By: Bart Madson
Honda recently invited Motorcycle USA to the Luxe Hotel, in swanky Bel-Air, for a different kind of press introduction. The plan was simple: Test the new 2010 Honda Elite scooter while dashing around Hollywood and Santa Monica on a poker run and taking creative shots of the small-displacement Elite at various LA landmarks along the way. After hearing our task, my hopes were high. Surely, I'd draw a straight flush in the poker run and when Scarlett Johansson saw my adorable red test scooter at a stop light in Beverly Hills, she'd hop aboard to give me a private two-up tour of Hollywood. They say, after all, that you meet the nicest people on a Honda. And Scarlett has always seemed pretty nice to me…
The Elite is one of two new Honda scooters debuting in the 2010 lineup - the other being Honda's SH150i. The two scoots shore up the wide displacement gap in Honda's scooter line between the 582cc Silver Wing maxi scooter and the 50cc Ruckus and Metropolitan. The Elite sources the same engine platform as Honda's latest fuel-injected Cub 110, a 108cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke. The lone 50mm-wide cylinder slams up and down a 55mm stroke, with a single overhead cam controlling the two-valve head, while the same Honda V-Matic belt system running the entire Japanese marque's scooter fleet transfers power to the rear wheel.
Fire up the electronic start and the Elite's smooth nature immediately impresses with no rattling and a whisper-quiet idle. Fueling from the seamless Honda PGM-FI (programmable fuel injection) delivers a pert response at the throttle and surprisingly quick acceleration. Sure, twisting the grip ain't going to deliver Hayabusa power, but savvy city commuters can dash off the green lights with plenty of pop. The Elite's zip also enables the quick passes and darting maneuvers required in high-intensity metropolitan traffic, like speedy left-hand turns.
Having sampled Honda's 50cc powerplant in its Ruckus with less-than-appreciative results, the Elite's spunky get-up-and-go 110 made us believers shortly after motoring out of the Luxe's parking lot down Sunset Boulevard. Go figure, doubling the displacement aids in performance! Where the 50cc struggles, unmodified, to approach 40 mph, the Elite reaches 50 mph with ease (and could undoubtedly exceed the 50-mph mark if de-restricted). Those extra 10 mph make all the difference in the world of gritty urban street traffic, doubly true in LA where larger surface streets can be every bit as hectic as the copious freeways. Speaking of which, the superslab is about the only place the Elite can't roam, its sub-149cc displacement making it illegal on California Interstates.
As much pep as the Elite's engine provides, we were more surprised with its brakes - a single 190mm disc with 2-piston caliper up front and a rear 130mm drum. The right lever only activates the front disc configuration, but applying the rear drum activates the front disc via Honda's linked combined braking system (CBS). The CBS is so effective we used the left lever almost exclusively, and the rear was difficult to lock up too, making it very amenable to the entry-level riders the Elite figures to attract.
The suspension, a 33mm front fork and single rear shock, delivered a jarring ride on LA's cratered-out surface streets, and the small scooter wheels (12-inch front and 10-inch rear) didn't help matters. But we won't complain, as the Elite's chassis holds up to speedy maneuvering and hustling down the relatively curvy terrain of Sunset Boulevard had us grinning - feeling way more stable than expected from a small scooter.
Overall the riding position is comfortable and the controls felt more in tune ergonomically than other Asian-built scoots we've ridden. Leg room is cramped for our 6'1” frame, but most scooters elicit the same complaint from us.
At a claimed 254-lb curb weight, the Elite feels light and easy to toss around. The small dimensions and steering geometry are pure scooter and it's remarkable how simple it is to morph into full-on scooter mischief mindset. Impromptu U-turns everywhere, jumping curbs, brief sidewalk detours, parking where ever we pleased (the centerstand is quite easy to operate)… There are many intangibles to scooter ownership that can't be quantified until behind the controls, not the least of which is squeezing through traffic thanks to Californian lane splitting (on a completely editorial side note, the entire country needs to get on board with the lane splitting concept to encourage ridership. It's so convenient for two-wheeled commuters!).
Originally published in August 2009 on Motorcycle-USA.com.
The 1.6 gallon tank will get you in the 160-mile range based off Honda's claim of 100 mpg efficiency. The eyeball guesstimate carting around our 205 lb frame through 40 miles or so of famous Hollywood landmarks is somewhere in the 90 mpg range. The incredible gas mileage combined with its exhaust catalyst and clean-burning PGM-FI, reinforce the Elite's eco-friendly creds as a daily commuter.
Fit and finish looked quite good on the Elite, which is built in one of Honda's Taiwan plants. The control panel is simple and useful: Temperature gauge on the left, speedometer in the middle, fuel gauge on the right – no digital display with real-time mpg calculations or range (or any number of cute but useless info found on many a motorcycle…). The Elite also sports a novel anti-theft device, with a metal plate that covers the key entry and is removable by using the magnetized key fob. Sure, not the most high-tech deterrent, but maybe effective enough to baffle a potential thief toward easier pickins. The Elite's also not a bad scoot to look at either – not the flashiest out there but very Honda.
Built-in storage being a key scooter advantage, the Elite boasts an impressive 35-liter underseat capacity holding a full face helmet with room to spare. Two underseat hooks can securely hang two helmets by their D-rings, allowing even more room underneath. A $144 accessory top case adds an additional 27 liters of stowaway space and the Elite can haul a sizable amount of stash for those cross-town errands. Another accessory feature is a $190 windscreen.
As for the total asking price, $2999 gets you Honda build quality and reliability (with a one-year warranty), pitting it directly with the Yamaha Vino 125 ($2899). The extra performance 59cc of displacement brings is well worth the extra $500-600 to step up from the Ruckus and Metropolitan. As for the freeway-accessible SH150i, riders will pay a steep $1500 premium in MSRP. It is little wonder that Honda reps tell us dealers are ordering heavy on the Elites – which may prove to be a wise move, in particular if “clunker” commuters get another taste of $4 gas.
Our short three-hour test ride saw us return to the Luxe with a smile plastered on our face. Sure, we absolutely flopped on our poker run hand (one of a kind – Queen high) and, no, Scarlett Johansson didn't materialize to sample the Elite's two-up potential. Still, we had a blast scooting around LA. They say you meet the nicest people on a Honda and we certainly found ourselves in a good mood riding the Elite around town. For urban commuters looking for a ride that's reliable, fuel efficient and, most important, fun, the Elite receives our letter of recommendation.
Originally published in the August 2009 issue of Motorcycle USA.