Motoring: Road Test - Got a rocket in my pocket

Scooters: they're zippy, nippy and stylish, just perfect for the city, and there's never been a better choice. By Martin `Sticky' Round

FAST, COOL and affordable. These days a 125cc scooter offers you everything you could possibly want for city use. You can ride one on a provisional licence for two years, and all you should need is one day of Compulsory Basic Training.

There are more 125cc scooters on offer in the UK now than ever before, each with its own character. Our pick of the bunch all have fully automatic transmission for carefree twist-and-go riding.

For the ultimate in retro-chic, the machine to go for is the Vespa ET4 from Piaggio. Its styling harks back to the glory days of the Fifties and Sixties, and retains the Vespa's unique pressed-steel construction. Everything else about it is modern, though: from the four-stroke automatic engine, to the powerful front disc brake.

As a relaxing, but nippy urban scooter, the ET4 has few peers. The seating position is upright and comfortable, giving a good view in traffic. Machines with 12-inch or 13-inch wheels can be more stable on the open road than the Vespa with its 10-inch alloys, but for a four-stroke, the ET4 performs well on acceleration and will comfortably reach 60mph. A full-size helmet bay and a glove box is included. One group which doesn't like the ET4 is thieves: it has an electronic coded-key immobiliser fitted as standard.

A slightly cheaper alternative, the sporty-looking Shark is worth a look. It comes from SYM, one of Taiwan's biggest scooter makers. The Shark is SYM's first machine designed specifically for export. The four-valve engine is reasonably sophisticated: we had the Shark's speedo reading well over 70 mph.

The all-plastic bodywork seems well put together, and the riding position is comfortable. The high-tech goodies include a rim-mounted front disc brake, which works much better than the rear brake, which is as wooden as the New Forest.

Perhaps the best thing about the Shark is its price: pounds 2,124 on the road. This should save you enough to get some better tyres - because the ones that come with it are awful.

For true sports performance, you really can't beat a two-stroke, and Europe's number one in the 125cc class is the Gilera Runner. Like Vespa, Gilera is a brand name for Piaggio products, so you can be confident in the quality from Italy's oldest surviving scooter producer.

The Runner is now available in a new version, the DD (or SP with two- tone race paint schemes for pounds 30 extra) to signify Dual Disc brakes.The revamped version gets improved suspension and a bigger fuel tank. Overall performance is excellent, with acceleration to around 70 mph. The Runner is characterised by the way the bodywork fills the space between the rider's legs like a motorbike. You need to step over rather than through it, cutting the scooter's carrying capacity.

The Honda Pantheon is another two-stroke, with even more out-of-town capability. It boasts a chassis similar to the 250cc Foresight, which sits you in a more feet-forward stance, your upper body shielded by a superb screen. At 144.5kg, the Pantheon is lardy enough to be a friend of Gazza, but a superb engine propels it at a healthy rate. It handles with astounding grace and has Honda's linked brake system, which partially operates the front disc brake when the left hand "rear" brake lever is applied.

The Pantheon is the pick of the bunch for both pillion and rider comfort, and hides a massive storage compartment under that plush seat - but there's a hefty price tag, and a bit more engine vibration from the buzzy two- stroke.

Those who want to be noticed should turn to the Italjet Dragster 125. Italjet are masters of scooter styling, and this high-tech road rocket, available in only fluorescent orange or yellow, keeps them ahead of the rest.

Central to both the Dragster's styling and handling is a stiff trellis frame and SIS hub-centre steering system. Almost all the front-end dive of conventional forks is eliminated under braking. This allows you to brake later and harder, using disc brakes front and rear.

Motive power is supplied by the same lusty water-cooled two-stroke as the Gilera Runner. Like the Runner, there is a 180cc version available, for speed freaks. The downside is that it isn't quite up to scratch on build quality: the pillion seat is particularly poor.

Italian firm Aprilia is another company offering a good-looking 125 at a reasonable price. Like Italjet, Aprilia got the engine for the SR 125 from Piaggio but chose a marginally less powerful air-cooled version. Running on 13-inch wheels, the SR is stable yet sporty to ride but is let down by a small fuel tank.

At pounds 2,174 the SR is almost the cheapest of the bunch, yet it also comes with a three-year warranty as standard and is subject to a free insurance deal until October. Other manufacturers offer special insurance deals, so it is worth checking with the importers before buying.

Just think of it, next year you could be cutting through the traffic jams, getting to work a lot quicker - and only paying pounds 15 road tax.

Sticky is assistant editor of `Scootering' magazine, available through newsagents

Top 125cc Scooters

Vespa ET4 125 - pounds 2,299. Retro styling, metal body, comfortable riding position, economical consumption. Electronic immobiliser. But not as fast as two-strokes, and early ones consumed engine oil and need regular level checking.

SYM Shark 125 - pounds 2,124. Very good performance for a four-stroke. Pleasant ride quality at a good price, but horrid original fitment tyres and slightly weedy rear brake.

Gilera Runner 125 DD - pounds 2,169. Superb performance is now matched by improved braking and handling. Good overall value, though the tall seat can be a problem for the Napoleonic of stature.

Honda Pantheon 125 - pounds 2,825. Innovative high-tech engine gives go with improved economy. Seat height is accessible, with ample storage space. Handling and brakes are great. Engine vibration is more noticeable than on other 125s.

Italjet Dragster 125 - pounds 2,449. Futuristic looks give superb feel-good factor. Superb low-speed handling and braking. But only a small storage compartment, "interesting" high-speed handling and torturous pillion seat. Dubious Italian build-quality.

Aprilia SR 125 - pounds 2,174. Good value with a three-year warranty and a free insurance deal until October. Superb handling, but the small fuel tank means it only has a short range. The air-cooled engine is a little less powerful than the Runner/Dragster.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
ebookAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    (Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

    Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

    £55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Principle Geotechnical Engineer

    £55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Day In a Page

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup