Question: Can a modern 50cc scooter get a 250 lb. rider up Russian Hill in the San Francisco without assistance?
Answer: No. But, the 2012 2012 Yamaha Zuma 50F can do just about everything else it’d be asked to do in a compact urban or traffic-light rural environment.
That’s what Yamaha was trying to make clear during a recent press event in the Bay Area. The motorcycle manufacturer’s reps chose San Francisco deliberately to allow media reviewers a chance to push the new design to its limits. No other city in America has The Fog City’s mix of steep hills, heavy traffic and varying street conditions, so – if the Zuma 50F can handle the home of the Giants and the 49ers – it can survive in any other city or on any other road conditions.
When redesigning the Zuma for 2012 urban driving, Yamaha’s designers looked to toughen up the frame and the look of a scooter. They fattened up the tires and lowered the center of gravity by setting the fuel tank under the foot rests in middle of the frame. The result is a bike that runs smoother on rough pavement and more stable on banking turns.
Of course, the probably of extreme banking turns on a 50cc scooter are not overly likely. Still, the little engine and the smooth automatic transmission will push the Zuma along north of 40 mph on even pavement. I rode it from end of San Francisco to the other – from Golden Gate Park to Twin Peaks, from the Financial District to the Presidio.
I can attest that the brakes work. During the portion of my tour taking me through Japantown, the middle aged couple in the Toyota sedan in front of me never checked their mirrors or gave a moment’s thought to their blind spot when they made a sudden stop and right turn in front of me. I had to lock up the front and back wheel and burn a little rubber off my boot soles to prevent a tumble over their fenders, but the Zuma’s bigger tires skidded to a stop in time.
The scooter was able to make it around the winds of Lombard Street and up and down most of San Francisco’s most challenging hills. The aforementioned Russian Hill District found my Zuma running out of ample oomph near the crest, leaving me to jog it up to the stop light. It was the first and only failure of the scooter that day, and not a deal killer. I can’t think of another city in America – or another situation – that would replicate the sight of my big backside urging a 50cc scooter up a 45 degree hill in city traffic. Every municipality in America should be thankful for that.
Obviously, the vehicle has other limits. It’s impractical in cold weather climates and would be useless – if not outright illegal – in freeway conditions. But in smaller cities or college campuses, the Zuma 50F would provide reliable transportation at safe speeds for a sticker price of $2,490. Considering Yamaha rates the scooter at with average street mileage of 132 mpg, a 1.5-gallon tank would mean a less than $8 87 octane fill-up at the gas station – while the cars and trucks around the Zuma pile up bills of $50 or more per visit.
Yamaha is already selling the Zuma 50F in urban environments and is reporting group sales success everywhere from warehouses to racing pits where mechanics buzz back and forth on the little bikes. But, given the right climate and the right traffic conditions, average drivers should consider giving the Zuma a try on their daily commutes past the gas station.