Bob: What did you think of the BV? Me: I really liked it, what a comfortable ride and the mid-range punch is addictive. Bob: Better than your People 300? Me: Yeah, the BV is a great bike, but I don’t know… Bob: You’re just showing your prejudice. That’s pretty much the conversation I had with Bob Hedstrom of Scooterville when I brought the new Piaggio BV350 back after having it for a few days for review. Bob is correct, I have a bit of a prejudice FOR Kymco scooters and AGAINST Piaggio scooters. I’d like to think my attitudes are based on experience and facts – I’ve owned and worked on several Kymco scooters and they have proven themselves to me, firsthand, as high quality reliable machines. I have also worked on a few Piaggio scooters that did not particularly impress me with their quality. I’ve spent enough time by the side of the road waiting for a service truck when the fuel pump of a friend’s Vespa (Piaggio is the parent company of Vespa) GTS250 decided to give up in the middle of a ride. I still remember when Piaggio completely abandoned the US marketplace. I know of too many people who waited months for essential parts for their scooters. To be sure, Piaggio is doing a much better job on parts supply these days, but I don’t completely trust Piaggio. As I think about Bob’s comment, I realize that there is nothing stopping me from proclaiming the new Piaggio BV350 KING of the do-everything scooters, except the reputation of Piaggio.
Oh yes, I should mention that I feel free to openly state my concerns because, aside from building the scooter, Piaggio had nothing to do with this review. Like Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki, Piaggio has made it clear to me that they DON’T put “review” scooters in the hands of people who run websites like JustGottaScoot.com. We are not considered a “legitimate” media source because we don’t accept advertising. That’s right, we won’t take their advertising money, so we get no scooters to review. It’s ONLY through the largess of dealers like Bob at Scooterville that we have any chance to put some miles on Piaggion/Vespa scooters. It also says something about scooter companies like Genuine of Chicago and their owner, Philip McCaleb, who go out of their way to make sure that guys like me get review scooters on a regular basis. It’s not that Philip hasn’t tried to buy ads on JustGottaScoot.com, it’s that he respects a polite “no”.
Speedometer Reading/Speed/Fuel Economy
One of the first things I look for in a review scooter is a good place to mount a GPS unit. I was fortunate to be able to do some of the prep work on the Piaggio BV350 and I’ll say right up front that it looked better designed and built than previous BV-series scooters. The factory windscreen mounting is more secure and finished than older BVs with dual mirror stem mounts and single center mount above the dash. The downside is that there’s no good mirror stem mount for my GPS. I had to clamp directly to the windscreen support. It worked, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a long term GPS mount. The speedometer is biased toward kilometers with miles displayed in smaller numbers on the inner part of the display. The odometer/tripmeter displayed kilometers. There is supposed to be a way to switch the digital display to “miles” but it is not described in the owner’s manual. Like most scooters we review, the Piaggio BV350 reads optimistically. The speedometer indicates 10% faster than actual speed. An indicated 30 MPH is actually 27 MPH and an indicated 70 MPH is actually 63 MPH. The fastest GPS verified speed I saw was 86 MPH. In about 65 miles of highway riding and 50 miles of city riding, my fuel economy was 62 MPG. Not great, but not bad either. This was a brand new scooter that was NOT yet broken in. I expect that both top speed and fuel economy would improve after engine break-in (and with a smaller rider, at 220 pounds I’m more of a load than your average scooter pilot). I would estimate that a 160 pound rider with a broken-in scooter would see a top end of about 88 – 90 MPH and fuel economy of 70+ MPG around town. With pure highway riding, I’d expect fuel economy to be in the 50something MPG range. I suppose one could see 60MPG on the highway if one could keep OFF the throttle and stick to purely legal speeds. Yeah, good luck with that.
The Piaggio BV350 is a VERY well designed and equipped scooter. Powered by a 330cc liquid-cooled and fuel-injected single cylinder engine, it gets power to the rear wheel through a CVT automatic transmission. Brakes are disc front and rear and are linked – the starboard lever operates the front brake only and the port lever operates both the front and rear brakes. The front tire is a 110/70 – 16″ and the rear tire is a 150/70 – 14″. The rear suspension is by dual shocks that are adjustable to accommodate different loads and riding styles. The dash and controls are well laid out with one minor exception: the turn signal switch is at an odd angle and isn’t as easy to “cancel” as most. The dash is easy to read and presents a good combination of analog and digital displays. The 3-circle main display includes a speedometer in the center that is, as mentioned earlier, bias toward kilometers. Below the speedometer is the digital multi-display which includes the odometer. To the right is a temperature gauge and to the left is a fuel gauge that displays a fairly accurate indication of what remains in the (about) three and a half gallon tank. The fuel filler is located at the base of the low center hump on the floorboard and is locked. On the port side control, just to the right of the horn switch, is a seat latch release button – very handy. Below the dash pod is a flip-out hook for hanging a helmet, or attaching the handles of a bag resting on the floorboard. It is well integrated into the design of the scooter and works well which is pretty much a summary of this new BV-series scooter. The passenger foot pegs fit so well into the overall design of the scooter that I had to look twice to be sure of what they were. They are also well placed and, in combination with a best-in-class stock seat, make for an unusually comfortable passenger perch.
Storage is as good if not better than any other scooter in the class. Without question, it’s better designed and executed than previous BV-series scooters. The LARGE glove box is accessed by pressing in on the ignition switch assembly. There are several cubbies/shelves including one at the base of the inside of the glove box door. There is a power accessory outlet in the back of the starboard side cubby.
Under the seat, there is enough space for a helmet AND jacket. I even managed to fit my man-purse (ooops, I mean messenger bag) in there. The BV350 comes with a nice rear luggage platform that is begging for a topcase. In another example of well thought out design (and marketing) the BV350 comes with a lock cylinder that matches the main key – for a Piaggio topcase should you decide to order one. Yes, it’s only going to work in a Piaggio topcase, what did you expect? When one combines the available storage in the glove box, under the seat, and in an added topcase, the BV350 would make a perfectly viable touring mount.
The thoughtfulness continues under the seat with a light to see one’s stuff and an easy to get to battery cover that includes an integrated storage spot for the included tool kit. Yes, the tool kit is fairly lame and about the same as any other one that comes from the factory, but they put it in a good spot so you aren’t likely to lose it.
While we’re talking about the seat, you’ll notice that Piaggio provided protection for your posterior-supporting device in the case of rain, grime, dust, what have you. Integrated (there’s that word again) into the underside of the seat is a cover that fits perfectly and looks like it would work exactly as intended.
Are you impressed with the features of this bike yet? Not that anyone would believe it of me, but I could go on. There’s the lighting. The halogen headlight is bright and chases away the night on lonely rural roads. Even the US-mandated front turn signals are integrated (again with that word) into the design quite nicely. You won’t see them on European-spec BVs (there are turn lights in the front body panel) but they DON’T look tossed on at the last minute like so many other US-spec scooters.
In my mind, a key aspect of making a really good do-everything scooter is to have a group of features that are well designed and serve their intended purpose. They need to enhance your riding experience. The features and components need to combine into something more than the sum of their parts. The Piaggio BV350 hits the mark.
By now we’ve spent a fair amount of time looking at the Piaggio BV350 and it’s features. After a lot of walking around it, opening things, and pushing buttons you’ve likely arrived at the same “wow” conclusion I came to. Firing the scooter up and hitting the road will turn that “wow” into a “WOW”. Hop on the scooter, turn the key to on, wait for the fuel pump to cycle, grab a brake and press the starter button. The BV350 comes to life immediately and is idling comfortably in a few seconds – warm or cold. Man, I just love fuel injected scooters. The specifications from Piaggio state that the BV350 has a 31 inch seat height – I don’t think so. My own measurements with a level and tape showed 31.75 inches. With a 30 inch inseam, I can often flat-foot 31 inch tall scooters because of the compression my 220 pounds creates on the seat and suspension. I am on my toes on the BV350. This isn’t really a problem as the center of gravity is quite low on the BV350 and if one has to lean a bit at stops to touch down, it’s not really an issue. Giving the throttle a twist and placing feet on the floorboards leads to a revelation – this scooter was tailor-made for me.
The ergonomics on the BV350 are perfect. Seat comfort, hand position, foot position, everything is just… perfect. Coming off of my Kymco People GTi, the first difference I noticed was the seat. Piaggio/Vespa just seems to have this aspect of scooters figured out better than anybody else. I recently rode my GTi 1,200 miles in three days and I’m trying to figure out what to do to the stock seat to make such trips tolerable. I’m pretty sure the same ride on the BV350 would yield no complaints about the seat. During my few days with the BV 350, I had other riders try it out ranging from 5′ 6″ and 160 pounds to 6′ 3″ and 240 pounds. They all said the scooter’s ergonomics were excellent. The BV350 comes with a short windscreen that contributes to the comfortable highway capabilities of this scooter. It keeps most wind-blast off the torso. Riding with a full-face helmet, I could feel the wind on my head but no buffeting. A taller rider may get a little turbulence on the upper part of the helmet.
Acceleration off the line is good, though not earth-shattering. Roll-on and mid-range acceleration should be reviewed by the FDA as a drug. For a scooter, 33 horses and torque to match in under 400 pounds means giggling-fun acceleration. The BV350 with run from 20 MPH to 75 MPH without effort and it’ll do it right now. No-lag passing can turn into take-me-to-jail speeds (75 MPH in a 45MPH zone? Really? No, officer, I had no idea I was going that fast) and though I didn’t have any direct interaction with local traffic enforcement while riding the BV350, I am pretty certain that I would at some point if I owned this scooter.
Handling is very good. The BV350 takes a line quickly and holds it with no drama. The combination of comfort and secure road-holding is just right. The brakes are linked and I normally don’t like that. Most all conditions faced by your average scooterist involve braking with the front and rear brakes simultaneously. The BV350 allows for front brake only engagement with the starboard lever, but the port lever actuates the rear and the front. There are low traction conditions when one might wish to have rear-only braking available. This is my misspent youth on dirt, gravel and mud coming out and many would disagree with me. Suffice to say that the brakes on the BV350 are strong and easy to control in the vast majority of circumstances. Linked or not, they worked flawlessly for me during the review. I guess I should have looked for a slippery grass-covered hill to prove my point… yeah, Scooterville would have been thrilled to get back a dumped scooter.
Fit & Finish
One of my concerns with Piaggio products overall is in the fit and finish department. I have found miss-matched fasteners, misaligned body panels and low quality plastic components on past Piaggios. The BV350 exhibited none of that. The tolerance on seams is tight and uniform. Aside from an oddly positioned turn signal cancel, the switches are robust and work well. I didn’t experience any cross-threading of fasteners or broken mounting tabs. The flat silver finish on the body panels is uniform and nicely done. Even the “interior” plastics (glove box, floor board, etc.) fit beautifully and appear well made.
Piaggio BV350 vs. Kymco People GTi 300
Those brave few of you who have read my other reviews know that the comparison chart is usually under the “features” section. This time it’s down here because I’m going to address a head-to-head comparison with the Kymco People GTi300 and because that’s the only other scooter I could think of to include in the chart. Right now, there is nothing from Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, or SYM to directly compare. The SYM CityCom is supposed to be coming back in the future, and maybe someday Honda will bring the SH300i into this country, but for now these two scooters are it. The BV350 and GTi300 are close to each other in specifications. While the MSRP is only $100 higher on the Piaggio, it is generally more expensive out-the-door by a wider margin because the in-bound freight costs on the Piaggio are usually higher and items like dealer prep tend to be higher as well. The value differences between the two scooters make it a close call. The Kymco has a two-year warranty, the Piaggio a one-year. The Piaggio comes with a windscreen but no trunk. The Kymco comes with a color-matched trunk but no windscreen AND has much less underseat storage than the Piaggio. Mostly on the basis of the longer warranty, I give the value nod to Kymco.
I’ve ridden my People GTi300 a good bit and have got a couple of longer trips under my belt on it. Jumping off the BV350 and on to the GTi made a couple of differences very clear: The BV handles better and is more comfortable. The BV is also faster in the mid-range. The GTi is quicker off the line BUT that may be due in some part to the fact that my GTi is fully broken in. Both scooters are very easy to ride in a WIDE range of circumstances. They share the big wheels and (relatively) short wheelbase that allows them to feel nimble around town and stable on the highway. They share a step-through configuration, though the Kymco has a flat floorboard while the Piaggio has a small hump. They are both more than powerful enough for use in virtually any type of traffic. Though appearance is subjective, I couldn’t find anybody who thought the Kymco looked better than the Piaggio, myself included. The BV350 is better looking than the GTi300.
I’ve said in the past that I thought the Kymco People GTi 300 was the king of do-everything scooters… is that still true? Yes, for now. If I was making the purchase decision between these two scooters today, I would still go with the Kymco based on my experience with Kymco’s reliability and proven support. I would have to invest in a custom seat to match the comfort of the Piaggio, but right now I’d still pick the Kymco. Ask me again after the BV350 has been around for a couple of years.
I was much more impressed with the Piaggio BV350 than I expected to be. Going through the specifications, I expected it to be fast but was unprepared for how well designed and executed it was. In dead stock form, it’s one of the most comfortable scooters I’ve ridden. The performance and handling are addicting. I could have endless fun on the BV350 both around town and on the road. As long as the apparent build quality is proven out over time and Piaggio continues to provide parts and support in the USA, the BV350 will take its place as the King of do-everything scooters.
OK, it’s been about three years and the Piaggio BV350 is holding up well and even improving while the Kymco People 300GTi is stagnating along with the rest of the Kymco line in North America. I still consider the People 300GTi to be a wonderful machine, but the Piaggio BV350 is just a bit better. The King is dead, long live the King.
Again, a big THANK YOU to Bob at Scooterville in Minneapolis for providing the scooter used in this review.