If you live in a college town (and scooter use isn’t strictly limited to moped-legal machines) take a look at where the scooters are parked. Odds are pretty good that you’ll see a bunch of them with two large headlights up front and a Yamaha logo. The Yamaha Zuma came out in 1989 as a 50cc 2-stroke and it rapidly became the “performance 50” of choice. Because the Zuma was a good quality scooter to begin with, they tended to hold up well to performance add-ons and modifications. Yamaha stopped bringing the Zuma 50 here for a couple of years (2006-2007) and the new Zuma 50 is emission-friendly, but lacks the performance of the old model. Yamaha kept the Zuma name going with a 125cc 4-stroke model. The fat tires, dual headlights and rugged looks continue in this model.
The model reviewed here is a Chinese-manufactured 2009 with 4,000 miles on it. It’s well and truly broken in and in very good condition. It does have additional accessories in the form of a windshield and rear luggage rack. The stock scooter comes with a grab rail in back, but no rack.
Speedometer Reading/Speed/Fuel Economy
It was very easy to mount my GPS holder on the Zuma 125 as it has an exposed (naked) handlebar. The first day I had the Zuma it was quite blustery with a few strong wind gusts. I focused on lower speed readings for that day. To get an accurate reading, it’s necessary to hold the scooter at a consistent speed long enough for the GPS to get multiple signals. At 30 MPH indicated, the GPS was reading 28 or 29 MPH. When the winds died down and I could hold higher speeds I got readings that indicated the speedometer was about 5% optimistic. At 50 MPH indicated, the actual speed is 47 – 48 MPH. The odometer was VERY accurate showing JUST over 10 miles (the tenths hadn’t quite rolled over to .1) in 10 miles of actual riding. These are good numbers as most scooters read 10% to 15% optimistic with some models approaching 20% optimistic. The most I could get out of the Zuma 125 was a GPS verified 54 MPH. Keep in mind that I weigh 220 pounds. Fuel economy overall was 75 MPG. Yamaha claims up to 89 MPG. Again, I’m not a small load and I was running the scooter pretty hard. In normal city riding with an average (160 pound) rider I would expect 80ish MPG. Good, but not great for a fuel injected 125.
The Yamaha Zuma 125 was all new in 2009. It has the same tough, off-road sort of look as the Zuma 50. Exposed steel frame tubing, fat tires, those big headlights, brush-deflectors by the handgrips, all contribute to a non-traditional scooter look. This is about as far away from the Vespa-influenced retro look as one can get in a scooter (except, maybe, for the Honda Ruckus). The Zuma is powered by a 124cc 4-stroke engine that is air-cooled, has a 4-valve head and 10:1 compression as well as ceramic-composite cylinder plating. On top of all that, it’s fuel injected.
For comparison, I selected the Honda Elite 110 which is also fuel injected and the Paiggio Typhoon which is chasing a demographic similar to the Zuma, but is carbureted. The Zuma is the priciest of the bunch. We recently reviewed the Honda Elite 110 and hope to have a chance to spend some time with the re-designed Piaggio Typhoon in the near future. I did not include the Genuine Buddy 125 in this comparison because I believe that scooter is intended for a different market than the Zuma 125.
The twin headlights are one of the most distinctive features of the Yamaha Zuma 125. The right side light is the high beam and the left side is the low beam. In stock form, there is no switch position that allows both to be lit up simultaneously, but if the aftermarket on the Zuma 50 is any indication, a simple wiring harness modification will likely make dual-at-the-same-time possible, if it isn’t out there already. The instrument pod is small but includes a speedometer in the center that is biased to miles per hour, and an odometer but no trip meter. To the right is a fuel gauge. To the left is an engine warning light, turn signal indicator and high beam indicator. The engine light comes on during start-up, which is normal.
The ignition/multi-function switch includes an anti-theft security cover which is released by the key. The key is hinged making it easier to open the security cover. The switch also opens the seat and locks the front end. The front end lock and switch cover are nice additional security measures, but you are still better off to secure your scooter to a fixed object with a good quality lock. The 1.6 gallon fuel tank is accessed by a filler at the front tip of the seat. The gas cap is opened with the key and at a bit of an odd angle for filling. I had to be careful not to overflow the filler because the fill neck is cantered forward and very difficult to get to with a conventional fuel pump nozzle.
As mentioned earlier, the stock Zuma 125 comes with a grab rail in the back but no luggage rack. A nice Yamaha rack was added to the test unit and it looks perfect to accept a small topcase. There is a kind of small object tray on the front legshield on the left side. I put my insulated coffee travel mug in there and it DIDN’T bounce out on the way to the office. There is also reasonable storage under the seat. My XXL 3/4 helmet fit and I was able to get a small full face in there if I positioned the helmet just right.
There is not a luggage hook on the Zuma 125. This would allow one to carry a bag or two between one’s legs. The general idea is to have the hook secure the handles and have the bottom of the bag resting on the floorboards with a foot on either side of the bag. I suppose the hook to hold the handles is not, strictly speaking, necessary, but it surprises me that it’s absent on the Zuma.
When I first sat on the Zuma 125, I thought I had misread the specifications. It says 30.7 inches for seat height and I have a 30 inch inseam. At 220 pounds, I should “squish” the scooter enough to touch flat footed at stops. I could barely tip-toe this scooter. The seat height is accurate, but the seat is also fairly wide. I found myself sitting a little too forward which made the leg room feel like less than it actually is. The reach to the handlebars is good, not too low, not too high. Something about the angle and configuration of the seat made the riding position feel a little “off” to me, but not bad. On the plus side, the seat is nearly a flat-top with no big hump between the rider and passenger portions of the seat. The seat is firm, which I like. Others thought it was too firm and complained of a sore backside in pretty short order when riding.
Turn the key to on, let the system cycle, hold a brake and press the starter button – the Zuma 125 fires right up hot or cold and quickly settles into idle. Good fuel injection rocks. A twist of the throttle and we’re off. Acceleration is only adequate. Looking at the specifications of the engine (4-valve head, 10:1 compression) I expected more. As sporty as this scooter looks, the engine performance was a little disappointing. There are no real flat spots in the power curve, but no real sweet spots either. Zipping around in traffic was no problem and the Zuma 125 held 47 MPH hauling my considerable bulk up a pretty steep hill.
The suspension is firm and combines with the fat tires to eat up some rough roads. I certainly felt the rough bits, but didn’t bottom out. The single piston front disc and rear drum brakes did a good job of stopping the scooter when and where I wanted. I thought the fronts would a little weak, but they performed just fine. It’s easy to modulate the brakes and one has to hit the rear awfully hard to lock up the wheel. The Zuma 125 responded quickly to inputs and was easy to toss around. The fat tires and overall look of the scooter say “off-road” and I felt obliged to try some riding sans pavement. There are some gravel and sand roads not too far northeast of my house and I took the Zuma there for a spin. Those fat tires provide some confidence, but not much real traction. I certainly didn’t “off-road” the Zuma, and probably wouldn’t given the limited suspension travel and tires, but a little sand and gravel presented no troubles. Just don’t push it and the Zuma 125 will get you over the meadows and through the woods as long as you’re on some kind of road.
Fit and Finish
My experience with Honda’s Elite 110 showed that very good quality stuff can come out of China. The Yamaha Zuma 125 isn’t quite there. I’d say good but not very good. Some switches (turn signal and high beam) didn’t operate as crisply as the Elite’s. The finish on the colored panels was very good and manufacturing tolerances were tight. I’m not saying any of the components were bad, they just didn’t seem to be the kind of top tier pieces I’d expect from Yamaha. The Zuma 125 is light years ahead of the low-end stuff out of China. Put a Zuma next to a web-ordered Wildfire and you wouldn’t think they were made on the same planet. Everything functioned perfectly on the Zuma 125 and I’d expect that situation to continue for some time. Again, good, but not great.
Looking at the Yamaha Zuma 125, one would expect most of its buyer to be young males. Yamaha marketing tells me this is not the case. Well over half of all Zuma 125 buyers are over 30. Something like 40% of the buyers are over 48?!? OK, I guess I can see that. The engine performance is not what one would call exhilarating. The Zuma 125 is not moped legal in any state. Maybe one has to be a little more mature (sigh…. older) to understand the value of a really good city scooter. As long as you don’t expect highway riding and blistering acceleration to be part of your daily regime, the Zuma 125 will get the job done. If you like the look, it fits you, and want a solid scooter that will help you face all those nasty bumps and potholes on University Avenue (those of you in St. Paul know what I mean) the Yamaha Zuma 125 is worth a look.
THANKS to Scooterville in Minneapolis Minnesota for providing the scooter used in this review.