“Which is a better commuter – a scooter or a motorcycle?” I have been asked this question more times than I can count and it has been the subject of discussion and downright argument at various shops, garages and bars. Yeah … usually bars.
To make this a valid comparison, I wanted to begin with two machines of similar size and cost. The comparison described here involves older machines. I owned both the 2006 Kymco People 250 and the 2005 Kawasaki Ninja 250 utilized here. Yes, these are nine or ten year old machines, but the comparisons are still valid today. I’ll touch on that point again later. I commute at least 24 miles (round trip) six days per week and sometimes need to cover upwards of a 100 miles in a day. Most days I have the option to select city streets, freeways, or surface roads of varying speeds.
I purchased the Kymco People 250 new and have truly enjoyed it. The only thing I did to set it up for commuting was add a topcase. In this case a Givi. It is otherwise stock. The People 250 has a liquid-cooled engine and transmits power to the rear wheel by means of a CVT or Continuously Variable Transmission. The end result is a smooth transmission with no manual clutch for the rider to operate – just twist the throttle and go. The People 250 is very responsive and has a nice powerband with plenty of acceleration from off the line up to about 60 mph. The top speed is about 80 mph and it takes a bit to get there. My fuel economy has ranged from 58 Miles-Per-Gallon to 75 MPG. When ridden exclusively around town and taking it easy on the throttle, the People 250 can get very good mileage. At highway speeds, mileage drops off a good bit. My average for my mixed commute is 62 MPG.
Storage on the People 250 is very good. There is a hook on the inside front leg-shield and I often hang re-usable fabric shopping bags there, resting the bottom of the bags on the floorboards with my legs on either side of the bags. There is lots of storage space under the seat and the addition of the topcase gives me a LOT of places to put things during my commute. I have also strapped a lot of stuff on the passenger seat. The rear luggage rack is standard equipment on the Kymco People 250.
I acquired the Ninja 250 machine used with low miles in good condition. With basically the same design in use from 1986 to 2007, there are LOTS of good used Ninja 250s out there.
Often touted as a great beginner’s bike, the ‘lil Ninja in its purely stock form could certainly be pressed into service as a commuter, but I wanted to set the bike up to be specifically focused on this task. Time to get out the toolbox (and credit card). In order for the Ninja to be comfortable for me, it needed a taller windscreen, risers for the controls and some luggage capacity.
The Ninja 250 has a high-revving twin-cylinder liquid-cooled engine that gets power to the back wheel by means of a chain through a 6-speed manual transmission. Like most any other motorcycle, this means shifting – and sometimes lots and lots of shifting. The top speed I’ve verified on GPS was 93 mph – much faster than I’d EVER need to go on my commute. Highway speed passing is no problem as long as one downshifts (often two gears) and revs out the motor. Fuel economy is very good at 55 MPG – 65 MPG. My average during my commute is 58 MPG.
Price/Value – This is the top category and points were based on availability, cost of comparable machines and any modifications needed. The Ninja did better than the People because even with all the extra accessories installed the total price is still lower.
Reliability – Properly maintained, neither machine will let you down – a tie.
Maintenance – The People did better here than the Ninja with fewer required maintenance tasks and ease of performing them. Cleaning the carburetors on the Ninja was a chore – mostly because of how tough they are to get at. It’s pretty simple on the People.
Insurance – Both machines have the same coverage with the same rider, but the People costs less than the Ninja.
Storage Capacity – Even with the addition of a topcase, the Ninja just can’t compete with the People in this category.
Comfort – Close call, but the People just edged out the Ninja because of the step-through design and upright seating position.
Ease of Operation – For commuting, automatic wins out over manual transmission.
Fuel Economy – Dead even – both machines get class-leading mileage.
Fun Factor – Sorry Kymco People, the Ninja is just plain more fun to ride.
I rode both machines a great deal over several months. Sometimes I would alternate every day, sometimes I would ride one or the other for several days in a row. Both machines saw all kinds of roads, speeds and weather conditions. I kept notes and built the scoring as impartially as possible. The Kymco People 250 was the winner by a narrow margin. I would be happy with either machine as a commuter. The automatic transmission and storage capacity of the People were what tipped the scale.
What about the same comparison “new”? A 2015 Kymco People GTi 300 has an MSRP of $5,399, a Piaggio BV 350 is at $5,899. A 2015 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS is $5,199 and a Honda CBR300 is at $4,399. Given the need to add storage to the motorcycles, I’m guessing the results of the same comparison with new vehicles would be about the same.
Twin Cities scooterist David Harrington owns and operates JustGottaScoot.com