2014 Genuine Stella 125 Automatic: Indeed, Hell hath frozen over
Conventional wisdom in the U.S. powersports biz with regard to scooters has not changed over the years: The bike needs to look like an old-skool Vespa, work like a modern scooter, and most importantly, it needs to be inexpensive.
The ideal would therefore seem to be a Vespa P-series with a modern engine and drivetrain. After years of conjecture, rumor and wishful thinking, that vision has finally been rendered in metal—yes, metal, not plastic—by LML, and brought forth in the U.S. (and I imagine the Philippines, too) by the Genuine Scooter Company.
To say the Stella 125 Automatic is perhaps the most important scooter the company has introduced to date is not an understatement. Not at all. Never mind the price of gasoline, the Stella Auto could turn out to be the scooter that puts Americans on two wheels in significant numbers. Srsly.
For starters, it’s not going to be a big adjustment for those used to shifty Stellas. The exterior dimensions are the same, the geometry’s the same, and so’s the curb weight. Scuttling around with your feet is no prob, even if, like me, you only have a foot and a half.
OTOH, there’s the matter of no gears to shift. Which, whether you personally like it or not, is not going to be an issue for the market at which the Stella Auto is aimed. Approximately 70% of Americans with driver’s licenses either don’t know how, or don’t want to shift for themselves. There are second and third generations who have no experience driving something with a clutch pedal, or in this case, lever.
FWIW, not once did I attempt to shift gears while test riding Stella Automatic #279 (The initial batch of 300 are all numbered, and wear a plaque to that effect), supplied by Vespa Lynnwood.
The instrument cluster looks like other Stellas’ with one exception—there’s an amber light on the lower left labeled “ECS.” That would be your “Check Engine” light, something made necessary by the presence of an ECU, oxygen sensor, and throttle position sensor. At the moment, the Stella Auto rocks a carburetor (a bit of a surprise, but most likely to keep the price down), but the additional electronics optimize the fuel mixture, which enhances performance.
You’ve probably seen the claimed top speed of “60+” mph and raised an eyebrow; I admit, I was initially skeptical, too. But I became a believer once on the road. No, the Stella Auto doesn’t explode off the line, but you don’t have to give it nearly as much stick as you might think. It more than held its own in the herd on WA 99, and given nearly no miles on the clock, time and mileage will only make it better.
While there is a kickstarter, you have to get off the bike to use it (also, the centerstand raises the rear wheel, so you have to get off to use it, too). You’ll be squeezing a brake lever and hitting the starter button. The engine doesn’t sound like a lawnmower at idle; at speed it buzzes purposefully but not obtrusively—the sound won’t drill a hole in your skull on a long ride. For those who like noise, performance pipes and such will be available shortly.
By now you’ve heard about how cleverly LML’s engineers rearranged a GY6’s major components to make it fit in the (highly modified) P-series space. And how there’s no spare tire, because the gas tank and battery occupy the space behind the spare tire cover. Yes, there’s now a fuel pump.
The result of this rearrangement is poise and balance not possible with the traditional design. You don’t list 4° to port, for starters. The scoot tracks straight and true, it is predictable and nippy as you please. You could be a lane-splitting ninja, for sure. And if you’re new to riding, you’ll find the Stella Auto easy as pie. Or cake.
While there was no bridge grating close by, I have to wonder if the factory-supplied Dunlop tires with their “retro” knobby tread (and a big mold flap) would play well under such conditions. Well, if they don’t you can easily swap them out for something more to your liking, since they’re mounted on traditional split rims.
About the only box Genuine hasn’t ticked on the Scooter for America checklist is the one labeled “Cheap.” Indeed, in the land of Costco and Walmart, the hyper price-conscious will question the $3,499 sticker price. It will be those who look beyond dollars who discover just what a sturdy, useful device the Stella 125 Automatic really is. It’s a well-executed, economical means of transportation that will serve faithfully for many years to come. It’s not a toy. Not at all.
Plus: If you’ve wanted a Stella but don’t want to shift gears, your wish has been granted; if you’re familiar with Stellas, the 125 Automatic won’t be a big adjustment.
Minus: Fit and finish leave room for improvement; performance comes at the cost of added complexity.
|Construction:||Pressed steel “duocoque” w/rear subframe|
|Curb weight:||266 lbs (121 kg)|
|Length:||69.3 in (1760 mm)|
|Width:||27.4 in (695 mm)|
|Wheelbase:||49.6 in (1260 mm)|
|Seat height:||32.3 in (820 mm)|
|Front susp:||Single trailing link w/hydraulic damper & coil spring|
|Rear susp:||Swing arm w/single hydraulic damper & coil spring|
|Front brake:||Hydraulic disc|
|Rear brake:||6-inch (152mm) mechanical drum|
|Engine:||125cc air-cooled, carbureted single-cylinder 4-stroke|
|Transmission:||Continuously variable with centrifugal dry clutch|