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 The humble scooter may not be as exciting as any motorcycle, but it does make a whole lot of sense as an urban transport solution.

Most scooters worldwide are powered by two stroke engines and this hi-tech 125 from Honda has a radical ignition system which reduces emissions to keep the streets
smelling sweeter.

It also has great carrying capacity under its dual seat, an excellent fairing and a top notch linked braking system, more usually found on bikes like the Pan-European or VFR800 Hondas.

One very high quality commuter.

The two stroke is dead, long live the two stroke. At least that’s what Honda reckon, which is why their new FES125 Pantheon scooter has a clean running stroker engine featuring ARC - or Active Radical Combustion.

With ever rising numbers of commuters turning to scooters to thread their way to work through expensive, time-consuming city traffic jams, the Pantheon definitely has a market in the UK, where scooters now outsell sportbikes.

If you have taken your CBT, or just feel like stepping up from the 49cc scooter you use at present, the 125cc class is the next logical move. You can even take a simplified version of the bike test to get an automatic’s only, 12bhp limited addition to your driving licence.

The Italians, who invented the modern scooter back in 1946 as a lightweight, agile, low cost, traffic-busting solution, are utterly in love with the things. The scooter is an Italian icon, a Roman-Holiday-on-wheels, from a classic Lambretta or Vespa, to the mutant Italjet Dragster 125.

This tends to make the Japanese and Taiwanese scoots seem like bland imitations of the real thing. Yet, let’s not forget one basic fact; these two wheelers are supposed to get you to work quickly and cheaply. And in today’s jammed up cities, that boils down to one thing; replacing the second car.

The Pantheon 125 falls into what you might call the ’business class’ of scooter-commuters and it costs a hefty £2,750 plus OTR charges to buy.

Yep, that’s almost three thousand pounds, but that’s the same ballpark as the Yamaha 125 Majesty, Aprilia Leonardo, Gilera Runner 180 or Malaguti Madison 125 are all playing in, give or take a few hundred quid. Taiwanese scooters from Hyosung, SYM, PGO etc. all cost around £500 less for a similar machine, but they can’t match the hi-tech spec of the Pantheon.

 

So what is the Pantheon’s new ARC two stroke technology all about?

 

The Pantheon’s unique selling point is its Active Radical Combustion assisted two stroke engine, which meets strict European emission laws by using an exhaust mounted butterfly valve to effectively vary the size of the exhaust port - net result; less unburnt fuel escapes, making it a cleaner, more economical engine.

Fair enough, except this process actually detracts from the prime function of commuting, making it one of the slowest 125 scooters off the mark I have ever ridden. You get to the head of a queue on the Pantheon, the lights change and then...nothing, it’s as if the engine is choking on gas and needs a full second or two to clear itself.

Stop me if I’m rambling here, but isn’t the beauty of scootering filtering through a queue of cars at junctions and then beating them in the rush hour drag race?

From Bejing to Birmingham, people are struggling to get through traffic chaos and this gutless engine simply dies until the automatic belt drive gets you to 15-20mph, then it takes off like a rocket. Plain daft at best, dangerous at worst as car drivers get too close to your scooter, as they try to outrun you in first and second gears.

The FES125 is however, very economical with fuel, returning an average of 76mpg on test, from town snarl-ups to motorway er...burn-ups. But four stroke 125 machines can match that, or do better - ever wondered why retired men with part time jobs can still be seen commuting on Honda’s ancient CG125 pushrod single ? It’s simple, that cheap little bike can do 100mpg all day at 60mph.

The deciding factor for penny-pinching scooterists must be this however; the Pantheon used a litre of two stroke oil in about 500 miles, which cost £3.48, so it’s going to be more expensive to run than a four stroke 125 scooter. End of story.

The Pantheon has more techno tricks up its sleeve to grab your cash of course; like linked brakes, (or Combined Braking System as Honda call it) as seen on the CBR1000 for some years. Squeeze either lever on the handlebars and both brakes are activated, but with various front/rear wheel loading, depending on which lever you’re pulling.

Sounds complex, but It works very well, in fact the Honda’s brakes allow you to play boy racer going into roundabouts. They are simply brilliant. But the three letters which would sell a hi-tech braking system to car driving novices - the likely market for the Pantheon - are probably ABS, not CBS.

The FES125 also boasts the largest underseat storage capacity in its class, according to the brochure. It did accept waterproofs, plus odds and ends without any problem, but, the unusually shaped layout inside the plastic bodywork means you can’t quite fit a full face helmet in there, although one of the new Roof lids, with the tilting front bit, slotted in no bother.

One thing that is far above the norm for scooters is the Pantheon’s headlight, which looks like it came straight from the Blackbird 1100 and is superb. Excellent switchgear and a reasonably comfy seat for two people are a bonus too. But the overall standard of manufacture isn’t as good as it should be from Honda, who pride themselves on being the world’s number one.

The plastic bodywork is the same as you get on most 125 scoots of course, but initial faults like a flapping left hand mirror and a missing owner’s handbook on a new machine, direct from Honda UK, don’t bode well. The Pantheon, so far as I can detect, isn’t made in Japan, but at one of Honda’s European plants; either the old Montesa factory at Barcelona, or its Italian factory at Atessa.

There’s nothing wrong with that - they make Ducati’s in Italy now that are very reliable - but if you’re paying a premium price over most of the 125 scooter competition, (and we certainly are in the UK) then the established Japanese names should be building to a much higher standard, because there’s no doubt that the basic components of the millions of scooters manufactured worldwide can be sourced from the main Chinese or Taiwanese suppliers for very little money.

Quality still sells however and this is where Honda should be head and shoulders above the rest, especially for three grand. To be fair, you get a two year warranty with the Pantheon, which is outstanding for a scooter, and will persuade many people that the Pantheon 125 is a good bet for years of durable commuting, with a certain amount of city slicker style thrown in too.

Yet for me, companies like Piaggio, Aprilia, Malaguti and Italjet all make much more stylish looking scooters and most use the 125/150/180cc four stroke Piaggio engine, which is just as economical - and far more lively off the mark - than the two stroke Honda. When it comes to cool commuters, the Italians are still doing the business.

Sorry Honda, if this is the best you can do, the two stroke really is dead.

 

Business class rivals

 

PEUGEOT ELYSEO 125 Featuring a 125cc four stroke engine, plus twin shock rear suspension. Similar performance to other restricted 125cc scoots, but Peugeots are usually very competitive on price, insurance deals and you get a decent warranty too.

ITALJET DRAGSTER 180 Launched in 1999 a scoot which uses the meaty Piaggio/Gilera Runner 180cc four stroke engine, but just look at the crazy styling and trick hub centre steering technology. Sheer lunacy on wheels for £2500 or thereabouts, which will match your Armani suit nicely.

KYMCO SPACER 125 Here’s a wacky looking model, but this time from Taiwan, which should make it cheap and cheerful...although it costs around £2500 OTR. Featuring a water cooled, four stroke engine. Dare to be different on one of Italy’s best selling scooters in 1999.

APRILIA LEONARDO 125 Loved riding this scooter round Scarborough a couple of years ago, annoying diehard Mods with its rev ’n’ go 70mph performance. Good underseat storage, well made, 70mpg commuter that’s comfortable to ride all day long. Around £2500 on the road.

Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda pantheon 125.



Vital Statistics
Engine
Engine 124cc, liquid cooled, 2 stroke, single cylinder, with Active Radial Combustion ignition.
Claimed power (bhp 15bhp @ 7,000rpm
Transmission automatic gears, variable belt final drive
Cycle parts
Seat height 745mm Wheels; both 12 inch
Dry weight 144.5kgs
Starting electric
Fuel capacity 12 litres

960 x 200