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Maxi-scooters spice up two-wheeled fun

October 15, 2004|by ARV VOSS/Motor Matters

The world is ever changing, and apparently, so is the perception of what constitutes a motor scooter. There was a time when scooters were in no way perceived to be encroaching upon the genre of the motorcycle.

Scooters have traditionally been simply held to be economical, two-wheeled forms of transport, extremely nimble and responsive in tight quarters and capable of carrying up to two people with limited cargo from point "A" to point "B" efficiently. That view hasn't really changed significantly, but the mechanical and physical makeup of the scooter is changing dramatically and rapidly in today's world.

Enter the "Super" or "Maxi"-scooters into today's scooter world. They represent a relatively new and growing segment in the U.S. marketplace. Most motorcycle manufacturers have added at least one scooter model to their product lineup, with some catering to the more traditional scooter image, and others focusing on the super or maxi category. Piaggio, manufacturer of the world-famous Vespa Scooter line, has just introduced its version of the Maxi-Scooter: The Piaggio X9 Evolution 500.

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What exactly is a super or maxi-scooter, and what makes it a scooter rather than a motorcycle? A super or maxi-scooter generally has an engine that is 250 cc or larger, whereas more traditional scooters fall into the 200 cc or less power range. Wheels and tires are usually larger than conventional scooters (but still smaller than those found on motorcycles). Most scooters, regardless of size, have no clutch to operate, but rather feature a continuously variable transmission that negates the need for a clutch lever.

The riding position of scooters differs from that of motorcycles, too, in that one sits astride the latter, while one sits atop a scooter with a full floorboard between the seat-shrouded motor and transmission, and the front, which generally includes a fairing, a fender, handlebars and controls. Oh, and maxi-scooters, for the most part, cost more than smaller scooters.

I recently participated in the launch of the Piaggio X9 Evolution 500, wherein a group of journalists rode from Piaggio's U.S. headquarters in Long Beach, Calif., up the coast to Santa Barbara, on day one, and returned the following day. It was my first two-wheeled experience on Southern California's super-crowded freeways, and also my first time for "lane-splitting."

The first day was a tad harrowing to say the least, while the second day's return leg was more comfortable as I approached it with a good deal more confidence and was able to settle into a smoother, flowing rhythm. Total focus is necessary when splitting lanes, as rearview mirrors pose a major concern. My X9 scooter's mirrors passed above the mirrors of some vehicles, and below the mirrors of others.

Many motorists don't appreciate the convenience afforded cyclists or scooterists, and actually move over to block the way. Some, either unconsciously, or perhaps intentionally, dispose of coffee, cigarettes and even spittle. Lane splitting is an "at risk" exercise that came about to allow continued movement in heavy traffic in the interest of providing air flow for air-cooled motors, thereby preventing even more stalls and greater traffic congestion.

The Piaggio X9 Evolution is ideal for lane splitting, or any other kind of commuting, because of its size, power, capability and economic operation. The engine is a 500 cc single-cylinder, liquid-cooled four-stroke, 4-valve Piaggio MASTER with electronic fuel injection, counter-rotating balancer shaft and two-stage catalytic exhaust. It delivers 39 horsepower to the rear wheel. The scooter rides on 14-inch diameter wide section, tubeless wheels and tires. Top speed is about 100 mph, which can be done with both ease and stability.

The transmission delivers smooth acceleration, response and flexibility. A soundproof aluminum transmission cover cuts down on noise while aiding gear-shifting, and the new exhaust system features an aluminum heat shield for rider comfort and protection. An electronic immobilizer system is standard, ensuring greater protection against theft. Braking is done compliments of two front Brembo "Serie Oro" floating discs, both 260 mm in diameter, and a 240 mm rear disc, all 5 mm thick. The system is linked front and rear.

In terms of convenience and practicality, there is under-seat locking storage for one full-face and one open-face helmet. There are two stands: A center stand, and a side stand, including an ignition cutout device as well as an emergency ignition cut-out device. In addition to normal gauges and instrumentation, there is an outside temperature indicator with an ice-formation warning light and another warning light for non-operational brake lamps.

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