I’m accustomed to begging scooters from the Big Four, from the companies I know – Kawasaki excluded since they don’t make a scooter – and hanging onto them as long as I can. You’d be surprised. But Honda may be sore after I crashed that last ADV150 while testing its tires over railroad tracks, even though I offered to buy it (at a discount, since it was crashed). Come to think of it, they may even be still sore about the Metropolitan we crashed in our 2002 Scooter Smackdown. Some of these huge corporations have impressively long memories, but atrocious short-term ones. Yamaha has no scooters in the current test fleet (frightening), and Suzuki has no Burgman 200s. Dunno what’s become of Kymco? There’s no love from Vespa.

Excuse me for sounding like a broken record as I once again espouse the value of having a scooter around the house for all those little errands and outings, at least for those of us trapped in the city or the ‘burbs.

A scooter saves wear and tear on your other vehicles, on your body, since scooters are light, easy to ride, and stress-reducing – and on the planet. Scooting to the store for a can of cat food, a box of wine, and a bunch of cilantro, or downtown for an Early Bird special after a grueling day on the ol’ Macbook, is just plain fun. It’s no Alps tour or Barstow-to-Vegas, but even a 10-minute motorcycle ride brightens the day.

M.O.M.

Finally staring into the abyss of having to spend my own money for a cheap two-wheeled conveyance, I found myself checking the usual online places for a used Honda Forza or maybe a Yamaha Morphous. Whereupon I stumbled upon HB Scooters, near me in Huntington Beach. What are these things? SYM? Lance? Genuine Buddy? I’ve been vaguely aware of them, but knew zero. I crossed fingers and tapped out a pathetic plea on the email machine.

Two weeks later the excellent and smart people at Alliance Powersports were dropping off a new SYM Fiddle IV 200i and a Lance Cabo 125 at the casa, both with zero miles. Pinch me! They don’t even have a test fleet at the Alliance HQ in nearby Eastvale, California, but they busted open a couple crates for Motorcycle.com anyway. This is more like the treatment we grew accustomed to in the print days. And we don’t have to get into that whole China debate, because these scooters are both from Taiwan.

Fiddle IV (click to zoom in)

Let’s start with the bigger, more expensive SYM Fiddle IV 200i, and we’ll get to the Cabo 125 next week.

SYM Fiddle IV 200i

It looks like we’re going for that Vespa look, and why not, since the Vespa is pretty much the Ferrari of scooters. Actually, the Vespa GTS300 is, but the SYM’s 169cc engine puts it in the Vespa Primavera camp. Vespa rates that 155cc thumper at 12.5 horsepower and 9.1 pound-feet; SYM says its motor makes 11.8 hp and 9.2 lb-ft. 

Instead of being stamped from steel like the Italian brand, the SYM’s steel skeleton is covered in “European-styled” plastic, all of which fits nice and snug, and the Phantom Grey plastic on our unit is high class. The big round headlight and retro instrument pod carry on the classic theme, the taillight is a big LED unit, and the LED running lights are supposed to increase your visibility. The only stylistic faux pas would be the sore-thumb front blinkers and their bracket, necessitated by US regs requiring them to be a certain height from the ground. It doesn’t look like it would be hard to ditch them and attach the wires where the designer intended in the faired-in front: The bulbs are already there.

Actually the instrument housing is kind of retro, but the  LCD instrument itself really is more ‘90s cheap watch. At least the big speedo numbers are easy to read, and there’s also a gas gauge, odometer, tripmeter and a clock. There’s a USB port right down there on the left too.

Release the Kraken

The 169 cc air-cooled Single is reluctant to start from cold, even though SYM says its “perfect intelligence EFI Intelligent Injection System utilizes computer programs to calculate the oxygen content ratio in the air and control the fuel emission to achieve complete combustion, full power, rapid start-up, fuel efficiency, low pollution and acceleration enhancement. Particularly in respect of environmental protection, this system can help reduce pollution up to 30% and decrease fuel consumption by 15% without any catalyzer device.”

I’m gonna guess without a catalyzer, she’s running pretty lean. You need to crack the throttle a bit to get the engine running from cold on 50-degree mornings, and it takes a bit of cranking. Once warmed up, the little Single fires right up and responds to the throttle fine. Sprightly even. But now that we’re used to everything having a catalytic converter, the smell of internal combustion hangs in the air. 

169cc of air-cooled OHC Single-cylinder fury

Unlike the careful prep a loaner Japanese scoot gets, the SYM only got released from its crate and ridden around a parking lot before being released into our clutches. We’re told there’s a simple idle adjustment screw on the side of the throttle body to make starting from cold easier, but I’d need to remove the “seat bucket” to get to it, which appears pretty easy. But, as it turns out, after a couple weeks of riding around and getting 60 break-in miles on the little dear, she starts easier and runs better/smoother: the smell of fuel during warm-up is way less noticeable. I know the computer in my car has to relearn things whenever the battery is disconnected; maybe that ECU learning sophistication extends to scooters now?

Your ceramic-coated cylinder is via a “special compound-electroplating process to disperse Ni (nickel) particles and SiC (silicon carbide) particles on the cylinder wall together, which forms a particular cylinder with the compound-electroplating layer (Ni/SiC), and brings the quality to excellence.” 

Sanyang Motor

SYM is not some fly-by-night mom and pop shop. As well as producing scooters, small motorcycles, and ATVs, Wikipedia informs us that Sanyang Motor, SYM, also manufactures Hyundai automobiles and mini-trucks. It was Taiwan’s first motorcycle producer when it began building bikes for Honda in 1961; later, it built small Honda cars. In 2002, the Honda relationship was replaced by the Hyundai one, which has become a pretty successful automobile manufacturer.

Let us scoot

The step-through design means you don’t have to be tall at all to clamber onto the nicely padded 29.5-inch seat, and once I’m up there, I can’t touch much more than both sets of toes down at once at the end of my 30-inch legs. While there’s room and nice aluminum flip-out footpegs for a passenger, there’s not as much room as on a Honda PCX150: That, or we’ve both put on a few pounds in the last year. In fact, we’re probably bumping right up against the SYM’s 333-pound max capacity. Wheelbase is 52.4 inches, which is actually longer than the PCX’ 51.7 inches. Vespa’s Primavera 150, which the SYM most wants to be, has a 52.7-in. wheelbase atop its 12-in. Wheels.

One nice thing is, unlike most Japanese scooters which have ways to keep Americans from hurting themselves, you can let the Fiddle warm up on the sidestand – though it comes with an easy-to-use centerstand too. Away you go. The CVT, of course, means you’re shiftless. Twelve-inch wheels at either end provide a perfectly adequate compromise between stability and quick handling, though quick handling got the better part of the deal. Altering course is as quick as thinking about it, but everything hangs together anyway leaned over on broken pavement with the gas pinned. SYM is proud of its A.L.E.H “Anti-Lift Engine Hanger System,” which it says enhances stability, especially while accelerating and braking.

Cruising surface streets in the 40 to 50-mph zone feels like the sweet spot. Tucking in a little behind the front cowl, I saw 63 mph on the digital speedo before I ran out of road, pretty much tapped out; my iPhone GPS says it was actually 57, and disagrees wildly with the SYM speedo much of the time. (As she breaks in, I’ve seen 65 mph indicated a couple of times.)

Either way, you don’t wanna Fiddle around on the freeway except for very short stretches. Advantage PCX150 again, which we clocked at 69 mph. (In fairness, we trusted the Honda’s speedo, which was probably a mistake, but is said to be pretty accurate by other publications.) Off the line, though, the Fiddle’s pretty feisty/torquey.

Suspension is basic but perfectly okay, with a skinny telescopic fork and twin coil-over shocks out back, preload adjustable. Feels like about three inches of travel at both ends, and the ride’s about what you’d expect with 12-inch tires and the engine acting as swingarm. Actually, it’s better than it oughta be, and it’s so nimble you sort of ride a scooter like a hardtail – use your skills, look for the smooth line. 

The “combined braking system” is surprisingly good: the left lever applies the 226mm front disc and the 220mm rear, while the right lever works the front disc only and its two-piston slide caliper. You only need the front most of the time, but grabbing both levers slows the Fiddle surprisingly hard. There is no steenking ABS.

In other words, all systems are go on the Fiddle IV: engine, suspension, brakes all perfectly good, and no rattles, squeaks, weird vibes, clunks, or harshness. This feels like a first-world product.

Stow it

Clicking the ignition key easily to the left pops the seat open, under which there’s enough storage for a couple bags of groceries or a backpack and a Happy Meal. Careful the seat doesn’t flop back down onto your arms, since there’s no strut (Honda’s PCX has a strut to keep you from accidentally decapitating your gerbil, even though the manual says no pets in there). You quickly learn to flip the seat over center, where it stays. Unless the fork turns left and bumps it down onto you. I can fit my size L open-face Shoei in there, but not a full face: No worries, as there are two helmet hooks at the front of the seat, right next to its hinge.

A box of delicious Vella Merlot measures 9 x 11.5 x 3.75 inches. There’s a really handy hook that pops out from the front apron to carry a bag or two or your purse, and the wraparound grab bar gives plenty of bungee net attachment points for lugging bigger objects around. There’s also a SHAD-designed color-matched top box available for $199.

Bottom line

The reason you buy a Chinese or Taiwanese product over a European or Japanese one is, let’s face it, you’re a chiseler. The official suggested retail price is $3,599, which compares very favorably to the $5,499 Vespa Primavera 150 the Fiddle IV is sincerely imitating. And in fact the Primavera doesn’t look much different than Vespa’s top-of-the-line GTS 300 HPE to the casual observer, which sells for $7,799.

Hang stuff from the hook, 1.6 gallons of fuel lasts a long time, and there’s your USB port.

On the SYM, you’ll be snubbed by the real scooterati, but no one else will know, and saving that kind of money maybe you won’t care? If it’s that classic Italian style you’re after, the Fiddle IV’s a perfectly good scooter that feels like it will hold up just fine – and comes with a two-year warranty. 

My personal problem is that I don’t really need Vespa styling, I just need the best scooter. And in this size/price range, the Honda PCX150 that popped up a couple times in this review would be hard to pass over: The PCX is only $300 more than the SYM, at $3,899. I’m down with the Honda’s more modern sporty looks, and I’m even more down with its 10-mph top speed advantage, and its 14- and 13-inch wheels, which give it a better ride and composure. 

But, if you like the cut of the SYM’s jib and won’t be needing more than 60 mph, in the couple of weeks I’ve been enjoying it, I haven’t yet uncovered any reasons at all why you wouldn’t settle into a beautiful long-term relationship. I’m only not delaying giving it back because SYM said they’d maybe replace it with their new Jet 14 200i, which is a bit more PCXey. Christmas came a bit early this year for little Johnny.


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