Ride Review: 2012 Yamaha Zuma 50F Scooter

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As fuel prices continue to go up, you might be considering another way to go to the movies, meet your friends for coffee, or run a quick errand. Such is the case in an urban city like San Francisco, and, If you’ve ever visited my beloved city, you know how impossible it is to find parking on a Friday night in a trendy neighborhood like the Mission or the Marina. And if you’re lucky enough to find parking after circling the block for 30 minutes, what if your car doesn’t quite fit that awkward spot between two driveways?

Imagine pulling up on a scooter, parking within minutes, and walking right into the restaurant without worrying if you’ve made your reservation on time. You leave your helmet and gloves in the storage compartment under the seat, and sit down to dinner a minute or two early even. If that sounds like a better alternative to the usual metropolitan shuffle, a nimble little ride like the Zuma might be the perfect choice for you.

Last week, Yamaha invited a bunch of moto-journalists to try out the redesigned 3rd generation, 2012 Yamaha Zuma 50F. We spent 8 hours riding everywhere from the hills to the flats, Coit Tower to Twin Peaks, The Presidio to the Legion of Honor. Traversing the notably hilly city, there wasn’t one road that this little scooter couldn’t handle.

In the scooter world, the Zuma has a cult following, with loyal riders going all the way back to 1989 when Yamaha released its 1st generation model. Yamaha maintains that there is no single kind of “Zuma Rider”, and that Zumas are for everyone, regardless of lifestyle or fashion choice. Yamaha’s internal data for Zuma customers shows that the age, household income (HHI), and education vary widely from rider to rider. However of note, women make up a third of the Zuma’s customer base.

For Yamaha (and many other motorcycle/scooter manufacturers), there has been a direct correlation between fuel price increases and scooter sales. The 2nd generation model has experienced a 300% increase in sales over the decade since its release in 2001.

Why is that? Well, it might be the estimated 132 mpg. With a fuel capacity of 1.2 gallons, you may find yourself filling up only once every few weeks or so, minimizing the mileage on your car/SUV.  Since fuel prices in San Francisco typically lead the national average by $0.50 – $0.75/gallon, that dollar savings can add up quickly.

The answer to that sales increase might also be the rugged feel of the slightly larger, yet knobby tires that provide a more solid ride as you hop over potholes, bumps, and uneven pavement, of which, San Francisco has plentiful supply. With its latest revision of the Zuma 50, Yamaha has made some significant improvements over the previous generations.

My first experience with the Zuma was back in 2004 while practicing for the DMV parking lot test. I was tackling the big circle of death on my Aprilia Scarabeo Ditech 50cc scooter, but my friend happened to be in the same parking lot on his Zuma, so he let me take his for a spin. I found the ergonomics awkward and the seating position felt too high and far forward, so I never thought I would find myself riding a Zuma again – until now.

Clearly sensing my displeasure, Yamaha has improved the ergonomics so that even the rear passenger would be comfortable on the back of a Zuma. The raised center floorboard also makes it more comfortable so my knees weren’t pushed up into my elbows, and espite these changes, the center of gravity is still nice and low, so it makes for an easy and comfortable ride.

Another major improvement is that the seat is actually comfortable for more than 10 minutes! I rode around the streets of San Francisco from 9:30am to 4:30pm, and never felt like I needed a break, or wanted to sit on something different. I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the seat felt, and it is notably a little wider and flatter than before, with less of a slope towards the driver.  If you do decide to pick up a passenger every now and then, he/she will feel rather comfortable doing riding on the back as you head to your City destination.

Though if you’re considering getting a scooter like the Zuma for you and/or your significant other, as something to ride around town or for a night on the town, I’d consider the 125cc version. In a hilly city like San Francisco, it’s impossible to go faster than 10-15mph with more than 1 adult on board. Even riding along the flattest street, it’s going to take awhile for you and your partner to get up to the speed limit in less than a minute.

Yamaha also offers additional accessories to make your Zuma an even better scooter. In addition to graphics kits, windscreens and soft luggage, an aftermarket accessory you may want to consider is the Garmin Zumo 220. Garmin has teamed up with Yamaha to provide not only a special mounting system that allows the unit to be connected directly to the battery, but also to the right of the instrument panel for ease of use. The buttons are also glove friendly, which is a bonus.

So what else is there to consider when buying a scooter? Safety, of course! Yes, you will need to learn how to ride safely on your scooter, gear up, and get licensed. The requirements vary in every state, but you will probably need a motorcycle specific endorsement on your license, a DOT helmet. Check the DMV/DOT website in your state for exact licensing requirements. You can also learn to ride your scooter safely in a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Course. They even offer Scooter specific classes (depending on where you live).

And of course, gear. I’m always going to recommend a full face helmet, no matter what you ride or how far you’re going. You’re more likely to be impacted on the face or chin, rather than the top or back of the head when you’re on two wheels. At the minimum, I highly recommend wearing a jacket, full fingered leather gloves, long pants and sturdy over the ankle footwear. There are many scooter friendly gear options that are not only protective, but stylish and lightweight for your urban scooting needs. Remember, 20mph is 20mph, whether you’re on a scooter or motorcycle.

A list of accessories and more specifications for the Zuma can be found at Yamaha’s website.

Photos: Riles & Nelson

Jacket: Dainese Alice Textile; Pants: Dainese Drake Air Pants – Courtesy of Dainese D-Store San Francisco