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Putt, putt? Try vroom, vroom

December 05, 2007|SUSAN CARPENTER

Take 15 pound-feet of torque. Factor in 22.5 horsepower. The numbers don't add up to bragging rights, especially for an Italian sport bike manufacturer.

But add 61 miles per gallon and a $4,599 price tag. What you've got now is a frisky little scooter, otherwise known as the 2007 Aprilia SportCity 250.

The SportCity is exactly how it sounds -- compact enough to squeeze through traffic yet sporty enough to satisfy a scooteristi's need for speed.

I found the single-cylinder automatic SportCity fast off the line. Aprilia claims the scooter accelerates from 0 to 50 mph in 7 seconds, which means I wouldn't have won any races if I had popped a green next to its Tuono superbike. But I was more than likely to speed ahead of any other 250 cc scooter on the market, since the SportCity is fuel-injected and so lightweight as to be skeletal -- just 326 pounds dry.

What Aprilia has done with its newest scoot is fairly innovative. It's applied the components of larger, more expensive maxi scooters to a smaller-displacement bike to equalize its performance on streets and freeways. The high-strength, tubular-steel chassis increases torsional rigidity for quicker handling. The pre-load on the double-hydraulic shock in the rear adjusts to accommodate a passenger or extra stuff. The front brakes are double, rather than single, discs. The display also has a tachometer.

But most significant, the SportCity rolls on disproportionately large 15-inch wheels outfitted with unusually high-profile tires, which really add to its high-speed stability.

One look at the SportCity, and it seems as capable as a skateboard for freeway riding. It's as tiny as Tom Cruise in person, so I was a little nervous when I first wheeled it onto Interstate 5. To my surprise, it was only minutes before I felt comfortable enough to move into the middle lanes, then into the carpool lane, where I was able to keep speed with my four-wheeled company. Aprilia says the SportCity's top speed is 79 mph, but I got to 82 before the bike felt like it was panting.

I also traveled 80 miles before the first notch on my gas gauge disappeared -- so far that I suspected it was broken. But it wasn't. Fuel efficiency is, after all, the scooter trump card.

So's the price, which is unusually low for an Italian scooter. Aprilia, it seems, is trying to make inroads into the U.S. by employing a distinctly Japanese tactic -- upping the technology and lowering the cost. Aprilia, based in Venice, Italy, has been around for 25 years, but it isn't as well known as Vespa, the marquee scooter brand (also owned by Aprilia's parent company, the Piaggio Group -- an Italian manufacturer that's been gobbling up its competitors the last several years).

With its SportCity, Aprilia hasn't just attempted to set itself apart from the competition. It's succeeded with an adaptable, affordable and fun product that ups the ante on scootering's best attributes, although there are some downsides. Considering its Italian heritage, the SportCity's Transformer-like style looks like it hails from a place where the noodles are slathered in soy instead of marinara. And its compact size means that even moderately big people may feel like apes on the SportCity, especially when it comes to fitting their feet on the floor panel.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and no bike fits all. This throttle jockey thinks the SportCity is an excellent addition to the market.


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