Big scooters rule when it comes to touring and commuting. Good weather protection, comfy seating, storage space, plus 100mph performance, all adds up to a user friendly package.
Alastair tries the Yamaha T-Max 500 and is impressed.
I love motorbikes, but sometimes they irritate me with their antique engineering. I mean, is there any point in showing off ugly, water-cooled four cylinder engines and why are exhaust pipes still seemingly designed to prevent luggage, or passengers, fitting on the back of many bikes?
Those are just a couple of reasons why older bikers are turning to maxi scooters for touring fun. These machines are quick enough, handle OK and they are in another world of convenience and low maintenance, compared to fiddly old fashioned bikes. The only downside is that sometimes look like a bathroom set on wheels, but the T-Max is a pretty decent looker in its class.
Smoothly does it
Like all scooters, the YP500 T-Max is a simple `twist `n´ go machine, with a very steady, glitch-free, power delivery. The engine lays flat in the twin spar frame, rather than attached to the rear wheel, as on smaller scooters, and the final drive chain (yeah, a chain, how strangely retro) itself is carried inside the huge swingarm, so there´s no way grit and rainwater and wreck the chain.
The motor makes around 40bhp, which is plenty for any scooter and easily capable of getting the T-Max to a 70-80mph cruising speed within ten seconds or so. It outpaces all but the most aggressively driven cars away from the lights. The engine also features a third piston, which acts purely as an engine balancer, so there´s absolutely no vibration buzzing through the T-Max chassis.
I found the big Yamaha was much more pleasant to ride than the Piaggio X9 500, less vibey, with no `surge´ when running the scoot through long corners on a steady throttle. The whole bike feels much more stable in its handling than the Italian X9.
Add up a long wheelbase, big 14 inch wheels and the motorcycle type chassis and you have all the ingredients for stable, ultrasafe cornering. The T-Max also has good ground clearance, so bikers who decide to switch from a touring bike to a maxi-scooter, should be right at home.
The whole package oozes quality, attention to detail and durability. Only Honda´s Silverwing – for my money – rivals the T-Max as a serious alternative to a 600-1,000cc touring motorbike.
Notes and queries
OK you´re thinking, this sounds like one of those road tests written for the manufacturers to use in their brochure – it´s too good to be true. Yep, you´re right, the T-Max does have a few weak spots, although given its recent price cut, I think it´s still a great machine for the money.
First up, the T-Max flashed its oil warning light at me whilst riding up the M42 back from Surrey. I stopped, but in the dark couldn´t see the sight glass (there´s no dipstick), but the bike didn´t seem to be leaking oil. I played safe and put half a litre in it, but next day learned that when the bike´s oil needs changing, the oil warning lamp comes on, despite there being a logo marked `oil change´ on the dash. If the words `oil change´ lit up, instead of the oil warning light, that would make more sense Yamaha!
It ran perfectly by the way, despite being over-filled with engine oil.
Next up, I tried to stash my Arai under the seat whilst in town at the bank – doesn´t quite fit. Little thing I know, but few people are going to use a 100mph machine with an open-face lid.
The seat is the next thing that needs changing. The mini backrest is too far back (and too small) to be of much use, but it also reduces the pillion accommodation. The dualseat should be made flatter, wider at the back, and narrower at the front. You end up sliding forwards at junctions, just to get a foot flat down on the tarmac, because the saddle is that bit too wide.
Night riding isn´t as good as it could be, because main beam is too diffused and the light scatters into the distance. Not a big deal, but it meant about 60mph on unlit roads was about as fast I fancied riding at night.
Finally, the screen needs re-shaping. The wind is directed right at the front of your helmet at present and although no manufacturer now fits a screen the rider can hide behind, a screen with a curled up lip would be better than the steeply angled item on the T-Max now.
Alright, that´s all the Vic Meldrew moaning out of the way. Back to the positive stuff;
Good fuel economy for one thing. Steady 70-80mph riding up the motorway saw the needle pointing near empty, but it took just £7.12 of unleaded, with 92 miles covered, to fill to the brim. Pretty decent I reckon, for something with two cylinders that can cover ground fast, on all types of road. Not a great range of course, but I´m not keen on going more than 100 miles, or around 90 minutes, without a breather anyway.
This is also a classy handling bike, with outstanding brakes (not linked) which allows you to really hustle along A and B roads. True, the suspension is ultimately a bit soft for serious lunacy, but you can keep pace with the average sportsbike rider without much effort. The only problem you might have is overtaking a lorry, two-up, as the auto gearbox on any scooter lacks the immediate punch that a big motorcycle can deliver.
The T-Max gives you feedback, confidence, precision – even though it´s a scooter. I still ultimately prefer the raw, more aggressive experience you get from a big motorbike, but the Yamaha is a simple, elegant little mover.
When you look closely at the T-Max, you notice how solidly this scooter is built; the axles front and rear seem to have room to take wider wheels, should a bigger engined variant appear one day. The frame and suspension components are beefier than a Russian lady hockey player. Every body panel fits properly, no odd nooks or gaps spoil its lines.
Details like the excellent view you get from the mirrors, or the fuel filler mounted near the seat, rather than down past your knees as on some scooters, make this scooter easy to live with. Its twincarb engine doesn´t even need a choke setting on the handlebars, to start in the mornings and even a novice could lift this heavy scooter onto its centre-stand. All these things matter to touring riders, who want the minimum of fuss.
At around £5400 on the road, the T-Max is about £500 less than it cost two years ago when it first appeared, but motorbikes have also seen retail prices slashed too. The same money can buy a decent tourer, like Honda´s Deauville, brand new, or a good used Pan-Euro, BMW Boxer, Triumph Trophy etc. I don´t doubt that the T-Max would last as well as a BMW, or a Deauville, given proper servicing – this is a well made machine.
But what is that longevity worth to you – can you live with a scooter, rather than a motorcycle, plus the greater depreciation that scooters suffer compared to bikes?
This is the key problem for all the big scooters on the market. People do not – and never will in my opinion – see them as being worth the same as a big motorcycle. They should be cheaper. Every manufacturer is going to have to figure out a way of making maxi-scooters which retail at around £4000 tops, if they really want to grow this sector of the market.
Maxi scooters are great, because they keep people on two wheels, who otherwise might pack the whole thing in. The T-Max is one of the best touring machines I´ve ridden, full stop – better than many top heavy dinosaurs costing ten grand. Open your mind, try a scooter.
Get Yamaha motorcycle insurance for the yamaha t max 500 2003.
Engine twin cylinder, four stroke, liquid cooled, 4 valves per cylinder
Bore and stroke
66mm X 73mm
Compression ratio 10.1:1
Claimed power 40bhp @7,000rpm
Carbs X2 BS30mm Mikuni, auto choke
Transmission Auto gearbox, belt and chain drive
Frame Tubular type
Front suspension 38mm forks, triple clamps, non-adjustable
Rear suspension Monoshock, set horizontal, non-adjustable
Wheels/Tyres 120/70 front tyre, 150/70 rear, 14 inch diameter wheels
Top speed (est) 105mph
Dry weight 197kgs (approx 433lbs)
Fuel capacity 11 litres (est)
Fuel consumption 50mpg average (est)
Accessories Luggage rack, topbox, higher screen, heated grips, lock, alarm, mobile phone charger etc.
Buying info Two year warranty
Current price £5400 OTR (average dealer price, March 2003)