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Maxi-Scooters = Maxi-Blast! Episode 2

Written by: Stephen Sacks, MBA, P. Eng.

- Stephen started motorcycling in 1968. When he's not riding he leads a Telecom Marketing Consulting firm. He lives in the country so he can enjoy motorcycling, bicycling, canoeing, kayaking, and powerboating.


“How do I choose the best maxi-scoot for me?”

When we last met, we discussed the maturing of maxi-scooters – the latest generation is action packed and every bit as fast, fun & comfortable as today’s motorcycle cruisers and sport-bikes.
So, we’ve now come to a spot where you may be asking “How do I choose the best maxi-scooter for me?” I’ve read article after article, blog after blog, forum after forum, and none of them strike home with real-to-goodness answers for me. So - here goes:

What’s important to you? Raw acceleration or top speed, cruising comfort or city prowess, highway weight or lightweight agility, European or Modern styling.

Let me put all this in perspective, and then you’ll be able to sort, separate and prioritize – and it’ll all become crystal clear.

1. Intended Usage: City, Highway or both? More often than not, scooterists want a vehicle that will be equally at home in the city and on the highway. Well, guess what, folks? You can’t have a machine that is as agile in the city as it is graceful on the highway – those capabilities represent different physical qualities. For a machine to be nimble in the city, it needs a short wheelbase and a lightweight chassis. For it to be at ease on highways, it needs hefty weight, as well as a long wheelbase. The trick? Look for a machine that is compromised close to what your best guesstimate will be for your ratio of highway to city driving. For example, if you think you’ll have a 75-25% of highway to city usage, go for a maxi-scooter with a long wheelbase and reasonable weight, such as a BMW C650 or a Yamaha T-Max or Majesty. For the opposite, a 25-75% usage, go for a shorter-than-normal wheelbase scooter that tends more on the lighter side, such as a Kymco 300i Downtown or a Honda PCX150. Of course, these machines can also take highway use, but are aimed more towards city-going.

2. Performance Quotient: Are you power-hungry, with a love for blazing acceleration, or do you tend to like highway cruising, for its steady-state level of serenity? Choose wisely – and remember that we live in a country dominated by police forces. None of us want a get-me-to-jail trip, and many maxi-scoots will do just that if you’re not watching that speedo like a hawk. So, that lightning-quick maxi-scoot that’ll do 0-100 kmh in 4 seconds may cost you more than you think. Also, remember that torque is what gets you to speed fastest, but it’s HP that keeps you there. So, examine the power-band of each engine with regards to both HP and torque (not just HP) and be cognizant of where in that band you’ll get maximum torque. A vehicle that has gobs of torque but only at high rpm does you little good if you want acceleration and you’re not close to the stated rpm, and ditto that for HP.

And this can get tricky – most manufacturers do state where in the power band you maximize HP and torque, but few state the curve or flatness of the power peaks. Watch out – if you know you’ll use this machine on the highways and it’s geared for mainly city use, your need for power may not match the power band curve of the bike and you’ll end up unhappy. Pay close attention to this one.

You’ll see me compare Power-to-Weight ratios of many scooters; and while that’s good information, it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. Beyond question, the best way to figure out if a bike has the power that you want, where you want it, is to take it for a spin, in the riding regime of your choice (city or highway). For example, for highway use, you may find that for your needs, a Suzuki Burgman 400 may do the trick on highways, versus a larger Honda Silverwing 600…it’s all how it feels to you.

Scooter Comparo




You’ll note that I’ve mostly left the Comments section open for you to fill in, and have left the Comfort Level line totally open for your thoughts in that area. Also note that seat and riding comfort is a combination of seta height, vehicle weight, wheelbase and steering feel, so it’s not just one of these details that will determine your personal comfort level. I can’t get all the maxi-scooters available here (there are more from BMW, Peugeot, Piaggio/Vespa, Kymco…etc., but this chart shows the most popular scoots around.

3. 1 or 2 up? My bet is that if you opted for raw performance, this is a non-question. By the same token, if you opted for cruising, there’s probably a good chance you’ll want to ride 2-up. The corollary here is obvious: what percentage of your riding time do you intend to ride with your partner? Like motorcycles, there can be a huge difference in driving experience and feel when you’re alone, or with someone. Overall vehicular weight changes, of course, but so does the overall center of gravity and center of roll, for a totally different feeling of stability. Even aerodynamics will be slightly altered, as well as fuel consumption, so be aware.

Be aware, too, that if you intend to do most riding with another person, you should lean towards a higher power-to-weight ratio than otherwise. The last thing you want is to have insufficient power to climb hills and accelerate well on a highway.

4. Styling:

a. European or Modern? Hey, we’re human, and this is an important part of our decision! All of us have innate thoughts of how we view ourselves, and how others view us, on our machines. Like cars, this is no different – you want a positive feeling here, not a “I don’t want to be caught dead being seen on this thing” attitude towards your scooter.​​


Scooters have been around for years, and populate Europe and Asia-Pacific markets. It’s not unusual to see a scooter in Europe with 80,000 kms on it! Those machines are styled for those markets – even some of the latest European-styled scooters look somewhat vintage and retro. European max-scooters feature very upright seating, straight-arm steering and large seats. Oftentimes, you’ll see no hump between the drivers’ legs (ie a straight-through design that doesn’t require a leg to be lifted over to the other side to get on the seat). Many European drivers actually use this area, very ingeniously at times, for storage, such as groceries. The European look is unmistakable, and is cherished by some, and hated by others. This is also the look that many Taiwanese, Chinese and Korean scooters have adopted.

Modern-styled maxi-scooters, on the other hand, have aerodynamic front fairings for maximum weather protection, usually with an integrated windshield, and oftentimes a frame/hump between the legs. They resemble ultra-streamlined motorcycles, and have cutting-edge futuristic shapes. This Modern (mainly Japanese, but oftentimes of European manufacture also) look is unmistakable as well, and often features a more relaxed seating position than their European counterparts.

Just pick whatever styling fits your taste – there is no right or wrong here.

b. The ‘fit’ quotient: Here, there IS a right or wrong! It’s obvious that proper fit will lead to higher vehicle satisfaction, but some aspects of finding the right fit aren’t obvious at all. For instance, seat height is very important and just about always shown by manufacturers. You figure out your inseam, and go from there with a seat height that is less than or equal to that dimension. What you don’t often hear about is seat width, and that measure tells all about your legs being able to straddle the bike comfortably (or not). While you can buy aftermarket seats from Corbin or Shad that can sometimes lower the scooter seat height, they aren’t always able to reduce seat width. I had a Yamaha T-Max that was just a bit tall for me, but it was way too wide for me at the mid-seat area, and I ended up selling the bike to move to more comfort and ease of riding (but I do miss the T-Max’s incredible performance!).

Weight and balance is also of vital importance. Many European maxi-scooters are weighted a bit higher up the chassis than their Japanese counterparts. For riders used to this, there’s no problem. For others, this weight higher up could make some riders ill at ease with their bikes. Once again, a long test ride should tell you if a bike feels right or not. You’ll note that the 400-650cc bikes weight a lot more than the 300cc offerings – so if you’re uncomfortable with the extra weight of the larger machines, stick to the smaller ones.

To garner a feeling of how each bike feels to you, start in the showroom: take the bike off (both) stands and sit on it. Can you flat-foot with both feet? If not, and you’re on your tip-toes, you can still ride that scooter, but you may not feel comfortable when you hit some undulating hills and have even less foot control once you park. Rock the bike from side to side – does it feel comfortable to do so? Walk it forwards and backwards – can you do that with ease? Turn the wheel and again walk forward – does the scooter feel secure to you, or is its weight and wheelbase starting to feel uncomfortable? Take your time here, as this is an iterative, trial-and-error choosing process, so let the salesman give you some time to feel out each bike. This is where the vehicle will feel too large or small, heavy or light, or just right…so pay close attention.

If you do plan on riding 2-up, ask the salesman if the rear suspension is adjustable and has preloads. If it does, you know that the manufacturer has added features that are well thought out for 2 riders, and this is an example of foresight on their part. A suitable example is the Piaggio BV 350, which has a variety of preload adjustment to the rear suspension.

Another part of the ‘fit’ quotient is your desired comfort level. Check out your intended scooter on the highway, and feel any wind buffeting, cross-wind effects, suspension travel over bumps, power at various speeds, mirror placement, braking feel, and general handling during corners. You may be surprised at the differences you can feel on various maxi-scooters at 100kmh when a tractor-trailer flies past you on the opposing traffic lane. When you return the bike, check something that seems to always be forgotten – how easily can you get the bike on its centre-stand? Put it all together, and then you can understand what level of refinement you really desire in your max-scoot.

5. Price Limitations: Why did I leave this question for last? Because I wanted to ensure you were picking the right machine for your needs, wants, and especially ‘fit’…and only now can we check on pricing, whether it be a new or used machine. Just like cars, you can pick a brand new scooter with all the bells and whistles and warranty, or you can hop onto AutoTrader.ca or kijiji.ca or visit many dealers and find good choices for pre-owned vehicles that have already depreciated.

Watch out for the goodies you may want but may not need: ABS, traction control, radios, intercoms…the list goes on. Personally, I go for all the safety items and leave the radios, but again, each to their own taste.

If you’re new to scootering, I highly suggest the latter as your first choice. After a while, you will hone in on what’s best for you, and then you can resell your used machine and go for a new machine with the styling, fit, finish and power you’ve yearned for.

So we’ve now come to a spot where you may be asking “Coming trends in the Canadian maxi-scooter market”

Read on…in our next session.

“Keep those wheels on the road”.

Stephen

Extra Info:

Check out Part I of this article: Maxi-Scooters = Maxi-Blast!