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Scooter Review

Maxi Scooter Group Test

Yes Virginia, you can tour on a scooter. And yes, you can even enjoy it.

PETE CALLAGHAN

Sometimes the ideas that seem slightly silly initially work out brilliantly in the end. Such was the case with this particular group test, which involved four maxi-scooters, five people and a 1300km return journey from Sydney to Genoa in north-eastern Victoria for CHUMPS, the annual motorcycle journos’ soirée.

If you live in a metropolitan area, you couldn’t have missed the explosion in scooter sales that has occurred in Australia’s cities over the past few years. Increased traffic congestion, urban consolidation and soaring fuel prices are among the many reasons for the scooter boom, but outside of trundling to and from work, or to the shops, the traditional small-capacity scooter is somewhat limited in its uses compared with your average motorcycle.

Maxis, on the other hand, are a different breed. Bigger and more powerful than your typical scooter, the maxi is designed to take the advantages of the twist & go scooter – such as convenience, carrying capacity, ease of use and miserly fuel economy – and extend them into motorcycle territory by adding the ability to comfortably travel outside city limits, either one or two-up. So the aim of this exercise was to see how well these maxis would handle big touring miles over everything from freeways to winding country backroads.

Our quartet represented the most max maxis on the market. In the Italian corner were the Piaggio X9 Evolution 500 and Gilera Nexus 500 – two quite different machines that happen to come from the same manufacturer and share the same powerplant, Piaggio’s 460cc MASTER engine.

In the Japanese corner, we had the Yamaha XP500 T-Max and Suzuki’s AN650 Burgman. These two machines are both powered by twin-cylinder engines and share a motorcycle-oriented design philosophy, where the engine is more mid-mounted than rear-mounted in traditional scooter fashion. The idea behind this is to give a more motorcycle-like front-rear weight distribution, which is supposed to give more motorcycle-like handling.

MOTOR MATTERS

Suzuki’s Burgman has the biggest motor of the four (in fact, it’s the biggest motor in all of Scooter Land!) but it’s also the heaviest maxi, tipping the scales at a claimed 235kg dry. The Burger’s 638cc, fuel-injected dohc,four-stroke twin is good for 40.5kW at 7000rpm and 62Nm of torque at 5000rpm, and it delivers in a beautifully smooth fashion, with a surprising turn of speed given the bulk it has to propel.

Nippy around town, it’s out on the open road where the Burgman is made for motoring, and it will sit happily at 110-120km/h all day long with enough power in reserve to instantly overtake or have some fun with should you get bored.Top whack is on the brave side of 170km/h.

Like the other maxis, the Burgman is a twist & go scoot with a super user-friendly CVT (or Continuously Variable Transmission) drive system, however it has a trick up its sleeve in that the electronically-controlled transmission gives you the option to change gears manually, like the Tiptronic-style shifters found in many cars. Pressing the yellow ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ buttons on the rather crowded left- hand switchblock gives a range of five pre- determined ratios including an overdrive. There’s also a ‘Power’ button that extends the ratio change point by 1000rpm for any given road speed, for an extra burst of performance.

In manual mode the ratio changes are reasonably slick, if a little slow, but to be honest, the system is a bit of a gimmick – it’s fun to play with for a while, but it offers no significant improvement over the excellent auto transmission and the novelty value quickly fades.

The T-Max offers 32.6kW and 47.6Nm from its 499cc, fuel-injected, dohc, parallel- twin, and with a comparatively lithe 209kg to haul around, quickly showed itself to be the rocketship of the bunch. Every twist of the throttle is accompanied by a delicious growl from the engine, and the freely available and plentiful power meant it topped all its rivals in roll-on acceleration tests on the freeway to Goulburn.

On that same freeway the Yamaha showed its touring credentials by sitting pretty at legal speeds, but it won everyone over once we reached the bendy backroads, because its combination of spicy performance and sprightly handling made it not only the most sporty maxi in the pack, but a worthy opponent for many motorcycles.

Just as an aside, the T-Max’s engine is an interesting piece of work, because it’s actually a three-cylinder design. The two ‘working’ cylinders are parallel and horizontally configured, but there’s also a third ‘dummy’ piston working at 180 degrees, which acts as a balancer to smooth out the parallel-twin’s inherent vibration. Works a treat too – so well in fact that BMW has used a similar idea with its new F 800 parallel-twin motorcycle.

With an engine in common – Piaggio’s 460cc single-cylinder, fuel-injected, four- valve, MASTER mill – the X9 and Nexus offer almost identical riding experiences. The MASTER has claimed peak outputs of 29kW at 7500rpm and 43Nm at 5500rpm, but the Nexus felt faster despite having a claimed kerb weight of 216kg, some 3kg greater than the X9. In comparison with the Japanese maxis, the Piaggio and Gilera engines are less pleasant to use, particularly around town or at lower speeds, where the Italian motor feels very rough, chuggy and unrefined. It smoothes out markedly as the revs rise and cruises very well, with a decent turn of speed for overtaking, but never quite manages to match the Japanese twins for acceleration, throttle response or smoothness.

ON THE PUNT

The combination of a rear-biased engine, feet-forward riding position, large wheels and plenty of weight means that a maxi- scooter is going to take some getting used to if you’re only accustomed to smaller scooters. For the uninitiated, the weight and bulk will be the strangest part of the maxi riding experience.

Having said that, none of these four maxis offers any nasty surprises when it comes to handling – they each have their own quirks, sure, but they’ll also tackle any conditions the road throws at them and they can be punted impressively hard when the urge strikes.

The Burgman is the biggest of the bunch and feels it out on the road, but it won’t shy away from a decent set of bends. Steering is very light and easy thanks to those wide’bars, and the stout, motorcycle-style forks,preload-adjustable dual rear shocks and 15-inch front/14-inch rear wheel sizes endow it with very predictable and capable handling characteristics. Its suspension is set up on the soft side, which perfectly suits its touring bent, but the Burger never suffers for this concession to comfort.

Like the T-Max, the Burger has its engine mounted closer to the middle of the bike, with a motorcycle-style swingarm holding the rear wheel, and the handling reflects this. And when it comes to stopping, the twin 260mm front discs and single 250mm disc – all with twin-piston calipers – haul the Suzuki up consistently every time, with commendable levels of feel and power.

With its mid-mounted engine, twin-cradle tube frame and rear swingarm, Yamaha’s T-Max is the nearest thing to a traditional motorcycle, and it shows as soon as you step aboard. Don’t worry too much about having your back upright and feet forward – this thing is seriously quick through the twisty stuff. Conventional 38mm telescopic forks and a single rear shock mounted horizontally under the engine and operating in tension allow the T-Max to answer all the questions asked by its rider, and let it live up to the promises of its brilliant engine.

The Yamaha was clearly the fastest of the maxis through any bendy bits, offering excellent composure and stability – especially under brakes and when cranked hard into corners. Speaking of brakes, the twin 267mm front discs with two-piston calipers worked a treat, while the single 267mm rear provided great back-up. Gilera’s Nexus is touted as a sports scooter, and it largely lives up to the claim. Big wheels – 15-inch front and 14- inch rear – shod with sticky tyres, 41mm Kayaba forks, Kayaba single rear shock with separate ride-height adjustment, Brembo brakes ... they’re all the right ingredients for a hot Italian dish.In practice the Nexus is a quick little thing, however it never felt quite as composed or flickable or sharp as the T- Max. It’s also the first one to touch down in a corner, with the sticky-outy centrestand the culprit.

There’s not much in it admittedly, and some may find the Nexus’ more compact feel more to their liking than the beefier Yamaha, but consensus had the T-Max as the better-handling scoot.The Nexus and the X9 both have a linked brake system, where the left-hand lever activates the right-side front disc and the rear disc, while the right-side lever operates only the left-side front disc, which has larger-diameter pistons. It’s not a bad system, but it lacks the feel and precision of the Yamaha and Suzuki stoppers. It might also be preferable if the hand levers’ tasks were reversed – that is, if the right-hand lever activated the front right and rear disc – because most riders are used to right-side hand brake levers.

The Piaggio X9 also has 41mm forks, but gets two rear shocks (with preload adjustment). It’s not intended to be as sporty as the Nexus and certainly doesn’t feel that way. Reasonably quick steering, the X9’s the softest of the four suspension- wise and suffers from a lack of damping at both ends that makes it a little too bouncy.

It never felt like it was becoming unstable or out of shape, but it doesn’t have the composure of the other three maxis.

TAKE IT AWAY

For creature comforts and convenience, all of these maxis rank highly. The Burgman and the X9 share the top of the tree when it comes to gadgets and gear storage, with the sportier Nexus and T-Max not far behind. The Burgman uses its size well and is probably the maxi-scooter equivalent of a Honda GoldWing in terms of comfort and carrying capacity. Both the rider and pillion seats are wide, well-padded and amazingly comfortable for hours at a stretch, with plenty of room for long legs in the footwell, an adjustable rider’s backrest, an easy reach to the tiller-like ’bars and a massive windscreen that offers excellent protection – although one or two riders said the top edge intruded into their line of vision. No matter how far you have to go, you’ll always arrive fresh on the Burgman.

Underneath the huge seat is a similarly generous, carpet-lined cargo area that will easily take two full-face helmets, plus there are three separate storage compartments in the front bodywork section. There’s even a parking brake, which comes in very handy on hills, and the fuel filler is easy to get at, located on the left rear side panel. Instrument-wise, the Burger is comprehensive to say the least, with a digital speedo, bar graph tacho, fuel and temp gauges, gear indicator, twin trips and a clock.

The X9 loses nothing to the Suzuki in terms of rider information, with analogue tacho, speedo, fuel and temperature gauges in the usual place, plus a separate handlebar-mounted display that includes a trip computer and idiot lights. And
then there’s the PICS module on the left switchblock, which controls the rider-pillion intercom, mobile phone link and the built-in FM radio.

The Piaggio’s riding position is not as expansive as the Burger’s, but roomy all the same, with a soft, somewhat rider’s seat with adjustable backrest, and great pillion accommodation. The useful screen is made more so by being adjustable for height, and the centrestand is electrically-operated. Underseat storage is sufficient for one full-face helmet and a few smaller objects, and comes with carpet lining, an interior light and power socket and two remote access switches.

The fuel filler is located on the central spine and opened via a switch in the large front glovebox, plus there’s a shopping hook and another smaller storage compartment below the left-hand switchblock. Gilera’s Nexus has the most cramped ride position for taller riders, with smallish flat footboards and extra ‘highway-style’ foot perches placed forward and at an angle, plus lowish handlebars. The rider’s seat is a good one though, as is the windscreen, and the Nexus is pretty comfortable for longer hauls. A white-faced analogue speedo and tacho sit alongside an LCD trip computer display that shows fuel economy, top speed, average speed and the usual features, and it can be operated from the right-hand switchblock as well as via the buttons below the LCD screen.

A PILLION SPEAKS

My day started aboard the Yamaha T-Max, which I found to be a smooth ride. The seat was comfortable, however the pillion sits level with the rider, obstructing forward visibility. The footpegs are well placed, but I found the grab-rail dug into my hands and needed a more rounded finish. After a few hours of riding I jumped onto the Piaggio. The seat is high enough for the pillion to see over the rider’s helmet, which was great. It was also the most comfortable seat of all four scooters, and the grab-rail was good. I found the footboards were too small and once we reached 80km/h, it was a struggle to keep my feet steady.

The Gilera was next and I immediately welcomed the conventional footpegs. The seat was my least favourite of the four bikes, as you sit level with the rider and it was not as well padded as the others.

My final ride was on the Suzuki Burgman. The seat was very wide and comfortable and allowed good visibility over the rider’s helmet. The footboards provided heaps of room and the overall ride was by far the best of the four maxis.

– Jane Fenton

 

As published in TW SCOOTER MAGAZINE - 19/12/2006
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