They say there’s no worse a non-smoker than an ex smoker. Self-righteous, full of scorn, been there and done that sneers and rolling eyes. If I ever give up smoking, I’m looking forward to doing all of those things at others. I sometimes see the same kind of relationship between bikers and scooter riders. They share a common interest, but neither party wants to admit to having anything in common. Bikers hate scooter riders and scooter riders think that all bikers hate them, ‘twas ever thus. My relationship with scooters has been a long distance one. I learned to ride on a C90 when I was about eleven. I then bought a Honda Melody for a quid. It had no rear tyre and was easy to find up the woods because of the two-inch wide tramline it used to leave everywhere. At 13 I slipped my first clutch and haven’t really touched a twist and go since. Apart from a drunken lap of Brno circuit, racing the clock and equally sozzled John Hopkins, and a brief period as a press officer for Vespa, but they were dark days and I prefer not to talk about them.
So, where exactly is this rambling going? I’ll tell you where it’s going, the hot seat of the 2015 Yamaha TMAX 500. Yes, it’s a scooter in as much as your feet sit forward of your pockets and there’s no clutch or gears to worry about, but for the purposes of the next five minutes of reading time, you should completely ignore that bit. As a motorcycle rider in London for the last decade, I’ve come to understand that the relationship between solid progress and engine size is a disjointed one. Quite often it’s the rider that makes the most difference and not the machine. Anyone that has had to trundle across Blackfriars Bridge behind that guy on the Ducati 999 doing seven mph will know that, in the same way that anyone that has been nailed by a courier on a Honda 125 scoot will. Scooters aren’t all bad. There, I’ve said it.
I’m not sure I would have said that had I not spent a month bombing around on the Yamaha TMAX. It’s been around for fifteen years and there are more than 200,000 of them out there, but it’s this latest XP530 version that we’re focusing on. The key difference between this and a traditional scooter (aside from the 100mph cruising ability) is the fact the motor is mounted in the frame and not the swing arm, as is the norm. For 2015 it received a proper front-end upgrade. Radial mount front brakes work with 41mm upside down forks to massively improve front-end performance, more on that later. Visual upgrades in the form of LED headlights are cool, they sit in a refreshed face and the mirrors have also been worked over. Updates continue behind the screen, with a 12V socket for phone charging and a Smartkey system that means as long as your key is in your pocket, you’re riding.
I can completely see why a scooter is the tool of choice for diamond thieves in London. With that Smartkey system, you walk up, take a seat while you squeeze the brake and thumb the starter, give it a twist and you’re away. In the time that you took to read that sentence, I reckon I could have hit 50mph on the TMax from a dead engine standstill. Those fifteen-inch wheels don’t come with the twitch that you might expect, in fact I’m almost embarrassed not to have more of a benchmark to work off as I thought this was a pretty stable platform. No tucking front tipping into corners and no shaking head during fast direction changes. I’m sure that motor being in the frame rather than hanging off the swingarm helps, as does the updated front end, but as it sits, I found it to be a willing companion in most riding scenarios.
Normally I’d be able to point a test bike at the nearest track to have some fun. On the TMAX it felt like the best thing to do was just to live with the thing everyday, so that’s exactly what I did. The first proper job it had was to transport me to Birmingham airport from my house in SE London. I had to trust what I’d heard about it being half decent at motorway speed and very nearly bottled it and took the train, I was glad I didn’t. With a full set of track riding gear and a few days worth of civvies lashed to the back, I went at it like I would if I was on any other bike. TMAX kicked ass. Across town it’s incredibly capable. Having an ABS brake in each hand and no gears to worry about means you end up riding the thing like you’re in a two-wheeled go kart. There’s no hesitancy with drive, if you’re not getting enough you just twist the throttle until you are. No worries with incorrect gear selection or slipping clutches, just fluid drive whenever you want it.
Out of town and onto the motorway, I stretched the legs up to and over 100mph just to see what was what. It will do over 100mph in what I can only describe as slightly strained comfort. It doesn’t feel right looking down at the clocks and seeing you’re pretty much in the redline. Much better to back it off and cruise at about 80. Wind protection was plentiful for my six foot body and I liked the fact that I could move my feet from all the way forward to all the way back in complete safety when I needed a stretch. Parking up was another tick in the box, my lock and cover came out from the cave under the seat and my UK riding kit went in. Within two minutes of getting off I was away.
I wont lie and say I was skipping back to the TMAX two days later, as capable as it is, I couldn’t quite engage with it like I do a sexy sports bike, despite this thing being able to match any sports bike on its home turf. Where is that home turf? It’s in a congested city, one with lots of traffic lights and lunatic pedestrians. Riding the TMAX in its natural environment is a relaxing experience, even though you might appear from the outside to be on a death wish. In fact, after ten years of bringing what feels like hundreds of press bikes home, I finally felt comfortable enough to take my three eldest daughters for a brief pillion ride. I did once load them all into the panniers of a Triumph Rocket Touring, but my wife snatched the keys from me before I could make a getaway. The TMAX felt like the safest way to introduce them to life on two wheels. One at a time I took them on a short loop, only a couple of miles. They all came back smiling and I felt confident that I could have taken them anywhere. No nervous lurching on the clutch, no impromptu acceleration that might roll them off the back. Providing you and your pillion aren’t obese, the TMax is a brilliant bike for pairs riding.
The Yamaha TMAX is the most exciting boring bike I’ve ridden in ages. I mean that in the nicest way possible. I’d have one in a heartbeat as my city wheels. Better still is the fact that it’s A2 licence friendly. If you’re in any doubt as to whether or not I’ve been slipped an envelope full of cash from Yamaha for writing this piece, book a test ride on one. Tell the dealer you’re not convinced and you just want to see for yourself. As an everyday thing for normal guys to have some very practical fun on, it’s a winner. Trust me, I’m not the Doctor.
Click here to find out where your nearest TMAX is.
Words: Johnatsuperbike Images: Yamaha and G10 Media