Best Buy Under $2000?

So here’s a product-testing paradox: how can a scooter lose and win the same race? Because that’s what happened here. Using Motorcycle-USA’s comparison method, when we subjectively rated the scooters’ performance, looks, ergonomics and ranked which we’d buy with our own money, the Piaggio products edged out the tied-for-second Honda and KYMCO.

That’s because the Piaggios’ components and design reflect the European buyer’s preference for style and quality. That Piaggio could build such nice scooters, in Europe (both had Italian VINs, though I’d guess the labor-intensive subcomponents came from Asia), for under $2000 says a lot about that company’s mastery of the scooter market. If you don’t need to go over 35 miles per hour, the Piaggio products – name your flavor – would be the pick of these testers.

The Metropolitan is a nice scooter, too. It looks great, is built nicely and is so easy to ride it’s like playing a video game. But its speed deficit just makes it impractical except for a limited market. It struggles to break 30 mph, and there isn’t much past that. If you have to have a Honda, and you live somewhere small…and flat…it’s fine, but if you want more versatility, it’s not a great value.

So here we are with the KYMCO Agility 125. It’s not the best-looking, best-built or best handling…but that stomping motor adds a whole new dimension of mobility to the owners’ life. It can charge up steep hills, carry a passenger without groaning too much, and it has enough speed to allow a rider to maintain a space cushion around him in most traffic situations. A gutsy rider may even try to sneak on a divided freeway for an exit or two at rush hour. For all its flaws, the Agility could represent freedom, fun and speed to a budget-conscious new rider – and that’s what scooters are all about.

We’d like to thank Beach City Mopeds for getting us the KYMCO Agility test unit.

But wait! There’s more…

Four bikes (okay, three) does not make a comprehensive overview of budget scooters. But it is pretty much everything you can get from the big players in the U.S. scooter industry for under $2000. But there are still more choices out there for a savvy buyer, and I’d kick myself if I didn’t let my readers know about two more picks under $2000, if you’re near a dealer that carries these lines.

The Genuine Buddy 50 is loaded with amenities and comes with a two-year unlimited mileage warranty.

One choice is the Genuine Buddy 50. San Francisco Scooter Centre principle Barry Gwin was excited I wanted to do a quick spin on the bike, and I knew why as soon as I got a whiff of the two-stroke exhaust. Two stroke? Srsly? Yep – even in California, you can get a brand-new oil-burner, and the Genuine is a good one. These scooters are made in Taiwan by former Piaggio license-builder PGO, and they are pretty good – I tested the Buddy 170i a while ago and was impressed by its performance and quality.

The Buddy 50 has the same solid, well-made feel as the 170i. In fact, it’s pretty much the same scooter, just with the smaller, lighter two-stroke engine. It weighs just under 200 pounds dry and is somehow both roomy and compact, though really big people might not be as happy as 5’7” me. It’s loaded with amenities I didn’t expect at this price point: 12-volt charger in the glovebox, disc front brake, passenger grabrail, and a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty with roadside assistance (they pay the first 100 miles of a tow).

Performance was good, far snappier and faster on top than a comparable-sized four-stroke. Top speed is probably around 40 mph, and it accelerates nicely, keeping up with traffic. Hills do slow it down, though. But Barry wanted to remind me the scooter is restricted mechanically so it complies with moped laws and other regulations – de-restriction is a time-honored tradition with 50cc scooters, and big-bore kits and other hop-up items can make the Buddy 50 a real urban terror. Handling is similarly snappy (but not scary), assisted by a small wheelbase and cute lil’ 10-inch wheels. The brakes, teeny disc in front and mechanical drum in the back, were more than adequate for such a small scooter.

I liked the vintage, but not overdone styling on the Buddy, but what if I wanted something a little bigger? Another San Francisco scooter shop, SF Moto, carries both SYM and Lance scooters, both lines imported by Alliance. The Lance scooters are made by SYM in mainland China, but are noticeably higher in quality than the no-name Chinese stuff, and are priced even lower than the thrifty SYMs.

The Lance 125 PCH has 12-inch wheels, a 31-inch seat height and weighs in at 240 pounds but slithers through traffic with ease.

I took out a tough-looking matte-black Lance PCH125. It’s big for a 125, with 12-inch wheels, a 31-inch seat and 52-inch wheelbase. It weighs in at 240 pounds, but it was hardly ponderous. It didn’t give me the mouse-on-a-motorcycle feel of the Genuine, but slithering through rush hour downtown San Francisco traffic, the kind that makes cabdrivers sob with frustration, was no problem. The disc/drum brakes were plenty strong, and the torquey, peppy four-stroke 124cc Single felt strong enough to leap tall buildings.

Want to go faster than the 125’s claimed 59 mph top speed? For another $300 over the Lance’s $1899 MSRP, you can get its bigger brother, the PCH150. It’s 151cc, has a claimed top speed of 65 mph and doesn’t weigh much more. Or maybe you don’t need to go so fast? There’s a PCH50, and it’s $1499.