Mid-Size MotoScooter Melee + Video

John Burns
by John Burns

1500cc of Fury divided five ways: Honda Forza vs Kymco Downtown 300i vs Piaggio BV350 vs SYM Citycom 300i vs Vespa GTS 300 Super ABS

It really is a fine line between open-minded and cheap, between hip and hopeless, betwixt trending and tanking … and if you ride a scooter, you ride the razor’s edge, my friend. Obviously one has to be secure in one’s man or womanhood to even begin; my male college kid won’t be seen in the same garage with any scooter for fear it will dilute his musk. At the cool end of the scale, there’s our photographer/filmmaker/ballet dancer friend Richard Wright, who also finds time to head up the Bevery Hills Scooter Club and tear up Latigo Canyon on his bored-out Aprilia 250. At the other end, well, there’s yours truly on the Kymco Downtown 300i. How’s that for segue?

Kymco 300i Downtown $5,599

Aqualung my friend, don’t you start away uneasy…

Troy wrote a lovely review of this one last December, and it remains a perfectly functional mid-size scooter. It’s also the one that makes me most conscious that I’m the oldest guy in the group lately, the cheapest by far (Starbucks again kids?) and the least prone to bathe every day now that I work from home (so why change clothes?). If I lived in a different part of the world, this is the scooter I’d be most likely to rope stacks of caged fowl to.

Left to its own designs, Kymco can come up with strange ones, like a plastic handlebar cover reminiscent of holding onto the wingtips of a pelican in flight. At least the seat’s low, but then the floorboard is cramped, the seat bolster is too forward, and even short guys wind up in a gynecological position. There is room for several urchins on the passenger seat, though, or one woman, size XL.

It does have great underseat storage complete with a light, a 12-volt outlet for charging things in the glovebox up front, and a perfectly svelte ride, with great stability and okay disc brakes front and rear. Its best feature is the loud turn-signal clicker they used on every American car built in the ’60s (the SYM has the same one). It did seem a little off the pace in a few mini drag races, though, and later in the ride we all noted its 298cc liquid-cooled Single cutting out audibly and feelably … something not quite right with our test unit, unfortunately.

Thai Long Ly says: The front end felt pretty vague to me … I couldn’t tell what the front wheel was doing as it was lightly flopping around under acceleration. Then again, the same could be said for most of these machines. The throttle felt pretty sloppy and the seating position put your knees to your chest in an uncomfortable cruiser-esque position. Like sitting at the kids table at your parents house during Thanksgiving dinner when there’s no room with the “adults.” I did find the engine smooth up until 80 mph, which is great because that awful seating position makes you want to arrive at your destination as quick as possible. At some point during the testing, the bike started chuffing as if it was down a cylinder (which is a drag since there’s only the one) or had a clogged fuel filter. Either way, it pulsed pretty badly and I wasn’t sure it was gonna make it home without the aid of a tow truck.

Well, at least it gets a two-year warranty. If it really undercut the others pricewise and you wanted a scooter with a big windshield for heavy-duty commuting, you could make a case for the Kymco. Otherwise, it’s the same money as the Honda Forza. Which is Red instead of Burnt Orange. Shall we check the Official MO 5-Man Scorecard? Dead last. Better luck next time, Kymco.

SYM Citycom 300i $4,899

This Taiwanese trawler is a little more like it. At 263cc, it’s packing the smallest liquid-cooled Single in the test, but it’s still got the beans to mix it up with freeway traffic – and if commuting’s what you have in mind, it and the Kymco are the only scoots in this test that come with a tall windscreen. It’s got a way more natural and comfortable seating position than the Kymco, and it’s the only scoot here with 16-inch wheels front and back, which give it the most “motorcycle” feel, superior bump absorption, and good stability at top whack. Which is around 85-ish. Dig if you will also the 260mm disc brakes F and R, with braided steel lines and a red front caliper. Read Evans B’s full test here.

Friend of MO and bearded hipster, Scott Shaffstall, is enjoying the SYM immensely…

The fact that the SYM is the cheapest scooter here doesn’t mean you lose out on niceties like a glovebox with a power outlet, sweet instrumentation including a clock, tachometer and fuel gauge, twin halogen headlights … and if you don’t like matte black, you could go for Chili Red. As for me, the stealth paint and low sticker price are the SYM’s most appealing features.

What does Thai think? This bike is 4 cans shy of a 6 pack. But … slow speed maneuvers were fine as a result of its super-quick and light steering. The seat was quite hard and the whole thing felt cheap to me. The floorboards felt too narrow and put my knees too close together. If it sounds like I didn’t like this bike then you’re a great listener. Overall, it’s like drinking a case of Milwaukee’s Best: Cheap and buzzy. It looks cool, though.

Evans’ evaluation: Smooth engine with decent power around town, despite being a mere 263cc. Pull the throttle to the stops, and the SYM can merge in with traffic smartly on the interstate, ultimately reaching a top speed of 85 mph. Although the riding position is compact, I didn’t find it uncomfortable. However, there’s not much room to move around in the saddle. The under-seat storage can barely hold a single XL helmet of the Shoei RF-1200 variety. It should be less of a problem for folks with smaller melons. Although the SYM has good weather protection, the styling of this scooter left me cold. I look at it and yawn…

Piaggio BV350 $5,899

Bella. It’s Italian, so the driver gets the big seat, the passenger gets the small one, and the tires are skinny. Smart.

Spend one g more than the SYM’s list price, and you’re suddenly shopping exotic Italian import. Piaggio claims to be the world’s biggest scooter manufacturer, and it’s been cranking out BVs in one form or another for decades. This 2014 model happens to be the scoot Piaggio supplies to the New York PD, with deleted windscreen and back pad, and blacked-out plastics and seat. For 2015, all the BV350s will look like it (except for the deleted windscreen), in your choice of Nero Carbonio (matte) or Bianco Stella, for $5,899.

With the biggest engine here, this scoot scoots: Scott Shaffstall needed to get to Chino from Long Beach to pick up a pussycat by 7 pm, and claims he saw 97 mph indicated in the carpool lane. Bear in mind he is a PR guy. In any case, Piaggio claims 33 horsepower and 24 lb-ft. of torque from the 330cc Single, and that doesn’t feel too far off the mark. A 16-/14-inch wheel combo keeps it freight-train stable at speed, even on rain grooves, and good brakes haul it down no problemo.

In general, the BV feels like a substantial, solidly assembled two-wheeled Crown Victoria with cop shocks, a bit on the large and tall side even though the specs say it’s in the middle of the weight range (we resorted to manufacturer claimed weights this time). It’s got good underseat storage, a nice locking compartment up front with 12V outlet, great instrumentation and ahhh, more details here. Way mas macho than either of the Taiwanese tiddlers.

Honda Forza $5,599 ($6,099 w/ABS)

Looks like a classic Isle of Man photo, no?

The Forza (full test here) is a sweet scooter indeed. Its name says Italian, its long, low look is reminiscent of the cult classic Helix, and its drivetrain and chassis do nothing to kill the buzz. More cruiseresque than the other players here, the riding position is slightly recumbent, and the seat lower by two or three inches than the others, which gives the Forza a light, low-CoG nimbleness. One downside of that low swoopiness is that the underseat storage is kind of shallow and slopes forward. The seat, which pivots at the front, doesn’t raise much past about 45 degrees, and makes it awkward to retrieve small items. A small price to pay, really.

It’s not the fastest nor lightest nor cheapest scoot, but the integration of all components make the Forza feel most organically whole and like a totally willing accomplice as you race the other rats. One strange thing you adjust to is the linked brakes: The right lever doesn’t do much, but the left one does. Use both and the Forza stops hard.

Everybody had nice things to say about the Forza, mostly:

Scott Shaffstall, PR genius: Why is the horn so big and where the turn signal should be? Other than that, awesome ergonomics. Great styling, great control panel, almost like a bike up front. Great compartment space. Toes a bit cramped. Great brakes. Smoothest powerband.

Thai Long Ly, Music Producer/Engineer: The Forza is a real contender for me, great throttle response … perhaps the best here. Twist and go, power delivery is typically Honda … smooth and refined. As is the engine. The bike handled well and was planted and firm like a frozen shrub. The seat was all-day comfortable and offered lots of room fore and aft. The seating position was just about perfect and put me in command of the substantial-feeling chassis. I found it got a bit buzzy on the freeway as you approached anything resembling 70 mph, so you’re best off buying a Maserati for freeway use. I’d consider rocking one of these some day…

Evans Brasfield: Around town the engine is so smooth it seems to transport you with magical powers. Still, the engine can’t be called all that powerful since the Forza tops out a little over 80 mph. The riding position is roomy and comfortable. Suspension is a mixed bag. Around town on smoother pavement, it handles smaller irregularities just fine, but larger bumps are transmitted directly to the rider’s ass. The underseat storage can be awkward to use – with the seat even falling closed on occasion – because it does not open anywhere near vertical, closer to 45 degrees.

At the end of the day, the Forza loses out, by less than a percentage point on the MO ScoreCard to:

Vespa GTS 300 Super ABS $6,599 – $6,799

What can you say? Even people who don’t like motorcycles or scooters like the Vespa. And if you do like scooters, the Vespa is sort of the Maserati of them (as it should be, at $6,799). More body panels are plastic now, but the wasp’s main exoskeleton remains real steel, and the rest of the package, though highly refined, remains true to the post-war original.

For 2015, there are all sorts of updates: ABS brakes front and rear, traction control (!), a new less-stictiony front suspension that dives less on the brakes and provides a smoother ride … the seat’s been restyled, new instruments are now fed by wheel-speed sensors instead of a cable. Many styling details have been updated, and a new, more powerful ECU runs everything. There’s a USB port in the glovebox up front, which can do all sorts of things with your smartphone, including tell you where you left your GTS parked. Which is sometimes nice.

Why grow up now? Or groom? Twelve-inch wheels and a wheelbase 5 or 6 inches shorter than the other scoots here make the Vespa the MetroGP champion.

Those tiny 12-inch wheels don’t inspire tons of confidence at the kind of velocity the 278cc Single can whip up, but they do make the GTS your own little Grand Prix racer around town. Steering is whippet-quick and accurate, and that little engine feels more powerful than the 22 hp Vespa says it makes at 7500 rpm.

Negatories include a tallish seat, at over 31 inches, and the absence of a sidestand.

Anyway, I believe this was a unanimous decision:

Scott S.: Vespa – Good bottom end. Responsive controls. Great handling even with little tires. Responsive bars. Great brakes.

Thai LL: This Italian supermodel felt the most like a real bike to me. The steering was decisively firm and planted, and the short wheelbase contributes to its nimbleness: Think midget sprinters. The engine was strong and pulled with ease while the small-diameter wheels easily leaned from side to side: Think of a team of sled dogs comprised of 20 Jack Russell terriers – strangely powerful. The suspension did have a tendency to get harsh over broken pavement and it seemed to bottom out without much provocation … terriers do have short legs, after all. Ergos were spot-on for my 5’5” frame, and the fit and finish was excellent. The bars were at the perfect height and the seat cradled my calloused ass with fervor. I’m not sure any scooter warrants this high a price tag, but I can see why it costs more than the others in this test. I’d seriously consider putting one in my garage next to the Street Triple R and the Harley.

Brasscannons: Of all these, I found the GTS 300 the most fun to ride around town. It’s perky and eager – kinda like your favorite puppy. Even its looks add to its friendliness, and its steering response adds to this feeling of eagerness. Without being overly twitchy, the response to inputs is immediate and sprightly. I couldn’t stop smiling on the Vespa – which is kinda funny since I place such a high value on things like weather protection and storage – neither of which the Vespa has much of. Still, every time I sat in the saddle, my own personal soundtrack started playing Katrina & the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine.” Maybe it was the blue paint…

Trizzle: Being a sportbike guy at heart, the GTS 300 is the one that takes me back to my roots. During our testing, I remember being unimpressed with the front ends of the other scoots here. They lack that planted feeling sportbike guys are known to depend on. The Vespa, however, was entirely different. The front felt planted, the short wheelbase made it quick to steer … to me it was a sportbike in so many ways. I loved riding it, and I loved looking at it when parked. Such a cool little scoot.

Respect the fur.

Let’s let Thai Long Ly play us on out, seeing as he’s a musician and all, with general thoughts about riding these scooters.

I had a Motobecane Traveler that was my very first ticket to motorized freedom when I was 9 years old; I was a bonafide prepubescent badass biker. As the other children waited at the school door for their parents to pull up and whisk them away, I’d strap on my maroon open-face helmet, cinch up my backpack straps, and start pedaling until the engine caught on my sparkling silver rocket, springing to life freedom and adventure. But I grew up, and the scooter I once cherished was sold to some girl at my high school. I’ve never looked back, and my fossil-fueled manhood has since been measured in lean angles, torque curves and premature tire wear. Surely, the lowly scooter… things that skinny bearded hipsters, cute girls in flowing dresses and grown-ass men who’ve lost their licenses to DUIs all ride around on in Hollywood, would make for a boring day of testing, right?

I am a bit hesitant to admit, but these things are FUN. I found myself laughing inside my helmet more times than I can count over the course of our testing. And I rarely do that riding big serious bikes … bikes that will rip your limbs off and slam you into armco railings if you so much as snicker at them. They’re so maneuverable and the power is so Kermit the Frog, that shy of being completely high on meth or ecstasy in an icy night’s storm, you’d be hard pressed to lose control. And get this: they flew down the freeway and split lanes comfortably up to 75 mph. They filtered to the front of traffic lights with cat-like stealthiness. They took off from said stop lights with zero effort and were a breeze to maneuver in tight city spaces – all while holding multiple bags of groceries. In fact, I would seriously consider owning one of these. To make a beer run or head to the bank on. To grab some take-out or simply take your cat for a spin. They’re that useful. I will never downplay their existence again. And because I’m not really bothered by being ignored by passing motorcyclists as I wave, that makes me a “real biker.” The million-dollar question is: “What gets more female attention, the Scooter or the Prius?” Hmm … that should be the next shootout.

Mid-Size MotoScooter Melee Scorecard

Citycom 300i
Super ABS
Quality, Fit & Finish80.5%67.0%75.0%67.0%83.0%
Cool Factor74.5%54.0%64.0%65.0%83.0%
Grin Factor72.0%56.0%68.0%60.0%81.0%
Overall Score78.3%72.1%77.6%73.3%80.4%

Mid-Size MotoScooter Melee Specifications

Vespa GTS300 Super ABSSYM
Citycom 300i
MSRP$5,599 (ABS: $6,099)$5,599$5,899$6,599 – $6,799$4,899
Type279cc liquid-cooled four-stroke Single298.9cc liquid-cooled four-stroke Sngle330cc liquid-cooled four-stroke Single278cc four-stroke liquid-cooled Single263cc four-stroke liquid-cooled Single
Valve TrainSOHC; 4 valves per cylinderSOHC; 4 valvesSOHC; 4 valvesSOHC; 4 valvesSOHC; 4 valves
Horsepower (claimed)24.5 @8200 rpm29.5032.8 @ 8,250 rpm (at shaft)22 @ 7,500 rpm20.6 @ 7,000 rpm
Torque (claimed)19 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm18.1023.8 lb-ft @ 6,250 rpm16.4 lb-ft @5,250 rpm17.3 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm
Front Suspension35mm fork; 3.7 in. travelTelescopic fork35mm forkSingle shock, single-sided swingarmTelescopic fork
Rear SuspensionTwin shocks, 3.8 in. travelDual shocks, preload adjustableDual shocksDual shocks w/adjustable preloadDual shocks
Front BrakeSingle 256mm disc with twin-piston caliper with CBS (third front brake piston is activated upon application of rear brake)Single 260mm petal-type disc with two-piston hydraulic caliperSingle 300mm discSingle 220mm disc w/ABS and traction controlSingle 260mm disc
Rear BrakeSingle 240mm disc with single-piston caliper with CBS (one front brake piston is activated upon application of rear brake)Single 240mm petal-type disc with two-piston hydraulic caliperSingle 240mm discSingle 220mm disc w/ABS and traction controlSingle 260mm disc
Front Tire120/70-14120/80-14110/70-16120/70-12110/70-16
Rear Tire140/70-13150/70-13150/70-14130/70-12140/70-16
Wheelbase60.9 in60.8 in.61.4 in.53.9 in.59.0 in.
Seat Height28.230.5 in.31.0 in31.1 in.31.5 in.
Curb Weight422.0 lbs (claimed)367.0 lb. (claimed)390.0 lbs (claimed dry weight)352 lbs (claimed curb weight)405.7 lbs (listed as “Net Weight”)
Fuel Capacity3.0 gal.3.3 gal.3.4 gal.2.4 gal.2.64 gal.
Tested Fuel Economy64 mpg56 mpg58 mpg61 mpg62 mpg
Available ColorsPearl RedPearl White, Burnt OrangeCero Opaco Carbonio, Bianco StellaMontebianco, Nero Lucido, Blu GaiolaMatte White, Matte Black, Chili Red, Titanium Gray
WarrantyOne year, unlimited milesTwo yearsTwo-year, unlimited mileage warrantyTwo-year, unlimited mileage warrantyTwo-year limited warranty
John Burns
John Burns

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3 of 13 comments
  • Al Al on Feb 16, 2015

    I thought this has been the most complete Mid size scooter shoot out ever! Thank You. I would have liked to hear more about the storage, fuel economy, maintenance costs, and every day commuter issues that you would face owning these machines. I ride a scooter daily in Denver, so utility and practicality is important to me. I probably put on 15,000-20,000 miles a year and also cruise on the weekends. What are insurance costs? How much to fill up? These scooters are not toys. Also I would like to have seen the People Gt300i scooter. Keep up the good work! The other thing is do I need to buy a top case to fit my groceries or helmets. Thank You again!

    • Al Al on Jul 07, 2015

      I'm torn between the Citycom, Forza, GTS300ie, and Downtown 3000. The 8000 and 6000 mile service intervals for the Honda and Vespa are impressive.. I like the HP of the Downtown 300i at 30 HP. Not sure about the storage of each scooter.

  • Mike Morrill Mike Morrill on Feb 17, 2015

    Thanks for the great comparison. Scooters rule, and 300cc is the perfect size. I bought a used BV250 here in Italy as my first scooter ever after 35 years of two wheeled riding and it is a total blast. I plan on getting the BV350 when I return to the states.