Cape Town – Italian motorcycles are no faster than those built in other countries, and these days they don’t handle any better (although that hasn’t always been true). But one thing bikes built in the land of pasta and valpolicella have in abundance is style.
Even small ones; Piaggio’s iconic Vespa scooter is a case in point, as is this one, the FB Mondial HPS125 Hipster.
Count Guiseppe Boselli and his three older brothers, Carlo, Luigi and Ettore, founded Fratelli Boselli (Boselli Brothers) in 1929 to distribute and sell lightweight motorcycles, and later produced little three-wheeler trucks in Bologna under the name FB.
In 1948 Guiseppe and a gifted engineer named Alfonso Drusiani persuaded FB that they could build a twin-cam four-stroke single capable of beating the MV Agusta and Morini two-strokes that were dominating 125cc Grand Prix racing at the time – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Their Mondial (International) models won five Riders’ and five Constructors’ titles between 1949 and 1957 and the company, renamed FB Mondial, continued building high-performance lightweight motorcycles until its target market was destroyed by EU learner legislation in 1979.
In 2014, however, the current head of the Boselli family, Count Pier Luigi Boselli, with backing from holding company Pelpi International, revived the FB Mondial name with this model, the HPS 125 Hipster, aimed at young, fashion-conscious urbanites who want something with more attitude than a scooter for buzzing around town - and at R69 000, it's about half the price of a Vespa.
And attitude it has aplenty, with all the bobber styling cues, from the barest minimum of bodywork to vestigial mudguards, short, high-mounted, tailpipes and chunky ‘off-road’ tyres at both ends.
Motorvation is provided by a short-stroke fuel-injected single that spins to a heady 12 200 revs, although peak power, a learner-legal 10kW, is delivered at a more sensible 9750rpm, with 10.5Nm on tap at 8000 – at which point there’s a sharp step in the power delivery, as it gets ‘on the cam’.
That’s directed to the rear wheel via a super-slick six-speed gearbox (clutch strictly optional other than for pulling away), taking the HPS 125 up to an indicated 100km/h fast enough to kiss off all but the hottest GTI Joes. After that you have to work for everything you get, although I did manage, after a long run, flat on the tank in the cool air of early morning, to hit the rev limiter in top at an indicated 135km/h.
However, GPS tracking later revealed the true top speed as a disappointing 119km/h, for an unacceptably large speedometer error of 13.4 percent, which can make riding on national roads somewhat intimidating.
Nevertheless, this bike’s natural habitat is the urban jungle, and that’s where it comes into its own, with slightly forward-leaning ergonomics and agile handling, thanks to a steepish steering-head angle, upside-down front forks, a short wheelbase and a dry weight of only 130kg.
The steering is quick, as you’d expect from low, wide, tapered handlebars that favour a fashionable elbows-out riding position, and the centre of effort is low (the whole bike is low - less than a metre to the top of the instrument pod!) for fast, effortless changes of lean angle.
Nevertheless, it dives into tight turns and zooms round long sweepers with reassuring composure, becoming only the second test bike ever to go through our ride and handling section with the twistgrip pinned the whole way, and the speedometer showing 119-122 km/h – in real terms, about 107km/h, although it feels like more.
Fuel consumption over a week’s worth of commuting, performance testing and caning the little HPS up and down the national road worked out at 3.3 litres per 100km/h.
Braking is entrusted to a neat little copy of a Brembo four-pot calliper (with no maker’s name on it that I could find) operating on 280mm petal disc that’s more air than steel. Although lacking a little in initial bite - which may be deliberate, given the learner-legal status of the engine, a firm squeeze will pull the bike down hard enough to make the block-pattern front tyre complain, but with enough feel so that if it does let go it will be more your fault than the bike’s.
Accommodation, it must be said, is basic. The stylishly stitched flat front section of the seat is more comfortable than it looks, but the passenger winds up perched on the hump, constantly in danger of sliding off, while the pillion footpegs fold awkwardly to the rear, rather than upwards. To be honest, the HPS is more a 1+1, for occasional use, than a practical two-seater.
The small, round instrument pod is minimal in design, as befits a bobber, but it’s legible even in bright sunlight and surprisingly comprehensive, with a big digital speedometer read-out in the middle, a bar-graph rev counter around the rim of the liquid crystal display and warning lights in a second circle around that.
The HPS 125 is made in China by Piaggio, but don’t let that put you off. Fit and finish are well up to European standards, the styling is pure Italian and for solo work it’s a lot more rideable than a scooter - and copes better with the sorry state of our urban roads. But most of all, it packs a quart of attitude into a pint pot of motorcycle.
FACTS: Mondial HPS 125 Hipster
|Engine:||124.2cc liquid-cooled four-stroke single|
|Bore and Stroke:||58 x 47mm|
|Valvegear:||DOHC with four valves per cylinder|
|Power:||10kW at 9750rpm|
|Torque:||10.5Nm at 8000rpm|
|Clutch:||Multiplate wet clutch, cable|
|Transmission:||Six-speed gearbox, chain|
|Front Suspension:||41mm inverted forks|
|Rear Suspension:||Dual hydraulic dampers|
|Front Brake:||280mm, 4-piston radial mount|
|Rear Brake:||220mm, 1-piston floating calliper|
|Front Tyre:||100/90 - 18|
|Rear Tyre:||130/80 - 17|
|Kerb Weight:||130 kilograms|
|Fuel Tank:||9 litres|