by Bart Madson

2010 KYMCO Quannon 150

Way over in the land of Europe, they got this thing called graduated licensing. The idea is folks learning to ride a bike, in particular young folks, have to prove their riding ability by sampling horsepower-restricted small-displacement motorcycles. After a couple years, they can then move up to the bigger, meaner monkeys in the motorcycling kingdom, but this licensing requirement necessitates an entire 125cc class of entry-level motorcycles, including sportbikes pretty much unheard of in the US. The Yamaha YZF-R125 and Honda CBR125R all deliver sportbike looks in a newbie-friendly package. Another such ride is the KYMCO Quannon, only this little learner’s actually available in the States.

Bringing its Quannon to the US as a 2010 model, KYMCO upped displacement to 149cc and slapped it with a low $2999 price tag. Its only real stateside competition comes from a pair of 250cc models: the hardly-seen Hyosung GT250 and the stalwart Kawasaki Ninja 250 – with the little Ninja effectively sewing up the U.S. entry-level sportbike market since… forever!

So how’s the little Quannon stack up? It’s a question we were eager to answer for ourselves during the 2010 KYMCO press launch in Asheville, North Carolina. What we discovered is an odd little bike that makes for an interesting ride.

As far as appearances are concerned, riders do get a racey-looking little bike with the Quannon. It may not measure up to the latest refresh of the entry-level market from the Japanese marques, but if it were judged to the pre-2008 Ninja 250, the KYMCO looks more authentic. Fit and finish is decent for a 3K bike. In particular, the instrument cluster with an analog tach and electronic speedo with fuel gauge all look good. At $2999 the KYMCO retails for more than a grand less than the Ninja 250 and comes with a year-longer, 2-year warranty.

Toss a leg over the 31-inch seat and riders immediately notice the slender feel. A slim air/oil-cooled Single powers the Quannon, so there’s not much internally for the steel frame to wrap around. With the claimed 299-lb curb weight (conveniently just under 300 lbs), the result is a machine that feels trim, light and easy to maneuver.

True, the KYMCO feels quite small for a rider of my 6’1 dimensions, with cramped pegs. However, the small size feels less dramatic than a small-displacement scooter or past recollections riding the Honda Rebel and Yamaha Virago 250. Handlebar placement is pleasant and the riding position fairly upright, making city commutes (the Quannon’s true calling) and the accompanying frequent stops less awkward.

At low speeds, the Quannon cuts in and out of traffic with ease. Parking lots are not a problem either. There is one exception to its low-speed highs, however, as a tall first gear requires some judicious clutch work when starting from a stop – an odd trait for a beginner mount. I stumbled to a stall more than once and noticed a couple other hiccupped starts from fellow motojournos. The remainder of the Quannon’s five-speed gearbox works well enough.

Getting past city commuting speeds and the Quannon’s chassis surprised us, in a good way. Expecting a flimsy ride, the frame and suspension felt solid and reassuring, transmitting an unexpected amount of feedback. Raking our way down a steep and winding North Carolina side road, the Quannon made for some smiles in the bends. The 17-inch wheels deliver a regular bike feel while the short 53.3-inch wheelbase, combined with its feather light lbs, makes for effortless tosses around the corners. The front fork and rear monoshock certainly aren’t ready for the racetrack, but the overall rolling chassis holds up its end of the performance bargain. Where the Quannon falls short is in the motor and braking departments.

First, the brakes need improvement. There’s not a whole heck of a lot of feel and very little bite up front from the 2-piston / single rotor configuration. The rear’s doesn’t redeem things either. In unison they slow things down… slower than we’d like. For a beginner mount, a little beefier grip up front would be preferred.

The engine, however, is the Quannon’s biggest question mark. Our test unit had just single-digit mileage on the odometer before hopping on for our quick ride. The little 149.3cc Single struggled to deliver much more than anemic power. Sluggish in the lower half of its 10,000 rpm rev range, the claimed 14 ponies don’t kick much to speak of until 7K, with the real hit between 8-10K. Only problem, 8-10K is in the red line…

Tooling up the Blue Ridge Parkway the Quannon lagged up inclines, with even moderate upward pitches dramatically reducing top speed. On flat surfaces, the KYMCO toted our 205 lbs up into the indicated low 60s on the speedo. One of my KYMCO testing colleagues, MCUSA Contributing Editor Gabe Ets-Hokin, saw near 80 mph down one particularly steep hill with a Rollie-Free-esque full body tuck – but the freeway is ill-advised aboard the Quannon. It would be interesting to give the Quannon another fair shake with a fully broken in motor.

No freeway-use makes the 149cc motorcycle on American roadways a hard sell to many, but the Quannon’s engine performance is well suited to urban/surface street commutes. Plus, the little Single promises to be a gas-sipper. Though we didn’t measure fuel efficiency, judging from eyeball estimates of odometer and fuel gauge, we see no reason to contest the 70 mpg claims. Factoring the 3.6-gallon fuel tank equates to a 250-mile range, so it will be a commuter riders can fill up and forget about.

What we’d really like to see is KYMCO toss a 250 motor in the Quannon, with the extra 100cc of grunt giving it some freeway credibility and a friendlier powerband. The chassis certainly seem capable of handling more power. Give the front brake a little more bite and the KYMCO may have a mount fit to challenge the best of the 250 ranks

Criticisms aside, KYMCO deserves credit for expanding the entry-level motorcycle pool with its Quannon. In its present 150 form the little sportbike can still be sourced as a fun, if modest, commuter for those riders who want a bike, not a scooter. Beginners on a budget should consider a test ride.