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Scooter Review

Piaggio X9 250 Review

In the maxi-scooter market, sometimes small is beautiful

Words & photography by JEREMY BOWDLER

After the faint praise lavished on Piaggio’s X9 500 Evolution last year, I was amazed to uncover a real little gem hiding under the same skin when I rode the 250c version. Externally identical, the two scooters are chalk and cheese on the mean streets downtown or in the whiling away of a weekend.

Some things haven’t changed, fortunately, and these include the creature comforts which have been carried over from the larger model to the wee 'un. The front fairing and adjustable screen still provide some of the best protection in the business, with even moderate showers failing to dampen the morning commute, while on finer days, the screen deflects the worst of the windblast and contributes greatly to comfort.

It is nice to see that no corners have been cut with the 250, which has the same comfortable rider’s seat with adjustable backrest and luxury pillion perch, complete with well arranged grab handles, and which sits the passenger high enough to see comfortably over the rider’s helmet. A better view and a happier pillion.

Also carried over from the 500 are the capacious under-seat storage area with courtesy light and 12V power socket (for mobile phone charging, etc) as well as the option for the integrated rider-to-pillion intercom, FM radio system or hands-free mobile kit (standard on the 500 but an option on the 250). The glovebox, operated by pushing the ignition key, pops open to reveal a seat latch and fuel cap release switch.

I give up. The X9 250 is the X9 500; with some significant differences. The 250cc carburated engine is much smoother than the fuel-injected 500 and, without having the benefit of back-to-back testing, feels more than quick enough off the mark. Oddly, the smaller engine gives the 250 a much less top-heavy feel (which was probably also influenced by the 500’s having a topbox fitted when we tested it last time), and that translates to much more agile and yet confidence-inspiring handling in the city, as well as at higher speeds.

There is another factor at work here, too. The twin discs at the front are smaller on the 250 than on the 500 – the performance difference between the two explains the need for larger discs on the 500 – and this has two benefits for riders of the 250. Firstly, the mass of the front wheel assembly (unsprung mass) is less, which means the suspension works better making for a more comfortable ride; and secondly, the smaller mass leads to less rotational inertia and lighter steering (essentially, the heavier the mass spinning around the front axle, the less readily it wants to change direction). The X9 250’s lighter steering thus translates into far nimbler handling. F-a-r nimbler.

Fortunately, nothing is lost in terms of braking power by the move to smaller discs. The X9 250 still stops straight and true thanks to the linked brakes, where the right-hand brake lever operates one front disc, while the left-hand lever operates the other front disc as well as the back brake. In practice, this allows you to manage the normal braking duties with your left hand, which leaves the right hand free to work the throttle or to contribute to braking if needs be. It’s a simple enough system and similar set-ups have been around in motorcycles for some time. The only thing to get used to is if you regularly drag your rear brake to control pitching, to settle the scooter mid-corner or to tighten your line. Otherwise, you’d probably never even know it was there.

The 250cc Leader engine generates enough power to make use of the handling, too. In practice top speeds are generally academic: you either run out of road or out of points. What matters is whether or not you can outgun traffic at the lights and whether or not you can maintain a comfortable pace on a freeway. Tick both boxes with the X9.

Two up, the scooter performs almost as well, with the extra weight not too noticeable on take off or when you’re up to speed. Slowing to filter through the traffic, or crawling along in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, however, is less pleasant. The added mass on the back seat removes weight from the front and makes the steering vague at walking-pace speeds, resulting in much sawing of the ‘bars from side to side and much head-shaking from the passenger. To be fair, I had to give an 84kg colleague a lift and made no change to the rear suspension when I felt the difference. The phenomenon could be tuned out simply, but if you are a jump-onand- ride kind of person, and you happen to pick up a bit of fluff at short notice — particularly if it is a big, boofy, 84kg bit of fluff — remember these words…

The rider’s seat, though extremely comfortable, feels a bit odd when you first climb aboard, as if it is dished too deeply, tilting your pelvis forward and making you slouch. After a couple of rides, that sensation goes away but the broad, well padded seat remains. The pillion perch got the thumbs up, too, though at times it did feel as if there was a hard lump under the padding.

If the X9 250 feels much lighter and better balanced than the 500, it should come as no surprise, given the 38kg weight difference (almost 25 per cent of the 250’s claimed total). It also explains why the 250 gets by without the electrically-operated centrestand of the bigger scooter. In fact, I could operate the centrestand on the 250 without having to get off, which is some indication of the 250’s diet.

That lightness translates directly into better road manners and a scooter which feels more sprightly and much more manoeuvrable. While the weight is a big part of this, the narrower section rear tyre is also a major contributing factor.

Whatever the physics of the matter, the X9 250 is a terrific proposition in town, and a more than reasonable conveyance for weekends away in the country. In fact, it is, together with the rest of the scooters in the class, pretty much the perfect compromise between city convenience and highway legs. What separates the X9 from the other 250s is its robustness, thanks to being scaled down from the 500, and its list of accessory features, which is long and well thought out.

Remember what they say about good things and small packages?

As published in TW SCOOTER MAGAZINE - 16/11/2004
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