Why Suzuki are bringing the excitement back to biking

Suzuki's latest urban runaround is a perfect example of frugal fun, says Tim Luckhurst
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The Independent Online

Specifications
Engine: 124cc single cylinder four-stroke

Transmission: four speed semi-automatic with chain final drive

Brakes: single front disc, rear drum

Seat height: 770mm

Weight: 104kg

Price: £1,699

The first scooter I rode (legally) was my mother's 1976 Suzuki FR70. In the spring and summer of 1980 I covered nearly 5,000 miles on that electric-blue commuter. With my rucksack behind the leg-shield and my guitar on my back, I could go anywhere within 50 miles for less than the bus fare.

It was rugged. After crashing into a dry-stone wall I rebuilt the shattered headlight mount with fibreglass and carried on riding. The three-speed semi-automatic gearbox was simplicity in action, and squeezed enough power from the engine to haul two passengers. Above all, it was an urban miracle, threading between cars with millimetres to spare, and parking anywhere.

The Suzuki Address 125 brought all the fun, simplicity and economy of that summer flooding back. With its big spoked wheels, semi-automatic toe-and-heel gear change and rear drum brake, this refashioned, no-nonsense scooter is the direct linear descendant of Mum's machine.

It is a single-cylinder four-stroke, not the oil-burner of old, and the gearbox has a fourth ratio. The front brake is a disc and the engine is fuel-injected. But the Address is designed for the same role: dependable urban transport for less than many spend using their mobile s.

Styling is so minimal that it makes a statement. This is a means of conveyance, not a fashion item. It looks robust, and Suzuki expresses confidence in that by offering a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty. The big wheels cushion the rider from potholes.

Take note, however: the clutchless gearbox takes time to master. In my case, about 20 minutes, involving several embarrassing noises and wobbles in a supermarket car park. A quarter of a century riding proper motorcycles and fully automatic twist-and-go scooters has eroded the skills I learned at 17. In my first moments on the Address I did an inelegant impression of a kangaroo learning to jump.

Fortunately, the electronic gear-position indicator kept me straight. Every motorcyclist benefits from knowing at a glance which ratio is engaged. Those who insist that only amateurs need them are idiots. Visual gear-position information is invaluable. It reduces fumbling at moments of potential crisis.

Still, relearning the art of engine braking without a manual clutch took concentration. But it was worth it. Semi-automatic arrangements allow the engine to augment the brakes in a way that twist-and-go technology does not. Once I had the hang of it, I remembered another reason why Mum's FR70 stirs such memories. Manual gear selection, even without a clutch, feels more like a small motorcycle than a conventional scooter.

The Address gives the same sensation. It hops away from traffic lights and purrs happily to an optimum cruising speed of about 50mph in fourth. The engine is tuned for frugality, not speed, but the power is ample for urban freeway and short stretches of unrestricted A-road.

Many rivals are faster and more obviously modern. A lot have larger under-seat storage areas. The shuttered ignition switch is a clever security device, but otherwise the Address is mainly gadget-free. For this reason I can't imagine many 17-year-olds identifying it as a must-have. They can, however, ride it as soon as they have passed compulsory basic training, and its practicality is impressive.

The latest in a line that has sold millions worldwide, it owes its design to the demands of riders in the Far East, for whom cheap, durable two-wheelers are everyday workhorses, not luxuries. As such it makes a practical option for Britons anxious to cut commuting times and avoid congestion charges.

Of course, the case for a Suzuki Address is that for any scooter: ease of use, economy and convenience. There are cheaper Chinese models on the market. European brands - Peugeot, Vespa and Gilera - are prettier. Suzuki and its domestic rival, Honda, make many scooters that feel more expensive than this one, because they are.

But if you want a lightweight commuter with adequate weather protection, cheap insurance and a commanding riding position, the Address is certainly worth pondering. It may only inspire real passion in those who cherish economy or, like me, have personal history with semi-automatic scooters, but that is no flaw. Also, until manufacturers produce a mass-market motorcycle powered by a hydrogen-electric fuel cell, or city authorities locate recharging points on every street,scooters like this are as close to environmental purity as a commuter can get without pedalling.

Suzuki is gaining a reputation for cheap, durable technology. The Address is an honourable addition to its range.

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