liquid-cooled scooter right now. And only one other maker comes close to matching the Elite’s 108cc engine, the air-cooled 96cc Aprilia Scarabeo that retails for $2,699. Most every other maker has an air-cooled 150cc scooter in the same (or slightly less) price range, but not many hit the mark exactly. Wheelbases and wheel sizes ranging from 10 to 16 inches, but only the Chinese QLINK and Taiwanese SYM offer other liquid-cooled scoots. The QLINK Pegasus 150 is a DOHC liquid-cooled 4-stroke 150cc Single with 15- and 16-inch wheels and full disc brakes, retailing for just $2,399, but you might miss that last-forever Honda quality. SYM offers an HD 125 with a pair of 16-inch wheels and otherwise matching Elite specs for $3,298.
Be it a quick trip to the market or trolling the pits, the 254-pound (wet) Elite is easy to ride and easy to maneuver on and off the street. Built in Honda’s Wuyang factory in China and packed full of Honda quality, the 2010 Honda Elite is a globally “green” machine, complete with an exhaust catalyst and some advanced digital mapping to reduce overall emissions.
The Elite is being delivered to dealers as you read this story and sold in a choice of two colors, red or black. Go be a nice person and ride red!
2010 Honda SH150i Review