Although the SYM HD200 is named like a computer peripheral, the styling is sleek and unique, but not overdone.
It’s funny, but riding a scooter can bring out the philosopher in you. That’s because the scooter is the motorcycle’s younger brother, the motorcycle 2.0 if you will, created in the mid-20th century to solve many of the inadequacies motorcycles present. Motorcycles are difficult to ride, with their hand controls and foot controls and clutches and peaky, heady power delivery. They also get you greasy and dirty and put little dents on the tops of your boots. And who wants to wear boots all the time? And what the hell am I supposed to do with this ridiculous-looking helmet when I’m parked? Carry it around with me like I’m some kind of fraternity pledge? Even a Yugo has a trunk. Say I just want to go to the burger place and bring back some burgers, fries and drinks for a few people. A bone-stock GSX-R1000 may be able to finish in the top ten of an AMA race, but I guarantee the rider will have diet Dr. Pepper spilled all over his race leathers, and the burger will be a smooshed, soggy mess after the first two laps. Motorcycles have the look, the performance, the cool factor we like, but they’re pretty crappy urban errand-runners, which can make a motorcyclist question his entire raison d’etre.
So we might as well sacrifice exclusivity, ground-breaking technology or sexy design on the altar of ultimate practicality and economy. The balance of these factors gives you a small-displacement, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled scooter with room for a helmet under the seat, safe, stable handling, enough speed to comfortably run on even an interstate highway, and toaster-oven levels of reliability and economy of operation. I think SYM’s HD200 might be the sweet spot.
“That’s fine,” you say, “But who is SYM?” Sanyang Motors is one of the older industrial concerns in Taiwan, with roots going back to 1954. SYM makes a range of products, including 35,000 automobiles and 300,000 motorcycles and scooters a year.
It’s an established brand, with a two-warranty and around 150 dealers nationwide. The company sells three large-displacement models here, and I chose the least-expensive one to test, the HD200.
Although the HD is named like a computer peripheral, the styling is sleek and unique, but not overdone. It could easily be an Italian scooter, although it does posses enough character to make it look uniquely Taiwanese. Underneath the silvery plastic skin it’s pretty standard scooter stuff: a carbureted, liquid-cooled, 171.2cc overhead-cam engine good for a claimed 15 hp, tube-steel frame and CVT automatic transmission. Sixteen-inch wheels sport wide-ish tires (a 110 section in the front and 120 in the back), and there’s a single-caliper 220mm-disc brake in front, with a drum in the back (2010 models will have discs front and rear). For luxury appointments, you get locking underseat stowage for a full-face helmet, a sturdy luggage rack on the back of the bike, fold-out passenger footrests, and both a side and centerstands. There’s even a fuel gauge, clock and small windscreen included for the bike’s $3798 MSRP, along with a two-year warranty.
The HD200 offers what every good scooter should have, an ample-sized seat and locking underseat storage for a full helmet.
If you’ve had a (probably negative) experience with a Chinese-made scooter, you will have low expectations approaching a SYM. Although the build quality and feel of the plastic components isn’t exactly the same as you’d find on Japanese or European-made scooters, you’ll literally feel the difference between Communist China and free-market, democratic Taiwan. The paint is smooth and evenly applied, the feel of the controls is crisp and precise, and everything seems to have been assembled with pride and care. The motor starts quickly and cleanly, with almost no perceptible warm-up.
The HD200 is a decent place to spend some seat time. With 16-inch wheels, it’s sized for larger people, and the bars are low and well-placed. There’s enough room on the wide, flat floorboards for wide, flat feet, and the big frame and long 55-inch wheelbase give even taller folks room for their knobby knees and gangly elbows. The seat, covered in an especially grippy material, is wide and nicely shaped, with decent support and padding.
You may also have low expectations of a 171.2cc engine. More surprises: this thing rips. Yes, I wrote “rips.” This is a great sub-250 motor, with tremendous low and mid-range power. City traffic is no match for this thing, as are hills or even freeway onramps. I was very impressed with the way the CVT and final drive are set up: it exploits the kick of the motor almost perfectly. The power doesn’t really taper off much; I saw 80-plus mph on the speedometer on long downhill stretches, a number confirmed by another HD200 rider’s GPS unit.
Handling is another shiny star on the HD’s lapel. The suspension settings are firm and sporty, but don’t worry about getting jounced off the seat; there’s plenty of damping and compliance. The rear shocks have five preload conditions, and if you’re thinking I’m kind of scrawny, so of course the suspension is firm enough for me, not to worry: the rear preload was set to the softest of five positions when I was testing the bike. The full-sized wheels are great for several reasons. They make potholes and speedbumps less onerous, give the bike plenty of cornering and ground clearance, and keep handling neutral and stable. But turn-in is still scooter-quick. It’s like getting a scooter with a motorcycle stuffed inside it. Or the other way around. Or something like that. However you think about it, the HD200 is great to ride.
It’s not perfect, and the main flaw is braking. I tested an older disc-and-drum version, and I found them lacking in both power and feel, especially at high velocities. It’s almost like the powertrain engineers forgot to tell the braking guys how fast the HD can go; at around-town speeds the brakes are just fine, and you quickly learn to adjust following distance and ride less aggressively. Or else.
In the under-$4000 scooter market, scooter customers are frequently buying their first scooter, and they want to be sure the scoot is ideal for every possible kind of trip they will make. That is, of course, impossible; bigger scoots are less practical around town and smaller ones kind of suck on the open road. This 200 might be near the sweet spot. Weighing in under 300 pounds wet (as claimed by SYM), it’s pretty easy to handle at low speeds, lift onto its stand, or back into a parking spot. But it’s also got enough comfort and high-speed stability for long rides.
Really long rides. Last September, San Franciscan Patrick Owens rode a 2006 SYM HD200 in the 2008 Cannonball Scooter Rally, a coast-to-coast nine-day ride. Owen’s bike took a first place in the automatic-190 class. Probably a factory-prepped ringer, eh?
Hitting the sweet spot of scootering, the HD200 can manage well on city streets and long, high-speed rides.
Hardly. Owens’ bike was a much-abused service loaner from SF Moto, the local SYM dealer, with over 3000 miles on it at the start of the trip. To make sure they got their bike back, the service department guys added a 3-gallon JAZ tank to boost range and vented the variator cover to prolong belt life. Owens reported no mechanical problems and the bike consumed less than four ounces of oil in 3300 miles. He also reported fuel economy in the 60-70 mpg range, riding the bike hard the whole way. He used 55 gallons of gas, and the only mechanical issue he had was a broken kickstand.
Of course, you may not need to go across country. You may just need to go a few blocks, to pick up the aforementioned burgers and fries. No problem. Four drinks in a cardboard carrier wedge perfectly on the floorboards between your feet, and a plastic shopping bag full of food can either go under the seat or hang off the sturdy grocery-bag hook that folds flat on the inside of the legshield under the steering column. Ride gingerly, to keep soda from spilling on your shoes, and before you know it you’re back at the office. Nobody even thinks you didn’t take your car. If it’s grocery shopping you’re doing, you can load three grocery bags on the hook and under the seat, and adding a top box to that luggage rack will help you pack even more. I’ll bet you could get a 20-pound sack of dog food on the floorboards as well. Pack one of Aerostich’s ingenous Lightwieght Portable Bags and you might never need to drive your car again. It’s the world’s smallest pickup truck.
I got a lot of use out of the bike in the week I had it. It was ideal for high-speed 15-mile commutes, even in the rain, and the two-gallon tank and 60-ish mpg economy gives acceptable fuel range. If it weren’t for sport riding, touring, or protecting my he-man reputation, this scooter would do everything I need a motorcycle to do. At $3798, the HD200 is priced something like $1000 less than its Japanese and European competition. But it doesn’t give up much in terms of performance, reliability or fun. But you’ll have to work out your existential crisis on your own.