Review of the Cali Classic 125
Can the body style of a scooter prejudice a review?
In 1996 Honda launched the "Joker" scooter in Japan (it was called
the Shadow in Europe). It had a bulbous retro design and did quite
well, especially with younger riders. It wasn't long before Joker
"clones" started coming out of mainland China in massive numbers.
Italy got in on the game with the Aprilia Mojito. For a while in the US
marketplace, there were so many different Joker clones that one could
barely keep track of all the different names and importers, most of the
scooters were of very low quality. By the time the Cali Classic hit the
market, I admit that I had a oh-no-not-another-Joker-clone attitude
about the scooter. Yes, the body style can prejudice a review(er).
I picked the Cali Classic up from Marty Mataya at
GoMoto in Minneapolis. Marty is the local SYM
and Lance dealer and is a great guy. Marty also carries one of the
better mainland Chinese brands, CF Moto. Marty is one of the "good guy"
dealers and has the knowledge and customer focus that keeps guys like me
going on and on about how important it is to have a good dealer for ANY
scooter brand. I immediately succumbed to my attitude about Joke clones.
The fact that the Cali Classic fired right
up and ran perfectly did nothing to lessen my attitude. I rode to my
office and pulled into the designated motorcycle/scooter parking right
next to a... Chinese Joker clone. This particular clone is a Fly Il
Bello (Fly is no longer in business)
which is, quite honestly, one of the better examples of Joker clones. A
quick glance at the two scooters side-by-side made me feel like a dope
for having so much of an attitude about the Cali Classic. The superior
quality of the Cali was obvious.
Though certainly not free of flaws, the Lance Cali
Classic 125 is a good scooter and a very good value. If you want a Joker
clone, go out and buy a Cali right now and know that you'll be getting a
good machine... or you can read on for more details and to see me
further humbled by my own often baseless attitudes.
Speedometer Reading/Speed/Fuel Economy
a GPS unit to perform some testing is a routine part of our reviews.
With some scooters it can be a challenge to find a good mounting point.
Not the case on the Cali Classic as there is ample bare bar area to
attach stuff. Most scooters have speedometers that are pretty
optimistic, they indicate faster than the actual speed and sometimes
quite a bit faster. The Cali Classic more accurate than most being only
about 7% optimistic. At an indicated 30 MPH the actual speed is 28 MPH.
At an indicated 40 MPH the actual speed is 37 MPH and at an indicated 50
MPH the actual speed is 47 MPH. The odometer is a bit more
accurate than the speedometer - an indicated 21.3 miles was actually 21
miles. The fastest speed I was able to achieve
was 52 MPH. The speedometer indicated 55 MPH and the Lance
specifications for the Cali list a top speed of 59 MPH. There are three
factors in play here that likely impact top speed. In the first place, I
am NOT a small person. At 220 pounds I am a larger load than a typical
Cali buyer. In the second place, the scooter was new and not yet broken
in. Third, I kept running out of road when doing top speed checks. The
Cali is slow to accelerate about 45 MPH and I would often have to slow
down for traffic or a stop light when trying to wring out those last few
MPH. Fuel economy was 89 MPG which I consider quite good for a 125cc
scooter carrying a big load with a not-yet-broken-in engine. The fuel
tank holds just over a gallon so 90 miles or so is pretty close to the
effective range of the Cali Classic.
Lance Cali Classic 125 is manufactured in Taiwan by SYM. SYM is a top tier
manufacturer capable of quality that is equal to any manufacturer from
Japan or Europe. The Cali Classic has a lot of similarity to SYM's
Fiddle II model, so I included that in the comparison. I also added the
Kymco Agility 125 because it's the only other sub-$2,000 new scooter
that I think is of decent quality. Other than price and engine
displacement, it's really not a direct competitor of the Cali Classic
because the style and ergonomics are so completely different. All three
scooters have air-cooled, carbureted 125cc engines, disc front and
drum rear brakes, a 51" - 52" wheelbase and weight 220 to 240 pounds.
The SYM and Kymco both offer two-year warranties while the Cali Classic
has a one-year warranty.
The Lance Cali Classic
has a 12" front tire and a 10" in the back. The control configuration is
standard for a modern automatic scooter - the left hand controls the
rear brake, turn signals, high and low beam headlight and horn. The
right hand controls the throttle, front brake, engine kill switch and
electric starter. To start the scooter, just turn the ignition key to
the on position, grab a brake lever, and press the starter button. The
Cali Classic fired up instantly every time, hot or cold. There is also a
The three-pod dash cluster is smallish overall. The
speedometer/odometer is located in the center and biased to miles with
kilometers smaller and on the inside edge of the indicator. The fuel
gauge is to the right and there are three indicator lights to the left,
one for each turn signal and one for high-beam. These were very weak and
I couldn't see them at all in bright sunlight. The headlight is
incandescent and fairly weak. Riding at night meant living with only
adequate illumination of the road ahead. Of course the (arguably)
greatest revival scooter of the past decade, the Genuine Stella,
originally came equipped with an even weaker headlight and it didn't
hurt Stella sales at all. The turn signal and brake lights also utilize
standard bulbs but are brighter than the headlight. On the plus side,
the fuel gauge was a pretty accurate indicator of how much fuel was in
the tank. A LOT of scooter fuel gauges seem to be more of a "yes" or
"no" indicator - when on full you have an indeterminate quantity of fuel
and the gauge will rocket to empty at some mysterious point.
There is a helmet/bag hook on the front that was strong
enough to hold the handles of two cloth
grocery bags securely. The underseat storage is VERY limited. There is
no space for a helmet to be kept enclosed under the seat, but one can
put a helmet strap D-ring over a post and then close the seat to "lock"
a helmet to the scooter. There is also no rear luggage rack standard on
the Cali Classic. Native hauling capacity is limited to what one carries
bungeed to the rear portion of the seat, resting on the floorboard
between one's legs, or on one's body in the form of a messenger bag or
backpack. A nice looking rear luggage rack is available as an optional
accessory. There is also a hard topcase and rear rack kit available.
There are flip-out passenger footrests and a chrome passenger grab rail
on the rear. The seat latch release is located on the port side rear of
the scooter and operates with the same key as the ignition. The fuel
filler cap is located under the seat.
As I mentioned earlier, the Cali
Classic 125 fired right up every time - warm or cold - and quickly
settled into idle. Acceleration off the line was adequate and even up to
about 45 MPH. Above that speed it takes rather a while to wring more out
of the Cali. Roll-on acceleration from 30 to 45 MPH was good. Stopping
with the front
disc and rear drum combination was good and the brakes responded quickly
to a strong application. Reach on the levers is VERY long (more on
ergonomics later). Handling was good with a tiny bit of a vague
feeling on "center" when riding, almost certainly due to the very wide
handlebars (more ergonomics). Road conditions are passed through
to the rider without a lot of jarring or harsh feel. You'll know you
went over a big bump in the road, but you won't toss out a filling or
anything. Everything worked perfectly (turn signals, horn, etc.)
which is certainly not the case with a lot of mainland Chinese Joker
clones. Remember my attitude about Joker clones? I admit I was riding
the Cali Classic actively looking for something wrong and I have to say
I couldn't really find anything major. Taiwanese manufacturers are world
class and SYM certainly builds a fine machine. Top speed on the Cali
Classic 125 is about the same as the Honda Elite 110 that I
reviewed last year, and that scooter costs
$1,000 more than the Cali. A Genuine
Buddy 125 will smoke the Cali Classic 125 in acceleration and top
speed, but that scooter also costs $700 more.
talk about the ergonomics of the Cali Classic. I'm not what you'd call a
tall guy (5' 8") and I felt cramped on the scooter. As you can
see from the picture to the left, my wife Beverly at 5' 6" just
had enough leg room. My good friend Camille (don't even bother
emailing me, she's married) at 5' fit on the Cali Classic with room
to spare. Camille could touch (though not flat-footed) at a stop
and found the Cali quite comfortable. Also notice where Beverly and
Camille are situated on the seat. I found that I had to sit on the hump
in the seat to have enough leg room. I would guess that a taller person
could do well on the Cali Classic IF they were willing to have
the seat modified. Any good upholstery shop that works on motorcycle
seats can easily re-shape and re-cover a seat on a scooter. By
increasing the seating area for the driver (and reducing/eliminating
passenger space) a good amount of leg room can be found.
Bob from Scooterville (6' 2")
also road the Cali Classic and, as expected, couldn't find a comfortable
position. Bob is a Genuine, Kymco, Vespa, Piaggio, Vectrix and Hyosung
dealer and he was also riding the Cali actively looking for things to
criticize. He did notice a fairly strong harmonic vibration from the
powertrain when at a stop with the rear brake engaged, but really
couldn't find anything major to
complain about. I do just have to mention how incredibly lucky we are in
the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to have dealers like Bob and Marty who are
competitors, but still friends and truly focused on their customers. I
can't think of very many places were one can get dealers to ride "other"
products and know they will give honest opinions.
Having Camille run around
briefly on the Cali Classic also brought up a very valid position. A
person's riding impressions of any given scooter will depend on what (if
any) scooter they currently ride. Camille has had a TNG Venice (small
50cc) for several years and to her the Cali Classic felt incredibly
smooth, roomy, and fast. I suspect a large number of Cali Classic 125
customers will be first-time scooter buyers. As long as they aren't
expecting lightning-fast performance, they will probably be very happy
with the ride on the Cali.
Fit & Finish
The Cali Classic 125 has the best
fit and finish of any Honda Joker clone I have seen. The body panels are
perfectly aligned and the quality of assembly is top notch. There is a
lot of shiny plastic (plastichrome some call it) that may or may
not suit your personal taste, but it's not cheaply executed. The
switches, lights and other components look durable if not particularly
high end. Here we enter into one of the areas that helps explain the
price point on the Cali Classic. How can the same company that makes the
$2,300 Fiddle II produce a VERY similar scooter for $300 less? I'm
pretty certain that the components utilized on the Cali Classic, though
of good quality, are cheaper than those utilized on the Fiddle II.
I spent a fair amount of time
going over the Cali Classic, looking at the fasteners, body seams,
hoses, electrical components and so forth and I will admit that my
prejudices about this particular Joker clone were wrong. The scooter is
put together very well and I would assume that it will hold up well.
I was more impressed with the
Lance Cali Classic 125 than I expected to be. The build quality is very
good. The performance is adequate and the fuel economy is very good. The
look is appealing and the majority of people who saw the scooter liked
it. I had to keep reminding myself that this is a $1,999 scooter.
There's just nothing else at that price point with the same mix of retro
looks and Taiwanese quality out there. If I were getting one for myself,
I would have the seat customized to move the rider position further back
and I would add the rear luggage rack and probably a topcase. The Cali
Classic is available in Butterscotch Yellow, Arctic White, Matte Black (reviewed),
Metallic Silver, Ruby Red, Midnight Black and Sky Blue. A big
THANK YOU goes out to Marty Mataya of
GoMoto in Minneapolis Minnesota for facilitating this review.