The Honda PCX (left), Piaggio Typhoon 125 (middle) and Yamaha Zuma 125 represent three similar but distinct methods to providing simple and economical transportation.
Three different takes on economical transportation
Look around any college parking lot or downtown metropolitan area and scooters will be littered throughout the landscape. The red-headed stepchild of motorcycledom, scooters are a viable alternative for those looking to escape the costs of car ownership or those who would prefer not to take public transit. The cost of ownership is low, fuel mileage is high and the amount of storage space available is typically generous.
Three leading models that embody all three traits are the Honda PCX, Piaggio Typhoon 125 and the Yamaha Zuma 125. We’ve covered all three before, but never have we ridden them side-by-side-by-side. On paper, all three scoots appear rather similar: all have comparable engine displacements, all use Constantly Variable Transmissions – eliminating the need to shift – all deliver impressive MPG figures, and (perhaps most importantly), all but one have space under the seat for two six-packs and a box of wine.
In reality all three own distinct differences, many of which even took us by surprise. We picked scooters in the 125cc category because this engine category is well suited to the needs (and pocketbooks) of college students and urban city dwellers. Being under 150cc, however, none of these scooters are legal for freeway use.
Our panel of riders for this test include E-i-C Duke, who stands at the same 5-foot, 8 inches as I do. Content Editor Tom Roderick, who, at 185 pounds and 6-feet tall, represents the long-legged of the group. We subjected each scooter to its intended environment — urban city commuting — while also taking the off-road-capable Piaggio and Yamaha onto some dirt roads for a little fun off the beaten path. At the end we tallied up mpg figures, compared storage compartments and mulled over our subjective riding impressions to come up with our winner.
Here, we present each scooter in ascending order according to price, starting with the Piaggio
2012 Piaggio Typhoon 125 ($2699) $650 cheaper than the Zuma, and $700 less than the PCX, the Piaggio Typhoon 125 represents the biggest bargain of our trio. However, this affordable entry price doesn’t come without setbacks; Piaggio achieved this price point by equipping the Typhoon with a carburetor instead of fuel injection. Further, its single-cylinder mill has only two valves instead of four.
At 124cc, the Typhoon comes in with 1cc less than its counterparts. In the real world, the Italian does well to keep up with the higher-spec Yamaha and has enough poke to edge away from typical urban traffic. In our impromptu drag race between the three, the Typhoon held its own, staying neck-and-neck with the Zuma.
Piaggio’s use of an old-tech carburetor reveals the scooter’s most obvious flaw. Cold starts are basically impossible without adding some throttle input, and it occasionally exhibits a bog when accelerating — both of which are indicators of lean jetting. “Perhaps its worst trait,” Duke says.
That being said, neither of these issues, we feel, are reasons to mark the Piaggio off your list. Despite its ancient tech, the Typhoon appears to be stone reliable and provides plenty of performance for the price. Being the only Italian scooter in this test, none of the Italian style is lost with the Piaggio, either. In the words of Duke, “Of the three, I prefer the Typhoon’s styling the most. It’s sleeker than the Zuma and less metrosexual than the PCX while looking appropriately contemporary.”
We covered the Typhoon’s details in its single-bike review, so we’ll go straight to our comparative ride impressions.
Ergonomically speaking, its 30.0-inch seat height ranks right in the middle. Duke’s 32-inch inseam was just able to flat-foot at stops, though 6-foot Roderick had no issues. However, the wedge-shaped seat “holds its rider quite far forward, making tall riders feel cramped,” Duke says. Scooting back in the saddle helps alleviate this, but a rider will then have to sit on the upward transition to the passenger seat area. Reach to the bars is on the tight side, and it’s worth noting the Typhoon is the only scoot of the three with a non-replaceable handlebar. Its steering column, bars and gauges are completely enclosed within the bodywork.
Suspension duties are handled by a telescopic fork in front and a single shock in the rear. Interestingly, the Typhoon is the only scoot of the three that doesn’t utilize a second shock, but it does incorporate adjustable spring preload. While appreciated, the included adjusting tool is weak and snapped in our hands while trying to firm the ride. Once we did adjust the preload (using a different tool) we were pleased with the handling, with Duke even calling it more nimble than the Yamaha.
Its soft ride quality strikes a middle ground between the over-sprung Zuma and bouncy PCX. The Typhoon’s knobby-like tires hint at off-road pretenses, and our guess is that was taken into account when determining its spring rates. We were impressed by the Typhoon’s braking abilities from the 220mm front disc and rear drum, especially as the front brake features a steel-braided line to deliver positive feedback with strong stopping power.
On the subject of storage space and fuel economy, the Typhoon both delighted and disappointed. We’re well aware that EPA figures are generally optimistic, but were surprised when we averaged 52 mpg, well short of Piaggio’s 89 mpg claim. Granted, we weren’t anything close to gentle with the scooters and constantly twisted the throttles to the stop, but that’s a significant difference. To be fair, all three scoots averaged much lower mileage figures than advertised.
A rather spartan gauge cluster, the Typhoon only shows the essentials: speedometer and fuel gauge. Note the bag hook centralized on the leg shield.
With the smallest storage capacity of the lot, the Typhoon can’t fit more than a half-helmet under the seat — or two six packs.
On the storage front, the Typhoon features an underseat compartment whose capacity is compromised by the adjacent fuel tank. Unlike the Honda and Yamaha, its lock is located on the side of the seat instead of integrated more conveniently into or next to the ignition switch. A bag hook attached to the leg shield underneath the bars is convenient for attaching groceries or a backpack. Frankly, we’re surprised the others don’t offer this handy feature.
In many aspects, the Typhoon is our “best compromise” winner of the test. It has adequate performance to go along with decent storage capacity and affordable ownership costs. It does many things well, but is rough around the edges in terms of fit and finish and its lean carburetion. However, with a significant price gap to the Honda and Yamaha, we’re able to forgive many of the Piaggio’s shortcomings.
2012 Yamaha Zuma 125 ($3350)
Don’t mistake the Yamaha Zuma 125 as “girly” or effeminate in any way. If it could, it would punch you in the nose. Yamaha has made an effort to bestow masculine qualities to a scooter otherwise classified in a feminine category. Its rugged exterior, accented with bug-eye headlights, dirtbike-inspired hand guards, knobby tires and a thick, exposed steel frame all contribute to change the perception of small-displacement scootering.
All of our testers agreed the Zuma wins the “most rugged” award, with Duke going so far as to say, “it looks amazingly manly for a 125cc scooter.” In Tom’s review of the Zuma, when comparing it to other more street-oriented scooters, he points out “Yamaha’s Zuma 125 radiates a more adventurous attitude.”
Underneath that hard exterior lies a 125cc, fuel-injected single-cylinder engine with four valves controlling intake and exhaust gasses. It’s a peppy engine compared to the Piaggio, with more torque off the bottom and a more refined CVT that gives it the edge off the line. Thanks to fuel injection, starting the Zuma requires a simple press of the starter button (with a brake lever squeezed, of course). Fuel injection also gets credit for the Zuma’s second-place mileage figure of 58 mpg under our hard flogging. We were able to achieve speeds in excess of 60 mph on all three scoots, with the Zuma topping out just above 60 mph.
In real-world applications, sometimes the Zuma’s brash exterior can be too much. For instance, it’s impossible for shorter riders such as Duke and myself to flatfoot from the Zuma’s 30.7-inch seat height because the seat itself is obnoxiously wide. “Even for my height it was uncomfortable straddling the seat at a stop and putting my feet flat,” Tom wrote in his notes, adding, it “felt like I was paying a short visit to the gynecologist at each stop light.” That said, once in motion the broad seat is very supportive, and holding its light weight up with just one foot at a stop isn’t difficult.
All three testers also agreed the Zuma’s suspension is unnecessarily firm. “Overly stiff springs at both ends deliver a firm ride, and yet rebound damping is insufficient for the spring rates,” says Kevin. While this is mildly appreciated off-road, we can’t imagine a Zuma owner spending more time off the pavement than on, in which case the ride can be jarring.
With a wide steering sweep and little 12-inch wheels, maneuverability is superb at slow speeds. Turning in tight spaces is easily done on the Zuma and we liked the handlebar angle in terms of turning leverage.
The Zuma stops quickly thanks to a 220mm front disc and rear drum brakes, though there’s a slight reach to the non-adjustable levers. The Piaggio and Honda also don’t feature adjustable levers, but we didn’t notice any excessive reach with either.
Like the Typhoon, storage space on the Zuma is also compromised by the fuel tank. Despite this, we still managed two six-packs of beer and a box of wine in the storage area. Or, in more relatable terms, the equivalent of a three-quarter helmet. We’re disappointed not to see any bag hooks or water bottle holders integrated into the leg shield, however.
Other notables: we like the Zuma’s adjustable and replaceable handlebars. This allows the bars to be tilted either towards or away from the rider, or replaced altogether for bars with different profiles or bends. We also appreciated its angled valve stems, as it would be difficult to fit a pump onto vertical stems on the tiny wheels.
The Zuma was built tough to handle off-roading, as evidenced by the hand guards, knobby-ish tires and thick steel frame.
We were shocked at just how loudly the turn indicators click. “The Zuma blinkers are deafening,” says Tom. “It’s like entering a German clock store every time the blinkers are initiated.” Another annoyance is the incredibly long rear fender/license plate holder, which is made especially puzzling by the fact there’s already a rear fender nearly enclosing the wheel. It’s unsightly to put it mildly. Lastly, while the Zuma engine is generally a smooth runner — even smoother than the Typhoon — we did notice a strange shake from the horizontal cylinder at idle.
Storage space for the Zuma would be even better if its fuel tank were integrated into the floorboard like its 50cc little brother. As it is, there’s still room for a three-quarter helmet or two six packs and a box of wine.
Like the Typhoon, the Zuma’s gauge cluster is also comprised only of a speedometer and fuel gauge, though the warning lights are much more prominent on the Zuma. Note also the handlebar and clamp setup, allowing the rider greater customization options.
The Zuma has built an almost cult-like status in college parking lots and major metropolitan cities, and we can see why. Its build quality is typically Japanese, it’s affordable, practical and there’s a wide dealer support network. In many ways it answers the gripes we had about the Typhoon. We appreciate its off-road abilities and rugged appearance, but its harsh suspension takes its toll after a while, but that’s our biggest complaint.
2012 Honda PCX ($3399)
In a nutshell, the Honda PCX is smooth. Thumb the starter and it purrs to life with hardly a vibration, twist the throttle and discover it takes hardly any effort to turn. When moving, the automatic transmission is virtually seamless — just the way it’s supposed to be.
Scooter buyers are generally a frugal lot, so when the PCX, built in Honda’s Thailand manufacturing plant, costs more than the others, naturally one wants to know what they get for the money. The answer is Honda’s typical attention to detail, causing Kevin to note, “It’s the most comprehensively engineered scooter in the class.”
Powered by a 125cc single cylinder with only two valves, what gives the PCX the edge over its rivals is liquid-cooling. This edge was clearly evident during our impromptu drag race, as the PCX not only leaped from the line quicker than the others, but also pulled a gap from them on the way to its 65-mph top speed.
“The Honda definitely has the most responsive engine,” Tom notes. “It was the fastest from a standing start, leaving the Zuma and Typhoon in its wake.” Despite this advantage, neither was enough to sway Tom’s or Kevin’s opinions.
It’s easy to overlook the performance potential of the PCX based on its Euro-contemporary styling that’s worlds apart from the Piaggio and Yamaha. The PCX isn’t a true step-through design, per se, either, as the fuel tank is integrated into the floor between the leg shield and seat, but lifting a leg over the hump doesn’t require much effort.
Regardless, this look is polarizing, and both Tom and Kevin didn’t like it as much as the rugged-looking Zuma and Typhoon. I, on the other hand, value function over form and immediately found myself gravitating towards the Honda. On top of the aforementioned performance advantages, it also boasts the best recorded mileage of the bunch at 70 mpg. Still well short of Honda’s claimed 110 mpg figure, but impressive all the same considering how hard we flogged it.
Larger wheels and road-oriented tires make the PCX a nimble handling scooter.
With by far the most storage capacity, the PCX should be a hit among college students looking for a way to take home celebration beverages after finals.
Also winning top billing is the PCXs storage capacity. Because of the fuel tank’s positioning, there’s room to stow away a full-sized helmet and then some — the only scooter in this test able to do so. Bonus points are awarded to the PCX for the included (although non-lockable) glove box, perfect for stashing away small items.
Riding the PCX takes a little getting used to, as it has a more relaxed riding style than the Piaggio and Yamaha, aided in part by its 29.9-inch seat height, lowest in this test. Taller riders are advised to remove the integrated butt pad for extra room, though it comes at the pillion’s expense. Otherwise, passenger accommodations are pleasant, with a nicely padded seat and grab handles integrated into the tail section.
Our biggest complaint with the Honda is its softly-set suspension. Quite the opposite from the Yamaha, the PCX “is tragically undersprung,” says Tom. “It feels like a pogo stick and is constantly bottoming out on minor bumps and potholes even at moderate speeds.” Unlike the Typhoon and Zuma, the PCX has no off-road pretenses and is subsequently sprung to provide a plush ride, but we think Honda might have gone too far, especially for heavier riders.
Damping rates aside, all three testers agreed the taller 14-inch wheels and skinny tires (90/90 – 14 front, 100/90 – 14 rear) combine to give it a more linear steering response and confidence-inspiring handling when compared to the 12-inch knobby tires on the Piaggio and Yamaha.
Braking is also impressive on the PCX, as the 220mm front rotor is mated to a three-piston caliper. A drum brake resides out back. With Honda’s Combined Braking System, when the rear brake is applied, one of the three pistons in the front is activated. If just the front is applied, the two remaining front pistons activate. All told, the difference in stopping power with both levers applied is noticeable and necessary when emergency braking.
The PCX has plenty of gusto in its liquid-cooled engine to outpace city traffic.
The Honda’s initial sticker shock when compared to the Yamaha, and especially the Piaggio, is understandable, but take a moment to fully understand where the extra money is going. Mechanically speaking, the PCX is a superior scooter. It ticks all the boxes buyers look for, and if nothing else its styling attracts attention. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a winner in our book…
Picking a scooter to win this test was difficult for a number of reasons. All three exhibit admirable qualities the other two lack. For the price, the Piaggio is our “Best Bang for the Buck” winner, but when it comes to attitude, the Zuma clearly wins there. For outright performance, we’d have to pick the Honda.
In fact, when it comes to choosing a winner in this category, the truth is, they all win. During our testing, all three testers fell for a different scooter with Tom picking the Zuma, Kevin the Typhoon and, yours truly, the PCX. This just goes to show you really can’t go wrong in this category. It all depends on what you’re looking for. What follows is our personal takes on why we picked our respective winners.
Tom Roderick – Yamaha Zuma 125
Expansive storage space, large-diameter wheels and the best engine/transmission combo are undeniable benefits of the PCX in this group of scoots, but its marshmallow suspension and street-only designation lessens its desirability. I’m also not a fan of its styling. The Typhoon and Zuma are more to my liking, with the Zuma getting the nod because it does a better job of being a multi-use scooter and has the benefit of fuel injection. Its styling is more aggressive, and its brush guards and fork gaiters actually help protect rider and bike in off-road circumstances. I prefer the price tag of the Typhoon, but if I can afford the $650 hike I’d take the Zuma.
Kevin Duke – Piaggio Typhoon 125
Although the Typhoon isn’t the best scooter of this bunch, its unsurpassed value can’t be denied. A $700 price difference might not sound like much, but it adds up to a price nearly 25% cheaper than the others, which is a meaningful amount to those shopping on a budget. Combine the Typhoon’s minimal MSRP with its sharp Italian style, amazing nimbleness and mild off-roadability, the Piaggio is the one I’d choose.
Troy Siahaan – Honda PCX
Clearly, I’m the odd one out in this group as I don’t mind the PCX’s styling. More important to me, however, is its usefulness. I don’t care about dirt abilities, I like being able to toss my gym bag under the seat with room to spare. The PCX is so easy to ride that its performance advantage can be overshadowed, but it isn’t lost on me. I’m thoroughly impressed at how zippy the little 125 is, and the fact it gets 70 mpg is just icing on the cake. It’s thoroughly more modern and polished in every way compared to the other two scoots and all of these reasons combine to justify its higher price tag in my opinion.
|By the Numbers|
|Piaggio Typhoon 125||Yamaha Zuma 125||Honda PCX|
|Engine Type||Single cylinder, 4-stroke, Carbureted, 2 valves||Single cylinder, 4-stroke, EFI, 4 valves||Single cylinder, 4-stroke, EFI, 2 valves|
|Bore x Stroke||57.0mm x 48.6mm||52.4mm x 57.9mm||52.4 mm x 57.9 mm|
|Fuel Mileage||90.0 mpg (claimed) 52.0 mpg (actual)||89.0 mpg (claimed) 58.0 mpg (actual)||110.0 mpg (claimed) 69.6 mpg (actual)|
|Tramsmission||CVT Automatic||CVT Automatic||CVT Automatic|
|Front Suspension||Conventional telescopic fork, non-adjustable||Conventional 27mm telescopic fork, non-adjustable||Conventional 31mm telescopic fork, non-adjustable|
|Rear Suspension||Single shock, adjustable for spring preload||Dual shocks, non-adjustable||Dual shocks, non-adjustable|
|Front Brakes||220mm disc, dual-piston caliper||220mm disc, dual-piston caliper||220mm disc, three-piston caliper, CBS|
|Rear Brakes||Drum||Drum||Drum, with CBS|
|Front Tire||120/80 – 12”||120/70 – 12”||90/90 – 14”|
|Rear Tire||130/80 – 12”||130/70 – 12”||100/90 – 14”|
|Wheelbase||53.0 inches||50.8 inches||51.4 inches|
|Seat Height||30.0 inches||30.7 inches||29.9 inches|
|Weight||258 lbs (dry)||269 lbs (curb)||280 lbs (curb)|