Sportbikes have an appeal all their own, but today's economy has forced the industry to focus on beginner models as more riders look to escape soaring gas prices.
These are strange days to be an enthusiast of, well, anything with wheels. Such a conclusion occurred to me the other day while talking to the owner of the local GM dealer who was busy waxing poetic about the charms of the new Chevy Volt to one of his most loyal customers. The spiel was equal parts sales-pitch and sympathy generating, with claims of GM essentially forcing each dealer to carry one Volt while simultaneously getting their techs up to snuff on all of the intricacies (training) and tools required for service of the battery powered vehicle.
The sales pitch was unsuccessful in this particular case, but it was educational even from my eavesdropping. I think the magnitude of the state of affairs these days wasn’t made clear to me until a few hours later, when, as is tradition for this time of year, I meandered into several of my favorite motorcycle dealerships to ogle and fondle the 1000cc class superbikes. The first multi-brand-carrying dealer I visited didn't have a single liter-bike on the floor, but seemed to be using precious sales space to move discounted snowmobiles and leftover ATVs. The second place I visited had only a single 600cc bike in stock and a 1000 repli-racer in the window.
“What gives?” I asked my fellow race-bike aficionado/counter jockey, Nick. “Where are all the new crotch rockets?”
“The high gas prices,” he responded with a sigh. “Everyone’s expecting this to be a big year for beginner bikes and scooters.”
And indeed, as if verbal confirmation was necessary for me to realize it, the showroom was quite tightly packed with scooters of varying make, model and size. I checked out the Aprilia offerings and, to ensure that the trip wasn’t totally in vain, slid into the saddle of the only massive Suzuki
A short trip on the Yamaha Zuma revealed scoots still have a certain charm not lost on someone as devoted to speed and burnouts as our contributor.
Burgman 650 they had on hand. Sure, there was the natural curiosity all motorcycle enthusiasts expect when mounting up on something they don’t own, have never ridden, and haven’t researched so thoroughly as to be scholarly on the subject. But still, I would be lying if I said it made up for the lack of ZX-10R machines to straddle.
“Well,” I said, glancing toward the Honda CBR250R with sudden and genuine interest, “this is the second time today I’ve heard of high gas prices making themselves known through dealer inventory.”
“Yeah,” Nick agreed, “it’s forcing a lot of enthusiasts to make changes. A few of my race buddies and I have been working on getting an unofficial scooter series underway, sort of treating them like we did supermoto a few years back. If you want to see how much fun they can be on the track, stop by one evening night for a few laps on mine.”
As fate would have it, the following day would prove one of the only without torrential rain the entire month of April (don’t even ask me about the tropical rainforest that once was my yard)… Anyway, I stopped by in the ever-lengthening evening to find Nick wrenching away on a well-used Yamaha Zuma powered by the 50cc two-stroke engine.
“I picked this one up just before the demand for scooters really started picking up,” he told me. “Paid $900 bucks for it off Craigslist but I haven’t found another for under $1500 lately. I guess that’s expected when people hear these things can get 123 miles-per-gallon.”
The list of modifications was still pretty minimal, from what I gathered: stickier-than-OEM rubber, removal of the oil-injection system, opening of the airbox, boring of the exhaust and jetting to compensate from the freer flowing air tract.
Of course, there's still plenty of time for hooligan antics - even on a 50cc scooter!
My test ride was limited to a few spins up and down his quiet street, but I have to say that the charms of the little two-stroke weren’t lost upon this former YZ125 track rat. Hard cornering with the floorboards still took some concentration even after a few wide-open runs, but the V-belt automatic transmission coupled with the snap of the two-stroke could pull some pretty impressive wheelies by simply grabbing a handful of throttle.
After about four lively loops, I began to get into the zone. I weighted the outside and let the bike carve a crisp 180 at the end of the cul-de-sac, put all my weight forward to keep the front end planted. With a twist of the right wrist, I sent the world streaking past, a blur of mailboxes and concrete driveways. I tucked as well as I could behind Yamaha’s wall-like frontal fairing for increased aerodynamics. Tires squealing, at the very edge of control, for a brief moment I was Ben Bostrom with Tommy Hayden in hot pursuit. Then I looked at the speedometer: 34 mph. But perhaps most importantly, a mere few drops of gasoline consumed.
I handed the steed back to its rightful owner with a newfound appreciation for but another segment of industry I’m guilty of neglecting in my lust for power, handling and top-speed. I suppose somewhere in here lies a tale about the resiliency of motorcycle enthusiasts and their inability to be swayed from competition, even in the darkest of economic climates. If that’s what you are able to take away from this, good for you. I, on the other hand, am busy pondering the question which is surely on everybody’s mind right now: what would it be like to ride a Zuma powered by a liquid-cooled 600cc Inline Four?