There are a lot of 100-150cc scooters on the South African market - mostly Chinese and mostly as durable as a Styrofoam cup. There's also a strong market for super-scooters, 400cc and bigger, weekend playtoys that cost as much as a small car - but not much in between.
Which is why the PGO GMax 220 Fi stands out: here's a solidly-built commuter with lots of four-stroke grunt and the backing of a major distributor - which is perhaps its single most important feature. PGO scooters are built in Taiwan and distributed in South Africa by KMSA, along with Kawasaki, Triumph and Aprilia motorcycles, so they're in good company.
The GMax 220 has a single-cylinder, fan and oil-cooled engine with electronic fuel-injection that takes its performance right out of the schoolboy league. It accelerates with authority up to about 100km/h and will cruise at that all day even with my 106kg aboard.
It was unfazed by either steep hills or the Cape's blustery south-easter and top speed, on a rare wind-still early morning, was a true 118km/h at 8200rpm (yes, Cyril, the GMax has a rev counter) with 125 showing on the big digital speedometer.
Fuel consumption, over a week of commuting and one long ride, averaged 4.4 litres/100km, a long way short of the manufacturer's claim of three litres/100km but respectable nonetheless.
The styling is more Euroflash than Rice-o-Mix, rather fragmented in white, faux fibre and four different shades of grey but held together by crisp, sharp edges, sweeping curves and conservative colour choices.
The footboards are a little high and at first the seating position feels a little odd. The central spine, which contains the fuel tank, is much deeper than usual, making it easier to get on to the GMax bike-style (by throwing your leg over the saddle) than scooter style, poking your leg through the middle.
The upside, of course, is that the chassis is a lot stiffer than a conventional “underbone” or J frame, giving it remarkably sporting handling considering its traditional scooter architecture, which has the engine and transmission moving with the rear wheel and carrying very high unsprung weight.
What helps is that the suspension is firm, especially at the rear, which has a bell-crank linkage to a vertical monoshock under the centre spine. The steering is accurate and the bike taut and stable through corners - and, thanks to a side stand that tucks well out of harm's way, nothing but rubber touches down this side of insanity.
The GMax 220 has disc brakes front and rear, the front a fashionable petal disc with a dual-piston floating calliper and the rear a conventional drilled platter with a single-piston calliper - each served by braided stainless-steel hoses.
The brakes are very good but, lower tech notwithstanding, the rear is still much sharper than the front - a failing shared by most Far Eastern scooters and nearly all Harleys.
Upmarket oriental scooters often have elaborate protection against theft and PGO's flagship is no exception. There's only one key-hole on the whole machine - and that's got a hardened steel cover plate to prevent it being jimmied with a big screwdriver. The ignition key has a squared-off steel blade that pops out to the side; push that into the slot below the keyhole and the plate will spring aside.
Turn the key to the right (clockwise) and the bike will switch on; turn it to the left and the seat will unlatch; push it in and turn to the right, and the fuel cap in the centre of the spine will pop open.
There's the usual helmet-shaped hole (with courtesy light, nogal) under the saddle, and the battery and fuses are easily accessible under a clip-on cover behind it, where the fuel tank would normally be.
The seat is deeply padded and luxuriously comfortable, although Herself remarked that the pillion section was quite steeply sloped so she tended to slide forward against my back - which is not a bad thing on a 144kg two-wheeler with a wheelbase of only 1365mm.
The instrument panel is a masterpiece of LCD multitasking; the left face has an analogue rev-counter and two warning lights, while the right displays speed, distance, trip, time, and fuel remaining.
And last but definitely not least, the GMax 220 is blessed with a pair of superb H4 headlights, better than on some seriously expensive motorcycles, making riding at night safer as well as a whole lot more fun.
At R28 500 the PGO GMax 220 Fi is close to four times the price of a “Styrofoam cup” - but, properly cared for, will probably last more than four times as long. Fit and finish are well up to European standards, ride and handling even better.
Yes, it's just a commuter, but one intended to be ridden by grown-ups.
Price: R28 500.
Test bike from Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, Cape Town.
Engine: 220.1cc air/oil-cooled single.
Bore x stroke: 67.5 x 61.5mm.
Compression ratio: 10:1:1.
Power: 11.1kW at 7250rpm.
Torque: 16.7Nm at 5500.
Induction: Electronic fuel-injection.
Ignition: Transistorised electronic.
Transmission: Constantly variable with final drive by belt.
Front Suspension: Conventional cartridge forks.
Rear suspension: Vertical monoshock adjustable for preload with bell-crank linkage.
Front brake: Petal disc with dual-piston floating calliper.
Rear brake: Disc with single-piston floating calliper.
Front tyre: 120/60 - 13 tubeless. Rear tyre: 130/60 - 13 tubeless.
Dry weight: 144kg.
Price: R28 500.
Bike from: Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, Cape Town.