Light, nimble and gosh-darn cute
THE BUDDY may be the best Vespa knockoff on the market. That’s saying something because so many scooters these days are attempting to emulate the famed Italian marque and style.
The brand making the scooter: Genuine, which is funny for a bike that is so shamelessly trying to be something else. But genuine also describes the appreciation I have for this small company’s “new vintage” model and the cult following its scooters have generated in the six years it’s been in business.
Genuine Scooter Co., whose two-wheelers are made in Taiwan, is based in Chicago. The company was founded in 2002 by self-described scooter dork Philip McCaleb, who saw a market for old-looking bikes with modern technology, though what’s happening right now his crystal ball could not possibly have foreseen.
Genuine’s sales are up 122% this year, according to McCaleb, and that’s on the heels of five successive years of 45% annual growth. With anticipated North American sales of 11,000 for 2008, Genuine will be selling more scooters in the U.S. than Ducati sells motorcycles.
I spent the last week running around with my new Buddy to find out why. As with many bikes, I was a skeptic when I first saw it. Yet another Vespa wannabe, I thought when I took in its curvaceous Euro bodywork. Then I looked a little closer. For a bike that costs only $3,099, I was impressed with the fit and finish. The chrome and plastic didn’t look chintzy, as I was expecting. In fact, there were a lot of nice styling cues, such as the elegant and easy-to-read analog dash, the whitewall tires and the color-matched rims, paint and saddle.
I was riding the new Saint-Tropez version of the Buddy -- one of three International models Genuine’s introduced in two-toned color schemes intended for Europhiles of both sexes.
No one would mistake them for a real Vespa, but they are all quite pretty. What I most enjoyed about my Genuine Buddy, however, was its power and handling. Lightweight and low to the ground, it was stable and easy to throw around.
It also had a good amount of zip from a dead stop and enough juice on the top end that I spent almost all my miles astride the bike on the freeway. My top speed was 75 mph, although as with all 150cc scooters I’ve tested that speed is not sustainable.
The motor in the Saint-Tropez is proprietary to Genuine’s Taiwanese manufacturing partner and is based on similar engines from Honda and Yamaha, according to McCaleb. Like most other scooters in its displacement range, it’s also carbureted, rather than fuel-injected. Still, it’s very fuel efficient because the engine is so darn small. I was getting 71 miles to the gallon on the Saint-Tropez in the 284 miles I rode it. I probably would have gotten even more if I’d stayed on city streets because this scooter is meant as an urban runabout and doesn’t have a windshield or other aerodynamic features to reduce the drag that comes from pushing an upright body through the wind at high speeds.
I don’t recommend that new riders take the Saint-Tropez on the freeway. As with all two-wheeled vehicles, there are visibility issues. Drivers often don’t see you. That’s the main reason why Genuine uses a Stebel air horn instead of the wimpy bleat that passes for a horn on most bikes. It’s about the last sound you’d expect to hear from a bike so cuddly, and using it was kind of irresistible.
I found the Saint-Tropez as a whole rather irresistible. And in that I am not alone. Genuine Buddy scooters of all sizes and stripes, like many other makes and models, are back-ordered and have already been pre-sold at most local dealerships because of escalating gas prices and high consumer demand. So, if you want one, you’ll have to put down a deposit and get in line.
Or wait until early ’09, when Genuine wheels out its first 200cc model, which will be fuel-injected and 5% more mileage-efficient than its carbureted pals.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
2008 Genuine Scooter
Base price: $3,099
Powertrain: Air-cooled, carbureted, single-cylinder, four-stroke, automatic transmission
Top speed: 60-plus mph
Seat height: 29 inches
Dry weight: 220 pounds
Claimed MPG: 90
Road test MPG: 71 (based on 284 miles)