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2010 Honda SH150i: Getting serious

May 17, 2009
SH150i at Rick Steves Europe

Orin O’Neill photos

In the U.S. and Canada, Honda’s scooters always seemed to be an afterthought. Until now, their scooter lineup consisted of two 50cc scooters (the one with no bodywork costing more than the one with) and a 600cc maxi, occasionally supplemented by devices like the Reflex and Big Ruckus, which proved to have very limited appeal. Honda people have told me the scooters’ mission was to attract people who are afraid of motorcycles, the ultimate aim being to get them onto one of their motorcycle offerings once their fears were assuaged.

However, the Great Scooter Fad of 2008 seems to have convinced Honda a market exists in North America for a serious 150cc scooter. Enter the SH150i. As a Honda lawnmower commercial once said, “This. Changes. Everything!”

The SH is the best selling scooter in Europe, available in 125, 150 and 300cc versions. The streets of Rome’s Centro Storica teem, not with Vespas, but with Honda SHs. Which, BTW, are made in Italy.

Honda SH150i

Few Europeans buy scooters because they’re looking for a hobby, or a lifestyle, or an identity. A European buys a scooter because gas is $6/gallon, parking spaces are about 2.5 square meters, and scooters are exempt from central-city congestion charges. That scooter had better start every time, and there’d better be a good dealer network to support and service it.

Honda is famous for that.

Honda is also famous for giving its products a premium look and feel. Every part of the SH looks like it was carved out of a solid block of whatever material it’s made of. Every piece fits so perfectly, it’s almost surreal. Every control operates smoothly and effortlessly.

You’ll notice this on the road. Traversing some heaved, cratered pavement on Olympic View Drive in Edmonds, I was astounded by the complete and utter lack of creaks, groans and rattles.

The riding position is sheer perfection, at least for me. The floorboard feels almost custom-made, my size 10½ feet naturally filling spaces seemingly designed just for them. The seat fit me just like the GTS’, which I consider perfect; my legs bend 90 degrees at the knee, just the way I like them on a scooter. And my knees are nowhere near my chin.

SH150i instrument cluster

One of the SH’s most delightful surprises is its weight. The spec sheet may say 302 lbs (the GTS weighs 326), but it feels a good 100 lbs lighter, especially when you’re wheeling it around by hand, or putting it up on the centerstand. Stopped on a sloping surface, I was not the least bit worried about the SH falling over on me.

The review example, supplied by Scooter Barn in Lynnwood, had all of 2.9 miles on it when I began the ride, so I will reserve judgement on engine performance. Don’t get me wrong, the SH is no slouch. You’ll leave the other traffic in the dust when the light turns green, for sure. I saw an indicated 50 mph on Hwy 99, and only the lack of a windscreen (optional) kept me from trying to go faster. But while the engine runs smoothly, it’s rather noisy. More so than a Vespa LX or ET 150. I guess the microscopic precision of its construction had me thinking the engine would be nearly silent, like an electric motor.

It’s probably not as noisy as it could’ve been. The SH’s electronically fuel-injected engine is liquid-cooled, as are the engines in Honda’s 50cc scooters. There’s no more room for 2-strokes or carbureted 4-strokes in a world of California and Euro 5 emissions standards.

Underseat storage is skimpy

Some may be disappointed by the underseat storage compartment. There’s enough room for one Snell piss-pot, but that’s it. But that’s the tradeoff you must make for the stability and improved ride those 16-inch wheels offer. The rear suspension has four steps of preload adjustment, and the generous pillion perch is accompanied by steps that fold out from the bodywork. The Honda-brand topcase is small, but that’s why there’s a company called Givi.

SH150i front view

There have been lots of comments on the message boards about the SH’s styling. Someone asked, “…am I the only person who looked at it, and at first blush thought: ‘what a nice Aprilia Scarabeo?'” Yes, there are a bunch of other scooters with similar styling. I would suggest the reason for that is the same reason minivans tend to be similar—between regulation and the expectations of buyers, the market dictates a design language that is, for better or worse, rather limited. As I said earlier, nothing can match the SH’s level of fit and finish.

Honda will be devoting a good deal of marketing energy to the SH150i and revived Elite in the weeks and months to come. Should the SH150i fail in the U.S. marketplace, I believe that would prove conclusively that most Americans really can’t think of motor scooters as anything other than toys.

The SH150i is a scooter that should be on the short list of anyone who is seriously interested in economical 2-wheeled transportation. If I had the money, I’d have written a check on the spot.

The details

MSRP: $4,499
Built in: Italy
Construction: Steel tubular frame, plastic bodywork
Wheelbase: 53.4 in (1356 mm)
Seat height: 30.9 in (785 mm)
Curb weight: 302 lbs (137 kg)
Front susp: Telescopic fork
Rear susp: Swing arm w/adjustable preload
Front brake: 220mm disc w/2-piston caliper
Rear brake: 130mm drum
Front tire: 100/80-16
Rear tire: 120/80-16
Engine: 153cc SOHC single cylinder, liquid-cooled w/EFI and electronic ignition
Power/torque: N/A
  1. May 18, 2009 7:03 am

    “Rick Steves Europe through the Backdoor?” I think I was checking out some Ukrainian girls on that site just last night!

  2. May 18, 2009 8:14 am

    Modern Vespas will look like exotic unreliable (slow) Lambrettas if Honda ever wakes up and imports the 300. Motociclismo tested the 300 to over 160kph (100 mph), which blew the GTS 300 into the dust.

  3. May 18, 2009 1:39 pm

    conchscooter, I must admit my curiousity is now seriously piqued about the SH300i. I think sales of the SH150i will determine whether or not we’ll get to buy the bigger scoot.

    In case anyone was wondering, yes, in Europe the turn signals are integrated into the body (in front, where the silver trim panels bracket the grille, in back, integrated with the taillight). Same deal as with the Vespa LX—they’re not far enough apart to meet U.S. safety standards. If this bothers enough people, I’m sure someone will offer a conversion kit…

  4. May 18, 2009 7:10 pm

    I like the SH150i – thanks for the review Orin! The price is up there, but I guess compared to Vespa’s, et al, the price is not too bad. I love Honda products, as you know – the Elite, the C70 Passport, the NC50 noped, two generators, two cars, and even the riding mower, all Honda!

    I read your post on the Symba – that is another beautiful bike, which is a modernized version of the C70 Passport.

    Take your choice, both bikes are great!

  5. May 19, 2009 9:54 am

    Just checked the Vespa USA Web site… the MSRP for the carbureted, air-cooled Vespa LX 150 is $4,399. So getting liquid cooling and electronic fuel injection for only 100 bucks more is actually a pretty good deal all by itself. The extensive, well-established Honda powersports dealer network is easily worth that much…

  6. Bill S permalink
    May 24, 2009 6:00 pm

    I purchased the first SH150i sold in my city on May 18. So far I have about 180 miles on it – I am loving every moment I’m riding it. Your review hit the nail regarding the seat placement and positioning. I’m 6′ and weigh about 230 lbs (I’m not small guy), but I fit just right. I do not feel like I’m riding a rocking-horse as I did on some scooters I’ve ridden. Performance and handling is great.

    The lack of accessories right now is an issue for me, however. I see the European models have full windscreens, the US model will likely not have one for a while, even from GIVI (I checked and have been in phone contact with their sales dept). The problem between the US and Euro models is the placement of the turn signals on the US version (they are built in on the Euro), and the size of the handlebar/instrument panel…it’s much larger on the US version. Even top trunks are still a puzzle for the aftermarket folks if you want one. There is no guarantee the model-specific mounting kit will work without some modification (no big deal, just shows that someone wasn’t paying attention to the accessories aftermarket). Maybe when enough are sold somebody will catch on that there’s a market out there.

    Lack of cargo space is not a big deal unless you are needing to run the errand to the grocery store. I have used my other scooter pretty much every day I could when I owned it, and intend to use the SH150i as my commuter vehicle. The fit and finish, the solidness of the design and ride all suggest that I’ll have lots of years with it. I guess I’ll just have to wait a little longer to spend more money on some of the extras.

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