By all reports, the Italian scooter and motorcycle market is ripe for massive consolidation. The market has fallen drastically in the past couple of years, down anywhere from 25% to 40% or so in Italy, Spain and other European countries. Piaggio-Vespa-Gilera has pinned some amount of hope on the U.S. market, but with only a handful of their models available here in the States, it looks doubtful they could rely on this market to pull them out of their current slump.
Recent news items tell of a possible savior in the form of Italian investor Roberto Colaninno of IMMSI. Formerly of some small amount of notoriety for his successful hostile takeover of Telecom Italia in 1999, he recently attempted to set in motion a plan to take control of the Fiat group, but was “spurned” by the owners. Colaninno agreed last week to pump $285 million in cash into the debt-burdened company which would, if approved, give him a 30% stake. The possibility of eventually having an Italian back in charge would no doubt be a welcome change. Piaggio is currently 86% controlled by Deutsche Morgan Grenfell Private Equity with Texas Pacific controlling 10% and the rest with Mercapital-Rabasa in Spain.
An anonymous industry executive was quoted in the New York Times (May 18th, 2003) as saying, “The purer you are a scooter maker, the bigger your problems. We believe there will be consolidation.” This trend towards fewer, bigger companies has already begun. Piaggio itself has a 20% stake in Cagiva-MV Agusta and Texas Pacific controls Ducati. Will we see more company mergers and merged product lines with an increase in shared parts and reduced manufacturing plants? And will riders and enthusiasts benefit in the end?
Piaggio does have the Vespa name to rely on. With almost universal recognition for their amazingly designed machines, it would be foolish to write them off in any sense of the word. In fact, they just recently introduced in Europe their brand new 2003 Vespa Granturismo, an automatic 200-cc four-stroke, liquid-cooled (their first), dual-disc brake reinterpretation of their vintage model of the same name. When it will hit our shores, however, is unknown. I would guess that if brought into the U.S. it would generate quite a bit of interest! The Piaggio B500 might also strike the fancy of North Americans with a huge 500-cc automatic liquid-cooled engine but, once again, when or if we’ll see it is a whole other story. All we can do is watch and wait and enjoy the scooters we currently have. (I do hope to do a test ride of the currently available Piaggio BV200 in the very near future).
KYMCO SUPER 9 PERFORMANCE KIT
Last year I picked up the Kymco Super 9 50-cc scooter from Scooterville (see August 2002 issue of MMM) and while I have been enjoying it immensely, I have always felt that this souped-up scoot just wasn’t souped-up enough, that it was just begging to go faster. I finally took the plunge and had a few upgrades installed, but let me back up a bit and give you some details in case you aren’t familiar with this size bike.
A scooter (technically a moped if less than 50-cc) has to be sold restricted to 30 MPH to meet the moped classification and not require a motorcycle endorsement on your license. To achieve this, most smaller scooters come with a restrictor in place to limit the performance via the exhaust or a rev limiter or some such combination. The Super 9 simply has a bushing between the two front belt pulleys which prevent them from pushing the belt into an above-30 MPH position. Removing the bushing results in a scooter which can hit about 45 MPH. Further tweaking through removal of the rev limiter gets you up around the 48-49 MPH mark. Not bad for a small inexpensive tweak.
To get higher performance out of a 50-cc scooter requires a more involved approach such as taking the scooter from 50-cc to 70-cc which, of course, costs you much more money and experimentation in tuning. In fact, doing such a thing (“kitting”) usually gets you a bike that never does quite run the way the factory original ever did. To do it right you just end up changing too many things. I am not saying that it won’t run properly, but rather that it will run differently and may take more watchful ownership and maintenance.
Knowing this, and knowing that the kit for the Super 9 was very new and mostly untested, I decided to put in the order and see what was possible with current modifications. I enlisted Derrick at Scooterville (dealer of the Super 9) to do the work and make it right. We ordered the initial kit from the crazy scooter racing enthusiasts down at Moped Hospital in Key West, Florida. We decided to order a performance aluminum cylinder and piston from Airsal (Spain) to replace the cast iron parts from the factory, a new Arreche 19-mm carb to replace the factory 14-mm carb and a very sexy stainless-and-carbon-fiber Technigas (Spain) performance pipe. A few items have not yet been installed (look for an update next time) such as a different variator, weights and clutch, which should improve performance even more.
Perhaps this information is totally premature as I can’t give any definitive specs on this kit just yet — I’ve only had it kitted for a day (as of this writing), but so far the top speed, without spending very much time tuning, has risen from 48 MPH to 60 MPH. This scooter is fast! It jumps off the line at a brisk pace, much faster than most any other scooter, and there is plenty of power up at the top end between 40 and 60 MPH. Things are hard to judge as the gauges, both tach and speedo, are completely pegged. Fully wound out the tach is buried well past 10,000 and the speedo only goes up to 50 but following a pace-car showed the top speed at just barely 60. With more tuning and the additional parts, this scooter will hopefully get closer to 65.
Installing the kit up to this point has taken several hours. Installing the new cylinder and piston takes a bit longer than on a vintage scooter as the Super 9 is a liquid-cooled bike. The bracket for the Technigas pipe is just barely proper as the rear mud guard doesn’t have an attachment point any longer. This should be an easy fix, however. The pipe is louder, but not excessive. The fuel consumption appears to be the biggest drawback at this point — I’ve already had to refill the tank after a day of riding all over town and zooming down the highway at top speeds. I’ll have to keep closer check on the mileage and see how far it drops from the normal 80+ mpg.
So is this sort of kitting for the average rider? I’ll have more to report next month but in general, probably not. The kits cost a lot of money and time and the increases in speed and power have drawbacks in other areas. Scooter racers and speed freaks (ok, go ahead and laugh all you super-bike riders) might, however, find the trade offs something they can live with.
The Moped Hospital website, for those adventure seekers who wish to explore performance boosts on their own, is http://www.mopedhospital.com/performanceparts.html
The Twin Cities’ Vintage Scooter Club, The Regulars, meets on the first and third Sundays of each month at Pizza Luce in Uptown Minneapolis (32nd and Lyndale Ave) at 2:00 pm for socializing and riding–as long as weather permits. Join us! The website is located at http://www.minnescoota.com