Charleston, South Carolina, is a city steeped in tradition—while looking to the future. It’s a melange of old and new, a bouillabaisse of different cultures, an eclair of eras and languages, a veritable Wal-Mart Super Center of, um..well…
Okay, I suck as a travel writer. But Charleston is a beautiful city, and who knew? When you think of historic American cities, New Orleans or maybe Boston pop into your mind, but Charleston deserves a visit if you’re interested in history, architecture, art, food—all the things that cities are celebrated for. And maybe that’s why Kymco USA decided to use that 340-year-old location as a backdrop for its 2011 new product launch.
I write that because if you think about scooters, Kymco may be the fifth or sixth brand that occurs to you, and that’s unfair. As I reported in 2009, Kymco has been building high-quality automotive products in Taiwan since 1963 and has had a presence in the North American market for at least a dozen years. The Kymco products I’ve ridden have been well-designed, well-built and offered outstanding economy, performance and reliability. Scooter dealers love to carry them, and Kymco owners (judging by the traffic on scooter fora) are a loyal bunch. And yet, scooterists ride past the Kymco shop for the other brands.
So what’s new for 2011? An all-new model and an all-new engine. The engine is a 205cc four-stroke Single, fuel-injected and liquid-cooled. If you’re familiar with the Kymco line-up, the addition of a powerplant so close in displacement to the 174.5cc mill in the Yager 200 may seem odd, but apparently Kymco has no problem with engine development (in fact, the company makes motors for BMW and Husqvarna models). A more powerful and fuel-efficient powerplant was needed for the European market (which sells a lot of scoots in the 150-250cc range, perfect for Europe’s crowded, narrow streets), which Kymco has clearly set in its sights.
The 205 goes into the new People GT 200i. The People represents Kymco’s line of big-wheel scooters, similar to Aprilia’s Scarabeo. It gets 16-inch hoops front and back, with motorcycle-ish 110/70 and 140/70 tire sizes. Five-position adjustable dual shocks suspend the back, with conventional forks up front. Wheelbase is 57 inches, and claimed dry weight is 364 pounds. Yikes! Add gas, coolant, battery and whatever else and you’re looking at a 400-pound 200cc scoot.
Luckily, the new 205cc mill is pretty good. It fires right up, has excellent throttle response, and goes exactly as fast as you need a scooter to go. The riding we did was pretty sedate (and I have to admit I missed a day of riding so I could attend another event), but we had a few chances to try to hit top speed and I couldn’t do it, even with 70 mph on the speedometer. Acceleration was brisk, considering the small size of the engine and the weight of the bike. A 2.4-gallon tank should get you most of the way to 150 miles, depending on how you ride.
Styling may be polarizing, but it’s pretty staid compared to the Yager. It’s an interesting combo of sharp angles and sculpted shapes, original without being wacky. The seat is a little high at 31.9 inches, but it’s narrow and low at the front, so shorties can handle the bike easier than the numbers suggest, further aided by a scooter’s low center of gravity and quick steering. Handling is very good, light and predictable yet stable. The brakes are also very serviceable, although it’d be nice to see the ABS option the flagship Xciting 500i offers.
A drawback of the People’s big wheels is the lack of storage. The underseat area is but a shallow tray that won’t even fit a half helmet. However, there are two helmet hooks, as well as a standard rear trunk, with a lock matched to the ignition and ample room for a full-face helmet, or maybe a large pumpkin.
The People line is also reinforced by the People GT 300i. This uses the 299cc motor I experienced in the Downtown 300i I rode in 2009. That’s a good powerplant, for sure—it’s smooth and powerful and I remember going 80 or more mph in an undisclosed location back then. What’s interesting is that Kymco, through transmission tuning (did you know CVT trannies use little weights in a device called a “variator” that can be changed to deliver different acceleration characteristics?), has made the Downtown 300 and the People 300 feel like very different scooters. The People GT will walk away from the Downtown in low-speed roll-on tests, and I can only assume that the Downtown will have a higher top speed. But other than different acceleration and vibration levels, the 300i feels a lot like the 200i. Kymco claims the same weights for the two models.
One thing that surprises me about Kymco is the pricing. Scoots from mainland China are as cheap as two-wheeled transportation gets, but these new Kymco models are priced like a luxury brand. The People GT 200i is $4899, and it’s $5399 for the 300i. The Downtown 200i is $5199. But Kymco is hiding some bargains, as well—the very functional (but air-cooled and much slower) 163cc Like 200i has had its MSRP slashed to $2599 and the bare-bones Agility 125 is just $1799. And all Kymco scooter models get a two-year factory warranty, double what the Japanese factories offer.
With gas prices always an issue these days, motorcycle dealers are reporting renewed interest in scooters. And new scooter buyers aren’t as price-sensitive as traditional motorcycle shoppers—after all, $5000 won’t buy you a lot of car, particularly if you’re trying to save money on gas.
My brief rides on the new Kymco models showed me they deserve premium pricing—whether American consumers will agree will soon be apparent. Maybe they’ll book a flight to Charleston as well.