Honda Ruckus (Zoomer)

By Jack Littlbikeinson and Teeny-Tiny Seth

Not all little bikes are created unequal

Some motorcycles are designed to stir your passions and get your stomach churning with their ferocious performance. Others could barely churn a lump of butter with performance that seems better suited at stirring a cup of coffee.

This is the latter.

The Ruckus is a poorly-named scooter that runs almost silently, slowly, and without undue fuss. Perhaps next time, Honda should leave the naming of their bikes to anyone other than their Department of Irony, people who failed the company drug-test, or small children who have eaten too much sugar. Worse still, in some world markets, the Ruckus is sometimes known as a ‘Zoomer.’

Zoom is exactly what it doesn’t.

The Ruckus certainly seems like a weird little scooter when you first encounter it. It packs a tiny 50cc engine, turning out less than 5bhp, and a serious effort has been made to minimise the weight accordingly, by scraping off pretty much everything you normally find on a thing with two wheels. All possible bulk has been stripped away, shedding along with the bulk all hints of design and style. The frame is a bare, underbone layout split into a front end that supports the forward wheel and stretches as far back as the engine mounts. Behind that is a sturdy hanger for the seat and passenger platform. There is no real rear swingarm in the conventional sense as the wheel is bolted directly to a transmission system that is powered by all manner of ungodly magic.

Build-quality is surprisingly good, paint is thick enough to drown in, and the plastics—what little there is of them—are well-made, feeling tough and resilient.

But it’s not all good news!

The speedo is an awkward little thing, slapped on as an afterthought. The headlights are made from two disposable ashtrays with a plastic lens slapped on the top, and they put out less light than a glow-worm that’s not been feeling well. The rear light is borrowed from something else that it probably doesn’t properly fit on, and the number-plate hangs awkwardly off the back.

Brakes are cable-operated drums rear and front, but they’re surprisingly sharp for what they are. The wheels are the size of a personal-pizza and are forged from solid steel, eschewing such contrived ideas of saving weight with modern metal alloys, and all that mystical nonsense. They’re tough enough to take a knock, and heavy enough to destroy anything they take that knock from. Suspension is weaker than a cup of motorway tea and tends to bottom out if you weigh more than a small dog.

The front end sports a hollow plastic brick that contains the electronics, and the fuel tank fits under the floor. Petrol is pumped up from the ground by a needlessly complicated contrivance that is an annoying area of potential unreliability. There is nothing at all below the seat, and that’s where scooters normally stash their fuel, so that gravity can do the hard work for them.

The GET motor is a trustworthy and surprisingly perky thing. Acceleration is lazy compared to bigger motors, but it does pull fast enough to keep up with urban traffic. Just… It tops out at speeds that won’t terrify you, and an electronic rev-limiter means you can roll along safely at the bike’s peak capacity without expecting the thing to burst. That’s a good thing since anything less than full-throttle equates to walking speed.

What there is of this thing is built surprisingly well, but there’re no unnecessary frills, luxuries, conveniences, niceties, amenities or comforts. Equipment levels work hard to redefine the concept of basic.

The seat is just a little too long to be a solo unit but just a little too short for two. It’s like it’s giving you the option of carrying a pillion but also warning you against it. The handlebars are pretty good, wide enough to make the most of the sharp and quick handling, and that’s a good thing because the utilitarian method of fitting them means you probably won’t be able to swap them out without after-market mounting brackets.

The plastic brick below them contains two warning lights, one for low fuel and another for a full-beam headlight. Later versions also sport a flashing indicator warning, but this is worse than useless as the indicators themselves are very clearly visible and sound like a guilty secret in an Edgar Alan Poe story.

There’s pretty much nothing else. If it isn’t a legal requirement, you can guarantee it hasn’t been fitted to this bike.

So what’s the point of this small, odd little thing?

For the most part, this scooter misses the point for much of the target audience. Most global scooter buyers want sleek, sporty-looking or classically-styled motorcycles that look good in the conventional sense, while the Ruckus looks like someone dropped an engine into a pile of scaffold poles. It is low-powered, even compared to other scooters, and limps along slowly, dragging its pressed-steel wheels along with notable effort. It holds too much fuel, probably giving it a range close to 500 miles, and it’s a bit too expensive, compared to other machines of the same type.

But for all the things it’s not, this works best by being what it is. The tiny 50cc capacity gives it a pass in legal terms by making it small enough not to require a licence or tax to ride, depending on your location, and that has probably given the bike a head-start. The styling is no-nonsense and appeals to people who really want sensible transport without the unnecessary frills. Its simplicity makes maintenance and upgrades a breeze, appealing further to the competent tinkerer who enjoys making upgrades.

The small engine does actually turn out enough power to make the bike entirely competent in an urban environment, but also returns ridiculous fuel-economy while doing it.

The rough, utilitarian design handles bumps, lumps, and potholes with ease, and without shaking apart expensive plastic styling panels. The slightly too sharp, almost wobbly handling makes it dive into sharp corners nicely, perfect for dashing into turn-offs or weaving through traffic jams.

The bike is light enough to feel like an extension of yourself, almost like a set of teeny-tiny wheels are protruding from your own body. Parking is simple, and if you get closed in, you can heft the bike around like you’re dragging out a bicycle.

The bike might perfectly suit someone who owns a bigger bike, or even a car. It delivers sensible transport at minimal cost, while being huge fun to flick around the streets. It’s an ideal choice for someone who might prefer to save their larger, less sensible machine for weekends but still wants to get around on something that’s fun, albeit of a different kind of fun.

If you only have short runs around town to make, this bike might be a perfect choice for your primary transport. It’s basic, simple, and doesn’t try to pretend it’s anything else. It gets you where you going and looks after your finances while it does it.

For whatever reason, these little bikes have certainly found their niche. Ruckus’ have a cult following and it’s easy to understand why. There’s just nothing like them around, they’re boringly reliable, fun to ride, cheap to run, and tough enough to soak up a fair amount of abuse. There is a wealth of after-market parts, some offering minor upgrades in power to increase the utility of the platform, while other people bin the engine entirely and fit larger, more powerful motors. It’s rare to see a bone-stock example of these bikes.

When I first encountered one of these, I was dubious myself. I ended up stuck with one, riding it, and ultimately learning to appreciate it for what it was. I even ended up selling it, buying it back, and then buying another several years later.

Not many bikes get under your skin the way these little things do.

If you want a simple, cheap and useable motorcycle with none of the fuss and nonsense that you end up paying extra for, then this bike just might be for you.

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