Scooter Conundrum

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For many motorcyclists, scooters can be something of a taboo. Perhaps you owned one in college, noticed that cute coworker riding theirs into work, or most likely have one buried in the back of your garage that’s been sitting there since the early 90s. Whatever the case, many motorcycling aficionados try not to be caught on one unless they absolutely have to be.

But just for a moment let’s examine the facts.

Scooters are:

  1. Relatively cheap
  2. Easy to maintain
  3. Get fantastic gas mileage
  4. Don’t take up much space

Based on these points alone, most consumers would give serious thought to purchasing one. So why is it that when the question of “would you buy a scooter?” is put to most motorcyclists, the answer is often no?

Deciding to find some clues to this conundrum, I called up a few manufacturers to see what they had available to test. I was looking for something highway legal offering over 200ccs. As much fun as a small scooter would be, experience dictates that sooner or later you’ll need to jump on a main road that requires speeds above 40 mph. Soon after speaking with Suzuki I was all set to test out a Burgman 400 for the next month. With The Ride’s garage down to just a dirt bike and an MV Agusta due to be returned in a few days, it looked like the Burgman and I would have plenty of time to bond. My new mission of man on a scooter began.

Back in Black

In the looks department both the 2014 and 15 Burgman 400 come in a sexy Metallic Matte Black finish. Adding to the cool factor, my test model came with a color matched Givi Tail Case. Not only did this scooter look good, but it also had extra storage space on top of what was already built in under the seat and in the center console. I’m always complaining about storage space, so this machine had already accrued some serious bonus points.

Being 6 ft tall and weighing between 190-195 lbs, I don’t consider myself a small guy. Likewise, even though the Burgman 400 has a relatively tiny engine compared to most motorcycles, it is over 7 feet long and carries a curb weight of 489 lbs. In short, it feels like a large machine, although technically it’s not. To further prove this point, on one of my local rides I asked some bikers to guess what engine size the scooter was. Almost everyone overshot and the common answer was between 600 to 800ccs. More bonus points there!

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Speaking of the engine, getting used to a scooter that revs to 5000 RPMs when taking off promptly is a little disconcerting at first. Not because it feels unsafe, but more than once your brain nags you to find out if the fuel injection and transmission are functioning properly. After spending a fair amount of time at the launch controls, I can assure you that they are. One of the real pleasures of riding around on the 400 is how fast you get used to the natural feel  and movement of the machine. Highway speeds were 20131218_163832_Richtone(HDR) copyeasily attainable over many freeway outings and  getting the hang of maneuvering through traffic was a cinch.

Two weeks into riding the Burgman an overwhelming feeling of uneasiness started to creep over me.  Not because I wasn’t enjoying myself, but because I was having a little too much fun. What was going  on here? In fact, not only had I not received any laughable looks from fellow riders, but the only flak  encountered so far was from grizzled Harley types who didn’t wave back when passing in the oncoming  lane. (This, however, seems to be a regular occurrence so I really couldn’t even count that.) Time to dig  a little deeper.

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Suzuki’s Burgman has an easy to read instrument panel that’s full of useful info including but not limited to your average fuel consumption, ambient temperature, clock, trip meter, and speed/tach. Almost makes you wonder why other manufacturers cant seem to put all that on their standard motorcycles. For your added safety the scooter’s disc brakes come standard with ABS, and the 400’s frame is made of high-tensile steel tubing that is happy to prove itself time and again.

The 400cc 4-stroke, single-cylinder engine is liquid cooled, fuel injected, and seemed to work flawlessly with the fully automatic transmission and CVT belt drive. Suzuki says the thinking behind this was to make a machine with good useable power and a maintenance schedule that stayed very low. So far all this checks out.

Strangely, the only piece of tech potential buyers might expect to find on the Burgman 400 that’s missing is an adjustable windscreen. While the stock one does a good job of deflecting the wind, if you’re over 5’10” there will be at least a few times when 2 more inches of adjustability would be nice. But in terms of overall seating and ergonomics, the Burgman is accommodating to a wide variety of riders.

Furthermore, the 3.5-gallon tank allows for at least 50 MPG, plentiful storage space lets you pick up or take a significant amount of loot with you wherever you’re headed, and the giant double seat makes carrying a passenger a hassle free and overall pleasant experience. Strictly speaking from a basic riding and commuting standpoint, the 400 is a truly capable machine.

To Scoot or not to Scoot

After much more theorizing and four weeks into riding the Burgman, I came to a crossroads. This scooter really hadn’t shown me any major faults, and more often than not I came away from each jaunt a little more impressed than I expected. Even after riding it once for over 3 hours at a sustained 80mph on the highway, it showed no real signs of stress or fatigue. So why, then, aren’t the streets here in America littered with Burgmans, or for that matter, multitudes of other scooters in various shapes and sizes? As much I’d like to tell you the answer is multifaceted and complex, it’s really not.

Most of America’s motorcyclists (males especially) are deeply ingrained with the “bigger is better” mentality. No matter how low or high gas prices fall or rise, buying any scooter over a Ninja 650, Triumph Tiger, or Harley-Davidson Fat Boy is almost an admittance of failure. While the number of big engine touring scooters that are highway capable has grown, it’s still a small fraction of the two-wheeled community. And in this community the scooter is still widely seen as a stepping stone vehicle. Besides, when’s the last time you heard somebody brag about how cool his or her new Kymco was?

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There’s also no real edge or danger factor with a scooter. Unless you’ve made some heavy modifications, you can’t drop a gear and effortlessly pass anyone on a scooter; yet even a 30-year-old carbureted motorcycle extends that option. Useful, practical, and easily attainable, yes. Would your girlfriend, significant other, or mother who doesn’t ride probably flip out if you brought one home? Probably not. Specifically speaking on the Burgman 400, while it impressed me more than expected and proved to be a solid commuter, there’s only one real reason I wouldn’t run out and buy one. Subsequently it’s probably also the reason you don’t see a ton of them on the road.

Making a case against a scooter that really does everything well seems mean spirited. True, it will never get you any street cred or provide thrilling ride stories that you can share with friends. But after using it for a month as my main mode of transportation, I could easily see myself owning a Burgman 400. That is until I went back and looked at the facts. At the beginning of this article I mentioned four things that made buying a scooter enticing to consumers. Number one on that list is that they are relatively cheap. Admittedly I don’t follow scooter sales on a regular basis, but if you asked me to price one with a 400cc engine off the top of my head, my highest guess would come nowhere near $8,000.00. In contrast, the amount of amazing motorcycles that are available in both the new or slightly used markets for that price is staggering. And as much I like the Burgman, there’s no way I could recommend spending that much money to purchase any scooter.

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The Good.

Incredibly useful commuter

Storage space, storage space, storage space

The Bad.

Will not further your motorcycling career

A tad heavy for a scooter

The Ugly.

The list of things you can buy for 8K instead of a scooter is frightening

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