Honda Metropolitan Scooter [Review]
The Metropolitan is a stylish, well made, scoot for getting around town, that is a blast to drive, but could do with some better brakes.
The Honda Metropolitan ( CHF50 ) was introduced in 2002 with a visual style that emulates that of the classic Vespas of yesteryear. It’s 4-stroke 50cc engine will get you around town at a little over 30mph and gets 80-100mpg along the way. Since its introduction in 2002 the only thing Honda has changed is the color, although there was a Metropolitan II which is essentially the same vehicle but with a speed limiter to make it go even slower, and satisfy politicians.
There’s no question that one of the main reasons to choose a Metro over its competition is the styling. Honda has embraced and refined the classic look that Vespa has abandoned. If you’re willing to buy used there is a wide variety of colors and patterns to choose from (full listing on Wikipedia). The Vino Classic, it’s closest name-brand competitor, has also tried to embrace this old-school look but with very different results. Personally, I think the Metro. is a beautiful looking scooter, and, from a purely aesthetic perspective, wouldn’t change a thing.
I’m really happy with the construction of this scooter. Its closest competitor is the 50cc Yamaha Vino Classic, which, I think, feels like a cheap Huffy bicycle when you wiggle its handlebars. The Metro. simply feels like a well made, sturdy, lightweight scooter. The mirrors are decently sized and placed high enough that they don’t just show you your elbows, like many street bikes. The brake lines don’t flop around, and everything feels well attached.
The entire body is plastic and feels about as sturdy as one could hope for. As far as I know, the only companies still making scooters with metal bodies are Genuine Scooter Co. and Vespa. The leg shields do a good job of blocking the wind and water from hitting your lower legs, and are far enough forward that your can angle your legs forward comfortably.
I question the seat position though, and wonder if they only measured Asian people and women when designing it. I stand 5' 9" and am averagely proportioned, owing to the length of my arms, I really want to sit back farther than the seat is designed for. which leaves me either sitting on the back edge, or sitting very upright in the middle of it, and both of these positions put extra pressure on my coccyx which I’m not thrilled about. I think it’ll be just fine for shorter folk, but I now understand why so many people have modded their Metro. by extending the wheelbase a few inches.
The dash is simple, and to the point. The turn indicator could stand to be tilted back towards the rider a bit, but that’s nitpicking, especially since it has one of the loudest clicks I’ve ever heard on a turn indicator, which is wonderful. I’ve ridden for miles on my motorcycle with my turn signal on simply because I didn’t notice I hadn’t turned it off. I would note however that after you turn it off it still clicks two more times, which, until you accept that it won’t stop immediately, make you move it out of the off position in an attempt to turn it off.
The high beam indicator is difficult to see in daylight. Unfortunately the coolant temperature indicator appears to use a similar LED that I fear would also be difficult to see in daylight, but I haven’t ever seen it go off so I can’t be sure. All I know is that it’ll be red when it does.
The grips are comfortable and well positioned, so that even after forty minutes of riding your throttle hand won’t be tired in the least. Brake levers are similarly well positioned. Starting the Metro is incredibly easy; just hold the brake and push the button, and should your battery be hurting, the kick-start works like a charm.
Going and Stopping:
Let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s a 50cc engine. It should not be expected to rocket off the line or zoom down the road whipping your hair behind you. However, the metro is also one of the slowest 50cc scooters off the line. What little accelleration there is is smooth and steady, and when driving around the city, which is precisely what it was designed for, it is feels zippy, and fun to ride. On steep hills you might find your speed dropping to 25mph or so, but on the other side you’ll hit 40. However, it should be noted that, with such a small engine, top speed is greatly impacted by the weight of the rider. As you ride though, you’ll be surprised at just how quiet the Metro is at all speeds. It’s 4-stroke engine is a major part of this, and I’m happy to say that you’re not going to have to worry about it sounding like an over-amped lawn-mower.
Wind resistance would be an issue if it moved faster, but as it doesn’t, it isn’t. You can feel it over the handlebars when the wind is in your face, but at those speeds it’s not enough to do anything beyond cool you off.
The brakes however… Your impression of the breaks will be greatly dependent upon where you’re coming from. If your only two wheeled transportation before this is a bicycle you’ll think the brakes acceptable. If you’ve ridden a motorcycle before you’ll think they’re crap, because, unfortunately, the Metro. uses drum brakes, which aren’t radically dissimilar to bicycle brakes in function. Instead of a fricative surface pushing in against the rim they have a fricative surface pushing out against a drum. I think the stopping distance could probably be halved had they used disk brakes. Some would argue that you’re not going so fast that this is a major issue. Then again, it could also be argued that you really don’t want to hit that car that just slammed on it’s brakes in front of you. The choice of drum brakes is obviously one of cost. In general, the scooters with disk brakes are in the next bracket of price and features, and frequently have more power.
The suspension is also poor. When riding over badly patched pavement (something not too uncommon in various parts of all cities), you will really feel it with hard little jolts, and want to raise your butt off the seat. This is partially the fact that it has such small, and thin, wheels, and partially the fact that it’s shocks aren’t that big. Overall it’s better than a bicycle and notably worse than a motorcycle.
On a motorcycle one technique for dealing with potholes is to give the engine a little more gas just before you hit it, to raise the front wheel a little and not hit it as hard, unfortunately, you’re going to be traveling at top speed most of the time on a Metro and the engine won’t have any extra oomph to give you so you’re just going to hit it with tiny wheels and tiny shocks, because unless you’re a gorilla, you won’t be able to pop a wheelie just by lifting on the handlebars.
The Metro has under-seat storage which can hold a 3/4 helmet with a little space left over for a small bag. Think of it as a grocery bag plus a couple cans of soda. It’s really sad that Honda would design a storage space that encourages users to wear helmets that don’t protect them from 38% of head impacts, but those of us who like our jaws and use full-face helmets can use the helmet hook on the front of the storage area that is locked when you close the seat.
On the inside of the leg shields you’ll find a hook where you can hang a plastic shopping bag, although I’ve never felt comfortable with an unsecured bag dangling between my legs as I ride.
For those looking for additional carrying capacity you can get a small basket that fits along the inside of the leg shield and a carrying rack for the back, which can be enhanced with a top-case that can easily hold a full-face helmet. Unfortunately the Honda brand top case isn’t very good looking, but there are other manufacturers whose cases have been used by many Metro. owners.
One surprising thing about the Metro. is just how modifiable it is and how much it’s riders like to tweak it. Want fatter tires? Swap in a swing arm from the Ruckus. Want a cool sound? Give it a new muffler. Want longer reach? Extend the wheelbase. Disk brakes? Better shocks? It’s not only all possible, but all been done by a community of riders who are more than willing to share their knowledge with you. The Ruckus people are probably even more into modding their scoots, but given the look of the Ruckus this isn’t too surprising.
If you want to stay safe please check out the infographics on Gear Up Project and read So you want to ride a motorcycle… and not die. Scooter riders seem almost alergic to good gear but 75% of all powered two-wheel vehicle accidents happen at speeds of 31Mph or less and most of them at intersections. In other words, in cities at scooter speeds.
If you’re considering a Honda Metro. you should probably check out UrbanScootin.com, a forum for Metro. owners with helpful folks and lots of examples of mods, and tales of owner’s experiences.
In most of the U.S. 50cc scooters require a drivers license to operate, but check with local laws before purchasing.
Credits & Caveats
The daytime speedometer picture is CC byscooter, the picture of the red Metro is CC keveemonterey, and the picture of the orange and red metros is CC Francesca Tronchin.
The scooter this review was based on was a 2005 with < 1000 miles on it that had just recently had a tune-up. Considering that Honda hasn’t changed anything but the color since then it should be a relatively accurate representation of what a new one would be like.