I was visiting a friend in California recently. He's a regular reader of CMG and when the topic of the magazine came up – amongst other things – he commented about our scooter coverage. Something to the effect of:
“What the f@ck are you doing testing scooters? Who gives a shit about those things?”
I felt like a Mod about to be bludgeoned by a Rocker on Brighton Beach in 1964.
I'm not sure how successful I was in defending our editorial decisions at CMG, but the whole encounter left me wondering if we haven't been doing a very good job of extolling the virtues of these slightly stunted members of the motorcycle family. After all, we get it. Why doesn't everybody else?
CMG THINK-TANK PRODUCES GOLD ... BUT REALITY BITES
Last winter while indulging in the requisite libations, ‘arris and I came up with the idea of a Honda Ruckus long-term test bike.
The subsequent semi-inebriated brainstorming produced the most-messed up collection of ideas that could possibly be transformed into a series of articles. Stuff like: tuning it to the max, racing it, and even off-roading it, emerged during this epic CMG ‘think-tank' session. The whole premise of doing these things with a four-stroke 50cc scooter struck us as being hugely entertaining, and the resulting articles would surely go down as CMG classics.
The crème de la crème of this think-tank session was the idea to do an endurance ride around the 800+ Kms of Lake Ontario on the summer solstice – a brainwave that would ultimately evolve into the CMG Mad Bastard Scooter Rally.
Strangely, we somehow remembered most of the ideas the next morning and managed to punch them into the computer, make them sound a little less mad, and shoot them off to Honda. Stranger still was Honda Canada agreeing to provide us with a Ruckus so that we could carry out the proposed insanity.
Even before picking up the bike, I was busily combing through numerous scooter websites in search of performance parts. I had ridden a Ruckus briefly in 2003 while CMG contributor, Nestor Gula, was conducting a road test.
My feeling at the time was that if we were going to have any fun with this thing, it needed hopping up. Obvious parts included a pipe, an unrestrictive variator (www.beedspeed.com), a tweaked CDI box, a front disk brake, a more substantial rear shock, and, and, and … the list went on.
I was pleased to find out that there is a lot of stuff available out there for the Ruckus, in particular on Japanese websites (see links and info below), where it has somewhat of a cult following. The Honda Japan website listed a huge array of factory parts, which seemed like a good place to start.
Of course, that would have been too simple, and sadly when we asked Honda Canada about getting any of these goodies, they said that it wasn't possible, as they weren't bringing any of our ‘wish-list' items into Canada. I became more and more defeated as each new potential source for performance parts for our Ruckus dried up.
Finally, and for a variety of reasons (mostly that we weren't willing to pay for any of the hop-up parts we wanted) our visions of a 100 km/h Ruckus evaporated, and with them, all our Ruckus racing dreams.
By then, the weather was starting to get warmer and I decided that it was time to extract our newly acquired long-term Ruckus from the obsessive hands of Nestor Gula, who had somehow managed to get his grubbies on it before me. This wasn't as easy as it sounds, as the poor man was clearly getting attached to the thing, but more on that later.
Although I was disheartened by the fact that the Ruckus would have to remain in stock form for the duration of our testing, I started to explore its traffic-carving abilities in the chaos of downtown Toronto.
ZEN AND THE ART OF RUSH HOUR COMMUTING
Immediately apparent was the ease at which I could negotiate traffic with this thing. Don't get me wrong – if I'm on a motorcycle, you'll still see me splitting traffic in the city. As we know however, not only does the local constabulary frown upon this activity, but you also run the risk of having some highly-stressed wife-beater going postal as you zip by him while he's experiencing his third hour of gridlock.
Granted, the cagers usually can't do much (the police either for that matter), other than scream obscenities and honk wildly. But why do I want my Zen-like flow through urban traffic disturbed by such volatile members of the community?
With the Ruckus however, this flow is taken to new heights – and the real revelation is that no one even tries to disturb you! In fact, you are often the source of great entertainment for those potentially high-strung commuters, trapped in cages during their painful rush-hour commute.
Nothing like some 6'+ nut (on what looks like a home-made electric mini-bike) riding up onto the sidewalk and then launching it off the curb in order to avoid colliding with a gaggle of pedestrians – to keep everyone amused… Not that anyone at CMG did that, the illustration is merely for effect.
Given the fun you can have on this thing in downtown traffic, I don't understand why I don't see more Rucki on the streets of Toronto. Well, I do in fact: it's because the laws for licensing scooters in Ontario are moronic, and traffic splitting is considered illegal … but I digress.
My long-winded point is that if you have a rush-hour commute in a downtown core, the Ruckus transforms what would be tedium in a car or a bus into something that is pure entertainment, not only for yourself, but others viewing your progress through traffic too. It's like a public service.
PARK AND GO
Another benefit of riding something so odd and compact is the fact that you can park it anywhere. I had a dentist's appointment right smack in the downtown core, and I parked the thing on the curb for over an hour. No problem.
The normally hyper-efficient Toronto parking patrol didn't bother with the Ruckus, even while it was parked on the curb, and no doubt in breach of some by-law. Perhaps they just saw it as some sort of bloated bicycle?
Quick pick-up/drop-off stops are also a breeze. The fat tires on 10” rims easily hop up onto the curb, and with a quick drop of the centre-stand – away you go! The thing is so quiet and unobtrusive that these antics offended no one. If I got any response from Torontonians, it was usually a smile.
IT CAN'T REALLY BE TWO-WHEELED NIRVANA, CAN IT?
Okay, time to nit-pick for a while.
The suspension – well it really doesn't have much of any, and what's there (56mm of travel up front and 66mm in back) isn't designed for the 200+ lb riders of CMG. However, the fat tires do an admirable job of helping what little suspension is available, and none of the boingers leaked throughout the season, despite our usual CMG abuse.
In fact, the only casualty that we had, over the course of the season, was that the right mirror loosened off and started spinning like some sort of weird kid's toy. It wasn't possible to tighten it, so Honda replaced it for us.
The accommodations were a bit cramped for the + 6' crowd, but Editor ‘arris finally got some use out his Engineering degree by designing and constructing two tracks that allowed the seat to be moved back and up slightly. Problem solved (click here for Editor 'arris's detailed explanation).
BTW, the seat can only accommodate one person, which is about all the Ruckus can handle anyway. Of course, this means it will unlikely be a big seller in Pakistan.
I hesitate to say it, because this little engine that could has a charm that grows on you, but it could use a bit more juice. It tops out at about 60 km/h on flat ground, and it takes its time getting there.
The beauty of traveling at a mild pace, however, is that you don't require much to retard your progress, and the simple drum brakes (front and rear) do a good job of slowing the Ruckus down without fuss.
Ultimately, the trick with the pace that the Ruckus prescribes is to alter your perceptions of what a ride can be – which is an excellent segue to my next section:
Let's face it, the first annual CMG Mad Bastard Rally was nuts. ‘Arris and I spent 22+ long hours on board Rucki, circumnavigating Lake Ontario. But there was a surprising revelation that we both discovered in the process – we were able to enjoy a lot more of the landscape that we were riding through.
Let me elaborate. When you're maxed out at a lowly 60 km/h, you simply don't need to pay the same level of attention to the road as if you were at 120. This allows you to soak in more of your surroundings or explore whatever nonsense is circulating in your head at the time. You get that inner and outer journey-thing going. Again, very Zen.
In fact, this is the head-space* you need to get into in order to truly enjoy the Ruckus ride. Additional sources of amusement were also discovered on this trip. For example, using a Crampbuster to lock the throttle wide open, and then letting go of the bars and steering by weighting your feet in the direction that you want to go.
Especially entertaining is to have a group of your riding buddies doing this as well – while everyone flaps their arms gracefully and with purpose, as if trying to take flight – while cars are attempting to pass. We were participating in the “Mad Bastard” Rally after all, so this seemed like the right kind of activity to be engaging in ...
Storage space is also quite good on the Ruckus. During the Rally I slapped a lot of extra gear in a plastic bag and shoved it under the seat. It was all held in with a bungee cord – simple and effective, although not offering much in the way of security.
Finally, you'd think we'd need a week to recover after completing the Mad Bastard Rally, but with my Ruckus equipped with an Airhawk seat and ‘arris's bike “Flossy”-equipped and seat raised, we faired quite well.
* Unless of course the thoughts in your head are of the: “kill these bastards – kill, KILL!!!” variety. In which case you're better off on a sport bike on mountain switchbacks – where all you can think of is the matter at hand.
THE COST OF OWNERSHIP
Years ago, when I was traveling in South Asia, I saw TV commercial that Honda had produced for their perennial CD70:
A guy pulls up to the gas pump and says to the attendant, “One litre please”
The attendant – stunned – asks, “One litre?”
The rider replies, “Yes, one litre is more than enough!”…
Honda Canada could save some money by borrowing that commercial and simply Photoshopping a Ruckus under the rider, as fuel is truly a non-issue with this scooter. I simply put two or three dollars in the tank every now and then and forgot about it until the fuel light came on to remind me that it might be a good idea to stop in at a gas station – whenever.
As for maintenance, the bike has an enclosed zero-maintenance drive line, so there's no chain lubing mess to deal with. I changed the oil once throughout the season. That was all we did for the Ruckus over the 2,500kms we logged. Does it get any more painless than that?
For $2,699.00, it doesn't cost much to become a member of the Ruckus club, and you definitely won't be paying sport bike insurance rates. Huge fun is also available while breezing through downtown traffic, or wrapping your head around the idea of moving slower while exploring the back roads – and smelling the roses for a longer time.
This is why twist-and-go bikes are becoming so popular. Maybe now, even my Rocker friend in California can begin to see the appeal of a Ruckus and scooters in general…
…Thud – the sound of a blunt object bludgeoning a thick, bald-headed skull.
SO YOU WANT A RUCKUS THAT CAN WHEELIE?
I doubt that would ever be possible without replacing the motor with something bigger, but there is performance help out there for those who want it (and are willing to pay for it) …
We discovered late in the season that McBride Cycle in Toronto actually sells a Ruckus hop-up kit, complete with a pipe, variator, and a CDI box. The kit retails for about a grand and it is said to turn the Ruckus into a +90 km/h fire breather (well maybe something with warmish breath, at least).
Many of the Japanese performance parts that we found are now easily available through battlescooterstore.com.
More useful links can be found here.
NESTOR GETS SERIOUS WITH A RUCKUS
After Nestor Gula's unsuccessful attempts to pry the CMG long-term Ruckus from my possession once I had it back, he caved in and actually bought one! How un-CMG is that?
Nestor shares his thoughts on life with a Ruckus ...
Ruckus Redux by Nestor Gula
Seeing the first pictures of the Ruckus (called the Zoomer in Japan and Europe) was love at first sight. Seeing it in the metal and riding it did not diminish these feelings. I gave a very positive review of this 49cc machine a few years back during a CMG test, and I was delighted to hear that CMG would be getting it subsequently as a long-term tester, and that I would be the principal tester.
I had it for the cold and wet month of April and then Richard Seck took it away and did not show any signs of relinquishing it. He too had been smitten by the allure of the Ruckus. Alas, as summer reached its zenith, I realized I was never to share the road with that Ruckus again, so I quit moping, sold my Goldwing and bought a Ruckus of my own.
In the city there is not much that can match its usefulness, as it zips around like nobody's business. From where I live – off the Queensway in the west end of Toronto – I can get downtown significantly quicker on the Ruckus than in my car. Faster streets (like Lakeshore Boulevard, or Steeles Ave) are not much of a problem – if you carry your wits about you.
Cargo capacity is quite amazing, so long as you carry some bungee cords with you, as the exposed steel-tube frame is great for giving you infinite tie-down points. I've hauled a perfectly good kid's easel – and the easel was about 3/4 of the size of the Ruckus! I've even hauled eight-foot lengths of two-by-four lumber by putting the planks through the under-seat storage. Cases of wine? On the floorboard between my feet. Who needs an SUV when you have a Ruckus? OK, I haven't hauled drywall — but I have plans for this trailer…
The cost of the Ruckus is not substantial — I bought mine with my credit card. Insurance is less than a buck a day, and I threw in theft for good measure. Gas … ha, ha. Bring on the three-figure liter (just kidding, folks.) My most expensive fill up was $3.49 when gas cost $0.85 a liter.
To date, I've put about 1,250 Kms on my Ruckus (city riding) and have been getting about 2.9 liters per 100 kilometers. With those figures the effective range of the 4.9L tank is almost 170km. In all, I've only spent a smidgen over 26 dollars on gas since I bought the bike!
I've also found that this is an all-season bike and have ridden it this winter whenever the salt on the roads does not seem too foreboding. You get a few second looks when you're tootling about in minus 12-degree weather though.
There have been no problems with the bike. It starts readily – even when sitting for a few weeks in an unheated garage. Changing oil is a snap, although when cleaning the filter screen, it's a bit of a pain to remove and reinstall - but this only has to be done every 12,000 Kms. Valves have to be checked at 15,000 km intervals, but since this scooter is an urban kind of vehicle, it will take a while for it to get up to those distances.
Reviewers are often asked, “Would you buy the bike”.
My answer is unequivocal yes … albeit mainly because Mr. Seck didn't let me ride the long-term loaner past April.