Symba: First ride impressions

Earlier today, 2SB met up for a chat with our local SYM rep Ken Rudoy, and ended up leaving with a SYM CityCom300i and a NEXX X30 Viper modular helmet to try out for a few days. More to come in that department. The visit also included a quick spin on the much-heralded Symba, in fact the very same preproduction example from the DealerExpo floor. If you’re like me, your first scooter was a rickety deathtrap with a convoluted manual transmission and way too much power for its own good. If you’re like me, you’ve since settled into a comfy automatic with push-to-cancel beeping turn signals and other modern conveniences (like brakes! and traction!), and forgotten all about springs in your butt and stalling and wheelies and the awesome, wonderful terror of your first ride. If you want to relive that magic, get thee to a SYM dealer, pronto. The Symba is a beautiful, well-made bike, but nothing (aside from maybe a vintage Honda Cub) will prepare you for clutchless foot-shift 4-speed. We’re hearing most dealers aren’t offering test rides, and now we know why. It’s a 101cc, but it just about shot out from under me a few times, and I didn’t dare test the upper gears. I’ll give it another try once I regain my composure, and write a more in-depth review, but for now, suffice to say that the Symba felt like (with apologies to Smog) a wild horse on a collision course with the sun, and we dug that feeling.

16 thoughts on “Symba: First ride impressions”

  1. We’ve been flogging our “Demo Symba” using it for the multiple runs to the gas station every day and our 4 lunch runs (why can’t everyone just agree to one restaurant?) and we’ve proclaimed it the shop favorite. It is impossibly fun to ride and gets looks and comments everywhere we go. We sold 3 of them on their first day in the shop and we’ve taken orders for more. We haven’t seen a response to a scooter like this since the first run of Buddy 125’s. You’ll love the CitiCom, I have the prototype windshield and rear luggage rack on our demo unit and I love the set-up.

  2. Yep, Ken mentioned you had the shield and rack, if you’ve got pictures, I’d love to put ’em in the review. As it is, storage is definitely a weak spot, but I rode it quite a bit last night and really enjoyed it.

  3. That’d be Scooterworks Chicago!
    Not to be confused with Scooterworks USA or Scooterworks Direct… I need to write a story to explain what happened there, and to complain about (allegedly) no parcel pick-up at the new warehouse. I’m going to start a petition or something.

  4. Thanks! I’m curious about the Scooterworks USA/Chicago issue. I ran across it right after my post – I think my ’05 Zuma is nearing it’s end with me (50cc isn’t enough to carry 2 from Wrigleyville to the loop on the occasional day), and I was looking around at what’s out there since the Symba post got the juices flowing. On the shortlist is a Genuine (Stella or Buddy) and I saw the Scooterworks USA website created a Facebook group, which then has a post about the Scooterworks Chicago website. Definitely the first time I became aware of the website, and I would have had no idea without jumping the hopes to the Facebook page or your reply comment.

  5. Bryan, the spec sheet I got sez the engine’s 101cc, not 110. And it’s interesting about the one you rode… the one I tested didn’t seem that powerful. But then, I had to hand over a credit card to take the ride, so I tend to be very conservative under such circumstances…

  6. I’ve ridden scooters, and I’ve ridden motorcycles, but this seems to live in some land in between the two. What I’d like to hear in your review ( beyond the standard suspension, handling, and power type stuff ) is how riding it differs from those. And if you can get any pictures of the optional saddlebags/panniers that’d be great. I haven’t been able to find any.

  7. Oops, 110 was a typo, it is a 101cc…

    I’ll go into more detail in my post, but I was expecting moped-like performance, and I felt like it had more pickup than, say, a typical automatic 125cc. Top speed is probably nothing amazing, but it definitely had more oomph than i expected. To be honest, I was so excited I headed out into traffic without really having a clue what I was doing, so it was probably more adrenaline than speed.

    Masukomi, throw “moped” into that mix, despite the foot shift, it really has more of a vintage moped or Vespa 90 feel to it, it’s very light and small and feels nothing like riding a motorcycle, aside from the shifting, which still is a bit odd. Here’s the best way I can think of to describe it. I go back and forth between a few different bikes, and always have to adjust in a panic situation, and quickly think “is the left lever for clutch, or rear brake!?” Well, the Symba doesn’t *have* a left lever. Is your mind blown yet?

  8. We got 6 Symbas in here at Vespa Lex. Total blast to ride! You’re right, not having a left hand lever to grab is a bit mind blowing. But it really is about as easy to ride as an automatic. I let a friend with very little scootering experience take a short spin on it and he had it wired in about 2 minutes.

  9. I suspect the feeling Bryan is noticing is the automatic clutch without the seamless transition of a CVT. On a CVT the clutch slips and engages the wheel and immediately the belt is sliding a bit and the ratio is changing by the front pulley weights rotating out to make that sometimes mind-numbingly smooth take off from a modern scooter. On a traditional shifter you have control of the link between the motor and the gears/wheel. On a geared scooter with an auto clutch, the clutch will engage the same way as on a CVT but once it engages there’s a direct link to the rear wheel with no change in ratio. A bit more all or none even when the centrifugal clutch engages perfectly smooth.

    The other possible sources of the different feel on these bikes is that the gearing may be very low. Low gearing is nice for a quick get away from traffic and it keeps you from feeling like you’re running out of steam at the top end. You just get to the top speed and it feels like you can hit small inclines and headwinds and not be dropped to a crawl. This can be easily changes on chain drive bikes with a new front cog and a chain length adjustment. When the Madass 50 gets an engine swap to 107cc it makes the first gear pointless. Adding a larger front sprocket makes a world of difference. They Symba may just be a bit on the low side and could possibly benefit with a gear change. Though caution should be taken to consider if the brakes and suspension would be up to a higher speed. I’ve never inspected or ridden one of these bikes.

  10. Hi illnoise, I read your first impressions with interest. Mostly becuase I’ve been seriously considering purchasing a SYMBA myself…. but also because I’ve been working with scooters for a few years now, started at a Vespa dealer and now work at The Scooter Lounge in Utah (Genuine, SYM, Vintage) and have always enjoyed your site.

    I’ve taken the SYMBA on a few extended rides, and I have to agree with orino, I’m a bit surprised that you felt it was wild. Having ridden an old Vespa P and an automatic Puch Moped for the past three years, I found it almost alarmingly unorthodox at first, but pretty tame overall. For me, after giving it about five minutes of practice in an open parking lot, I got past the strangeness, and got quite comfortable. I would compare it to my first time riding a geared Vespa.

    I generally dislike motorcycles and toe shifting is one reason why. But with the SYMBA, being able to simply rock your foot on your heel to shift up and push your toes down to downshift was quite fun once I got over not pulling in a clutch lever.

    Ride the SYMBA around some more, get more comfortable with the shifting, and I think you will find that it is a very fun machine. As far as storage goes, I like that the back seat is very easily removed in seconds with the tabs. This allows you to use a top case or straps in moments.

    My only complaint with the SYMBA is that unless your 5’1″, shifting up with your heel is too cramped and uncomfortable. However, the option of the bench seat will remedy that (sit on the bar between the seats, and you will see that that is the optimal place to sit for comfy shifting).

    When that seat arrives, I’ll be taking the SYMBA for a week-long test drive, and if I like it, I will be buying. It is a very unique, classic, and well made scooter. I’ve been wanting something brand new and reliable (yet classic) for awhile, but already owning a Vespa P, a Stella would be a bit redundant. So it’s likely a SYMBA for me.

  11. Kenneth, Brooke, yes, it is certain that the wildness was just because I wasn’t used to it and cluctchless shifting is gonna be jerky untill you get the hang of it. It had much more impressive pickup than I expected, but like I said I have no idea what the top end is like. I’ve ridden motorcycles (not a lot, but enough to be comfortable with foot shifting) so it wasn’t just the mechanism, it’s just disconcerting to not have a clutch to feather off until you find the right transition points. I’m sure once I put a few miles on it, it’ll be smoother and easier, but it had just been a long time since I felt that clueless, and the feeling was awesome, ha.

  12. Also, I’m very much looking forward to Ryan Carden’s review at Scooter-News, he’s a Cub fan, so he’ll have a good perspective on how it varies from a “real” vintage Cub.

  13. Up-shifting and downshifting are both much smoother if you work the semi auto clutch that’s integrated in the shifter. You can actually get buttery smooth downshifts with this set up. There is a “clutch” or neutral in-between every shift.

    Oh yeah, I’ve test ridden one for about 10 miles. The drum brakes are very good without any sing of fading and it seemed about as fast as your average air-cooled 125cc.

    Has anyone seen the bench seat accessory for the Symba? It has cow print…Yuck!

  14. The clutch on the Symba is actually really good for a centrifugal model. The trick when riding an auto clutch bike is to only make downshifts when absolutely necessary, and when downshifting do it a good bit later that you would on a manual clutch bike.

  15. I have a new 2010 Symba and love it. I have written several reviews that are posted on Search for Symba or my username tommybarrettjr. In summery, the Symba is topping out between 55 and 60 mph indicated riding two up with a total passenger weight of 325 pounds. The speedometer is 10% optomistic. It is averaging around 120 mpg. That is not a typo, 120 mpg. The Symba takes bumps and rough roads far better than the Vespa LX 150 it replaced. Although the Vespa seat was larger and softer and felt more comfortable on a showroom floor, the reality of its harsh suspension is no match for the Symba’s motorcycle like suspension and handling.

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