Honda has pretty much had the 125cc commuter market sewn up in recent years. Their affordable, well spec’d PCX125 has consistently topped the sales charts in the UK. In Europe it’s been the best selling 125 since 2013 and deservedly so. The Honda received a facelift last year and gained LED headlights and a few tweaks (it’s also just been made Euro 4 compliant for MY2017 and the new PCX will arrive in dealers shortly) but have they done enough to ward off the Italian new kid on the block, the Piaggio Medley? We rode both contenders back-to-back to find out if Honda can stay at the top of the class.
You’ll probably recall we were at the recent press launch for the Piaggio Medley, you can read the full test here: Piaggio Medley launch. We’ve also had a pre MY2017 model PCX residing in the ScooterLab stable for a few weeks. It seemed like a good idea to take the two machines out for a blast together, after all they’re natural competitors. We borrowed the newly arrived Medley from Midland Scooter Centre. Their demo scooter was brand spanking new, so needed a little bit of loosening up and we were quite happy to oblige (incidentally, the scooter is on the MSC demo fleet so it’s worth taking it out for a ride yourself).
For its on the road price, its spec and the quality of the product it’s not surprising that the Honda PCX has been a hit with the commuters of Europe. In 2010 the scooter was the first to come equipped with Idling Stop technology, then in 2012 the engine was upgraded and the PCX became the first scooter to get the highly efficient Honda eSP engine – enhanced Smart Power. It gives a claimed 134mpg without Idling Stop on the WMTC testing mode. Economy has always been one of Honda’s major selling points, safety has been another and the PCX comes with CBS – Combined Braking System. It’s a decent enough braking system but it’s low tech in comparison to ABS.
To me the PCX looks very Japanese, it’s sleek, low and angular. That’s no bad thing in many ways. It certainly has a style all of it’s own and you can’t mistake it for anything else on the road. Even though it’s been around for a while the styling hasn’t dated too much. It looks classy enough for a well-heeled commuter to feel good whilst riding one. It’s a grown up looking scooter, one that will no doubt appeal to both sexes. Honda got most things bang on when they designed the PCX and it’s improved with each update, whilst still retaining a keen price.
On the road
As a rule of thumb 125cc four-strokes aren’t hugely potent so don’t expect to be blown away with the power of either machine. The Honda is comparable to other 125s though and is still nippy enough, whilst being very cheap to run and perfect for commuting on. Just as well really because that’s exactly what the PCX was designed for. Even so I did a 90-mile round trip on it, including 50 miles of motorway and it wasn’t slow enough to leave me feeling vulnerable on the busy M1. Get off the motorway though and the PCX comes into its own, its stability is fantastic. The scooter is low to the ground, the fuel tank is placed in the raised central tunnel inbetween the floorboards and the scooter has a ‘sit-in’ rather than ‘sit on’ seating position. As a result the scooter has a low centre of gravity which means it handles very well. It’ll glide around corners, like most feet forward style scooters. That low seating position makes it a perfect machine for those shorter of leg, or fairer of sex. It’s an unintimidating scooter to ride, perfect for a novice.
Can I ride on the motorway?
Just to answer a question we often get asked about the law regarding riding scooters on motorways, as long as you hold a full motorcycle licence and your machine is over 50cc and capable of at least 50mph you are allowed to ride on a motorway. If you’re on ‘L’ plates or just have a car licence you can’t, but you can ride on dual-carriageways.
Riding the scooter back late at night from a visit to the dark and gloomy parts of the Midlands gave me a chance to test the lighting out. Honda introduced dual LED headlights (and tail light) to the PCX in its last facelift and they do give off a very distinctive and bright beam. At the minute LED’s might help to get you noticed more easily, day or night but as more and more vehicles become equipped with them they’ll soon start to blend into the sea of LED burning compulsory daytime headlight sporting scooters and city cars. Folks using daytime lights by choice had an advantage back in the day.
On a practical level the PCX has fairly good weather protection, although the angle of the sloping front fairing means the screen doesn’t come as high as I’d prefer but that only becomes an issue at motorway/dual carriageway speeds. Scooters are always more practical than your average bike, built-in storage, comfort, weather protection and they’re much easier to ride with twist&go transmission as well.
The PCX now comes with a clock on the dash (as well as the usual instruments and digital screen for trip/odometer/MPG). There’s also a 12v point located within the pop open left hand cubby hole near the handlebars. The raised floor means it’s not easy to use that space for carrying luggage but the storage space beneath the seat is quite roomy and deep enough to take a full-faced helmet. Although it was a bit too tight to close the seat with my Arai or Sticky’s Shoei in there. The seat (and fuel filler cap) can be opened by using the button next to the ignition key. The seat itself is on a stepped sprung hinge so it won’t fall back down: you have to physically close it. Whilst we’re talking about the ignition it comes with an anti-theft guard. Once you lock the steering a flap slides across so the ignition switch can’t be tampered with. It’s a good idea, although also a bit annoying. To use the ignition you first have to use the other end of the ignition key to open the flap, then you can put the key in. If you’re on and off the scooter a lot lazy owners might decide not to use the steering lock. Having said that, any extra security can only be a good thing so I’d live with the added nuisance if it meant keeping my bike.
Piaggio Medley 125
It’s good to be reunited with a scooter after you’ve ridden it on a launch, it gives you a chance to try it out without the rose-coloured specs afforded by corporate hospitality on a foreign trip. Seeing the Grigio Titanio coloured Medley for the first time on English soil reminded me that this is quite a handsome, well-finished 125cc machine. It’s also a decent sized scooter. Even with the over-sized Sticky on board it looks in proportion with his gangly frame.
Riding scooters back to back is always the best way to show up any obvious flaws, or weaknesses. It means things that might not otherwise become apparent can be noticed. Like the suspension for instance. We quickly realised that the Piaggio’s forks and rear suspension were much higher quality than the Honda’s. Ridden on it’s own the Honda is a great machine, but the Piaggio just feels more refined. The Medley brakes were another revelation, it comes equipped with two-channel ABS and discs at both ends, whereas the Honda has a front disc/rear drum with CBS (Combined Braking System, so one lever works both brakes). As a result there’s more feel at the lever on the Medley and during our slalom test I found the Medley much easier to get in and out of the cones.
Another difference was in the start/stop technology. On both machines you can choose whether or not to activate the system. Once activated, when you stop at a junction for a couple of seconds the engine cuts out to save fuel. Twist the throttle again and the engine bursts seamlessly back into life and you’re away. Ridden on its own the Medley system was fairly impressive but ridden against the PCX it showed that the Honda engine was faster to re-start. The Honda also reacted earlier to the throttle, meaning it could be started and away from the lights a good scooter’s length faster than the Piaggio. It was enough of a difference to annoy us when riding together but out in the real world it won’t matter too much to most commuters. Either system works well enough, but if you are most concerned about Pole Position in the traffic light Grand Prix the obvious solution is to keep the engine running.
Don’t take these points out of context though, ridden alone both machines are agile, brake well, get over bumps and can stop/start quickly enough. As I said, riding side-by-side and swapping scooters gives you a more detailed comparison but don’t let it put you off buying either scooter.
ABS has come on in leaps and bounds since we first started seeing bikes with it a few years ago. The latest systems really are very good and the electronics behind it are cleverer and have better reactions than most humans. We tried a braking test on loose gravel, ordinarily it’s not the kind of surface to be trying out such foolishness but we were both amazed at just how much control the Medley had whilst braking as hard as we could. You feel the ABS cut in as its computer brain detects ‘imbecile riding mode’ and the scooter just stops in a straight line. We even tried it using the front brake only, not something that should be tried for fun but even then the scooter stopped under control. Fantastic, even Sticky was lost for words.
Which wins on storage space?
The Medley could fit both of our helmets under the seat, that’s brilliant for a high-wheeled 125cc scooter. Piaggio seem to be taking helmet storage seriously during the design stage. Their Vespa Sprint & Primavera can both swallow a full-faced lid as well. The storage space is roomier and more useful than the PCX’s without a doubt.
The Medley’s i-GET engine makes slightly more power than the Honda’s eSP, although it’s negligible on the road so neither scooter had much of an advantage. Interestingly both scooters also have the radiator mounted directly to the engine. Once the Medley had a few miles under its belt and had loosened up it became a much closer match for the few hundred mile old Honda. Both scooters are nippy enough and during our day on board they both used an almost identical amount of fuel. Neither machine has a high-octane drink problem so don’t worry about feeding them too often. Every couple of weeks should be enough for most commuters, theoretically they both have a 200-plus mile range.
Which scooter is the fastest?
As an overall top speed I clocked 68mph on the Medley using GPS, whilst the Honda was just a couple of miles per hour slower, a negligible difference to be honest. On the road they were evenly matched once we’d put a few miles on the new Medley. Neither felt out of their comfort zone on faster roads so you can commute quite happily on any type of road.
Which filters the best?
Again both these scooters are very agile, you can do feet-up U-turns on a postage stamp without touching the perforations. They’re stable as well so you can roll to a momentary stop, balance and ride away again. They’re skinny enough to carve a path through traffic and can squeeze past those troublesome car mirrors to get you to the front of a traffic queue, after all there’s not much point being on two-wheels if you’re going to queue up. The Honda Idling Stop does give it a slight advantage here though, so if you’re the king of the amber light getaway you’ll prefer using the PCX, although I’d be tempted to switch it off on either scooter in heavier traffic when you want to be away as fast as possible. We tried a few side by side standing starts and the Honda won every time; not by much but enough to get away quicker.
Fit and finish
Both machines look higher spec than their retail price suggests. The overall look, finish and equipment levels are very good. To make them as keenly priced as possible the manufacturers have had their respective machines built in their overseas factories. The Medley was built in the Vietnamese Piaggio factory and the Honda is built in Honda’s factory in Thailand. The Medley was too new to be showing any signs of wear or corrosion but the PCX’s exhaust was already starting to rust after 200 miles. That’s not unique to Honda though, any scooters with a mild steel exhaust will rust. The Medley has a stainless exhaust header pipe, which is a much better option but the main part of the exhaust is still made from steel.
I’m not a big fan of the coloured brown plastic used on the Medley; it soon starts to look a bit tired. Simple black is a better option, especially with the conservative UK market. That comment goes for the brown seat as well. Even so, I must admit the Medley looks like a quality bit of kit though and has a great presence, either parked up or on the road.
Which would we choose?
It’s a tricky question to answer and both scooters score highly in most areas. There’s only £28 separating them at the dealers and either makes a great commuter scooter. You can’t even call it on fuel efficiency, we measured them over 34 miles and there was just .2 of a litre between them. The Honda sipped slightly less fuel and achieved 80.08mpg, whilst the Piaggio did 79.26mpg (both scooters ridden hard). During my few weeks with the Honda it did 102mpg overall according to the on-board computer. Either way we’re not going to lose sleep over filling them up.
Personally I preferred the Piaggio, I like the styling of the scooter and the riding position suits me. The brakes and handling are fantastic as well and it has loads of storage space. It’s also a little bit cheaper to buy (not that £28 will break the bank) and I’m closer to a Piaggio dealer than I am a Honda dealer so servicing would be easier for me. As with all vehicle choices though it comes down to personal preference as much as anything and you won’t go far wrong with either of these machines. The PCX has been number one for a while but I think Piaggio may well give it a run for it’s money with the Medley. If you’re in the market for a new 125 I suggest you try both before parting with your money.
Thanks to: Midland Scooter Centre and Honda UK for vehicle loans. Special thanks to Noah of freerunning crew and clothing brand Street Media.
Sticky’s second opinion
Why would you pay £1,000 more for a brand-name scooter?
The fact that you are reading this report suggests that you are taking your scooter-buying research seriously. Well done. Many people simply buy on price and end up with low-end Chinese 125s which might look sporty but use a timid 2-valve engine designed in the 1990s.
The answer to the original question is in the technology you get for your money. This was my first shot on Piaggio’s iGet engine and itGets the thumbs-up from me. Both the Medley and the Honda easily achieve cruising speeds in excess of 60mph with great fuel economy. This is the sort of performance you need for dual carriageway riding. By comparison some budget 125s I’ve ridden will struggle to do 45mph when presented with a hill or a headwind.
In terms of acceleration the Honda has a slight edge and this advantage is multiplied by a slightly shorter lag than Piaggio’s version of the stop-start technology. For the small amount of fuel I’d save on an average commute I’d switch off the Medley’s idle-stop and ride it as normal. For Bangkok levels of traffic it might be a different story.
Where the Piaggio really shone was in its handling and braking. Thicker fork stanchions, disc brakes at both ends and an effective ABS system which got me out of ‘deliberate crash attempt’ scenarios. For a learner, ABS is a real boon. Together with the higher level of comfort and far more practical double-helmet bay, the Medley would be my choice as well. It’s close though. If you are short on stature want quicker acceleration and a better idle-stop function then the Honda could suit you better.
Where can I buy one?
Honda PCX125 specs Piaggio Medley 125 specs
Engine: 125cc single-cylinder, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, 2-valve, SOHC
Engine type: eSP – enhanced Smart Power with Idling Stop
Power: 11.53bhp @ 8,500rpm
Torque: 12nm @ 5,000rpm
Suspension: 31mm telescopic front fork, twin rear shock absorbers
Brakes: 220mm front disc, 130mm rear drum – Combined Braking System
Tyres: Front 90/90-14 rear 100/90-14
Seat height: 760mm
Dimensions: Length 1930mm, width 740mm, wheelbase 1315mm
Fuel capacity: 8 litres
Colours: Black, grey, red, white, brown
Lab Rating: 8.8
Engine: 124.5cc single cylinder. 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, 4-valve, SOHC
Engine type: i-GET with Start & Stop
Power: 12.069bhp @8250rpm
Torque: 11.5nm @ 6500rpm
Suspension: Telescopic front fork, rear single shock absorber, adjustable
Brakes: 260mm front disc, 240mm rear disc with two-channel ABS
Tyres: Front 100/80-16”, rear 110/80-14”
Seat height: 787mm
Dimensions: Length 2020mm, width 705mm, wheelbase 1390mm
Fuel capacity: 7 litres
Colours: Bianco Perla (white), Grigio Titanio (grey), Blu Midnight, Blu Sport
Price: £2671 (S version £2771)
Lab Rating: 9.3