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Yamaha XP 500

Mix-n-match
The Yamaha T Max is a surprising blend of motor-cycle and scooter

Suspended animation at 140 kph? It’s an unreal sort of calm aboard this ship and I’m a bit busy re-establishing all the rules with which to play the TMax. We’ll just up and say it, it’s a scooter. So, where’s the wobble, the slight shimmy-shake, the top-heaviness? Er... where’s the scooter?

When we set out to experience the TMax, we recalled the regal experience aboard the Yamaha YP250 Majesty (BSM, February 2002). It seemed like a cruiser with one never-ending gear – its “20 bhp and 2.3 kgm felt like molten chocolate.” The Majesty proved to quite scooter-ish in that it was extremely comfortable, very smooth,surprisingly good in traffic, but when leaned over, it felt a little dicey and lean angles weren’t really things you held on to on it. The 250 CC engine also gave it usable guts, with 110 kph coming up in spinal reflex on the way to 140.

A scooter then, a far evolved example of the species, the Majesty was. However, given that the difference between a motorcycle and scooter is never more obvious than in the five minutes after you’ve swapped the ‘proper’ 18-inch wheels for smaller hoops, and the whole world suddenly feels top-heavy and wobbly. It’s those five minutes aboard the TMax that bring the point home. The Yamaha XP500 TMax is almost a full-blown motorcycle in the handling department, without losing any of the attributes that endear scooters to die-hard mods. 

With a liquid-cooled 499 CC parallel horizontal twin mated to a specially created ultra-compact CVT, the TMax isn’t slow. The feeling is of a calm, unflustered kind of performance, that is never scary, but always smile-inducing. While the TMax is unlikely to embarrass a full-on sportsbike, the Yamaha will tour with them with ease, and given a good rider, might even throw up a surprise or two!

The note at idle is a muted thrum that only deepens slightly when you twist the throttle. The speed builds steadily, and hidden away behind the tall touring screen on this TMax, you’d be hard-pressed to judge the speed. So, while this scooter flashes to 100 kph in 7.8 seconds (three seconds quicker than the City 1.5!), you’d never know. Perhaps the only indication of the performance is that the speedo constantly reads about 30 kph more than you think and the entire demeanour is Wodehousian-butler unruffled and efficient. 

Its easy to tell that you’re past 150 kph, though. For the vacuum behind your back becomes strong enough to fill your jacket until you look like the one person the cook fears at an all-you-can-eat. The thrum never changes, and the speedo will calmly dock into its top notch at 165 kph, more than enough for long distance touring work. Then again, when the engine is putting out 44 bhp and as much as 4 kgm, you’d hardly expect less.The unexpected lies in the corners. A gentle push on the grips reveals a world full of lean angles and stability. Two words that never quite survived in the scooter market. The TMax will lean right over with a cruiser-like feel. Especially given the cruiser like ergos, with moulded floorboards offering a choice of normal and feet-forward riding positions.

The design uses a motorcycle-style trellis frame, with motorcycle-style suspension bits to complete a superb, indeed, unrivalled, dynamic edge (see box ). Things will scrape at 50 degrees from the vertical – the Fiero manages just 47, while a Yamaha R6 will push 56. And yet, despite its obvious competence in cornering, there is nothing to suggest that
the comfortable ride of a scooter is being compromised. Amazing!The front brake is a full 282 mm disc, the largest in the scooter market. Once more, the Yamaha engineers have managed to get a motorcycle-like weight distribution, which means that instead of grabbing both levers, you can put the squeeze on the front alone and get the job done, just like a motorcycle!

Yamaha aimed the TMax at scooter riders at the top of the pyramid, looking for something more challenging, riders of middle-weight motorcycles (that would be the Kawasaki ER5 and its ilk) and riders returning to two-wheels and looking for something capable and undaunting. Sales since the 2001 launch have been steady. And it would seem that they’ve got it just right. Not quite. Turn the ignition off and push the key in to release the seat. Lift it and you’ll notice the courtesy light and the lack of space. You see, the Majesty would store two helmets and some shopping, while the TMax allows precious little more than a full-face lid. The reason is the robust chassis, large engine and a little extra travel for the rear wheel. In other words, the very things that make the TMax experience so special.

But as far as finding fault goes, that’s about as far as you’ll get. For instance, the looks are uniformly pleasing and dynamic and perhaps the only criticism is the compact rear end which robs the TMax of some pizzazz. However, the rear seat is a wide and plush perch that should allow hours of two-up fun. A nice touch is the upswept silencer, with a sassy chrome tip that keeps it firmly in touch with scooterdom.While maxi-scooters themselves aren’t really all that new an idea, it was Yamaha’s YP250 Majesty that first breached sales barriers in the mid-nineties, setting the trend for relatively high-powered large scooters that could go quite fast and offer comfortable riding without losing any of the traditional virtues of the scooter – storage space and two-up riding prowess.

The TMax stands at the end of this chain of evolution, even though there are now larger scooters in the market – like the 650 CC Suzuki Burgman. However, as scooters go, the TMax sets new standards. The nice thing about goal posts, it would seem, is that there is always someone busy trying to move them.

Frame-up job

Instead of rehashing the ubiquitous underbone chassis, Yamaha chose a trellis frame which drops away from the headstock and cradles the engine head almost in the middle of the wheelbase. Having successfully
created the profile of a low-slung motor-cycle, with dynamics to match, the engineers bolted on a fat set of telescopic forks up front and a swingarm with monoshock at the rear. The latter bit is a huge departure from the traditional swingarm-cum-drivebelt arrangement normal to scooters. The drive is via silent chain in oil-bath, and being separate from the gorgeously sculpted swingarm, reduces the unsprung weight significantly. In all this, Yamaha managed a 47-53 weight split, which comes close to the 50-50 motorcycle distribution. The result are dynamics head and shoulders above other scooters.

Engeanology

With a chassis as tailor-made as this, the engine could just be something picked from Yamaha’s line-up could it? The horizontal parallel twin configuration is pretty rare. The most famous scooter is the Rumi Formichino (Italian for little ant) from the fifties. Rumi also made motorcycles powered by the same engine. The ‘52 Motobi, (Japanese) ‘62 Olympus and Yamaguchi 250s and Suzuki’s 90 Wolf and 125 Leopard from 1969 is almost the full list. And these were all two-strokes. The only known production four-stroke in this configuration is the Hildebrand and Wolfmuller. And that dates to 1894, complete with twin conrods using the rear wheel hub as a crank!

 One of the few manufacturers to attempt a four-stroke twin like this was BSA/Triumph who showed off the Sunbeam 250 CC (or the Triumph Tigress) in 1958. But perhaps the most famous exponent of the art is the German Horex Rebell prototype you see below. In 1956, this had a 250 CC horizontal single.

Coast Price

Perhaps the first proper motorcycle-scooter hybrid was the 1989 Honda Pacific Coast. Never heard of it? That’s perfectly all right, for the Honda was never a sales success,initially priced out of the water, and later managing to find a loyal bunch of followers. What Honda tried was to ‘automoti-fy’ the motorcycle. The result was a fully plastic-covered two-wheeler, with 14-inch wheels and looks that wewe first regarded as ugly and later as odd.

The engine was a 800 CC liquid-cooled V-twin from the Shadow cruiser, offering 47 bhp (read enough) and through hydraulic valves and similar ideas, perfect reliability. The USP was that the entire rear end lifted to offer you a capacious boot, while the 14-inch wheels and low-mounted engine and (underseat) fuel tank gave you a blend of scooter-style agility in traffic and motorcycle-style staying power on the highway.

Honda intended the new Pacific Coast for American white-collar professionals as a respectable, low-maintenance motorcycle for daily use. Taking the man and briefcase to work during the week and ferrying the couple to a beach-house down the coast for the weekend.