PH2 RIDDEN: YAMAHA TMAX
Big scooters ... not cool but surprisingly fun, especially with a dose of R1 attitude
Thanks to a 500cc parallel twin engine the Yamaha can cover distances that simply aren't possible on small capacity bikes. With top speed and acceleration that more than matches cars, the TMAX offers two-wheeled, hassle-free commuting.
So why are we so snobbish about big scooters in the UK? Last year the number of TMAXs sold on our shores numbered a few hundred. Is it time for bikers to accept the big scooter?
Scooting about LA
The TMAX is designed to deal with traffic chaos so Yamaha chose to launch it in Los Angeles, a city with 1.8 cars (more if you're Jay Leno) per resident. Which equates to just shy of 8m cars!
As well as a new belt drive system the TMAX has shed a few kilograms and had its geometry altered so that more weight is on the front wheel. Add to this an R1 inspired restyle (it uses the same rear light!) and you have quite a cool looking machine.
Riding the TMAX through LA was certainly considerably less stressful than cutting through traffic on a normal bike. With no clutch the 'twist and go' motor proved pretty sprightly, leading the charge away from traffic lights while the chassis was surprisingly agile when filtering. Initially I was concerned the Yamaha may be a unwieldy to zip into gaps, but I never found myself thinking I could have got through that gap on a normal bike.
I was also impressed by the bike's stability - approaching traffic lights the TMAX was easy to balance at low speed, meaning you could roll up to the lights at walking pace without putting your feet down.
But the biggest surprise was when we left the congestion of LA and headed out into the surrounding hills.
Yamaha has always concentrated on giving the TMAX sporty handling and, although it doesn't look it, the big scooter is actually very competent through the bends. Once you get over the weird sensation of charging into corners with your feet forward the TMAX responds well and can certainly be ridden at quite a pace.
Get a little too enthusiastic and the centre stand can scrape a bit, but on some superb twisty roads the TMAX was balanced in the corners and actually really good fun. And it didn't feel that underpowered either.
With just 530cc I thought I'd continually find myself wishing for more power but despite treating the Yamaha's throttle like an on/off switch the TMAX never felt lacking. So, after a day on the TMAX am I now rushing out to buy a big scooter?
Despite proving quite a charming bike to ride I have a few issues. Its underseat storage is pretty poor and is only big enough for one full face helmet. Any additional helmets for pillions are exposed to the elements at best, filled with tramp wee at the worst. BMW's equivalent has solved this problem with a neat flap that expands the storage and Yamaha must be gutted not to have come up with an equivalent solution.
Skids are for kids
I wasn't overly keen on the TMAX's brakes either. There is nothing wrong with their power, but the rear had a harsh action and was easy to accidentally lock up. On a bike designed for urban riding I would like to have seen ABS as standard, however according to Yamaha UK TMAX owners seem to prefer bikes without ABS and it won't be an option, so what do I know...
So are the UK's bikers missing out on something by ignoring big scooters? The convenience of being able to stick your riding kit under the seat is wonderful and a scooter is far less demanding to use in town than a conventional motor with a clutch. But you'd want a proper bike as well.
At around £8,500 the TMAX is quite a pricey commuter but against ever more expensive train fares and the like it is thrifty and will do 50mpg. Having ruled the roost for the last decade the biggest storm on the TMAX's horizon in 2012 could, ironically, also be the great opportunity. BMW's C650 models could open the class up to a new breed of motorcyclist thanks to the strength of the German brand. Will this see big scooters in the UK reach Italian levels of popularity? Unlikely but I certainly see them playing an increasingly important role when it comes to commuting in the UK.