Mid-sized scooters are the perfect commuter motorcycles in my opinion. They’re small and agile enough to be able to dart through city traffic, while having enough performance to hold their own on a motorway.
Now I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Honda’s Forza 350 over the years and I’ve never been anything less than impressed so, when the manufacturer gave Insidebikes the opportunity to try out their latest ADV350, I made sure I was right at the front of the queue.
That said, when I first saw the ADV350 I looked at it rather quizzically. Just like the bigger X-ADV, which is based on the Forza 750, it’s a sort of rugged looking version of the standard model – in this case the Forza 350 – in what (to me at least) seems a rather pointless styling exercise. After all, who wants to ride off-road on a scooter?
Except I don’t really think Honda are expecting anyone to tackle anything more than a gentle gravel lane on an ADV350. In the car world, I believe the term is ‘crossover’ and it basically sees the Forza get a cosmetic makeover using the design language from the flagship Africa Twin adventure bike, with different forks, screen, dashboard, revised bodywork, wheels and tyres to give it a more rugged look. Just like a crossover car, the ADV350 probably hasn’t been designed to properly go off-road (despite what the marketing suits might say) but it sort of looks like it can, and that’s the point. It looks kinda cool and a little bit quirky, and it stands out in a field of otherwise cookie cutter mid-capacity scooters, although to be honest, the rather sober colour choices (for the record I love the matt red of our test bike) soften the adventure bike styling cues.
In reality, what you get is a scooter with an almost identical spec sheet to the more vanilla Forza 350 and that most certainly is no bad thing. It means the same 29bhp, 330cc single cylinder engine housed in a typical steel underbone frame. Although Honda makes a bit of a deal about the ADV’s 145mm of ground clearance in the marketing blurb, a quick check of the spec sheet suggests it’s actually identical to the Forza’s, even if it sports chunkier 37mm (compared to 33mm) upside down forks, which are motorcycle style units made by Showa. The ADV also gets Metzeler Karoo tyres, although these are not the big block Karoo 4s so highly rated by adventure bike riders for their off-road prowess, rather the Karoo Street variants which have a light dirt bike pattern but are very much road focussed tyres.
Riding the XDV is really easy, although the 795mm saddle is 15mm taller than that of the Forza. One of the things I like most about these midi scooters, and I would include the Yamaha XMAX 300 and Piaggio Beverly in that bracket, is that they really don’t feel much bigger or heavier to ride than a high end learner legal 125, which is great if a lot of your riding is in the city. As a smaller rider (1.65m) the ADV certainly feels a bit taller than other bikes in the category but it is by no means unmanageable. For some the extra height will mean it feels roomier and will be a major plus point. I really like the riding position and comfort was generally pretty good, even when doing hour long stints in the saddle. The only real downside of the ADV (and most bikes in this category) is that the frame tunnel is quite wide, making it a little unwieldly to get on when wrapped up in winter riding gear, and which I can see getting scuffed up from regular use.
The main reason I love scooters is simply because they are just so darned practical. They’re a less common sight on our roads than they are in mainland Europe and that’s a great shame. They’ve got a broad appeal and, while most people will mark them down as inexpensive commuter transport, they also attract some older motorcyclists who want to keep experiencing the freedom of riding while enjoying the comfort and automatic transmission of a scooter.
There are no gears, just a simple twist and go transmission with handlebar mounted front and rear brake levers. The seat hinges up to reveal a generous 48 litres of storage space or, in other words, enough space for two full faced helmets or a couple of bags of shopping. It’s not just the capacity of the underseat area that’s impressive, the shape is good too. Packed properly, you’d get a decent sized holdall under there, and you can break it down into two sections if you want as well, using the simple little divider.
And the storage doesn’t end there. There’s a lockable glove box, which has a USB-C charging socket, and an optional 50 litre top box is available and integrates with the Honda’s smart key central locking system. I also like the fact that, unlike the Forza which has a plastic trim covering it, the adventure bike style fat handlebars are fully exposed. This makes fitting accessories, like my Quad Lock, a breeze. The smart key means the ADV350 has a keyless ignition, with a knob used to put the ignition on and to release the seat and so on. It feels a little complicated at first but quickly becomes second nature. It’s a good system and means the bike can be unlocked and started as long as the fob is in proximity of the scooter – for example in the rider’s jacket pocket.
There’s also good weather protection from the bodywork and the screen, which is manually adjustable with four settings. Adjustment is easy using the knobs either side of the screen and although it’s as good as or even better than you might expect from a scooter in this price category, it’s not electrically adjustable like the one found on its Forza 350 sibling. That said, screen adjustment is something that’s usually set once and left, so certainly not a big deal. Our bike also had heated grips fitted, although these are a £300 option. Despite having five heat settings I found them underwhelming and not as hot as others I have used, even when set to maximum. They are easy to use though, being operated by a thumb button on the left handlebar grip. Another gripe is the handguards, which are situated too low to be effective. Not only did they fail to protect my hands from the wind chill, they actually seemed to deflect the blast right into the tips of my fingers.
That said, the saddle of a Honda ADV350 is a nice place to be, especially on a warmer day. The dashboard is small but comprehensive, in the style of the ‘roadbook’ designs of the latest adventure bikes, albeit LCD rather than a TFT setup. I liked the connectivity of it and if you have a helmet with an integrated headset and speaker setup you are able to connect your smartphone to the bike via Honda’s app, using the left-hand switchgear to manage phone calls and listening to music.
Although not a high performance vehicle, being a 350 (or 330 to be more technically correct) the extra power over a 125 makes for a more usable scooter.
Where a 125 huffs and puffs to 60, Honda’s ADV350 will comfortably sit at 70. It enjoys most of the performance of a maxi scooter, like the Yamaha TMAX, but in a more manageable package – and for around half the price.
It’ll cruise at motorway speeds, with a little bit in reserve for inclines and the likes. And it’ll cope with a pillion on the back fairly competently too. The downside is that while you can ride a 125 on a CBT, you do need to pass your bike test to ride the bigger machine.
In a world where costs are rising, powered two-wheelers like the ADV350 make increasing sense. While it is most at home on the commuting run, it’s more than capable of taking in bigger trips – indeed I’d have no issues riding from one end of the country to the other on one.
Honda are being very aggressive with their pricing in 2023. New models like the Hornet and Transalp are undercutting the competition and, at £5799, Honda’s 350 scooters are £400 cheaper than the base version of their main rival, Yamaha’s XMAX 300. For those spending over an hour a day in trains, it may well work out less expensive (and more liberating) than an annual season pass. And fuel consumption during our test was around 70mpg, with the 11.5 litre fuel tank good for around 180 miles between refilling.
I’m a massive fan of these mid-sized scooters and the ADV350 only adds more variety to the marketplace. It does stand out a little in an otherwise homogenised sector and with an identical price tag to the similar Forza 350, the choice is really more down to which model you like the look of most than which is ‘better’.
Personally, I’ve always loved the Forza 350, I think it’s perfect for what I would need, and the ADV350 is really just more of the same recipe but with some slightly different toppings. Taller riders might prefer the ergonomics of the ADV, and the more distinctive and rugged looks might sway others too. Given the choice I’d still take the Forza, with its more classic lines, car style dashboard and electric windscreen, but if you prefer the ADV350 you most definitely won’t be disappointed.
And if you’re reading this and don’t yet have a motorbike licence, maybe now is the time to think about getting on board. Whether you want to save time, save money or just enjoy the freedom of motorcycling, powered two-wheelers like the Honda ADV350 offer a fantastic gateway into our world.