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Test ride: SYM Citycom 300i

May 31, 2009

2sbcitycom01
SYM USA lent 2strokebuzz the new Citycom 300i for a few days. Ron Brockman and I rode it for a couple days each, mostly on urban interstates and city streets.

I’ve always felt that the sweet spot for scooters is in the 125-200cc range. 50cc bikes have always seemed like a letdown, and Barcaloungers like the Honda Helix (at a whopping 250cc) and its descendants (pushing towards 1000cc these days) were just not interesting to me. Obviously, different people have different tastes and needs, and it’s great to see such a wide range of scooters available these days, but to get around the city and the occasional longer ride, 150 cubic centimeters was always sufficient for me.

2sbcitycom17For reasons an engineer might be able to explain to me someday, 300cc is a rare displacement, and SYM’s new Citycom 300i (and its only “300cc” competition, the Vespa GTS 300 Super,) actually feature notably lower-than-300cc displacement engines (262.8cc and 278cc, respectively). The next step up, 400cc, is equally rare, with 500cc being a more common benchmark. But the lack of 300cc scooters is a shame, because the Citycom is a joy to ride, and features more than enough power for anything short of extended highway touring.

Commuting on the highway (especially on Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway) is a bit frightening on any 150cc scooter, but on the Citycom, it was downright pleasant, with quick and even acceleration on the ramps, a balanced and comfortable ride at highway speed, and no problem keeping up with moderate traffic (top speed is allegedly 80mph, I hit 70 a few times with plenty of throttle left). In fact, I felt every bit as confident on the interstate as I did on Piaggio’s MP3 250.

2sbcitycom06Ergonomics are good, if you prefer the upright seating position of mid-sized scooters, as opposed to the laid-back, feet-forward design of larger touring scooters. Like most modern scooters, there’s not a lot of footroom (the gas tank is located in the channel), but it seems well-placed. Controls are well-designed, and the console is easy to read. I generally don’t care for windscreens, but the Citycom windscreen was a good height and shape, and I didn’t find myself smacking my faceshield into it, like I did on the Kymco Bet&Win, for instance. (Actually, if you liked the Bet&Win but hated the screen and seat, you may really like the Citycom.) My only complaint about the screen was that the curved plastic made it hard to see obstacles on the ground when travelling at very low speeds on uneven ground (like the pothole-riddled alley behind my office).

The seat was very comfortable, after a 30-mile ride, I hopped off the saddle and realized that the seat had never crossed my mind, and my crotch hadn’t fallen asleep. (Ron thought it tilted forward a bit too much.) The seat is also great for 2-up riding, the passenger has a good deal of room and isn’t sitting too high. At a hair over 33″, the seat height might be troublesome for smaller riders, I’m 5’10” with a 32″ inseam, and I was able to sit on the seat flatfooted, but just barely.

Handling and suspension were good, especially for a scooter this large. Despite the somewhat-high riding position, the center of gravity was low and the bike was quite maneuverable. While not as nimble as a smaller bike with smaller wheels, it certainly didn’t feel as big as it looks. The suspension was great, an invisible pothole on Lake Shore Drive that might have been bad news on a lesser scooter simply bounced me into a graceful arc and a clean landing. The front and rear disc brakes were solid enough, though Ron and I both felt the front brake could have been beefier considering the speed and weight of the bike.

2sbcitycom07At first glance, storage seemed to be a big problem. the locking glovebox might fit a pair of gloves and the cellphone that’s charging therein, maybe even at the same time, but not much more. There’s no rear rack, and thus nowhere to place a topbox. So the only storage area was under the seat. With no helmet hooks (!?), you’d expect to be able to fit a helmet under the seat, but our fullface helmets (we tried a few) didn’t fit. A 3/4 helmet fit easily, and I suspect some smaller full-face lids might just fit, but if you wear an XL, I’m not sure where you’d put it.

The good news is that what the underseat storage lacks in depth, it gains in width. It’s deceptively large, big enough even to fit a stack of 12″ records or a couple 12-packs of cans. The battery takes up the front section of the storage, but there’s still a lot of room under there (and an extra ignition killswitch to prevent hot-wiring, which is kind of a neat idea). Though the lack of a rear rack means no third-party topbox could be mounted, SYM says a custom topbox is in production, it’ll be interesting to see how it’s mounted.

A couple of other features worth mentioning: The ignition lock, as usual, also locks the steering column and pops the seat open, and the top of the key can be used to protect the lock with a pivoting metal cover. Vintage motorcycles and scooters often had a similar cover, presumably to prevent rust, this one would prevent tampering or lock-picking as well. The locking gas cap is located in the center channel between your feet, when unlocked, it comes all the way off and isn’t tethered to the bike. Once you’ve been spoiled by a pop-up fuel cap (opened with the ignition switch), it’s a bit of a drag (especially in gloves) to remove the key, open the gas cap, and keep track of it while you’re filling up.

Here’s where I admit that the Citycom 300i is the highest-displacement scooter I’ve ever ridden for any length of time. At 262.8cc, it’s a good deal more powerful than my usual 150, and it was strange to ride for a few days without ever touching the throttle stop. It’s a good deal larger too, but unlike some scooters in its range, the Citycom preserves the seating position and rider experience of a smaller scooter, while offering the speed and comfort of a larger scooter. It’s a nice compromise, and after spending a few days riding it, I’d consider extending my “sweet spot” to 300cc on the high end.

2sbcitycom02If you’re a regular 2strokebuzz reader, you’ll know that we feel Taiwanese scooters are generally the best value for the money, usually featuring most of the benefits of European and Japanese scooters (aside from brand recognition and top-tier styling) at a lower price (and none of the false economy found in most mainland Chinese scooters).

Even in that context, at $5498 MSRP, the Citycom is perhaps a hard sell. Many riders may prefer to save a few hundred bucks and have their choice of several great 250cc scooters that compare favorably with the Citycom’s performance. Even SYM’s own competition is tough, their RV250 offers a higher top speed for $500 less, and their very popular HD200 (actually 171.2cc) is $1500 cheaper, and not all that far off, performance-wise.

Those who would wouldn’t balk at the Citycom’s price tag may be likely to look at more expensive higher displacement scooters, or consider the Vespa 300’s arguably superior styling, brand recognition, and resale value. The Citycom is a good-looking and thoughtfully-designed bike (the turn signals are particularly well-integrated, for instance) but not particularly “stylish” or distinctive.

But even if the styling doesn’t do it justice, a ride on the Citycom may justify the price. It’s a very powerful, well-engineered, and fun-to-ride scooter, with all the benefits of electronic fuel injection and very impressive build quality. There’s nothing particularly glamorous about it, it will never spawn a subculture, but for a suburban commuter facing a stretch of highway and fluctuating gas prices (SYM cites an impressive 94.1mpg), it’s like a confidence-inspiring 2-wheeled Toyota Corolla.

Comments

8 Responses to “Test ride: SYM Citycom 300i”

  1. hardd1No Gravatar on June 1st, 2009 2:56pm

    SYM builds a great scoot….but Carter Bros are not bashful when it comes to assigning a MSRP for one…a 10-15% reduction in their MSRP structure would help the dealers add more sales do to competitve pricing …

  2. illnoiseNo Gravatar on June 1st, 2009 3:29pm

    I agree, hardd1, without looking up the actual numbers, Carter Brothers’ pricing has always seemed to me to be a bit higher than the competition. Maybe that’s just perception, and I’m sure they’d argue their bikes are a little better, and maybe they just plain cost more to make. But however great SYMs are, Genuine and Kymco built up the U.S. market for Taiwanese scooters, and now they dominate it with a big market share and better brand recognition and great dealer networks, so you’d expect Carter Brothers to be a bit more competitive with their pricing, just to get people to consider their bikes when comparison shopping.

    I’ve said some negative things about Carter Brothers in the past, but most of SYMs scooters are pretty darned great, and they’ve dropped a few fantastic products in Carter Brothers lap in the last 12 months. Carter finally seem to be realizing that fact, and they’re getting much smarter about marketing and understanding the scooter market lately.

  3. oldscooterguyNo Gravatar on June 5th, 2009 12:00am

    I can’t believe my eyes! I read… “The seat was very comfortable, after a 30-mile ride, I hopped off the saddle and realized that the seat had never crossed my mind, and my crotch hadn’t fallen asleep. (Ron thought it tilted forward a bit too much.) The seat is also great for 2-up riding, the passenger has a good deal of room and isn’t sitting too high.”

    I’ve been riding scooters since Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1985. Of the various scooters I’ve owned/ridden (about 100) my 1987 “Snow mobile on LSD” Helix is comfortable for up to 3 to 4 hours.

    I test rode a Citycom300i 3 days ago and had “bench butt” after 3 miles! The seat is hard as granite. Perhaps the reviewer and his friend have extra pading in their butts, ALOT of extra padding, but the seat on this scooter is as uncomfortable as going thru a divorce with children.

    It’s a nice bike, but the RV250 is superior in many ways, including ergonomics and affordability. Besides riding about 100 different scooters I’ve sold about 15 different lines of scooters this decade, and SYM is currently one of the brands we carry right now. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how anybody can find that seat comfortable. The Citycom 300i sits just a tad longer than a Kymco Grand Vista. In other words, if you’re any taller than 5’9″ you’ll feel cramped.

    It’s a nice concept that needs to be sized for Americans. Please don’t get me wrong, SYM makes great machines, really great machines, but the ergonomics on the 300i are sorely lacking.

  4. illnoiseNo Gravatar on June 5th, 2009 6:31am

    I certainly have plenty butt padding, and Ron technically qualifies as “buttless” under a little-known provision of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

    I realize the lower “cruiser” seats (helix/RV250/Morphous/Silverwing) are probably far more comfortable for long trips, but I just don’t care for that styling or that riding position, and for a more upright “scootery” scooter, I find the Citycom seat quite comfortable. Then again, I actually think the old Vespa sprung-leather saddle seat (not the benches, they’re terrible) is more comfortable than a lot of modern scooters.

    As far as knee-room, I thought it was reasonably spacious, I’m 5’10” and it didn’t concern me. Of course, as I pointed out, I’m used to smaller scooters, many of which have notoriously little legroom. If you’re a fan of feet-forward cruiser-type scooters, it’s probably somewhat less spacious.

  5. pocphilNo Gravatar on June 11th, 2009 2:07pm

    I’ve put around 1200 miles on my demo CityCom, I’ve run it on local scooter runs of over 3 or 4 hours and had no problem with butt fatigue and I have the “American Average Ass”. I think this scooter has the best ergos in the industry.

    Now that it’s broken in, my top speed confirmed by GPS is 89 mph. On day one out of the box our top speed was 81 mph.

    I also agree Carter puts too high of a price on their SYM scooters. That’s been the number one reason customers have been buying Grand Vista 250’s instead of the CityCom. Charging $1000 more than the competition is too big of a swipe for a bike that doesn’t have the “V” word on the legshields.

    We have the prototype luggage rack at our shop and the prototype windshield. The rack is built so well you could easily shake the whole scooter by the rack alone. The windshield is probably 4″ higher and at least 4″ wider giving a nice bit of hand protection and much better sound envelope on the freeway.

  6. Paul JonesNo Gravatar on February 4th, 2010 7:13pm

    I have a 300i that purchased on 8/01/2009. I had completed my basic riders course the weekend before. My sum total riding experience was 10 hours on the range with the instructors close at hand.
    The day I picked it up I thought what in the world have I bought. It was much bigger than the 150’s we rode in the class. I have ridden 5800 miles since the first day, and commute 34 miles round trip by interstate. WOT indicates 81mph, and I have no problem passing cars. The scoot handles well in rain, and will go across black ice in the workplace parking lot better than I can walk in my riding boots.
    I purchased the scoot for what is is- an awesome commuter vehicle that gets 51mpg running high speed. It has plenty of top end to pass semi’s, and the bike crowd has no idea who this crazy guy is on the road everyday.
    If you want to just tool around on a sofa I was told to get a Burg, RV250, or another laid back scoot. Personally, I like to be able to have a commuter and a fun scoot that corners like a cat, sips gas, and gets me to work every day.
    Paul R. Jones
    Sandston VA

  7. LarryGNo Gravatar on October 14th, 2010 7:51pm

    I purchased a 300i in September, partly based on this review and others on the net. I also spoke with people at Slaughterhouse, Scooterworks, POC Phil, and friends. I agree with just about everything here, including the slightly angled seat. This is only my 2nd scoot and I notice that I have to do a LOT more counter-steering than before. My Aprilia was more flickable–just a weight shift could steer it. Of course, it was lighter and slower, too.

    My only real disappointment is the tires–these Maxxis don’t grip as well as the Pirelli ST66s I had on the Aprilia. This is noticeable on turns and steel bridge grates, too.

    If you change the price from $5400 MSRP to $3000 actually paid, this scooter beats any competitor in value! Although it does not have the Italian cache, it is not far from the design of an Aprilia Sportcity.

    So far I really enjoy riding both short commutes and longer rides.

    Larry G

  8. PhipsdNo Gravatar on September 20th, 2011 11:13pm

    I have an 09 Citycom with 14000km on it. EBC pads on the front fixed the mushy front brake. The bike is much quicker and faster now than when new and pulls harder on the hills as well. Performance is excellent, cornering outstanding and weather protection decent. The stock Maxxis may not be state of the art but they work well enough even in the wet. Somehow tarsnakes in the dry seem to be an issue though.

    The hard seat will breakin and I find I have plenty of room for my over six four and size 14’s. Ear plugs are a necessity however.

    This bike is a real Q-Ship on steep mountain hairpins. I find I can make much better time than with the big bikes when the going gets tight. It’s so much fun to ride that except for long trips, my V-Strom 1000 is mostly gathering dust.

    When travel gets brisk or gusty mountain winds pick up; I just slide forward until my knees are just touching and it’s like the bike is on rails. After more than 40 years of riding; outstanding.

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