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First Ride: Kymco Downtown 300i review

500 miles across, down and around London town on Kymco's mid-size scooter

It's raining and the man with the Kymco Downtown 300i has arrived outside. I stick on a jacket, grab my lid and run downstairs to grab the scoot and take it to our lock-up around the corner. Can't leave it outside for more than five minutes before Islington's eagle-eyed traffic Gestapo slap a ticket on it.

I give the Kymco a cursory once over and note that it's got an ABS sensor on the front wheel. Another scooter with ABS? That's a good idea.

I fire it into life, well, less fire and more smoulder. It's very quiet and sits there obediently while I fumble with my gloves, taking longer to put them on than it'll take to get the scooter to the lock-up.

And we're off. The throttle of the scooter pinned, we nudge 30 in no time, the engine whirring with almost no resistance, while the clutch takes that slightly awkward amount of time to engage; enough time for you to wonder if it is actually slipping or whether this will be part of the ritual every time I set off from a standstill. All 30 horsepower engaged and we're making progress.

I approach a set of lights, they go to orange. There's a white van in front of me, so of course he's going to gas it through them and I'm going to tuck in behind him. That's London rules. But hang on. He's braking. Really? I grab a handful of the front brake; the front wheel instantly sits at an angle that you won't find in a RoSPA manual: forty-five degrees. This is funny ABS I think to myself, as grab the rear brake, drifting along the tarmac increasingly out of shape.

I let go of the front brake and clamber enough spare brain cells together to guide me to the right of the van. I go sailing past, slightly sideways and end up parked three foot away from a group of bemused looking pedestrians waiting to cross the road. If only my over-sized scooter wasn't blocking their path. Sorry.

Read Visordown's first ride report on the Kawasaki J300, a rebranded Kymco Downtown 300i

It's safe to say that me and the Downtown 300i didn't get off to a good start. In fact, I got back to the lockup and wondered just how few miles I could get away with in order to write a review.

Sometimes I get that with bikes, I think '..maybe this is the one that's going to bite back?' But come on, it's only a scooter. Alright it's a big scooter, but a scooter none the less. It will not defeat me..

Turns out, that sensor is a speed sensor, not ABS. There won't be any ABS models in the UK, no matter what a certain Mr Kevin Ash (of The Telegraph, don't you know?) tells you..

A couple of hours later, the Downtown and I are going down town (and slightly across) as I head from N1 to SW3. The commute to and from work through London really separates bikes that are hard to tell apart, for example, 600cc sportsbikes; they might all be composed on a country road but show them the city and some end up hot and bothered, others reveal their lack of lock or lust for revs. Some excel, some times.

For scooters, the commute to work is the be all and end all. If they can’t cut it here, forget it. For the first mile or so, it feels like the Achilles' heel of the Downtown is its size, width to be precise. It feels wide but in actual fact, it's not too bad. No wider than your average naked bike. The lower fairing does a good job of covering your legs but gives the impression it’s as wide as a tourer. I slide slowly through the gaps between cars as I recalibrate just how much I can get away with on this super-size ped. However, the bars are your whiskers and stick out far more than the fairing - so no different to anything else, then.

Off the line, the Downtown has a laughable amount of grunt. And by laughable, I mean you’ll be giggling to yourself as you fizz away at the front, leaving behind you a whirl of revs and the stench of slipping clutch (probably). It is geared (if you can call it that) so well for town. It racks up 30 almost from the get-go and will burst through 60 with ease and tops out at 90. Plenty fast enough for London. On a long run of lights through London, I came up against an SV650, who despite a fist full of revs and a handful of clutch could only just pip the Downtown to 40. All I had to do was wind open the throttle. Easy.

Fuel consumption is good too. It drinks from its 12.5 litre tank, like a budgie sips water from its bottle. Kymco reckon you can get 200 miles from a tank and I don't disagree. 60+ mpg? Yes please.

It’s not all smiles on the Downtown, you know? Despite a cavernous underseat storage area, its weird layout means it’s actually quite hard to fit a lot of things in. It’s moulded to a shape to fit two full-face helmets but I couldn’t get the ‘boot’ closed with two in there. One, yes, but two, no.

FAIL, as the kids would say.

However, it’ll fit my weekly shop in; 21 packets of super noodles and eight Mars milkshakes. I just had to unpack half of it from the shopping bag and space it nicely around the moulding for it to fit. I have yet to ride a scooter that stores two full-face lids, so it’s not like the Downtown is lagging behind but it would be nice to lift the seat of a scooter and just be able to chuck everything in, like you can with a car. Is that too much to ask?

The Downtown loves pillions. It was noticeably more lethargic off the line two-up but then you can’t expect miracles from 30 horsepower. Once you get going, it’s peppy enough and retains its big-cubes characteristics; plenty of roll-on power, enough to shift in and out of gaps without leaving a trace of fairing on someone’s front wing..

My pillion said it was the most comfortable bike she’d been on. She’s only been on three others. But the Downtown has a massive pillion seat and I can believe it’s sofa-like comfy back there. And instead of footpegs it’s got neat little platforms that enable your pillion to get sure footing. Nothing more annoying than a pillion swaying around like a fishing boat, while you’re trying to thread your way through increasingly smaller gaps. It’s pillion friendly, without a doubt.

The Kymco has the build quality to scare the established opposition. It’s a little bit plastic overload but it offers halogen headlights, a 12v charging socket, a digital dash and a tyre pressure monitor, all for £3999.

After a month of riding and almost 500 miles, there’s only one thing I’d want to improve on the Downtown 300i and that’s the front brake. No, I’m not suggesting it needs ABS - although that would be a nice option - it just needs more bite and more power. The trouble is, the Downtown racks up 60mph in just a few seconds but the weedy 260mm disc and twin-pot caliper struggle to scrub that off. Two-up the Downtown weighs more than a sportsbike ridden solo, yet the sportsbike will have twin 320mm discs, chunky calipers and more capable tyres. The Downtown is under-endowed.

If your commute is around 50 miles a day and involves town, motorway and a little bit of whatever else is thrown at you, then you’d be hard pressed to want for more. Just don’t go asking too much from the brakes...

Read Visordown's first ride report on the Kawasaki J300, a rebranded Kymco Downtown 300i