Scooter Saga Part IV

How to buy a new scooter in Taiwan…

Hundreds of Gogoro scooters being driven, in the rain, down the ‘scooter waterfall’ off-ramp.
Gogoro electric scooters and Taipei’s famous ‘scooter waterfall’. Photo: Gogoro.

Act I: The license

In Taiwan, you must hold a driver’s license before buying a vehicle. For this reason, many elderly people—who are unlicensed because they didn’t learn to read and write—drive scooters that are registered in their children’s names. “Watch out for grandpa” is a phrase I’ve heard many times, for good reason.

Fortunately, I got my license on my second attempt, and have been giving grandpas and grandmas a wide berth ever since.

Especially this one:

An elderly woman, without a helmet, riding a scooter face-down with feet stretched out behind her. Her hair is swept back by the wind as she rides.
While riding on my friend’s scooter, we were overtaken by this high-speed grandma—caught here on my friend’s dashcam. Helmetless, with arms outstretched and feet in the air behind her, she passed us at around 100km/h in a 50 zone, before blasting through a red light and pulling over for a cigarette.

Act II: The research

Long before getting my license, I’d started exploring scooter options in Taiwan.

Originally, I planned to buy a Gogoro scooter. Gogoro’s known as the Tesla of Taiwan. Its scooters are high-tech, beautifully designed, and fully electric.

Rear view of a Gogoro S1 scooter.
The Gogoro S1 electric scooter. I borrowed one of these for my driving test. Photo: Gogoro.

Gogoro has a nationwide network of over 12,000 battery swap stations. Swapping batteries is fast: in just 10 seconds, you can gain 100km of range.

However, the network is limited in intercity areas, where I plan to do most of my riding. After assessing the distances between swap stations, I realized long-distance travel on a Gogoro would be doable but very restrictive.

For this reason, I looked into traditional petrol scooters. There are four especially-popular brands here: Kymco (from Kaohsiung), PGO and SYM (from elsewhere in Taiwan), and Yamaha (from Japan).

The most common engine sizes are 100–125cc; significantly larger than the 50cc scooters used in New Zealand. My license allows me to ride up to 250cc scooters, but I opted for the 150–200cc range: large enough for someone my size with a passenger and gear, but still manageable in parking lots and night markets.

I wanted three safety features:

  • ABS brakes
  • Traction control
  • Always-on LED lights, front and rear

And some comfort and convenience features, too:

  • Auto start/stop
  • Belt drive (for smoothness and reliability)
  • Cupholder
  • Digital dashboard
  • Storage for a full-face helmet
  • USB socket for phone charging
  • Water-cooled engine (to prevent overheating on long trips)

Filtering for these features, I was left with three good options:

  • Kymco KRV Nero 180—which looks great, but is based on the earlier KRV model that apparently has reliability issues
  • Yamaha Auger—with a design from a science fiction movie, but with a Chinese-language interface that relies on a smartphone connection
  • SYM MMBCU (“MaMBa Crossover Unique”)—a scooter optimized for longer journeys, this is the one I chose to buy:
Marketing image of two people riding an SYM MMBCU scooter on a mountain highway.
Introducing the SYM MMBCU. The Chinese tagline translates to “Beyond the thought, the work of transformation, the new generation of running”. Sounds like me.

Act III: The test-drive

A local friend kindly acted as consultant, translator, and mentor through the buying process. We went to his recommended dealer for a test-drive, just a few hours after getting my license.

The MMBCU is a fast seller: despite only launching in August, it was the third-most-popular scooter in Taiwan for all of 2022. So it was unsurprising that the dealership had none in stock.

What was surprising, was the boss lending me his personal MMBCU to test-drive. (Have I mentioned Taiwanese people are amazing?)

Man riding an SYM MMBCU scooter.
Test-driving the boss’ MMBCU.

I loved the scooter. After settling on a different color, I placed an order that afternoon.

The cash price was NT$130,000 (NZ$6,500), comprising:

  • NT$116,000 (NZ$5,800) for the scooter
  • NT$8,000 (NZ$400) for a dual-camera dashcam (installed)
  • NT$6,000 (NZ$300) for a year of maximum insurance cover, provided by the manufacturer

Act IV: The delivery

My scooter, with suspension tuned for my weight and novice driving style, was ready for collection the following week. But first, I had to use my name stamp on a bunch of documents in Chinese. I couldn’t read any of them.

As ever, I’m thankful Taiwan is a high-trust society.

I waited a day for the paperwork to be processed, before returning to get my scooter—at which point I publicly shamed myself by forgetting how to start it.

(For future reference, the key shouldn’t be in the ‘off’ position…)

(But in my defense, the electric scooters I used for driving practice had been keyless…)

Act V: The photoshoot

Front view of an SYM MMBCU scooter.
Here’s my new scooter: a 160cc SYM MMBCU. Its color is fundamentally green—as in the marketing material—but it appears bronze, grey, or purple in different light.
Rear view of an SYM MMBCU scooter.
Despite the prominent exhaust, it has the highest-possible efficiency rating for a non-electric motorcycle.
Close-up of the digital dashboard on the SYM MMBCU scooter. It shows 26km on the odometer, a time of 17:36, and a full tank of fuel.
When I collected the scooter it had zero on the odometer. It showed 26km when I took this photo at 17:36. The small icon at the top-left of the dashboard indicates the kickstand was extended, an action that automatically cuts the engine.
Close-up of the MMBCU branding printed on the side of the scooter.
The sides feature gratuitous MMBCU branding. I keep misreading it as ‘33wnc’.
Close-up of a front-facing dashcam camera installed on an SYM MMBCU scooter.
I was impressed with the clean installation of the dashcam. Here’s the front-facing camera…
Close-up of the rear dashcam camera and rear lights on an SYM MMBCU scooter.
…And the rear-facing camera. The recording module and screen is installed in the under-seat compartment. The MMBCU (“MaMBa Crossover Unique”) has a snake-inspired design featuring these fang-like rear lights, snakeskin-textured body panels, and a side profile that resembles an open-mouthed mamba (if you squint hard and dream).
An SYM MMBCU scooter parked next to a smaller Kymco scooter, showing how the MMBCU is significantly larger.
Finally, here’s a size comparison. With the front wheels straightened, both scooters are parked hard against the curb. The pink one is a regular 110cc Kymco. Note that it fits in the parking space, while my MMBCU doesn’t. Also note how people’s helmets are left unsecured on their scooters: theft is a somewhat foreign concept in Taiwan. (Have I mentioned Taiwanese people are amazing?)