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Three-wheeled Piaggio rocks, rolls and scoots

April 20, 2007|by ARV VOSS / Motor Matters

There are those in our two-wheeled society who live by the philosophy that you are what you ride, and consequently no self-respecting sport-bike rider or heavy V-Twin cruiser type would dare to be caught dead on a scooter.

It's too bad if you're in that category, because scooters are gaining in popularity at a much more rapid pace than the general motorcycle audience, and rightly so. Scooters today are more technologically advanced, faster, more comfortable, more efficient in terms of fuel economy, and rank considerably higher in their "coolness quotient."

A prime example is the innovative new three-wheeler from Piaggio, the folks who also bring you Vespa, Aprilia and Moto Guzzi.

The modern three-wheeler is called the MP3. And ... although I was the object of wisecracks and other verbal abuse when riding it, I'll bet that not one of the offenders would have turned down an opportunity to take it for a spin on their favorite back country road. Not unlike the classic Morgan three-wheeler, the MP3 sports two wheels up front, but a single driving wheel out back.

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The dual forward wheels are cantilevered, allowing the MP3 to bank into turns in traditional motorcycle fashion when the suspension is activated by unlocking it via a switch control on the right handlebar. Conversely, the scooter will stand on its own when the system is locked, as in "Look Ma, no kickstand." Actually, there is an easy-to-deploy center stand for added stability and security when stationary, there's even a Park brake.

The front suspension is actually a parallelogram composed of four aluminum arms that support two steering tubes in cantilevered fashion. Front travel is 3.35 inches while the rear suspension consists of two dual effect hydraulic shock absorbers and adjustable spring preload and 4.33 inches of travel.

Front wheels are 12X3.0 12-spoke die-cast aluminum alloy shod with Michelin Pilot Sport tubeless rubber in 120/70-12, while the 12-inch, 12-spoke rear wheel measures 3.5 inches wide and wears a 130/70-12 donut of the same make.

Power for the MP3 is courtesy of a 244.3 cc single-cylinder QUASAR, four-stroke, four-valve motor with electronic port fuel injection. The motor is liquid cooled and mates to a CVT transmission with torque server. The starter is an electric push-button affair - no kicking here folks. Stopping duty is handled by dual discs up front and a single disc aft.

The unique three-wheeled wonder is a breeze to ride after getting the feel. It is extremely manageable, weighing in at 450 pounds. The wheelbase is 58.6 inches, and the overall length is 84 inches. The width is a narrow 29.3 inches and the seat height is 30.7 inches - the latter might be a stretch for those with short inseams. I actually found the forward portion of the stepped riser seat to be a tad on the abbreviated side, forcing my knees forward toward the dash or fairing and limiting foot room on the board area. But hey, for the amount of fun involved, you readily adapt.

The non-self-canceling directional signals may be an annoyance for those around you should you forget to cancel them after making your move, but you soon remember to push the button after a while. Another small issue in bright sunlight is the highly reflective glass covering the gauges in the instrument panel.

SUMMARY: My test Piaggio MP3 sported painted surfaces in Excaliber Gray metallic. Ruby Red and Graphite Black are also available. The seat area and other trim pieces were executed in Black.

The MP3 is freeway legal, scooting along at speeds up to 77 mph with surprising stability. Acceleration spools up rapidly and the brakes work with high efficiency. There is no foot brake as with a motorcycle, but rather two handbrake levers - one on each handlebar - the left taking the place of the nonexistent clutch. The base price of the MP3 is set at $6,995. Dealer prep and handling will likely average $150 for an out-the-door price of $7,145. Of course, should you wish to spend more, there are always accessories available for personalization.

The dual front wheels create a slightly different sensation in riding technique. Stability is increased during lower speed maneuvering, but higher speed turns yield a unique level of balance, unlike that experienced on more traditional two-wheeled rides. For the beginning rider, this should prove to be a non-issue, and may even prove to be easier for the novice.

In any case, the MP3 rocks, rolls and scoots while serving up loads of fun on the road. And ... speaking of on the road, there is a massive storage bin beneath the locking seat, with enough space for a full-face helmet and other essential gear.

Copyright, Motor Matters 2007

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