Vuka means "wake up" or "get moving" and that's what this Cape Town-based company intends to do - get South Africa's hundreds of thousands of commuters moving on its affordable, Chinese-made scooters and motorcycles.

The bikes are imported in semi-knocked down condition and assembled at Vuka facilities all over South Africa

The company has taken the bold step of moving outside the mainstream motorcycle trade and marketing the bikes through co-ops and specialist dealers - more than 80 outlets in all.

All of which is great marketing but does the product stand up to the hype? We tried the VukaScuta XS125...

The XS125 looks like your standard Far-East miniwheeler at first glance but has more legroom than most despite its compact 1200mm wheelbase.

Production manager Tony Cundill explained that Vuka had asked the manufacturer to move the step in the seat further back to steal a little space from the pillion seat and make the driver's bit bigger.

The seat is deeply padded, which I appreciated as my first ride on the bike included more than an hour of highway cruising - mind-numbingly boring on a brand new single-speeder but unexpectedly free from the dreaded Numb Bum Syndrome.

The 124.6cc, single-cylinder, four-stroke engine is rated at 7.5kW and 7.2Nm

The automatic centrifugal clutch is set to take up quite late and the revs rise smartly as you crack open the throttle and then steady down somewhere near the torque peak as the constantly variable transmission begins to pull the bike up to speed.

Acceleration is fairly brisk up to about 80km/h; given the engine's very low mileage I didn't try a top-end run until late in the test period. When I did - on a still, cold autumn morning - I got almost exactly 90km/h, but I had to work hard for the last 10.

Above 60km/h I also felt a strange, regular "thrumming" from the CVT belt drive, which varied in period depending on how hard the engine was working. It seemed as if some slight imbalance in the transmission was setting up a sympathetic vibration in the final drive.

Though obtrusive, it didn't seem to harm the Vuka and it felt less pronounced as the review period went on - or was that just me getting used it?

It could even have been something as simple as a poorly joined belt but to find out would have meant stripping the final drive, so I left well alone.

Engine still tight

Vuka claims an unlikely-sounding fuel consumption of 2.3 litres/100km - unheard of for a single-speeder - and in fact the test Vuka used almost double that over a carefully monitored 330km test period, recording 4.5 litres/100km.

In the XS125's defence, however, it should be remembered that the engine was still tight and the bike wasn't designed to carry 106kg on a regular basis.

Given a lighter rider and sympathetic running in, it should improve considerably on my figures - but I'd still be very surprised to see anything under three litres/100km from a belt-drive bike, no matter how efficient.

The Vuka was also unexpectedly stable, with slightly slower steering than I expected from such a short wheelbase, probably due to the rearward weight bias caused by the rider sitting so far back.

The bike could even be ridden one-handed without shaking its head and retained its directional stability right down to walking pace; its surefootedness was a distinct advantage on wet roads - of which there were plenty while I had it.

Progressive brakes

The brakes - disc in front and a single leading shoe at the rear - were progressive if lacking in bite; a good handful of both would pull the bike up as if it had run into wet cement.

I was surprised at how wooden the front brake was until I noticed it had been fitted with what Chinese scootermakers are fond of calling an anti-lock braking device

In reality it's a spring-loaded piston in a little chamber that soaks up the initial pressure surge when you grab a handful of front brakes.

It won't stop the front wheel from sliding if you get silly on a wet road, however.

The XS125 has an unusual amount of storage space for a little 125cc scooter; the underseat cargo bay will take a full-face helmet, there's a neat, lockable glove compartment in the leg-shield and a 10-litre top box bolted to the substantial cast-alloy rear carrier.

Introductory offer

Vuka is including the top box in the purchase price as an introductory offer; once that expires it will cost about R300 extra.

The instrument panel is a salutary lesson on what is possible with talented design on a limited budget - simple, clear, remarkably stylish and (with one notable exception) easy to read.

On the second day I had the bike, while struggling through a torrential downpour, a little red light on the fascia began flashing insistently. Fearing the worst, I stopped under a bridge, got out the owner's manual and read it from cover to cover without finding any mention of the red light.

"Oh well," I thought, "Either it'll blow up or it won't." I got back on the road and rode it for another week without seeing the light - literally or figuratively.

I mentioned the red light to Cundill's assistant when I took the Vuka back.

"Oh that," he said, "It tells you your cellphone's ringing!"

Wish somebody'd told me.

The Vuka proved absolutely reliable, never missing a beat through more than a week of torrential rain and winter gales.

Local motion

Fit and finish are reasonable by any standards for what is intended as budget entry-level transport - better, in fact, than a lot of its Chinese competitors.

Vuka has clearly made an effort to spec the Scuta for South African conditions and South African riders - and it shows.

Price: R6995 including top box (introductory offer only).

  • Vuka Scuta XS125 specifications