Super Commuter Scooter
“You rode a scooter from L.A. to San Francisco?”
You bet I did. And you would too, if your scooter had a nice windscreen, generous storage and enough power to pass semis going up the Grapevine Pass like they were in reverse. Welcome to the future, when having a scooter doesn’t mean riding a cute little pink tiddler with a milk crate attached to its cheaply chromed parcel rack. It’s 2009 and even though we don’t have jetpacks, we do have the Maxi-Scooter. It’s a new mode of 21st-Century transport, shuttling well-heeled business people around dense mega-metropolises. Even in these days of a struggling automotive industry, the jumbo scooter category is a growing one, with almost every major brand selling one or more models of 400cc-and-larger scooters.
Taiwanese manufacturer Kymco, after establishing a foothold in the US market with smaller scoots and motorcycles, introduced its maxi, the Xciting 500, in 2006. The 500Ri is the same machine with several upgrades. For 2009, the Xciting gets a lower, smoke-colored screen, fuel-injection and optional ABS brakes. It’s a big bike, with a claimed dry weight of 488 pounds (with the optional ABS) and a 61.8-inch wheelbase. Power comes from a liquid-cooled, DOHC, 498.5cc fuel-injected Single with modern, oversquare 92mm by 75mm bore/stroke numbers. Wheels are maxi-size, too, with a meaty 150/70-14 tire size in back and a 120/70-15 in front. It’s a big scooter, designed for big people who want to go far – and fast.
Maxi-scoots are flagships for their brands, and have luxurious appointments to match. The Xciting is no Xception, with plenty of high-class touches. Under the seat you’ll find an illuminated storage compartment with room for a full-face helmet (a helmet hook will accommodate a passenger’s lid) and more. A 12-volt cigarette-lighter outlet is there, along with a holder for your electronic device, be it phone, iPod or small toaster-oven. There’s a locking glove box under the dash for…gloves, and an easy-to-access, non-locking stashbox at the front of the seat lets the rider stow sunglasses, toll money or any other sundries the ride demands.
For 2009, the Kymco Xciting gets a lower, smoke-colored screen, fuel-injection and optional ABS brakes.
Riding the Xciting isn’t so much exciting as it is satisfying, more sport-wagon than sport-coupe. The seating position is familiar to anybody who’s ridden a big scoot; wide, thickly padded seat, tall bars that fall perfectly to hand, and big floorboards that splay your feet out when the bike is stopped. That wide stance and a 30.25-inch seat height made it a bit of a stretch to reach the ground with my 30-inch inseam, and backing it up while parking may result in a lot of grunting and puffing. But the weight is low to the ground, and after all, it does have a motor to move you around.
A motor that is supremely easy to use. It fires up quickly and is ready to ride right away, thanks to the nicely sorted fuel injection. Acceleration is brisk but not head-snapping; the CVT is tuned and geared to deliver freeway-speed passing power rather than off-the-line craziness. But once at freeway speeds the Xciting can cruise, pass, and generally hold its own even in the most aggressive rush-hour traffic. Top speed is somewhere around 100 mph, although you’d probably have to have some wind at your back or a long downhill slope to see that on the speedo.
That brings us to the handling part of the review, where most scooters show their limitations. The Kymco is part of that club, but it’s no worse than other large scooters. What makes a scooter a scooter is the location of the powertrain unit, which doubles as a swingarm. That means a big chunk of the bike’s weight is unsprung mass; a minor concern with a lightweight runabout, hard to hide when you’re talking about a 500cc road warrior like this. And not only is that big lump unsprung, it also keeps a lot of weight very close to the rear axle, which helps explain why Kymco isn’t fielding a MotoGP team. Maybe Kymco can sponsor a race series: American Maxi-Scooter Cup?
Ride the bike at a sane pace and things are fine. The wide bars offer plenty of leverage, making the bike surprisingly nimble. The big 15-inch front wheel and long wheelbase keep things stable, and there’s more cornering clearance than many big cruisers I could name (but won’t) offer. The brakes do what they’re supposed to do, although that lighter front end and small wheel mean you’ll never have front-end feedback like a motorcycle’s. Push it to its limits and it starts to feel like a scooter, a big, heavy scooter. At high speeds – law-breaking speeds – the steering feels more distant than I like, and the rear end wallows. In fact, it feels a lot like maxi-scoots from other manufacturers, such as the Honda Silver Wing and Suzuki Burgman 400. They’re not for carving precise arcs through sweeping mountain passes at triple-digit speeds; stick to the Xciting’s intended mission and it performs.
That mission is long-distance commuting. Room for your stuff? You bet: that lighted, carpeted under-seat compartment holds a gym bag or a couple of bags of groceries. Comfortable? For sure: the seat is nicely shaped and padded, and even has an adjustable rider’s backrest. The 3.8-gallon fuel tank promises good range to riders with a restrained wrist, although I returned mpg numbers in the 30s, cruising at 70 mph plus on Interstate 5. Wind protection may not be the Kymco’s strong suit. The 2008 model’s higher windscreen was lacking in coverage; the sporty cut-down screen on the 500Ri looks cool but doesn’t afford the same protection.
There are other nice touches. There is full instrumentation: clock, tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges. The twin single-pot brake calipers are finished in a snazzy red, grip cool wave-style rotors and use braided steel brake lines. Build quality is about what you’d expect from a Japanese factory, and that’s actually not surprising: Taiwanese companies have been building components and whole vehicles for Japanese and other brands for many years. In fact, a Taiwanese-built Honda CRV may be in your garage right now, and BMW is building its G-series engines on a line in the Kymco plant. On the 500Ri, that means paint is deep and glossy and plastic parts fit and feel right. It’s so good, in fact, that Kymco offers a two-year warranty.
You may be wondering about the suitability of the 500Ri for a new rider. I found it was certainly easy to operate and a breeze to ride at low speeds, with an excellent turning radius for something this size, and a mellow power delivery that will keep you out of trouble. But it is heavy, and while it hides its weight at low speeds, eventually you’re going to be going faster, and more weight is less forgiving than less weight. A new rider, even one with some training under his or her belt, is going to make mistakes. Do you want to make those mistakes on a 500-lb scooter or a 250-lb scooter?
“Functionally, as a commuter, I’d be inclined to choose one as my daily ride, especially if I was spending a lot of time in stop-and-go traffic or on city streets.”
Or maybe you’re a motorcycle guy and you want something a little lower-impact for commuting. Will you miss your gearbox, clutch and moto-macho image? You need to re-calibrate your expectations; the question isn’t how well the Xciting compares to a motorcycle. It’s not a motorcycle and shouldn’t be compared to one. Although functionally, as a commuter, I’d be inclined to choose one as my daily ride, especially if I was spending a lot of time in stop-and-go traffic or on city streets. At $6799 with ABS, or $6299 without, it’s not exactly a bargain, as there are other scooters that offer similar performance for around the same price. But it is a stylish, well-made and comfortable scooter that will get the job done, even if the job is 400 miles away.