Now is a great time for scooter fans. Not only does this growing category offer more choices than ever, but escalating fuel prices and increasingly crowded roads are bringing more people than ever to this previously unsung segment of motorcycling.
Aprilia is an Italian manufacturer with a long history of building scooters for the European market, and they've recently ramped up their U.S. presence. The SportCity 250 was introduced to the American market in 2007, and retails at $4,599.
The Equipment: A Mechanical Overview of the Aprilia SportCity 250
The Aprilia SportCity 250 is on the larger side of the scooter spectrum, and unlike most other scooters, its large 15 inch wheels offer enhanced stability at highway speeds. Though its engine isn't large enough to qualify it as a power scooter, the SportCity's 4-stroke, single-cylinder, fuel-injected 244cc engine acts as a swingarm and produces 22.5 horsepower at 8,000 rpm (the same powerplant is found in Vespa's GTS and Aprilia's MP3, both of which are built by Aprilia's owners, the Piaggio group.) Power is routed through an automatic torque converter, which means all you need for forward motion is a twist of the throttle. Claimed 0-50 mph acceleration is 7 seconds, top speed is 79 mph, and fuel economy is estimated at 61 mpg.
A high-strength tubular steel frame is designed for responsive handling. Rear double hydraulic shocks with 3.9 inches of travel offer adjustable pre-load, and their variable damping comes in handy for two-up riding.
Unlike most motorcycles, whose hand controls include clutch and brakes, both of the SportCity's left and right hand levers operate the brakes. The front setup incorporates twin 260mm stainless steel discs with twin piston floating calipers, and the rear features a single 220mm stainless steel disc.
Seat height is just over 32 inches, and dry weight is 326 lbs.
Seat of the Pants: The Look and Feel of the Aprilia SportCity 250
If you're used to riding a typical motorcycle, jumping on a scooter might take a little bit of getting used to. For starters, forget about kickstands; the SportCity, as with virtually all scooters, parks with a centerstand. Not having a kickstand option can make hill parking a challenge, since you can't lean a scooter and take advantage of gravity; it's important to make sure your scooter is stable and not easily tipped over on hills.
Once you push off and the centerstand springs up into the body, the SportCity feels light and maneuverable. A push button start kicks the engine to life instantly, and simple controls-- throttle and brakes-- are all you have to worry about while riding. Easy to read instrumentation includes key information like speed (via an analog dial) and fuel level and coolant temperature (via LCD graphs.) A big, digital clock is centrally located.
The SportCity's floorboard is grippy but compact, as is its overall stance; in fact, the whole scooter is a bit narrow, and if you're used to wrapping your legs around a motorcycle, you'll have to resist the urge to let your knees rotate outwards, which can expose you to passing cars.
Its plastic body parts are nicely finished in metallic paint, and though it lacks the sexy retro styling of Vespa's scooters, the SportCity 250's silhouette is purposeful and clean, with just enough sharp edges to give it a modern look.
Riding the 2008 Aprilia SportCity 250
The SportCity's scaled down ergonomics might take some getting used to. I'm 5'11", and while jaunts around town were comfortable and fun, longer trips on the freeway invited some fidgeting. The riding posture-- at least for my frame-- requires a bit of knee-bending even when my posterior is scooted (pun intended) all the way at the rear edge of the front half of the two-passenger seat. Two-up riding forces the issue a bit more, but rear passenger footpegs fold flush into the body when not in use.
Twist the throttle, and the single-cylinder engine winds up a bit and propels you forward at a reasonable pace. Once the engine revs higher, acceleration becomes strong enough to allow merging into traffic; once again, it's important to know the limitations of the machine and remember you're on a scooter, not a motorcycle, even though the SportCity 250 is freeway legal.
The ride quality is a bit busy, and while the suspension (which incorportes a front telescopic setup) soaks up surface irregularities, you'll definitely feel bigger grooves and potholes quite strongly. There's an inevitable reality that limited suspension travel means bottoming out over big bumps, but on the plus side the SportCity's 15 inch wheels offer confidence-inspiring stability at higher speeds.
Brakes work well and take quite a bit of effort to lockup, and the SportCity is fun to ride and easy to maneuver through traffic-- exactly what you'd expect from an eco-friendly scooter.
Our Only Reservation...
A week spent riding Aprilia's SportCity offered breezy transportation free from the worry of wrinkled clothes or contact with dirty mechanical parts, thanks to its step-through design. The fuel indicator barely dipped below the full level, and freeway legality made it more practical to live with than smaller scooters. Wind protection is decent at speed, though commuters might opt for the tall (but dorkier looking) windscreen.
As my week with the SportCity approached its end the little guy became more endearing, though one incident prevented a higher rating: just before it was due to be returned, the scooter turned over and ran fine until it was pushed off the centerstand, at which point it shut off immediately. This pattern repeated itself a dozen or so times, and after a call to Aprilia, a handler came out and hauled it away on a flatbed truck.
The issue was later diagnosed as a loose spark plug wire, which became completely disconnected when the suspension loaded up (since the coil is hard mounted to the frame.) It turns out that tension in the plug wire stretched the gap between the wire and plug, forcing the engine to quit when the bike was pushed off the center stand.
The bike reportedly ran perfectly again after the wire was re-installed, and apart from that problem the SportCity behaved well enough to be strongly recommended. Though the mechanical glitch bumps it down to a 2.5 star rating, keep in mind that Aprilia is a time-tested brand with a good track record, and hopefully they've got a bright future ahead of them in the budding American market.<<Click here for a photo gallery of the 2008 Aprilia SportCity 250>>