Piaggio MP3

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The 500 cc version of the MP3 scooter can really only be explained as the result of some kind of late-night lunacy at Piaggio‘s design centre.

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Words: Jamie Leonard. Pics: Jamie Leonard, unless otherwise specified

 

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Perhaps over-caffeinated designers scrambled about, pens in hand, doodling on walls, the drawings inspired by post-apocalyptic, sci-fi Hollywood epics.

That’s the only likely reason why the parent company of Vespa — the scooter maker that set the standard for scooter design — would produce an insect-like (as opposed to the friendly façade of the 250 and 400), three-wheeled contraption known as the MP3 500.

And then make it lean into turns no less. Sheer lunacy! That is, until you take the MP3 for a ride. Then this oddball scooter starts to make some kind of sense.


FAT FACED FACIA

Viewed from the side there’s nothing unusual about the MP3, but get a good look at the front end and take it for a spin and a different story is told. As the MP3 has two front wheels placed side by side, it has a massive facia.

The independent suspension uses a clever scissors-type lever arrangement that allows the front wheels to tilt into a lean while absorbing bumps independently. So, unlike other Y-platform three-wheelers like the Spyder, the MP3 actually leans like a two-wheeler.

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It leans and it’s planted.
photo: Piaggio 

How does this work in practice? At first there is an odd feeling of slight resistance when you lean the bike over, somewhat like settling into a vat of Jello (you should try it) — just a hint of a delay — though you do get accustomed to it after a short while.

After that, the advantages of this arrangement start to show themselves. You can lean way over into turns and the front end feels extremely planted, even in conditions where other scooters would tend to wash out, like on gravel roads or wet pavement.

It isn’t a magic cure — push it enough and I’m sure you could lose your grip, but it’ll take a lot more work than a two-wheeler.


THREE FOR THE ROAD

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Striped of all its clothes, the MP3 holds its motor and CVT transmission (inbuilt into the swingarm) like a scooter. Two front wheels deviate from the script, however.
photo: Piaggio 

The MP3 500 is actually a 493 cc single-cylinder with liquid-cooling and EFI. It claims a 244 kg (538 lb) dry weight and 40 hp, with a top speed of 143 km/h.

The engine is well designed for a machine that will likely see mostly city driving. Turning the throttle slowly won’t give you “snap your neck like a dry twig” acceleration, but if you keep on turning, ample power is available.

The machine easily got up to highway speeds, and while I didn’t hit the 143 km/h claimed maximum speed, I did get up to speed with the traffic on the 401 outside of Toronto — which moves along at 130+ km/h — with the MP3 feeling like it had a comfortable reserve of power at all times.

Braking, despite the slightly heavyweight nature of the MP3, is impressively good. With a disc at each wheel and three contact patches, it’ll grip where a single front wheel would give up and go find a new career on a wheelbarrow. It’s like braking on duct tape, sticky side up.

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Three wheels work well on gravel roads.

Suspension compliance on pothole-rutted city streets as well as on gravel roads was impressive. Up to the limit of the suspension travel, it does a quite remarkable job of dealing with road imperfections, smoothing them out and not bouncing you around.

Where well worn, rutted pavement would tend to push a two-wheeled machine to one side or the other, the MP3 tracks straight and true.


STANDING STRAIGHT

Because this three wheeler acts like a two wheeler, it will flop over like a drunken Scotsman if not propped up at a stop. Therefore, those hyperactive engineers at Piaggio provide a front-end lock that operates with the push of a button. Hit the button when stopped and the MP3 locks at the angle it was at when you hit it.

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Don’t forget to lock the leaning mechanism to stop it going floppy.

This is needed when parking the bike, but if your reflexes are quick, you can hit the button just before coming to a complete stop and the MP3 will stand obediently while you wait for the traffic signal to change.

You’ve also got to be careful not to hit the switch inadvertently … like if your foot slips on some sand and you tilt the bike over and hit the switch accidentally without realizing it. Then try and work out why it’s seized in this posture.

Not that I’ll admit to doing that, mind you.

Piaggio has incorporated a few safety features to prevent mishaps. For example, if you are not sitting on the seat and the throttle is twisted, the engine shuts off. Also, the suspension unlocks automatically when you are sitting in the seat and gas it, just in case you’ve forgotten to unlock things after the light turns green. This will prevent a potentially awkward moment at the first corner.

THE BUGGY BITS

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Clocks aren’t easy.

There are some convenient features as well, including a remote seat latch and even an accessory outlet under the seat to charge your cell phone or plug in electric riding gear. Oh, and for some reason, Piaggio felt the need to install a front-mounted crash-bar that looks like it would also make a formidable roo bar Down Under.

I do have a couple of quibbles though; the red-on-black scheme of the dials is quite difficult to read with sunglasses on a sunny day, and the seat occasionally needed a bit of extra pressure to lock, causing me to double check to make sure things were latched properly.

And when you peer under the seat, you’ll find the under-seat storage is
quite shallow — you definitely won’t be putting a full-face helmet under
there without the generous use of a sledgehammer on it first. To offset the lack of under-seat storage, a functional rear rack allows you to tie down luggage easily, which does make it possible to carry a fair amount with you if needed.

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Jamie digs the madness.
photo: Cindy Wilson

I found the MP3 500 a bit heavy for regular use as a city hopper. If you have to manoeuvre it into a tight parking spot, it’s just a bit too weighty to make the job easy.

It’s still quite manageable, but if you’re going to do most of your riding in an urban environment, you’d probably be better off with the MP3 250 that’s 40 kg (88 lb) lighter than the 500, though you’ll also lose a chunk of power.

At $10,495 it’s not cheap, but it’s also not the most expensive scooter either — priced $500 less than Honda’s 600 Silverwing and Peugeot’s Satelis 500, and they only have two wheels (the MP3 certainly provides surefooted confidence on wet days that traditional scooters just can’t match!).

At the end of the day I grew quite fond of the big MP3. Sometimes a little madness is a good thing.


SPECIFICATIONS


Bike
Piaggio MP3 500

MSRP

$10,495 (2009)

Displacement
493 cc

Engine
type
Four-stroke dohc single,
liquid-cooled

Power (crank – claimed)
40 hp @ 7,250 rpm

Torque (claimed)
31 lb-ft @ 5,550 rpm
Tank
Capacity
12 litres

Carburetion
EFI

Final drive
CVT automatic

Tires,
front
120/70-12

Tires,
rear
130/70-14

Brakes,
front
Two 240  mm discs with dual-piston
calipers

Brakes,
rear
280 mm disc with dual-piston
caliper

Seat
height
785 mm (30.9″)

Wheelbase
1,550 mm (61″)

Dry
weight (claimed)
244 kg (538 lb)

Colours
Black, red

Warranty
12 months, unlimited mileage

18 COMMENTS

  1. why are they not for sale in Newfoundland, at least bring over a few to try,i think they will catch on pretty fast!

  2. Having lots of fun with my new mp3 500. Lots of room under the seat.No problem fitting my full face HJC medium size. Having an issue though with the fuel gauge which does not go all the way to full tank when filling it up. Does anyone know how to fix this problem. thanks 🙂

  3. While I thought it was dirty pool what PiaggioUSA did to Canadian Scooter Corp. after they made the dealer network work in the wake of the failure of the previous importer at least they’re making up for it by [claiming] to put the 500cc into the ‘Touring” body now. Giving buyers here a choice between the “Sport” model and a “Touring” model, at the same price,though not much info on the web site about it as links default to either the Sport or past brochures. I would like the 250/400 body style for its weather coverage and greater storage[see older reviews] I would buy if I had the cash.

  4. that lock wheel button cant be pushed while driving faster than 10kmh. so nothing happens if you accidentaly press it when driving through curve. nothing

  5. About 20km to the litre ballpark is what I observed (though as with anything, it’ll vary widely depending on the type of driving you are doing)

  6. On looks alone, I’d say that a Vespa was assauklted by a Spyder and this is the illegitimate child of their union. Some people should be prevented from copulating, this is the motorcycle equivelant. :eek

  7. Actually I did try a few positions for my helmet, but I do have a larger helmet and head, so I concede it is possible some helmets may lead to a different experience. (Personally I also don’t like laying the helmet on the side, I find that mine tend to get scratched up more doing that)

    Definitely also a head turner – went up north accompanied by my wife on the Ural, and that was the first time any OTHER machine has had more comments/questions than the sidecar rig.

  8. I’ve owned a Fuoco for 2 years now and after riding Bikes for 37 years I would never go back to a 2 wheel bike/scooter,,,there is no point.
    If your thinking of buying a scooter take a test ride on any of the piaggio 3 wheelers and you too will understand…

  9. I’ve had mine 18 mos, rode it from Dallas to Chattanooga, then the Tail of the Dragon and to Grenville, SC, before returning – 2,431 miles. It was a great trip. This year I plan a 5,000 mile trip plus some short ones.

    I have a Nolan 102 and a Shoei 1000 and both fit under the seat comfortably. You only have to turn them the right way.

  10. 🙂 Had mine for a year now on Los Angeles. Have ridden it to San Jose and went camping for three days in Palomar. Amazing machine. Not a crotch rocket, but more than enough power to keep up on open freeway. Stable, reliable, a real mule.

  11. Nice review. Just a comment on the under seat storage. I own a MP3 500 and I can fit a full face helmet,an additional visor, gloves and other odds and ends under the seat. Please give it another try. Turn your helmet on the side and you will see.

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