With the introduction of the Learner Approved Motorcycles Scheme (LAMS) in 2012, new riders have had far more choice in bikes than ever before. But has that extra choice come at the cost of fun and thrifty smaller capacity bikes?
I’m not sure about the statistics, but in my own anecdotal view the introduction of LAMS has put a dampener on the smaller capacity class somewhat. With the exception of Suzuki's Gixxer 150, small bikes rarely make it into the top of the sales charts now.
And while I’ve noticed more people in my social circle taking up riding, not one has started with a sub-250cc motorcycle, even when their commuting needs don’t require the power and torque of a mid-sized bike.
However, there are plenty of reasons to love a tiny bike such as the Aprilia ETX-150 and its more road oriented sibling the STX-150.
Jumping on the Aprilia ETX-150 for the first time I initially made a judgement about how the little Aprilia would ride based solely on the bike’s capacity. That 150 printed on the side cowling, in my mind, meant ‘no fun, gutless, and boring’. How wrong I was…
The first thing you notice with the ETX-150 is not the size of the engine but the enduro styling of the bike. The duckbill front mud-guard is mounted high like Aprilia’s enduro bikes of old while the 17-inch spoked wheels are wrapped in knobbly tyres. Despite looking rather out of place on what is essentially a commuter bike, the knobblies actually hold grip surprisingly well, even in wet conditions.
Matching the enduro theme are the brush guards on the handlebars and an upright riding position. You can even stand up on the pegs and control the bike as if it were a full off-roader without any trouble, though personally I kept myself firmly planted on the plush seat.
Unlike its enduro cousins, the seat of the ETX-150 has a notable variation in height between the rider and the pillion. While this adds to comfort on 95% of riding conditions I did find after a longer duration in the saddle that I wanted to scoot myself back a bit which was made tricky by the seat’s shape. For shorter periods, such as the intended commuting, the seat wouldn’t be an issue and I only noticed it after a longer-than-usual commute down Auckland’s Southern Motorway in the rain.
Naturally, for such a bike that only costs $2990 the suspension on the ETX-150 isn’t state of the art. It is, however, more than up for the task of damping the lightweight little Aprilia in pretty much any situation you can throw it at. With 35mm USD forks up front and twin shocks with preload adjustment at the back, you could even contemplate carrying a pillion down the road or strap all the gear you need for a weekend away to the back and head off into the sunset.
While the ETX-150 is no track demon or off-road basher, it can happily reach and maintain the open road limit thanks in part to the gear ratios of its 5-speed gearbox. Even when approaching hills on the highway I very rarely had to click down a cog to maintain a howling 100km/h from the little single cylinder, a feat I found incredibly surprising considering some 250cc bikes seem to struggle with hills.
Matching the enduro styling is an enduro sized fuel tank, with a huge capacity of 18 litres, the little Aprilia should have more than enough range if you don’t flog the engine to death.
Braking is handled by a beautifully modulated 260mm front disk with two piston caliper up front and a surprisingly effective drum brake on the rear wheel.
Aprilia’s ETX-150 is more than just a commuter, it’s a small easy to ride bike with one of the cheapest dollar-to-grin ratios out there.
It is that investment versus return that I think riders who overlook these fun little commuters are missing out on these days.
Add to the mix the versatility of an enduro styled bike and you’ve got a very appealing package in my eyes. If I had my time with the ETX-150 again, I’d load it up with luggage and head out on a small capacity adventure to prove that you don’t need the latest full-sized behemoth to have a capable motorcycle.