WHEN it comes to scooters we're miles off the European way of thinking: scooters, especially maxi-scooters, rule.
Over here in the UK, we just don't get it. Scooters are for: delivering pizza or getting 16-year olds to work on time.
So it's no surprise that the launch of Yamaha's new TMAX 530 went largely under the radar for the average motorcyclist in the UK. Yamaha claim the TMAX 'on one hand it's a sporty motorcycle, on the other hand a practical and comfortable maxi-scooter'. That's a bold claim.
The 499cc engine has been increased to 530cc by increasing the bore from 66mm to 68mm. It now features forged aluminium pistons, injectors from the YZF-R6, a new camshaft and larger intake valves. All to increase torque.
The TMAX features an aluminium chassis and die-cast aluminium swingarm. The steel-chain final drive has been replaced by a belt to save weight and smoothen out the final drive.
Styling has been sharpened up too, with projector-style headlights similar to the R1 and a rear LED tail light from the R1, there's no mistaking Yamaha want the TMAX to ooze sporty appeal.
The TMAX BLACK MAX we tested features a matt-black finish and a matt-black Akrapovic slip-on exhaust. It looks the part.
Sat on the TMAX it feels small and squat. It's not bulbous like most maxi-scooters and from the rider's seat, has the profile of a smaller 250 scooter. Any fat from the old TMAX has been trimmed away and the new model feels lean and muscular. Leaning the bike from left to right at a standstill you can feel the 530 reveal its weight but like most maxi-scooters, the weight sits so low in the chassis.
The Akrapovic slip-on completely transforms the TMAX from personal mobility utensil to barking angry wannabe motorcycle. If you imagine the time you grabbed hold of a trombone at school with no intention to play any music but to make the loudest noise possible, then that's what the TMAX sounds like with the Akrapovic exhaust. BRAAAP!
The TMAX is eager, the motor gets going right off the bottom end. It used to be the case that any CVT unit would have the rev-needle pointing north while it slipped in a bit of drive but the TMAX shunts forward with just a blip of the throttle with full drive coming in around 4,000rpm, marked by large tuba-crossed-with-a-fog-horn blast from the exhaust.
The chassis is stiff and while I struggle to think of a scooter as being sporty, the ride is very close to small sportsbikes like the Ninja 300. The feedback from the front-end isn't quite as prescise and full of feel like on a sportsbike but the stiffness of the chassis and lack of flex in the front end means the TMAX can change direction really very quickly indeed.
In London, at a set of lights a foolish lad on a Vespa GTS 250 made it no secret that he would outrun the TMAX. Blipping his throttle and staring at me, I thought it would be rude to not take him up on his offer. While the Vespa and its 12" wheels were getting tied up in knots the Yamaha's 530cc engine coupled with 15" wheels meant keeping up was less of an animated experience. A mile later, the Vespa rider fell off. 12" wheels and cold roads make for interesting cornering experiences.
In town, the TMAX isn't a rival for other scooters, it's a rival for any motorcycle. Despite weighing a rather hefty 217kg, it's nimble and that engine is so easy to keep on the boil. Progess is fast but everything feels so relaxed because you sit there with just your hands doing the work, giving your feet the morning off.
The only thing I felt lacking was ABS: in the UK, the TMAX doesn't feature it. In town, it's a case of when you'll use it not if and while the TMAX is great at a bit of point and squirt, the front brakes lack feel and locking the front wheel is a regular occurence when riding hard. Squeezing hard on the brakes everything feels good, good, good and then the front bites and slowly smudges sideways. You'll feel like a bit of a hero locking the front every day while not even raising an eyebrow but the novelty will soon wear off when you find yourself tucking the front on a bit of London's ultra-slippery gravel on the approach to a set of lights.
On dual-carriageways the TMAX still feels in its element. At 60mph it'll return 55mpg. Turn the wick up to 70mph and the bright red dash shows a none-too-shabby 49mpg.
Over 70mph and the TMAX starts to feel a little underdressed. The compact fairing helps you squeeze through gaps in town but on a 300-mile round trip from SW London to Donington Park, via Birmingham, it didn't offer the wind protection I was looking for. On this lonely trek up north, at night, with the outside temperature gauge showing 2-degrees, I missed a few of the creature comforts associated with maxi-scooters.
First of all, the adjustable screen isn't adjusted with an electric motor on the go, it requires stopping and spanners. Therefore being inherently lazy, I opted to grimace and bear it. While the seat is comfortable, it isn't heated. The seat on Suzuki's Burgman 650 Executive is. There are no heated grips as standard either. Yamaha will no doubt say 'Yes but this is a sporty scooter, we'll have none of that creature comfort around here'. I think a scooter can be 'sporty' and still remain comfortable for everyday use. They are about getting from A to B with all the convenience of a motorcycle with all the comfort of a car.
I couldn't squeeze any more than 108mph out of the TMAX but even flat-out it was completely stable. Those 15" wheels really do raise the ride quality to motorcycle-rivalling levels. During everyday riding, the fuel light came on between 115 and 120 miles. I covered 138 miles before chickening-out and filling up. When I did fill up, it took 14.7 litres, so that means there was just 300ml of the 15-litres left. I'm glad I chickened out. Expect to push anywhere after 140 miles. A quick calculation shows the TMAX 530 averaged 42.5mpg in my hands.
There are a bundle of aftermarket accessories available for the TMAX but I'd have liked to see a few of them as standard. The heated grips cost £180 extra while the 12v socket is just £25. Could they not have thrown them in as part of the package?
Then there's the lack of ABS and lack of on-the-move screen adjustment. As far as I'm concerned, those are two maxi-scooter essentials. Underseat storage is on the stingy side of mediocre: you can get one full face helmet in there if you position it the right way but the slimline shape of the TMAX 530 means storage isn't as spacious as other maxi-scooters like the Burgman 650, which will swallow a helmet and a weekend's worth of clothes, no problem.
The 2013 TMAX is a great scooter but for the price it's not the best package out there. The TMAX retails at £8,699 while the BLACK MAX with Akrapovic slip-on exhaust costs £8,999.
To justify that sort of money I'd want all the creature comforts as standard but if all you want to do is get to C in the time it takes most people to get to B, then take the TMAX for a spin; it's probably the fastest way to get across London. However, at nine-grand, it'll remain a left-field option for most UK bikers who haven't quite switched to the European way of thinking.
Model tested: Yamaha TMAX BLACK MAX 530 with Akrapovic exhaust
Price as tested: £8,999