Robert Ripley reported in one of his famed “Believe it or Not” cartoons that if the Chinese marched four abreast into the sea, they could continue doing so forever, as their numbers would be replenished by the population’s high birthrate. Well, that was about 80 years ago and now the sea is full, at least metaphorically. The Chinese have taken their place culturally, economically, militarily, and their influence will only grow.
Okay, I know that was a little heavy for a scooter review, but I needed some device to explain the styling of the Kymco Yager GT 200i I was riding recently. It’s heavily influenced by Italian and Japanese scoots, of course, but there’s more going on here. The steeply sloped front end, the sharp angles and long grill are definitely not the product of a Western company (although it’s possible Kymco has a European designer working in the design department) and the overall feel of the bike is somewhere in between the bland refinement of a Japanese product and the slapped-together verve a Euro-scoot may display. Just as the Japanese reached a point when their product design stopped following the lead of Western designers, the Yager shows that the Chinese are developing their own identity; you may not…er…appreciate what seems like some interesting design choices on the bike, but you gotta admit it has a unique look.
Kymco—aka the Kwang Yang Motors Co.—has been building scooters, motorcycles and all kinds of other things in Taiwan since 1963. It has since grown into a vast operation with a production capacity of over a million vehicles per year, with factories in four countries. It’s a private company with a distinct identity from other Taiwanese vehicle manufacturers. I say that because if you’ve seen one mainland Chinese company’s
The Yager comes complete with fuel injection and is powered by a 174.5cc liquid-cooled engine housed in a tube-steel frame and a claimed dry weight of 308 lbs.
scooter lineup, you’ve seen all of them; since intellectual property rights in the People’s Republic are viewed differently, if you develop a good product, it’s only a few months before all your competitors are making and selling it, too. So even though the Taiwanese speak Mandarin, smoke and wear bad suits like the mainland Chinese, they can make very high-quality and innovative products. Such are the advantages of liberal democracies and the rule of law. Hooray for the First World!
And that brings us to the Yager. Cruel jokes about Kymco’s marketing people needing a German-language spell check aside (“Jager” being Deustch for “hunter,” but kudos for renaming it from its domestic-market moniker: Dink), it does speak to the company’s quest for ever-larger market share of what is slowly becoming a larger scooter market in North America. The best tool for such a hunt, it would seem, is somewhere between 150cc and 200cc; big enough to ride on divided highways in most states, but small enough to get model-airplane-like fuel economy as well as manageable size—and price—for entry-level buyers.
The Yager is sort of in that zone. It’s propelled by a 174.5cc liquid-cooled, single-overhead cam Single complete with electronic fuel-injection. That’s built into a tube-steel frame with dual-shock suspension in back; a conventional fork with a single disc brake is in front. Wheelbase is a tidy 54.7 inches, and the seat height is a dauntingly motorcycle-like 31 inches; at five-foot six, I had to slide forward a bit on the seat to firmly flat-foot when stopped. Claimed dry weight is a big-boy 308 lbs. The whole thing is enclosed in that bike-from-the-future bodywork that imparts a slightly top-heavy look, kind of like it’s wearing a large hat. Nothing wrong with that; lots of people wear hats, and what you end up with is sort of a mini-maxi-scoot, if there is such a thing – something that looks good on the freeway in high-speed traffic.
Amenities are rife for a scoot in this price/displacement category. The underseat storage is large—room for a full-face helmet and then some. There’s a remote fuel-door release, an anti-theft cover for the ignition switch (a clever way to keep the screwdriver patrol from joyriding your pride and joy), fuel gauge, clock and speedometer (all digital), windscreen, passenger backrest and luggage rack, rear disc brake and a sidestand. Fit and finish are typically Taiwanese; very good but just a touch below what you’d expect from a Japanese or European manufacturer—the plastic is just a bit more shiny and brittle-seeming, gaps between body panels seem a 1/16th millimeter wider, the labels just a little more poorly translated. But not to worry: Kymco has an excellent reputation for durability and reliability it’s built up over the last 10-odd years in the North American market.
If you’ve ridden a Kymco scooter, the description of how nice the bike is to ride will be no surprise. In fact, “No Surprises” could be the Kymco slogan (which would be, in my opinion, a great improvement over the current slogan of “Better than Best”), because although you’ll probably never be overwhelmed by the power of a Kymco product, you’ll be very satisfied with how it performs. The motor starts quickly and easily thanks to the fuel-injection, and it’s ready to ride immediately. Around town, the responsive motor, coupled with the well-tuned CVT transmission, is practically overkill, as even the most aggressive soccer mom can’t keep up when the light turns green. At higher speeds, the torque-rich character of the Thumper engine tapers off and the bike struggles to get the needle past 70 mph—but for most of us, that’s plenty fast. It’s also reasonably smooth and quiet; thank liquid-cooling for that.
I will not wade into the big-scooter-wheels vs. small-scooter-wheels debate, mostly because I don’t really think there is one. A motorcycle or scooter’s stability and handling characteristics are much more affected by weight distribution, engine placement, steering geometry and other factors than wheel size alone, so if a salesman tells
The scooter has back-heavy characteristics and low ground clearance, but overall it is well-suited for the highway.
you bigger wheels are somehow safer, it’s because he’s trying to sell you a scooter with bigger wheels. Bigger wheels do go over bumps easier than smaller ones, but when you’re comparing a 13-inch wheel to a 16-inch wheel, how much difference will three inches make going over a two-inch pothole? The Yager has a 13-inch front and 12-inch rear, but the rubber is low-profile and offers up big, wide contact patches. Contrast this to the skinnier 16-inch wheels you see on big-wheeled scoots and you’ll see the trade-off.
In any case, the Yager handles with as much sure-footed stability as any scooter I’ve ridden. Steering is precise and easy, thanks to the wide bars, although the back-heavy characteristics of a scooter’s design—as well as the limited ground clearance—means a trackday is probably not in your future. But keep a sensible pace and the Yager can hunt down most other scooters in its class. The suspension is well-calibrated for most loads and situations, and adjusting the rear shocks is easy with the included tool kit. Braking is good too, if not superlative; you need a firm squeeze on both brake levers to stop quickly; it could use an extra disc and caliper up front.
So even though Kymco sponsors IndyCar, the Yager is no racer; but you knew that. How is it as transportation? Very serviceable. Fuel range is remarkable, with an estimated 70 mpg and about 3 gallons of fuel capacity. It’s also comfortable, with a wide, grippy seat and sufficient room for fuller-sized gentlemen. Wind protection from the small screen is noticeable, if not great. The spacious trunk is hard to fill up, but there’s a hook under the steering column for grocery bags and bolting a big trunk (Kymco lists a range of Shad top cases, from 26 to 45 liters on its website that will work with the Yager) onto the luggage rack is easy. You could even put a big sack of dog food onto the wide, flat floorboards. Try that with an 1198R!
So what we have here is a decent-handling, fun-to-ride scooter with excellent range, utility and economy. It also comes with a two-year warranty and a fairly developed national dealer network. To quote the guy on late-night T.V, now how much would you pay? European and Japanese-built scooters with these features and this amount of performance go for $4000 and more. They’re worth every cent, but what would you say if I told you this scoot’s suggested retail price is actually just $3499? (Interestingly, SYM added a disc rear brake and dropped the price of its HD200—which I tested on these pages last year—to $3399 for 2010.) Think of it as a Honda Accord, circa 1990: solid, reliable, a great value and interesting enough to ride that you won’t get sick of it before it wears out. Because that could be forever.
Even if Chinese culture and products don’t dominate the world, they’ll be an important part of it, and Kymco’s Yager shows me that won’t be a cause for despair. As consumers, more choice is almost always better, and plenty of good, value-priced choices is the best thing of all.