By Alan Dowds
I'VE always split the scooter world into two. First, there's the small-bore scoot, sub-125cc, and quite popular in the UK. Perfect cheap wheels for commuting, city work and delivering pizzas, they're steady sellers.
Then, there's the maxi-scoot – a serious, 400cc-plus proposition, that hasn't made much impact in the UK compared with the rest of Europe. Here in Blighty, we seem to go crazy if a scooter gets much over 200cc or £2k – after all, you could get a proper bike for that?!
But there's a third way: the middleweight scoot. A 250-400cc machine, with enough cojones to take in a decent motorway stint without too much pain, before slicing through town without the hassle of a giant maxi-scoot. Sales for that sector, especially the 300cc class, are booming in Europe. So Yamaha's given its X-MAX 250 a capacity boost for 2017, to try and exploit this expanding market.
We're here in Florence for the day to try out the new beastie, and you couldn't find a better spot for the job. The ancient capital of Tuscany is a proper warren of narrow mediaeval alleyways, packed with brain-dead tourists. But not far outside town, there are some fabulous country roads for a blast too. We've got a decent route mapped out for us, with some hardcore city work, rural backroads, and even a bit of Autostrada. Let's check it out.
The X-MAXs are parked up outside the hotel, glinting gently in the spring sunshine. Yamaha's given the bike a hefty cosmetic overhaul, with sharp lines, and a high-quality feel about it. It looks a decent size – big enough to deal with longer jaunts, but compact enough for the worst in city traffic.
The good impressions continue when you get on. A keyless ignition is quite a premium feature, and it's easy to use. Leave the fob in your pocket, and one dial and two buttons operate the ignition, lock, seat, fuel cap and cubby hole lid. Smart. The switchgear and clocks have a quality look and feel – but the controls let the show down a bit, with basic, non-adjustable brake levers, and no parking brake either. The seat is a teeny bit high for me – perhaps a consequence of the new, larger under-seat storage space. But if you're short, it's worth checking you'll be comfy with the height.
And we're off. Yamaha's given the motor a decent upgrade – 6hp and 6lbft more than the 250, and you're very aware you're not on a learner bike. There's loads of grunt away from the lights, and I'm easily able to keep up with the Yamaha test rider on his X-MAX 400. Throttle control is spot-on, and the fueling super-smooth.
The 300 has a new traction control system, which I scratched my head a bit about in the presentation. Traction control? On a 300 single? But Yamaha reckon it’s a benefit to less-experienced riders, and a boon on slippery urban cobbles. And it did cut in once or twice on me – over some bumps, and later on out of town, so it does work, and could be a useful safety net, together with the usual ABS setup. The brakes get a heavy work-out here too – Florence morning traffic is more like some sort of vehicle-based MMA than a method of transport, and you need to be on your toes. Add in the suicidal pedestrians, and I'm very grateful for the strong stoppers.