As cool as a scooter can be

It's not the urban revolution Gilera would have you believe, but the Runner has style

The stars of the show were the athletes from Urban Freeflow, practitioners of the unique form of inner-city gymnastics known as freestyle parkour. Before we got near the scooters, Ben, Blue and Sticky gave a heart-stopping display of cat-leaps, precision jumps and rolls.

The point of all this, apparently, was that Urban Freeflow have perfected an exhilarating new way of travelling through a city and so, you guessed it, has Gilera. I was supposed to be convinced that the acrobatic courage of three young athletes would be mirrored in the new range of 50cc and 125cc Runner scooters.

Take the words "credulity", "stretched" and "breaking point" and rearrange them to create a phrase PR people never want to hear. By the time I was introduced to a 15horsepower 125cc Runner, my natural cynicism was fully alert.

But Runners are not aimed at comfortable middle-aged motorcyclists who possess unrestricted licences and can afford 1100cc superbikes. They are meant for teenagers with attitude. I met one at a park in Bermondsey. "Is that the new Gilera?" he asked "Cool. Where'd ya get it?" When I explained that I was test-riding it for The Independent, he proposed a deal. Since it did not belong to me he wondered if I'd mind turning my back while he pinched it.

Is that a recommendation? In this market it is probably the best one you can get. The upside is that the Runner is technically good, too. Gilera calls it "a scooter with the soul of a motorcycle". It is not complete fantasy: the top-heavy, hornet-shaped front end and tapered tail push the rider into a crouch vaguely approaching the posture needed to ride a sports bike.

There are three models in the new range; fuel-injected and carburettor versions of the 16-year- old- learner legal two-stroke 50cc, and the VX 125, which has a four-stroke power plant. All are liquid-cooled.

The 50cc models use upside-down front forks and a rear mono-shock. The 125cc has conventional forks and twin hydraulic shock absorbers at the back. Gilera claims quicker acceleration and sharper braking than their competitors, combined with low fuel consumption and emissions.

The VX 125 has the oomph to compete in London traffic. Pick-up is as near to instant as I have experienced and progress up to 50mph is smooth and brisk. But the best enhancement, common to all three models, is the new, large, lightweight alloy wheels. The Runner's front end now hosts a six-spoke 14in wheel and takes a genuinely sporty 120/70 tyre. The 13in 140/70 rear gives a real sense of security. The outcome is good handling and plenty of potential for the sort of stunt-riding young scooter fans so enjoy - in the safe privacy of deserted car parks, of course.

Of the two 50cc versions, my preference was for the simplicity of the Runner SP with its carburettor-fed engine, but the difference was marginal. The fuel-injected Purejet version is even better for the environment and offers quicker acceleration (5.5 seconds to cover 30m from standstill against 6.2 seconds). My advice is to ride both and choose according to feel.

The Runner is a scooter, not a revolution in the art of urban transport. But its sharp contours, signature Gilera headlight, in which twin lamps are covered by a single transparent sheet, and ultra-sleek profile do make it very pretty. The back-lit analogue-digital instrument panel is as comprehensive as any available at this level in the market.

All three Runners are fun. They cannot leap between buildings, but locating the fuel tank under the central tunnel helps to create a low centre of gravity. And that, combined with a rigid tubular steel frame, makes for excellent agility and precise handling. The Runners will be available from September.


Model: Runner VX 125

Engine: Single cylinder, liquid-cooled 4-stroke Piaggio Leader 124cc

Brakes: front 240mm disc, rear 220mm disc

Fuel capacity: 8.7 litres

Running weight: 135kg