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MD First Ride: 2011 Honda PCX 125

Do you need a scooter?

Even those of you who despise scoots as fruity little girl-mobiles may have asked yourselves this question. That’s because a scooter is designed as a transportation device first and a recreational tool second. Contrast that with most motorcycles, which are often engineered with performance, cosmetics or other considerations placed before how efficiently the thing actually gets your butt from one place to another. Let’s face it: anyone who has ridden a scooter will tell you that for short commutes and errands, it’s hard to beat. Easy to ride, no need to work a clutch, your clothes stay cleaner, and there’s room for your stuff under the seat or in a locking trunk.

If there was a perfect scooter size, it would probably be on the smaller side of the spectrum. It’s always nice to have more power, but to make a scooter fast, it also has to be pretty heavy, and that weight is usually just where you don’t want it: in the giant swingarm/drive unit. Once you get too much over 150cc, that unsprung mass starts getting noticeable. If you need to go really fast, well, you have a motorcycle or a car already, right? Of course, too small and you start feeling ridiculous, not too mention terrified as you start losing stoplight drag races to homicidal Volvo-driving soccer moms and distracted delivery-van drivers. The sweet spot? 100 to 200cc, if you ask me.

Honda must agree: Big Red now has three models in that zone: the SH150, and now, new for 2011, the PCX 125. Honda hopes it’s the perfect product: not too fast, not too slow, not too small and not so big that it will discourage newbies. The word is 60 percent of PCX owners will be first-time buyers. They may be a little confused over the pros and cons of the PCX vs. the Elite 110, as the two products perform similarly and are priced within $300 of each other, but Honda is probably figuring shoppers want more than one style of scooter in this price/displacement category.

For $3,399, that new buyer gets some technology you’d have to look hard and long for 10 years ago. The 125cc motor is a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, single overhead cam design with an 11.0:1 compression ratio. Honda’s V-Matic automatic transmission gets power to the rear wheel. The frame is steel tubing with a unit-construction swingarm, and the wheelbase stretches 51.4 inches; compact, but not tiny. Wheels are 14-inchers with skinny bias-ply tires, a 90/90-14 in front and 100/90-14 in back—a compromise between the full-size wheels on the SH150 (which means less storage under the seat) and smaller wheels that give a jouncy, less-stable ride over urban potholes and bumps.

Braking is another area that sets the PCX apart. There is a 220mm disc and three-piston caliper in front, and a drum out back, but there’s also an interesting combined braking system. The rear drum is linked to the front three-piston caliper with a delay-spring mechanism that prevents the front brake from being activated before the rear, maximizing braking by evenly distributing stopping force between the front and rear wheels.

That’s a lot of tech on a 125cc scooter. So to keep costs down, the PCX is Honda’s first offering to the USA market from its Thailand factory, so it can still be priced affordably, if not exactly cheaply. But one technological trick left out is an “idling stop system” that automatically stops the motor during prolonged idling and restarts it as the throttle is turned. It’s claimed to net a five-percent savings in fuel economy but was left off the USA version because riding here tends to be a mix of urban, city and rural riding, which would minimize the benefits of the urban-intended system.

Like all Honda products, the PCX felt well-made, familiar and friendly. Build quality is quite good, with interesting design touches like the chrome bezel that swivels with the handlebar. I found the seating position very comfortable and natural, but taller riders than me (I’m 5′ 6”) may be a little cramped. The seat isn’t especially low at 29.9 inches, but it’s narrow enough at the front, so shorter folks can still easily handle the bike.

Honda’s obsessive product development comes through when you ride the PCX. The motor isn’t what you (or anybody) would call fearsome, but it does pull the 280-pound (ready to ride) scooter ahead of competing traffic, letting you maintain your space cushion and ride safely. I found the motor felt a little soggy in the mid range, and a little rough and buzzy nearing maximum rpm, but at your average 30-50 mph boulevard-cruising speeds, it was just right. Top speed can brush an indicated 60 mph if you have a gentle downhill slope.

Handling is where small scooters endear themselves to me, and the PCX has it right. Steering is quick and light, but it’s still stable and confidence-inspiring in high-speed, sweeping turns. There’s ample cornering clearance to have fun with too, although I did manage to scrape the centerstand tang once or twice riding Rancho Palos Verdes’ tight, bumpy coast road. The bike’s light weight is also handy when it comes to braking, as the small disc and three-piston caliper joined forces with the rear drum to produce quick, safe stops—it was difficult to skid the back tire.

After an hour of riding, the PCX showed it’s not a tourer. Even though the seat is comfortable for a while, there’s ample legroom for average-sized people, and there’s even a bit of wind protection, eventually I was feeling a little butt-burn and cramped. But I was stunned to find that the LCD fuel gauge hadn’t lost a single bar, even with 50 or more miles on the odometer. Maybe it was broken, but Honda claims 110 mpg, which means the PCX could squeeze 176 miles out of its 1.6-gallon tank.

That’s a good place to stop and talk about the economics of scooter ownership. At such a low buy-in, it’s clear a scooter owner would save thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars if he or she replaced a car with a scooter. But who’s going to do that? More likely you would supplement your car with a scooter, using the car to carry passengers and cargo and the scooter when it’s just a short trip to work or the store. So I did some calculations: if you rode the scooter 1/2 the time, and drove a 15-mpg SUV 1/2 the time, would the gas savings justify the approximate $1700 annual cost of financing, maintaining, insuring and gassing up a scoot like the PCX?

Figuring you drive 15,000 miles a year it wouldn’t make sense with $3.00-a-gallon gasoline: you’d only save $1,300 a year on gas, and the scooter would run you about $1,506 (not counting gas) the first year. But at four bones a gallon, you’d save $222 a year. And if gas got over the six-dollar mark, (“oh, that could never happen here,” you may say, but give it time), you’d save a thousand bucks a year, and still be able to drive a manly-man truck when you wanted to. Of course, there are other benefits to riding a scooter: parking costs may be reduced or eliminated, in California, you can lane-split through stopped traffic, and girls go crazy for scooters. Really.

Piaggio, the Italian company that makes Aprilia, Piaggio and Vespa-branded scooters, even has a word for this: scooternomics. It’s as if some cosmic force is paying you to ride a scooter. And can you put a price on the fun you know you’ll have (so long as your friends don’t see you), zipping along on a sunny day? Sure, scooters are slow, but piloting a 280-pound motorized vehicle is undeniably addictive. Just ask a Shriner.

In that bopping-around-town mode, the PCX shines. Underseat stowage is generous—there’s room for a helmet and other gear under the seat (25 liters, in fact), and an accessory trunk can fit another helmet. No room to hang grocery bags (or a purse) on the front like some scooters—the frame comes up too high. But there’s a parking brake, full instrumentation, a locking ignition cover (to keep screwdriver-wielding thieves away) and a remote fuel-door release. Very classy. But the PCX is expensive compared to other 125cc scoots. Aprilia’s SportCity 125 is only $2899, and Kymco’s Agility 125 is just $2049. But some products are good enough to deserve a premium price; if you can afford the good stuff, get the good stuff.

So do you need a scooter? Not if you’re 100-percent satisfied with the way a motorcycle handles short-range missions. But if you do decide a scooter makes sense, the PCX is affordable, friendly, well-made and fun to ride. Wear a full-face helmet with a mirrored visor, and nobody will ever know.

Photos by Honda and Kevin Wing

25 Comments

  1. Ron says:

    Have had mine almost a year in Thailand and I love it. Last week I rode 350 miles in one day. After a few hours the butt did get sore. I think an after market seat would make it better

  2. roseroo says:

    just assume when someone calls you “gay” that it’s a compliment.

  3. steveinsandiego says:

    i’ve ridden a suzuki burgman 650 with its cvt. it was fitted with a top box so i was bothered by lots of turbulence coming at me from all directions. performance was fine, as i recall. i’ve not had the opportunity to ride any other scooters. my kawis – 1600 vulcan and ninja 650 – do good fer now!

    i’m waiting for the suzuki strider
    http://s2.bikewalls.com/pictures/Suzuki_G-Strider_2004_03_1024x768.jpg

  4. markjenn says:

    I recall my father buying a Honda CB100 in 1971 that would do about 60mph top speed and got about 70 mpg, both about the same as this new PCX. And it only cost about $1200 in today’s dollars. This is progress?

  5. Yo says:

    The question isn’t whether I should buy this scooter to supplement my SUV. The question is whether I should buy this scooter in addition to my pickup, my sedan, my sportscar, my sportbike, my dual purpose bike, my wife’s dual purpose bike, and my wife’s dirt bike. Sometimes I think that we’re transportation obsessed here . . . er, maybe its just me.

    But, I still want one.

  6. Jeff says:

    I laugh at all the insecure boys out there calling scooters gay. I own and at various times drive the following: Jeep Cherokee, Toyota Tacoma, Suzuki GSF1200S, Genuine Black Jack 150 and an International FL4700 which is a 25,500 lb box truck. I keep the Black Jack scooter at my office and use it for errands around town. It also gets loaded into the back of the International when I have to take the truck in for maintenance. Chicks dig the scooter, it’s almost as good as a puppy. Why? It is non-threatening and chicks want to go for a ride every time. So to all you macho men out there afraid to own a scooter because it makes you feel ambivalent about your sexuality I say thank you. Keep thinking that way and I’ll just keep scootin’ around town.

    • ryan says:

      All those that think my scooter is gay just meet up with me later and i will bring out my Turbo charged Gsx-r 1000 if they wanna play!!

  7. Irv H says:

    $3,399 is outrageous. A Honda Clik cvt is only $1500 in Thailand. Knock, knock, hellooo, anybody home??

  8. Carl says:

    The Ducati article reminds me of the Honda Motorcycle company from days past. As a loyal owner of many years I am put out by the lack of Honda participation at events and rallies etc, etc.. I wish them luck in the scooter and electric devices market as move closer to a Ducati!

  9. ryan says:

    WE have USA Mentality due to many readers have never been overseas..I was in Asia and just in the mall was 250-300 scooters and motorcycles less than 155 cc..These things are great and as far as chicks while i was over there i met hundreds i mean hundreds of women that wanted rides or went riding with me.Anyone can call me gay when i have that many women around me if works for me..Dont buy a scooter over there if your married..

  10. kpaul says:

    I saw a cute girl on a red scooter on the freeway doing 65 mph. Ah to be 20 something again. Sorry but I can’t ride a scooter my frail male ego won’t let me do it. But I do love to see women on them, or HD Sportsters, or Sport bikes. Heck women on any two-wheeled vehicle is just sexy. But guys on scooters is… the only reason they are chick magnets cause the women just want one…. just kidding Derby

    • kpaul says:

      I think I would get the same feeling riding a scooter as I do when I drive my wife’s mininvan. Which she loves by the way. I have offered to buy a new car but she loves the van.

      • kpaul says:

        In the picture of Gabe riding the scooter his expression says I can’t wait till I get off this thing and on a real bike.

  11. Irv H says:

    The Honda Dream, the best selling bike in the history of the world. They won’t bring it to America because there isn’t a market for it. There wasn’t a market for the Rune or the DN-01(or the pacific coast, varadero etc etc), but that didn’t stop them from trying to sell the things. They already make an FI version of the Dream to meet Thai emission standards.

  12. SupraStar says:

    I’ve ridden a couple of scooters (usually while on vacation). I had the opportunity to try an Aprilia SR50R. 2 stroke, direct injected, 50cc. It was “de-restricted”. It was good for nearly 55MPH, sounded great (mini GP?). And the fuel economy was over 120MPG. And it looked about as sporty as a scooter can. I’d get one just for bopping into town or to run errands. It’s worth checking out…

    Won’t ever replace my 690 Duke, but scooters have their place.

  13. Derby says:

    I have a Moto Guzzi Griso, a BMW R110RT, and recently a Ducati Sport 1k, and a BMW R1200S, and a Guzzi NERO CORSA. I also have a Vespa GT 200. Anyone who says they’re GAY, or slow, or whatever, is an idiot. The Vespa is one of the most fun rides I have or have had. I have put 6k miles on it in 4 years, commute on it every day I can. And let me say this to the one who said they’re GAY – Like it or not, that green Vespa of mine is a complete chick magnet. Don’t know what it is, but believe me, there is no question about that. Even I have to agree that’s a little weird, and I don’ have the answer, but it is without question a chick magnet.

  14. Dennis Bitner says:

    Just wish they had it in a 250 version, just a bit more power would be better for us big guys…

  15. ryan says:

    Let me tell you a little bit about Honda scooters..Just last week thier is an article out u can read on a pair of Honda 150s that were ridden from Jacksonville Florida to San Diego California by a father and son from Elpaso Texas both on 150s and those Scooters were held wide open 95 percent of the time and performed perfectly without a hiccup.The article is on mr.motorcycle.net

  16. Jay Mack says:

    I rode my first scooter (since a Honda 50 in 1964) just this weekend. I went to pick up my bike from the shop and had forgotten my keys, so MAC let me use one of their rental scooters. It was a 150 Buddy.
    It was a lot of fun and worked great. Although it went 60 mph, it was still a little weak for my tastes. I think it needs more power. It was a lot of fun on a beautiful day. I think I want one.

  17. Ziggy says:

    Nah dude, they’re still gay.

  18. Tom Barber says:

    Scooters are always cute, and they would no doubt be fun. But the power-to-mass ratio is generally not good. It gets better as you go toward larger scooters, and it is not always true (contrary to what the article suggests) that the increased weight is added to the unsprung weight in the swingarm. Some of the larger models mount the engine in the main chassis. But when you go to a larger scooter, you sacrifice that obvious advantage in the ease of pushing it around, and of holding it upright when straddling it or when standing next to it.

    Some other reasons that people probably like scooters are the ease of getting on and off, and comfort and convenience. You don’t have to perform a yoga exercise to get on and off. But if you don’t object to that maneuver, it is worth noting that small dirt bikes and dual-purpose bikes are nearly as easy to push around, and they tend to have much better power to weight ratio. But in addition to the penalty in the effort to get on and off, and in comfort generally, you lose the ability to easily control the lean angle while standing over the bike. If you can even stand at all while straddling the seat.

  19. Farid says:

    The headlight reminds me to VFR1200. In southeast asia, where most people rides scooter and cub, it is such a common thing if there is different model of bike from a brand with the same sparepart, such as head light, tail light, brake calliper, etc. Btw, that PCX looks pretty good. I hope Honda will sell it in southeast asia.