I must confess to a guilty little secret. I’ve had a soft spot for a model I met more than a decade ago. On the outside she appears to be fairly ordinary but get her alone and she’s a right goer…
The SH300i may look as conservative as Maggie Thatcher’s belly warmers but beneath the surface lies a power plant capable of some serious fun (not that I’d want any fun with the long dead ex-PM). Add into the equation a fine-handling chassis and this mild-mannered commuter suddenly turns into a wheel-spinning, tyre smoking urban missile and back road scratcher. On an SH 300i The Monday morning commute suddenly becomes a journey to look forward to.
Although the restyled 2016 model SH is sleek and classy the styling still might not be everybody’s cup of tea but overseas buyers know a good thing when they see/ride one and the SH is a top seller in many countries.
Over a million scooters have been shifted since the SH-line arrived 30 years ago, so Honda must be doing something right. In the UK, style often comes first. I’m guilty of crimes of aesthetics myself and often, metaphorically speaking, look at the mantelpiece whilst poking the fire. I like what I like; a scooter to me is a compromise between style, character and practicality. If being sensible was high on my list of priorities I wouldn’t still be riding a 1958 Lambretta long distances for weekend fun.
Even so, a classic scooter riding friend asked me for recommendations for a mid-capacity auto to use as a workhorse, I suggested the SH300i and sent him our tyre-smoking video, he still wasn’t impressed. That’s one of the barriers to selling modern scooters in the UK, looks and perception are deemed more important than what a machine is actually capable of. He wasn’t interested in a 90mph scooter that can handle, stop and beat bikes off the line. He wanted something with a ‘look at me’ paint job and sportier looks. You can only tell people though, the uninitiated must seek enlightenment.
I also have another little secret. Whilst having the SH in my garage for a fortnight, my classic and modern scooters got overlooked, I took the SH out at every opportunity. A 500-mile two’s up round-trip to Devon for a night out, no problem. 450-mile trip to Southend for a test ride, then on to Stansted airport to fly out for a launch… sorted. I did almost 1000 miles in just four days. Riding for both business and pleasure. So let’s have a look at what makes this urban warrior so much fun in a world where something this ordinary looking shouldn’t really stand out from the crowd.
The 2016 Honda SH300i
Heavily reworked and revised for 2016 the new Honda SH300i has evolved into a more dynamic machine both in terms of looks and performance.
Let’s start with the engine. It was the first Euro 4 compliant version from Honda. It’s a 279cc single-cylinder, liquid-cooled lump, controlled as you’d expect by PGM-FI fuel injection. It utilises a SOHC 4-valve head and has a peak power of 24.8bhp and peak torque of 25.5nm.
The engine has been developed to be punchy off the line and have a good spread of low to mid-range grunt. Internally, low friction bearings and a revised cam profile help to give the scooter good fuel economy. When ridden sensibly, it achieves 33.3km/l on the WMTC testing routine (World Motorcycle Testing thingamajig). In reality I was harming the Japanese efforts at saving the planet by riding it like a loon. Even so I was achieving around 120 miles to a tank and having much more FPM (Fun Per Mile) than MPG. Isn’t that what riding is all about? If I wanted to save the planet I’d wear shoes fashioned from my own faeces, commute by foot and live off the land.
My fuel economy, according to the on-board computer was 51.2mpg but don’t dwell on that figure, I’d imagine that could be up into the high 70s-80s if ridden sympathetically. That fuel figure was mostly done on the motorways of Great Britain, with the on-off switch pinned wide open. Sorry Greenpeace.
Despite significant reworking the SH is still instantly recognisable, it’s simply been refined. Modern LED lights look the part, are brighter than the old ones and reduce engine drain so help with efficiency. Overall weight has been reduced by a kilo and new 16” wheels help to give the SH a confident feel on the road. Honda have also introduced a Smart Key, keyless ignition. With the Smart Key you can start the scooter from two metres away and also open the seat. It took me a while to fathom it out when I first got the scooter, I’d fumble with the blue-lit dial after pressing the button to unlock it and struggle to get the steering lock off. It was operator error rather than electronic obstinance. Once I got to the last resort – reading the manual – I sussed it out. Surely ‘womanual’ would have been a better name for an instruction book, blokes don’t bother to read them until they’re ready to smash things with a large hammer…
On the road
What makes the Honda SH300i so much fun? To be honest it doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary but it does everything very well. In normal day-to-day use it’s quick off the mark, stable at low speeds. It’s nimble and is great for cutting through traffic. Those 16” wheels make a difference over rougher surfaces and the upright riding position is comfortable and helps you to be seen over the roof of cars. All good attributes for a city scooter.
The engine is powerful and smooth, so it accelerates well. Gaps can be filled, overtakes done quickly without fuss and the front and rear discs are outstanding. As is the norm from Honda, their ABS system is close to perfection. It’s there in the background if you need it but it doesn’t turn up to spoil the party if you’re simply out having a bit of fun. Nobody likes a party-pooper.
Back road scratcher?
Head out of the city and the SH takes on a new persona, that mild-mannered commuter likes to let its hair down now and again. Back road scratching, corner hunting fun is the name of the game. The Honda loves bends, the Metzeler Feelfree tyres are designed specifically for high-performance scooters and they stick well in the wet or dry. The 130/70-16 rear gives you the confidence to enjoy yourself. I loved every mile on the SH but twisty country roads were where it comes alive. Bikers really need to give a half decent scooter a try, the more you ride them the more fun you’ll have. They may not have supersonic top speeds but that doesn’t dilute the fun. Get one out on to a decent stretch of road with a rider who likes to enjoy him, or herself and you’ll realise you’ve been missing a trick by sticking to a bike with more power and potential than most riders will ever be able to do justice. Riding scooters quickly is where the real fun is…
Looking at the SH I wouldn’t instantly think of it as a two’s-up weekend away scooter but my passenger is always the first to let me know if she’s not happy. Heading down to Devon for a last-minute dash to a scooter rally was the first time she’d been on-board. It was a cold Saturday morning, in fact despite it being the end of April when we tested it, we ended up riding through a blizzard and plenty of rain but she was quite happy on the back.
The stepped dual seat is roomy and comfortable, without being overly high. The pegs are well positioned so she could reach them easily enough and she didn’t moan, always a bonus. She covered 500 miles on the back for a night out, no complaints. That’s almost unheard of, so that makes the SH a great scooter for a weekend away, albeit with limitations on luggage space. Extra space can be added though if need be.
Although my pillion was comfortable I found the lack of a screen to be an issue. The rain, wind and snow hit me directly in the chest and head, so a screen is a definite requirement to keep the weather off. Especially at motorway speeds. Obviously Honda have various accessories available for the SH, including a screen, top box, heated grips etc. Like many high-wheeled scooters the Honda lacks roomy storage space beneath the seat. The area is fairly deep though and contains a 12v socket but it wasn’t big enough to fit my full faced Arai. Trying to store some gear I rode down to the airport in for a launch was a no goer. For me a top box would be a necessity if I owned an SH; it’d make life so much easier. The rear rack comes as standard and is handy for strapping a bag to but to hide stuff out of the way a top box is a useful addition.
There’s no mistaking the fact that the Honda SH300i is a superb scooter that can be used for more than just a blast to work and back. Its performance, handling, riding position and the quality of the finish put it up with the best of them. Would I buy one? If I didn’t already own a Vespa GTS or was thinking from an all-round perspective then it would certainly be a top contender. In my world of shallow aesthetics the Vespa still has the edge on styling, but as a dynamic proposition the Honda is actually a better scooter in almost every way. Just don’t tell the guys at the scooter rally that I said that.
Lab rating: 9.7
Honda SH300i specifications
Engine: 279.1cc single cylinder, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, 4-valves, SOHC
Power: 24.8bhp @7500rpm
Torque: 25.5nm @ 5000rpm
Suspension: 35mm telescopic front fork, twin rear shock absorbers
Brakes: Front and rear discs with two-channel ABS
Tyres: Front 110/70-16, rear 130/70-16
Seat height: 805mm
Dimensions: Length 2131mm, width 728mm, wheelbase 1193mm
Fuel capacity: 9 litres
Colours: Pearl white, Pearl Nightstar Black
Text: Iggy Grainger Action video/pics: Sticky
Vespa GTS 300 Super or Honda SH300i?
SH 300i or Vespa GTS 300?
Comparing these two popular mid-capacity models should be fairly straightforward but it’s actually like comparing chalk and cheese. Both scooters are very similar in capacity but are bought by different types of rider. They’re very close on price as well, the GTS 300 ABS/ASR costs £4693, whilst the Honda SH300i costs £4699 (another alternative is the fantastic Kymco Downtown 300i at just £3999).
A Honda SH300i rider is likely to be a biker (or serious commuter) looking for some useful transport to use for the winter commute. Quite often he, or she will enjoy the ride of their ‘utility’ scooter so much that the bike will quickly be relegated to the subs bench and the Honda will rack up miles at an alarming rate.
The Vespa GTS is bought by a rider looking for an iconic scooter name with enough modern tech to make it pleasurable to ride. The GTS owner will either be looking to recreate a misspent youth, or want something that can look the part and fit in with classic scooter riders, or envious onlookers if need be. It too is likely to get some decent mileage under its belt. They both make a great long-distance scooter. They’re comfortable, easy to ride and the liquid-cooled engines mean they aren’t fazed by long distance high-speed riding.
Both machines have a ‘300’ in the name whilst only having a capacity of 279.1cc for the Honda and 278cc for the GTS. Even so the Honda makes 24.8bhp at the crank, the Vespa just 21.18, that’s 3.62bhp less but do you feel that difference out on the road? You’d better believe it. The Honda out accelerates the GTS quite easily and has an extra 10mph on the top end. That’s a bonus out in the real world. The GTS isn’t slow but having more power and torque (25.5Nm for the SH, as opposed to 22.3Nm with the GTS) on tap equals more fun. Performance isn’t the biggest selling point for all riders but it’s part of the attraction with a mid capacity scooter.
The GTS will hit the rev limiter at 82mph on a GPS, the Honda will do a genuine 91mph. Not a bad speed from either scooter but the Honda makes it feel like more fun. The extra power and gearing given by the larger wheeled Honda is well worth having. Even if you have a top speed above the legal limit it doesn’t mean you have to use it but it does mean your engine won’t be working quite so hard at cruising speeds. If you can sit on a motorway at 70mph without thrashing the tits off your machine it’s a fair bit healthier for your engine.
Surprisingly the Honda has the edge, both scooters can get around corners very well but the SH just feels like it’s got some left over in reserve when you’re pushing hard, whilst the GTS can feel like it’s reaching the limit of its suspension mid corner at higher speeds. The Honda also has the better brakes of the two and the added stability of the larger wheels. Both scooters handle well though and the Vespa ABS system is good.
The Vespa and Honda have modern liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engines. They also have ABS as standard (the Vespa also has ASR traction control). Both machines can be fitted with an assortment of aftermarket goodies from exhausts and screens to top boxes and lap covers.
The Vespa has the edge on styling accessories though, with plenty of chrome bling, crash bars, racks and custom made parts available. The underseat space is roomier on the GTS as well, although neither scooter can take my full-faced Arai. The Vespa can still carry more luggage thanks to the option to add a fold-down front and rear carrier. Both scooters can also stow some luggage between the riders legs. The Honda comes equipped with a keyless ignition; both scooters have immobilisers fitted. Neither come with a screen as standard.
The Honda is more economical than the Vespa, however the GTS has a 9.5 litre tank, whilst the Honda holds half a litre less fuel. Even so the Honda can comfortably cover 120 miles between fill ups at motorway speeds, with a GTS I’m looking for fuel and getting twitchy at less than 100 miles. Both could do with more range in my opinion, I hate stopping for fuel more often than my body can cope with. At motorway speeds I can drain a GTS tank in an hour.
What would I buy?
This question kind of answers itself, that’s my blue GTS in the photo. Even so, the SH is a better all-round 300. It’s quicker, has better handling, is great fun and isn’t quite as likely to get stolen (Vespa GTS’s are quite sought after by certain cretins). Having said that though, if I wasn’t a rally going scooter rider the Honda SH would be my choice out of the two, as it is I’m part of a scene where the Vespa name carries more kudos and I don’t really need another 300 in my life.