SYM Symba 101cc Scooter Review

The SYM Symba in all its glory.
The SYM Symba in all its glory. | Source

An Amazing Little Scooter

Last week I bought a new, 2010 SYM Symba scooter. My decision to buy a scooter was mostly economic ... I was looking for a way to save money this summer. With gas prices on the rise again, I think a lot of consumers will be taking another hard look at motorcycles and scooters as an alternative mode of commuting in the months to come. So I’m going to answer some of the questions I had when I first started looking into buying a scooter.

The biggest question I had was, “Can commuting on a scooter really save me money?”

The answer is YES! I rode my new scooter this week whenever I was commuting somewhere nearby (the store, work, friends house, downtown) and didn’t need to carry anything large. In just 4 days I put 200 miles on my new scooter ... and only $5 into the gas tank. Doing the same commute in my car would have cost me at least $35 or more in gas ... and my car gets excellent MPG. So yes - already in my first week I’ve seen a difference.

Now, I don’t use my scooter every single time I leave the house. There have been a few trips I have taken that required my car (or the weather was just too nasty). Its all about choosing the right vehicle for the trip - and more often than not, the scooter is more than enough.

But this article is about my new SYM Symba. You can read my article on saving money with a scooter here.

The History of the Symba

The SYM Symba is an old design, almost identical to the Honda Cub, which has been produced since 1958.  In fact, SYM is a Honda contractor for the old Honda Cub ... so its not just a clone of the classic scooter ... it IS the classic scooter.  The Honda Cub has sold over 60 million units (more than any other vehicle in history).  However, the last version of the Cub to come to the USA was back in the early 80’s and was called the Honda Passport.  

The Symba hit US soil back in 2009 when SYM found a distributor in America who wanted to take advantage of the rising gas prices.  The classic scooter quickly found a following and is already considered one of the most reliable scooters on the US market.  Its proven design, retro looks, and amazing fuel economy has struck a chord in the minds and hearts of many urban commuters.  With the scooter revolution already happening in the majority of the world - America is just a little behind the times when it comes to understanding the efficiency of the scooter.  For some reason, people in the States still think that an SUV is necessary to drive to the local grocery store to pick up a bottle of Coke ...

An Original Honda Cub ... over 60 million of this bike has  been produced since its introduction in 1958.  As you can see ... not much has changed and SYM has kept the retro look of this classic bike.
An Original Honda Cub ... over 60 million of this bike has been produced since its introduction in 1958. As you can see ... not much has changed and SYM has kept the retro look of this classic bike. | Source

The SYM Symba : Scooter or Motorcycle?

While technically a scooter - the Symba has many “un-scooterish” qualities about it.  The most prevalent is the transmission ... manual.  Most scooters on the market have an automatic transmission, so the rider just needs to open up the throttle and off they go.  The Symba, on the other hand, has what's know as a “clutch-less, semi-manual” transmission.  This means that the rider must still manually change gears, but without using a clutch.  This can be a bit awkward at first, but after you get the “feel” of the gears, its actually quiet smooth.  Just don’t downshift while the engine is still rev’d up or you’re in for a jerky few moments.

The Symba also has a step-through frame, like most scooters, but no foot platform to rest your feet.  Instead, you ride the Symba just like a motorcycle with your legs to the  outside on footrests.  The controls are also set up more like a motorcycle.  The right side is for controlling speed with the front brake on the right handle bar and the rear brake controlled by the right foot pedal.  The left side controls the transmission with the left foot controlling the shifter.  The left handle bar (where the clutch would be on a motorcycle) is just a handle bar ... no special controls.  This is VERY appealing to the rider who rides both motorcycles and scooters (or use to ride a motorcycle ... or just wants a scooter that is more “motorcycle-ish”) because the controls are virtually the same.  But the manual transmission can be a bit hard  to transfer to if you are use to riding a normal scooter.

The  SYM also sports 17inch wheels ... much bigger than the typical scooter and the standard for most motorcycles.  This helps stabilize the Symba at higher speeds.  I find the more “motorcycle” feel of the Symba to be very pleasant, well thought out, easy to control, and a blast to ride :)  

A great video of the SYM Symba

Characteristics

The SYM Symba has  a 101cc engine that accelerates it to 35-40mph very nicely.  You can easily get it up to 55 on a flat road, and I’ve even hit 65 going downhill.  However, hills pose a bit of a challenge to the motor and the bike is only able to push me at a constant 45mph on a nice sized incline ... so beware of that.  On normal city / neighborhood streets where the speed limit doesn’t get over 40, the Symba has no problem keeping up (and even passing) traffic.  I’ve had the bike on the freeway twice, and only for short distances - but it kept up with traffic (after it got up to speed ... which can take a few seconds).  I wouldn’t recommend riding this scooter on the freeway though ... only if you must and only for short distances.  Stick to the side roads.

Storage on the Symba sucks ... as in there is none.  Absolutely zero.  There is a helmet lock on the left side of the bike, but it's a chore getting a full face helmet to lock onto it.  However, I was able to fit my old sport bike saddlebags on the back, and they fit perfectly.  I have a three piece Cortex saddle bag set, and I would highly recommend picking one up.  This set fits perfectly over the rear seat and can fit a rain cover, rain gear, extra set of clothes, a tool kit, first aid, and still have the entire trunk section empty and ready for groceries or other payload.  And don’t worry, you won’t want to carry a second person on this scooter.  The max weight for the passenger seat is only 22lbs (according to the manual) and the whole scooter has a max carrying weight of 199lbs.  I’m not sure if I trust these figures as they seem REALLY low ... but then again, I don’t really see a reason to carry 2 people on a little scooter ...

The instrument panel is very stylish with well thought out colors.  There is a turn signal indicator, speedometer, odometer, a neutral light, high beam indicator, and a fuel gage.  The fuel gage is a series of 5 lights that I’m still trying to figure out.  Supposedly the Symba has a 1.08 gallon gas tank ... but I have yet to be able to put more that 2/3 of a gallon into it, even when the last light on the fuel gage is blinking ... so that's a bit confusing.  The headlight is plenty bright for partially lit streets, but doesn’t offer a very long beam for when you’re on an unlit road in the country.  The “high beam” feels more like it should be a “low beam” setting and the low beam is about as useful as a candle.

The Symba is very nimble and a blast to ride on twisty roads.  Its front and rear drum brakes might give a few riders pause, but so far they seem perfectly adequate for the Symba.  The rear brake pedal has a bit more travel in it than I like before engaging, but not terribly so.  I’ve taken the bike out a few times in the rain (once for over 30 miles) and encountered no problems with handling or braking.

My SYM Symba just after I bought it on my first trip to work.  Notice the saddle bags (with rain covers).  Absolutely the perfect commuter.
My SYM Symba just after I bought it on my first trip to work. Notice the saddle bags (with rain covers). Absolutely the perfect commuter. | Source

Conclusion

As an ex-motorcyclist, I love the feel of the Symba. The scooter rides more like a motorcycle, while maintaining the carefree and fun feel of a scooter. SYM did an excellent job keeping true to the legendary design of the Honda Cub, and this is probably a scooter you can buy now and pass on to your grandkids in another 40 years. The Symba is a bike which has truly withstood the test of time.

Old bikers and newcomers to two-wheel transportation alike will find a reliable, efficient, and fun machine in the SYM Symba. Slap on some saddle bags and this bike is about as good as a city, short-distance commuter can get.

If you live in the Portland, Oregon area - I’d highly recommend checking out the SYM Symba at Vespa Portland on NW 23rd and Vaughn. They have a wonderful staff which helped me immensely in my scooter buying process and were very laid-back.   Purchasing the Symba was probably one of the best buying experiences I’ve ever had!

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Comments 9 comments

Tony 5 years ago

Cool review, just bought one in NYC. Gets great smiles since NYC is all Vespa. As a motorcycle dude, I love the shifting


Fortadam profile image

Fortadam 5 years ago from Portland Oregon Author

I've been asked so many times, "What kind of motorcycle is that ...?". I'm happy to reply "Its a scooter with an identity crisis."


Perspycacious profile image

Perspycacious 4 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

Up and Useful. Should have some comments to raise awareness on this one as our season shifts to spring.


Fortadam profile image

Fortadam 4 years ago from Portland Oregon Author

Thanks Mr P! I think that the fuel economy of the scooter makes so much practical sense. Especially for those of us living in or about a city. Now if only we could get more hummer drives to actually watch out for us ...


Perspycacious profile image

Perspycacious 4 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

Hummmm! If they don't, make sure you sccot out of the way.


InfoDrops 4 years ago

nice


flyasailplane 4 years ago

The 199 lbs "weight limit" is derived from false thinking! On one hand, everyone would agree that if you read "fuel capacity 1 gallon" you would automatically think "oh, it can take on 1 gallon of gasoline - 6 lbs.". So what is so hard to figure out if it says "weight capacity 408 lbs.", that means it can take on 408 lbs! Some idiot has thought this means max gross weight and they took 408 minus 209 curb weight and came up with a max payload of 199. Wrong! The 408 figure IS the max payload (or at least the max useful load which may or may not include oil and fuel). Even the manual says weight capacity 376 - well heck, based on that logic 376 minus 209 would be a max payload of only 167 - most grown men weigh more than 167 so you know the 199 figure is totally incorrect. The actual max gross weight of the symba should be at least 376 + 209 = 585 lbs.


Fortadam profile image

Fortadam 4 years ago from Portland Oregon Author

Awesome info :). Thanks for setting that straight. I'll update the article to reflect it :)


flyasailplane 4 years ago

I'm actually thinking of getting a symba and a wolf 150 classic (2 bikes) 1 for short trips and 1 for longer. I'm in Texas now but will be relocating to southern california - I really was excited about the SuzukiTU250x but I keep reading that it is NOT CARB approved for california. RATS! The Suzuki is fuel injected and gets decent mpg - about 65 + or - 3. So I guess I'm back on the Sym bandwagon. I guess my question is, does anyone know if the Symba and the 150 wolf will run OK at an elevation of 3500 to 4000 feet which some of my trips just outside of Glendale/Burbank I will be making on either bike - will I have to "rejet" if I hit the 3500' ASL? I'm in a catch 22 - I really want very high fuel economy, ok speed, decent quality and price, the ability for the machine to run decent at moderate altitudes, and that dreaded CARB rating which in fact the SYM products have. Any feedback anyone?

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