A Biker’s Review
Are scooters inferior to motorbikes ? A year ago, I decided to try one to find out so I spent a long time researching which model to buy to fit my commuting needs: over 30km/l fuel economy so around 250cc, tight turning circle, large wheels for stability and poor road surfaces, good protection for riding in work clothes, decent storage, comfortable at 100kmh on highways, and inexpensive. I chose a Sym Citycom as the best based on these criteria.
My first impressions? Comfortable, awful front brake, wobbly back-heavy handling, dull throttle response…. I wasn’t impressed. But now I really like this scooter, and I will very likely buy another scoot when it dies – it’s absolutely the best way to commute. It will never replace a motorbike because although I fixed most of the scooter’s issues, the handling just isn’t as good. So scoot for the commute, bike for the delight…. 🙂
Here’s a record of the running costs over 24,000kms, 2 years, in US$. As you can see, the biggest costs are fuel and depreciation.
Fuel: on my boring 100km/h commute I get 32km/l. That’s $1,235 for 24,000kms.
Oil changes every 3,000kms and gear oil every 6,000kms is 11 litres of 10W40 engine oil and half a litre of gear oil (Castrol GL-5 85W-140) for 24,000kms = $45
Air filter – switched to K&N so it’s hard to say but call it $50 for 24,000kms
Tires – Maxxis lasted 18,000kms, would cost $90 to replace, so $120 for 24,000kms (see below for actual tire details, which cost US$75)
Spark plug – Iridium CR8EIX or CR9EIX (tuned) every 24,000kms is $10
Belt – replaced at 21,870kms – $80 for the SYM part: Mitsuboshi is $55 on Amazon
Brake pads – front lasted until 35,000km, $20, back still have lots of life, say $20 for 24,000km. Brake fluid was replaced at 30,000kms after the rear lever went soft. $15.
Transmission – clutch, variator, etc. – still going strong at 35,000km. $ – unknown
Overall, that’s 6.5 US cents per km, plus insurance ($200 for 2 years) depreciation ($1,000, 2 yrs) and road tax ($300 2yrs). In Hong Kong, it means about HK$1 per km, the same as public transport.
Faults – needed a new rubber centre stand bumper at 28,000, which I made myself from a door stop. The original had fallen off. The original parts cost $12. The rear axle nut starting working loose so I added a split washer and that was fixed. The brake light leds in the top box died so I replaced them. The brake rear light switch went at 35,000kms so I got a new one for $11. Repairs have cost under $30 in 35,000kms.
The Bad News.
The Citycom, like most scoots, has a low power-weight ratio – 21 hp from 263cc @7k rpm – but the torque is good – 17ft/lb @5.5K. The bad news is really weight – a lardy 184kgs. That’s 114 hp/ton, which is half of Honda’s XR250: 29hp @8500 and 130kgs. Adjusted for the lower rpm, the Honda still makes around 3 hp, or 14% more from a 5% smaller engine. However, I was surprised how well the SYM accelerated from 20kmh to 90kmh and since I tuned it, the performance is actually lively. She’s definitely worth tuning. She works well up to 110kmh (GPS, 120 on the dials) after which there’s still more go, but the chassis is not stiff enough, so she starts to get unstable.
It also has a poor weight distribution – a 42/58 front/rear split compared to bikes being close to 50/50. The Citycom manual (LH30W click to download) says 77kg/107kgs to be precise. The box and carrier on the back add another 5kgs but I took off about 6kgs during tuning. The back-heavy feels means the steering is too light. There is also a lot of flex at the front and the steering angle is steep with a long wheelbase. The front wheel doesn’t appear to have been balanced and the tire is bias ply. It adds up to a wobbly front end and this spoils the fun.
The engine and rear wheel are one assembly pivoted on a fulcrum, controlled by two shocks. So when the rear wheel goes down due to a hole in the road, the engine goes up, and the suspension tries to control this rocking motion. The inertia is too much so the back is unresponsive. Thunk, clunck, oof.
Unfortunately this is true for the majority of scooters – weight distribution and the front end design are the main problems. The frame is too curved and the forks are clamped in only two places, whereas a motorcycle has three clamps, and some have a fork brace to provide a fourth. This means the scooter’s front end flexes more, and this is very obvious at “high” speed or over bumps in corners. Taking my hands off the bars allows it to start wobbling. The front is the most obvious weakness, but perhaps it can be improved with a fork brace, wheel balancing and a different front tire, but the flex will always limit this scooter’s abilities.
The Citycom has 16″wheels so this helps to insulate the rider from jarring and creates stability at speed. However, bigger wheels weigh more so the suspension and chassis have more work to do to keep that under control. The wobbly front does seem to be struggling with the stiffness needed for control. Front and rear problems combine, and that means the handling is poor when compared to a motorbike. The other issue with the larger wheels is tire choice. This model isn’t popular here so I have a choice of Pirelli Diablo for more money than the Bridgestone T30s on my Kawasaki (rip off!), or getting tires from China. Both bad options. However, I can get a genuine 110/70-16 Maxxis front easily and cheaply (US$35) so that’s okay. However, the rear 140/70-16 Maxxis is not available so I tried a China copy out of desperation – a “Kingstone”. It’s fine in the dry but unpredictable and genuinely dangerous in the wet. I’ve had that for 11,000kms and it has hardly worn, going from 6mm centre tread to 4mm in the time. I don’t want to try to survive another rainy season on it so I bought the only other tire I can find: an NJK brand made by Seyoun. It’s not a copy and Seyoun make okay bicycle tires and this was US$40 including shipping. It was quite easy to fit (my third time so I’m getting better at it) and has 6mm tread too, plus it is almost exactly the same circumference so the speed/rpm hasn’t changed. It scrubbed off the smooth surface very quickly and feels on the softer side. It turns in willingly and feels more stable and grippier than the front Maxxis. It’ll be another month or so until the rains hit and then I’ll know if it’s a keeper but over the first few journeys, I notice there is some feedback when the Kingstone gave none, and the tire does not overheat after high speed highway riding. The ODO was 29,118km when fitted, and by the time the 42,950 oil change came up, it had squared off enough to affect the low speed handling – it was 3.5mm tread in the centre and 4.5mm at the edge. That’s a looong lasting tyre but it needs to be replaced to restore the handling – and I will get another.
The Good Stuff
I like how little day to day maintenance she needs. Almost none. I like she doesn’t take long to clean well, although the plastics do need waxing to stay looking good. I love the big screen and fairing that even protects my hands from the worst of the wind-blast. I also love the storage – a 39 litre box on the back and about 20 litres of space under the seat, which doesn’t shake the hell out of the load like a rear box does. I like the instruments, except the silly oil warning light that isn’t a warning light – it’s an oil change reminder. And she has an accurate fuel gauge – it has 7 LCD bars for 10 litres, and the first two bars last 50km each and the next 3 last 40km each. When bar 2 goes and bar 1 starts flashing, there’s about 50kms left, and then after that a yellow fuel light comes on with about 30kms left. I like the immobiliser switch under the seat. I like the easy to use centre stand. I like the comfortable roomy seat (especially after I trimmed a little plastic underneath). I like the tight 2.2 metre turning radius. That’s amazing considering the long wheelbase. I like the low centre of gravity, and although I wish the seat was just an inch lower, I can roll forward off my butt cheeks onto my pelvis to get both feet flat on the ground. I’m 5’9″ with 31″ legs. I like the fuel economy at 32km/l. I even like styling and the paint. And the mirrors are great too.
So basically, it’s all good…. except the chassis.. and she is perfect for commuting.I don’t have to slip the clutch and constantly change gear when lane-splitting through traffic jams every day – just roll on, roll off, brake. It’s just so easy and comfortable and convenient to ride. It’s a very likeable way to commute.
There a few things that need addressing :
- front brake pads
- condition and appearance
- lump in the seat
- flexy front
- sluggish response – read about tuning a Sym Citycom 300i here.
Front Brake Pads – a must-do upgrade.
The brakes already use braided lines and so, following forum advice, I changed the pads.
The SYM dealer charges HK$200 (US$26) for SYM pads, and Ferodo Platinum are $250 (US$32), but on Ebay, EBC organics are cheaper – EBC SFA264. The most powerful option is EBC sintered pads, but will give sightly faster disk wear. A new disk is HK$850 (US$109). So I got the EBC HH Sintered (SFA264HH) on Ebay (HK$162) and the difference is stark – this is a decent front brake now with good bite and reasonable power, and is more of a match for the rear. So, brakes sorted ! After 10,000kms, disk wear was still light and I decided to try the organics – less bite and power but still much better than the original pads and very cheap too.
When I bought her, she was four years old but had very little use judging by the brake disc/pads, nearly new factory Maxxis tires, mint plastics, etc.
However, she had flaking paint on the top of the outer fork leg, a few rust spots on the frame near welds, a little on the rear suspension springs and chrome, and some on the starter motor where spray and dirt from the rear wheel had got through under the wheel hugger. The rear footpegs were looking oxidised too, so they got a coat of silver Hammerite. The starter motor rust required removing the rear wheel to get enough access, but after that, it only needed rubbing down, a bit of Jenolite, and then a thick coat of Hammerite paint. Same again for the rear shocks. I removed the storage bucket and side panels to do the frame rust. I removed the front wheel and mudguards to do the forks. It took some time but was worth it to restore the condition and prevent rust from re-appearing soon.
Once I started on repainting the cheap-looking silver side panels and plastic grab rail, I decided to go all the way and re-paint all the silver parts either gloss black, flat black, metallic graphite or metallic smoke black – everything except the engine. I also trimmed a little off the length of the rear mudguard to reveal more of the back tire from behind.
The end result was very pleasing – subtle changes but overall much better. If you can ignore the world’s worst wall.
Lump in the seat
The seat is wide and comfy but there was a little lump at the very back of the rider’s seat. The fix is easy – cut out the part of the plastic dome that I could feel through the padding. I might need to trim a little more but it’s much better as it is, so I’ll do some more kms and then decide. I doubt I’ll do as much as Kiwiscoot did.
I bought some aluminium bar – 32mm wide, 5mm thick – to make a prototype fork brace. It took a few hours of shaping and uses the front mudguard mounting points and longer bolts to hold the mudguard and brace in place. The brace is clamped in place with nuts. As expected , it makes a difference but not enough so when I have more time, I’ll make something stiffer. Better tires might also help the handling, and when they get replaced, the wheel can get balanced too. The SYM dealer sells Pirelli Diablo for HK$2,200 a set (US$282).
Briefly, I expanded the size of the existing airbox inlet, made a bell mouth for the velocity stack pipe, fitted a new exhaust, removed the AISV, made a K&N air filter and then modified the readings from the TA (inlet air temperature) sensor and MAP (manifold absolute pressure) sensor to get the air/fuel mix correct. It has made a huge difference to the performance – the engine flows about 15% more, the throttle is crisp and the engine has a much livelier feel.The K&N air filter element is 22.5cm x 6.7cm and my testing suggests it flows about 20-30% more than the standard paper filter (the specs promise 50% more… hmm), so reducing the element to 5cm x 20cm would keep air flow about the same and avoid the need to tune the engine, and avoid replacing the expensive paper filter every 6,000kms.
Here are some pics:
I noticed she had 3 rather crap T10 5W bulbs – two for the front side lighting and one for the number plate lamp. I replaced them with brighter LEDs, and put foil behind the LED in the plate lamp to maximise the output. I also fitted two H4 11W LED headlight bulbs instead of the two 35W incandescent. The LEDs use much less current for the same lumens, but the load is too low for the headlight control unit, so they only switch on briefly until the unit says no, and turns them off. I removed the unit and connected up 2 5-pin 12V Bosch relays with a diode instead. The re-wiring was finished when I fitted heated grips too. 😉
The rear tail/stop light bulbs are a BAW15D fitting – hard to find in LED – so I made my own. This is the correct fitting and original bulb and socket. Note the pin furthest from the contacts is offset to the right of the middle of the two contacts, and the lower pin is in the middle. Looking at the two contacts, with the lower pin pointing down, the contact to the left of the lower pin is the tail light, and the contact to the right of the lower pin is the brighter stop light.
Here’s how – from a pair of 1157 red LED bulbs – 1) desolder the LED contacts so the wires are free, 2) carefully snip a hole in the mount – it’s usually thin soft metal if the LED is made in China, 3) cut away the mount taking care not to damage the circuit inside, 4) replace the solid wires with flexible wires so they can be twisted up inside during assembly – in this photo the blue wire is ground, the middle wire is the tail light and the right wire is the brighter stop light, 5) desolder the contacts on the dead bulb and carefully cut out all the glass from inside the mount – that takes time and requires some force – so care is needed to avoid damaging the mount – and also to not remove the copper wire that will easily solder to the ground wire of the LED, 6) solder the ground wire to the mount, then work the two wires into their correct holes and solder them in place with plenty of solder – see above for which contact is which, and which wire is which, 7) Carefully twist the mount on the LED so the wires curl up inside the mount but don’t get stretched. Check it works and if so add a little epoxy glue and push together firmly. Done.
I added an LED strip light for the underseat storage to make it easier to find things in the dark. I fitted a switch and got the ground from the immobiliser switch and 12V supply from the brown wire that is the sidelight circuit. The brown wire is the easiest fused source to get to – at the rear lighting connector – remove the under tray near the back lights. Easy job.
It was an inconvenience to remember to leave the lights on, so I changed it from the brown wire – I used power from the redundant AISV (see tuning) to power the lamp through a rechargeable battery so the lamp works even when the ignition is turned off and doesn’t drain the main battery. The charger uses a TP5100 IC set to charge the battery at 150mA. The output of the battery is connected to the LED through the switch and a schottky diode – the diode has a very low forward voltage so very little (0.3-0.4V) of the battery voltage (8.4V) is lost in the diode, and the LED strip is still bright.
The circuit looks like this, except I have removed the “any diode” and left that open (no circuit). I also added a second switch – momentary push to open – so that the light comes on automatically when the see is lifted.
Thanks for reading – happy and safe riding !