For years scooters just weren’t on my radar. There were a few scooterists (we called them “Vesperados”) buzzing around when I was in college, ridden by beret-wearing artsy types who smoked French cigarettes and frequented coffee bars and poetry readings. Just not my scene.
But we’re seeing more scooters lately, and not just wheezy two-strokes with ropey suspension and donut tires or the proliferation of Chinese death traps that go from zero to 60 kph in um … never.
Nope, North Americans prefer maxi scooters. Large, manly machines with full-sized engines so you can keep ahead of guerilla warfare city traffic and zip along the freeways effortlessly. All the while keeping the rider shielded from the elements while transporting lots of necessary “stuff” in the locked storage compartment.
Yamaha’s TMAX supersport scooter has been around since 2001 and is extremely popular in Europe (especially Italy where they value sportiness and versatility) and has soldiered on for a decade with no major improvements.
In 2012 the TMAX got a complete redesign including a bump in displacement to 530cc, a sharper focus on handling and more modern and aggressive-looking bodywork.
The DOHC 4-valve twin has a shim under bucket valve actuation system – just like modern sportbike engines. Pistons are lighter, it’s got new cams, the cylinder head breathes better courtesy of larger intake valves and the fuel injection system is new. A parallel twin naturally vibrate,s so the TMAX incorporates a third slave piston, driven by a central conrod to counterbalance nasty vibes.
Mr. T chucked some jewelry and gold chains along the way, losing four kg and now checks in at 197 (434 lbs) dry, a full 40 kg (88 lbs) less than BMW’s C600 sportmonger they introduced in 2012.
A lighter, die-cast aluminum frame ties everything together nicely, and the enclosed chain final drive system of old has been tossed in favour of a lightweight, low-maintenance belt. A new cast aluminum swingarm reduces unstrung weight at the hind end by 35 per cent, which aids handling.
The new dash layout is legible and well thought-out. Thankfully, Yamaha sent the sweeping LCD tachometer to the duckpond (which is where they all belong) and the TMAX sports two large (albeit overly stylized) analogue gauges for speedo and tach. A center LCD display contains a bar-type fuel gauge, time, temperature, twin tripmeters, engine temp and a bunch of other stuff.
New bodywork is a bit more aerodynamic but basically, the styling has been freshened with an angular, modern design. Twin projector-type headlights now brighten the way up front, while a new upwards sweeping LED taillight brings up the rear.
The TMAX is easy to ride. Pull either brake lever, hit the starter button, release the parking brake, twist the throttle and go. The slight “dead” spot right off idle on the original TMAX is gone, and it seems as if the CVT engages much quicker, with virtually no driveline lash.
The new engine pumps out a claimed 46 horsepower with 39 ft lbs of torque – just five ft.lbs less than Yamaha’s FZ6R, and almost two more than the popular 650 V Star cruiser. My seat of the pants dyno confirms the horsepower figures as from a stop, 100 kph came up in just under six “Steamboats.”
Give the TMAX quarter throttle and you can easily keep up with the four-wheeled bottom feeders around town. Half throttle will leave them in the dust and full throttle will relieve you of your license in short order as the TMAX is really FAST. I’ve heard reports of riders seeing an easy 140 kph on a long, 401 on-ramp with the scooter still accelerating. But I can’t confirm that. Nope, not me.
A full 120mm of travel on the 43mm front forks soak up bumps while the rear shock (that’s extended rather than compressed by the swingarm) has 116mm of travel. This longish travel (for a scooter) allows for more controlled damping and TMAX never lost its composure over choppy bumps and frost heaves.
The large 15-inch wheels are now lighter and shod with sticky sport rubber (a 120 front and a 160 rear!) that give the TMAX motorcycle-like handling. And I’m not talking cruisers or standards here either – it really does corner like a sportbike, although with its long-ish wheelbase, tight corners require lots of lean angle. Apply a touch of front brake to aid turn-in and the TMAX bends easily into the corners without the pitching and pogoing you expect when flogging a scooter.
The low center of gravity combined with the fairly long (1580mm) wheelbase really helps with handling and stability as it’s rock solid, never wavering from the line you choose. Putting the TMAX on the centerstand is not a cause for grunting and groaning – it’s dead easy.
Even the brakes are sportbike-inspired with dual floating 267 mm front discs squeezed by R6-type monoblock calipers (no ABS option though – tsk tsk). Just grab a handful of right lever and the TMAX stops in an amazingly short distance with virtually no nosedive. Just be careful coming to a stop and resist the urge to pull in the “clutch.” This will apply the rear brake and stop the bike like you’ve hit a wall. Don’t ask how I know this.
The riding position for six-footers is a bit cramped, but you have the option of putting feet either on the running boards or the angled floorboards. A built-in backrest gives the rider some support but unfortunately, it’s right where taller riders want to plant their derriere, locking us in place. During tight left turns, the parking brake swivel bracket will dent your left kneecap, leaving bruises and welts unless you stick your knee out.
The illuminated, underseat storage area swallows one full-face helmet (most maxi scooters will take two) and a few other essentials such as raingear and extra gloves. Oddly, there is no accessory outlet, although Yamaha thoughtfully supplies a small locking cable for security. The TMAX also has two smallish compartments up on the inner fairing suitable for wallet, cellphone sunglasses, etc. Wind and weather protection is excellent as I got caught out in a sudden rainstorm (without raingear, of course) and remained relatively dry as long as I was moving.
The windscreen adjusts over a couple of positions, although an Allen key is required. Both brake levers are five-position adjustable so those with tiny little mitts will be able to find a comfortable position.
In Yurp, where gas has been much loot per liter for a decade or more, scooters don’t languish in the garage after the nine to five grind.
Euros don’t only commute on their scoots (now there’s a catchy slogan), they use them for recreational riding and touring too. So yes, the TMAX is sporty and fun but the practical set should take note that my fuel consumption averaged 4.8 to 5.0L / 100km, indicating a potential 300km from the 15-liter tank.
Ten grand seems a lot for a scooter but the TMAX offers the performance and handling of a middleweight sport-touring motorcycle, but the ease of operation, economy, cargo capacity and weather protection of a large scooter.
Honestly, if I ever get to the point where I can’t swing a leg over a motorcycle, I’d take something like the TMAX over any three-wheeled abortion currently available with the exception of Piaggio’s MP3. If you can’t lean it, then it ain’t worth riding and you might as well get a convertible.
In North America, about the only competition the TMAX has is BMW’s C600 Sport maxi scooter (see CMG’s review here). Pricing is almost identical (the Beemer is $10,990 but comes with ABS and a three year warranty with roadside assistance as standard).
Handling, performance and braking should also be similar so it boils down to whether you want a Euroscooter or one of Japanese manufacture.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Bike||2012 Yamaha TMAX|
|Engine type||Inline twin, DOHC, four stroke, 8-valve, liquid-cooled|
|Power (crank)*||46 hp|
|Tank Capacity||15 liters|
|Carburetion||Mikuni 34mm throttle body EFI|
|Brakes, front||Dual 267mm dics, four piston monoblock calipers|
|Brakes, rear||Single 282mm disc, single piston caliper|
|Seat height||800mm (31.5 inches)|
|Wheelbase||1,580mm (62.2 inches)|
|Wet weight*||218kg (481 lbs)|
|Colours||Matte Metallic Dark Gray|