2003 Yamaha Zuma

"Please sir, I want some more."

story by Elliot "El Flaco" Strong, Created Jul. 20, 2002
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Torrance, California, July 17, 2002 -- What was the title of that cheezy 80's love song- "I want you to want me?" I felt that was what the Zuma was singing to me as I motored around the streets of south Los Angeles. I really wanted to love it back, but the chemistry just wasn't flowing; sorry baby, but I need my space- nothing personal or anything.

There has been a soft spot in my heart for scooters for years. My first encounter with the species occurred at the age of 11 on a Honda Spree back in the heyday of those machines. It was an experience that left me feeling like a stud and hoping that my awesome prowess at controlling the beast had impressed the cute blonde who was (hopefully) observing every one of my studly moves.

My appreciation for the little two-smokers was rekindled during a Spring Break voyage to Southern Spain two years ago, where everyone buzzes around on stylish Aprilia scooters customized to suit the personality of the rider. Racing stickers and exhausts are common, while helmets are not. Scooters provide a great way to get around crowded city streets that look like the Romans had just left.

Unlike the incident involving the Spree and the cute blonde, I just didn't feel like much of a stud riding the Zuma around LA. It has everything going for it except that intangible visceral thrill one gets from being in control of a well-built machine with poise, character and power. Actually, the Zuma has all those going for it except the power factor.

The Zuma casts an intimidating visage in this gritty urban alleyway.

The Yamaha Motors website promises a "feisty 49cc engine with fast throttle response and power delivery." Hunh? I missed that somewhere along my weekend of waving faster traffic past me. When pulling away from a stoplight it has decent acceleration with an un-scientific 0-30 time of approximately 9.8934 seconds. It ultimately buzzes up to a top speed of an indicated 40-mph, but the span of time that elapses between traveling from 30 to 40 mph feels like an eternity, and in this town 40 mph is often too slow for surface streets.

By the time you do get up to speed, all those rabid minivans that you blew off the line have caught up and are out for blood revenge. The throttle is an on-off proposition with little left in between. I think the only way I could get a ticket on the Zuma would be to ride naked downhill at WOT through a quiet residential area with the muffler off. On the positive side of life, it is an excellent overall package with excellent brakes, stable handling at all speeds and a suspension that does an admirable job.

 Economically and efficiently cruising for trouble. Truly, a bad to the bone type venture. With a 155mm disc brake on the front and a drum on the back, the Zuma gives complete confidence in all situations of stoppage. The handling, too, is quick and responsive at slower speeds, but rock solid and steady at top whack.

Between the suspension doing its job and the cushy seat padding my not-so padded seat, it makes the scooter almost downright plush and comfortable. But, at six-foot-one, I feel hunched over and can never quite find a position for my feet on the floorboards that feels natural and comfortable.

The Zuma just feels so practical; with about twice the power it would be both practical AND exciting. With the rally-inspired headlights and oversized tires, the Zuma looks the part and you expect some more scrappiness inside of it. In an ideal world, we'd have two offerings: the original as well as another that retains the sharp styling, great handling and overall practical foundation of the Zuma- but with a little more bang to back up the boast. Yamaha sells two sporty scooters in Europe (both offered with either 125 or 150cc 4-stroke engines) called the Teo's and the Maxster, but in a world driven by cost versus profit we can't always get our heart's desires. Much like its sister ship, the Vino, the Zuma houses integrated fire control systems underneath the seat. However, the Zuma uses uprated AEGIS componentry. Oh yea, a helmet fits in there too.

  However, the fact remains that the market is increasingly moving towards all 4 strokes, the scooter market is growing and Yamaha's scooter sales have been particularly strong. Sources at Yamaha couldn't deny a 4-stroke version of the Zuma or something like it, but said that if there were going to be such a thing, "it would have to be right." Trends are always being observed, and they strive to "build what customers want." Things are adding up and the future of sporty scooting looks promising.

To be fair and looking at it objectively from outside of my young and speed-addled perspective (That's what we always do-- JB), the Zuma serves admirably as the around-town commuter that it was designed to be. Unlike a motorcycle, it actually has a voluminous space underneath the seat to carry a box of Froot Loops and a twelver or other such bachelor chow. Or stow your helmet. And as for fuel economy, wow- I put in a gallon of fuel, and it never seemed to get used up; it's like magic, I tell you. My messy experiences of trying to mix 2-stroke oil and gas in the proper, tedious ratios for outboard motors and chainsaws are a faint memory thanks to the miracle of Auto-Lube (a quart of oil also lasts Look, a penny! forever).

 The Zuma's, in fact, a handy commuter tool if you don't have to go too far too fast and overall, it's a cut above other cheap scooters on the US market. For $1699, it's difficult to find this level of brakes and suspension, storage and overall level of finish. $1699 is less than the depreciation of a new SUV when you drive it off the lot. And the Zuma's a helluva lot easier to park.

Specifications
Engine:
Type- 49cc, air-cooled, reed valve-inducted,
      2-stroke single
Bore x Stroke- 40 x 39.2mm
Compression Ratio- 7.2:1
Carburetion- 14mm Teikei
Ignition- CDI
Transmission- V-belt automatic  

Chassis:
Suspension (Front)- Telescopic fork; 2.1" travel
Suspension (Rear)- Single shock; 1.8" travel
Brakes (Front)- 155mm Disc
Brakes (Rear)- Drum
Tires (Front)- 120/90-10
Tires (Rear)- 130/90-10

Dimensions:
Seat Height- 30.1"
Wheelbase- 50.2"
Dry Weight- 185 Lbs.
Fuel Capacity- 1.5 Gallons

Other:
Colors- Team Yamaha Blue; Metallic Silver; Yellow
Warranty- 1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)
MSRP- $1,699



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