The classic swing-mount scooter drivetrain lends itself to a wide variety of applications, but it’s fair to say that all of them wind up looking like a scooter — except for this one. Tao Tao calls this the Racer50, and it brings a streetbike look and feel to the table that you normally don’t get from something that is technically still a scooter even if it does have a freakishly (for a scooter) big 17-inch front wheel. A 49 cc mill pushes the full front fairing and sportbike-like upper lines at around 30-plus mph, and it handles more like a proper motorcycle in the corners. Based in mainland China, Tao Tao is a little-known manufacturer in the U.S., so I decided to take a look at this interesting ride and see what this “little guy” has to offer.
Really, this is where all the magic happens. A 17-inch wheel leads the way ahead of the full sportbike fairing. Not only is this comparable to many of the current literbikes, but it contributes to handling that you just can’t get from your typical scooter. The front fairing carries a trio of headlights with a trigger-actuated passing-lamp function built in and standoff-mount turn signals above the engine cowl section. A low flyscreen shares the top of the fairing with a pair of rather useless mirror standoffs. The position of the mirrors gives a marvelous view of your own jacket, and since the vibration is almost as bad as my Sportster, you can’t really identify any single targets amid the swirling blur of images anyway.
Moving aft we have a pair of clip-on handlebars with the typical switches and hand controls, and since it runs an automatic transmission sans clutch, the left lever controls the rear brake. The fuel tank hump and drop to the saddle fit in with current MotoGP-type bikes, as does the slightly-elevated pillion pad. Things don’t get very scooterish until you check out the rear running gear. A swing-mount drivetrain mounts a 12-inch rear tire for a wildly asymmetrical look that reveals the true nature of the machine. I mean seriously, it’s not like anyone expects this to pass as a full-size ride, and you can only do so much to conceal this kind of drive. Given the look of the rest of the bike, I’m confident that the factory took it as far as they should and no further.
I will say at this point that the fit and finish was about what I have come to expect from inexpensive imports, and I noticed a number of body rattles at idle. These smooth out once the engine is above idle, so it’s only annoying at stops. Speaking of stops, at 30-inches high, the seat will allow even short riders decent access to the ground when it’s time for a little footwork, and that’s especially important since the displacement puts it in the learner’s bracket and most riders are liable to be young with little experience and strength for tip-toe wrestling a bike. Naturally, the center of gravity is quite low, so riders have that going for them as well.
A motorcycle-like design calls for a motorcycle-like frame, and the Racer50 delivers with a 57-inch wheelbase and 5.5-inches of ground clearance. Hydraulic fork tubes support the front end with the typical lack of adjustability, but at least they look right and aren’t some sort of link-and-shock setup. The rear monoshock is likewise locked in, so you can forget about stiffening up the spring preload to accommodate a passenger, but that’s hardly a deal breaker since you probably wouldn’t break 25 mph with that kind of a load anyway.
As you might imagine, the suspension is a trifle harsh, and doesn’t seem to handle high-frequency, short-travel bouncing very well. As tiresome as that can be, the overall cornering ability is refreshing and fun. Does it handle like a CBR or a Ninja? Hardly. But, it does handle a sight better than your classic Italian-style scooters and even some of the more modern metro types.
A hydraulic caliper binds the front disc, but Tao Tao cuts a corner in back with an old-school drum brake to slow the back tire. No ABS or brake linking to clutter up the works, just honest vanilla braking.
Now for the only really scooter-like part of the machine, the engine and tranny. Tao Tao keeps it simple with an air-cooled, 1.8 horsepower, 49 cc engine. A capacitor-discharge ignition supplies the spark with no need for computer engine management, and a good old-fashioned kickstarter supplements the electric starter as an emergency backup or for those times when you think it might look cool to kick her to life.
Unfortunately, once the fire is lit, the thumper sounds like a large-bore lawnmower, but that’s to be expected, and it doesn’t really sound much worse than any other one-lung mill out there to be honest. A continuously-variable transmission keeps the mill in the usable powerband through completely automatic, twist-and-go operation and speeds up to around 30 mph. Depending on rider weight, fuel load, tailwinds and road grade, riders can expect to milk a top speed from the Racer close to the 40 mph mark. Best of all, the factory claims 115 miles per gallon, so the three-gallon tank will carry you almost 350 miles — much farther than your butt can take at a stretch, even if the seat is fairly comfortable.
As of this writing, I couldn’t find a price, though it was scheduled for release for sale to the public on the 25th of April Whatever the case, I will update as soon as that info becomes available.
Needless to say, the Racer50 is almost unique under the sun. Sure, we have other 50 cc scooters, and we also have larger-displacement scootercycles, but nothing quite as small as our little Tao Tao here. In the “somewhat close” categories we have a naked-sportbike lookalike with the Fuerza (PMZ125-1) from Ice Bear. It has much the same big-bike look, but the Fuerza steers more toward the “naked-bike” end of the spectrum. It also comes with a four-speed gearbox coupled to the 125 cc engine for two major differences between this Ice Bear ride and the Racer50.
Much closer in looks and displacement is the Kymoto Ninja 50 cc automatic motorbike. It strives to cut a figure similar to its namesake, and largely succeeds until you cast your eyes on the rear wheel. Top speed is around 30 mph, much like the Racer50, and it runs a CVT for seamless acceleration and easy operation, though it lacks the big front wheel as on the Tao Tao. Another constant is the electric starter with a kicker for backup just in case. Honestly, the battle between these two is going to come down to looks, and the differences there are subtle so good luck. Just remember; it’s all subjective anyway.
“Kinda neat looking, but too slow to be very useful on U.S roads. Triple the engine size and you might have something that has a reasonable expectation of not getting run over from behind, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t ride one regardless of the top speed.”
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “Honestly, I was very surprised when my husband said he was going to look at a scooter…until I saw it. If a scooter is on his radar, of course it would be out of the norm. I can see a market for this for people who want the convenience and economy of a scooter, but don’t want to look like they’re riding a scooter. It just seems a little alien to me to see something thatlooks like a sportbike screaming up the road sounding like a pissed-off lawn mower and only going 30 mph. No matter, though. It’s a scooter that doesn’t look girlie. If you want a scooter that doesn’t look like a scooter and the sportbike look doesn’t do it for you, I might suggest a Honda Ruckus, a Rowdyfrom SSR Motorsports, or a Maddog (PMZ150) from Ice Bear.”
|Start Type:||Electric with keys, kick start back up|
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||3 Gallons (12 L)|
|Top Speed:||30 mph (50 km/h)|
|Fuel Consumption:||115 Mpg (2.0 L/100 Km)|
|Spark Plug Type / Gap:||A7RTC / 0.6 0.7 mm|
|Front Brakes:||Hydraulic Disc|
|Front Tires:||80 / 90 – 17|
|Rear Tires:||120 / 70 – 12|
|Front Suspension:||Dual shock absorber|
|Rear Suspension:||Single shock absorber|
|Ground Clearance:||5.5 Inches (140 mm)|
|Seat Height:||30 Inches (760 mm)|
|Wheelbase:||57 Inches (1450 mm)|
|Carton Dimension:||74 x 22 x 37 Inches (1880 x 570 x 940 mm)|
|G. W.:||277 LBS (126 Kgs)|
|N.W.:||229 LBS (104 Kgs)|
|Colors:||Red, Blue, Black|