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2009 Yamaha TMAX Scooter Review

You Call This Thing a Scooter?

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2009 Yamaha TMAX Scooter Review
Photo © Basem Wasef
If you combined two parts scooter with one part touring bike and added a touch of sportbike, you might come up with a power scooter— a swollen, big-engined scooter with plenty of storage space. Yamaha’s new-for-2009 TMAX power scooter ($7,999 in blue, $8,099 in yellow) hits American roads after years of success in Europe, offering sportbike-inspired styling and commuter-friendly features.

The Goods: A Big Twin, an Automatic, and Loads o' Storage

The Yamaha TMAX’s spec sheet looks suspiciously similar to a motorcycle’s: the TMAX is equipped with a 499cc parallel-twin engine, 43 mm telescopic forks, and dual-caliper, four-piston front brakes—some pretty serious equipment.

The liquid cooled, fuel-injected DOHC powerplant is hooked up to a continuously variable automatic transmission, and both wheels are cast aluminum 15-inchers mounted with 120mm rubber up front and 160mm rubber at the rear. The TMAX also incorporates a parking brake that sits tucked along the handlebar when it’s disengaged, and swings outward when it’s in use. A large catalyzed muffler runs exhaust along the bike’s right side, and a die-cast aluminum frame holds everything together.

The TMAX is rated for an estimated 47 miles per gallon, and with a fuel capacity of 4 gallons that works out to a theoretical cruising range of 188 miles—a number which no doubt could be higher if it weren’t for a motorcycle-like wet weight of 489 pounds. But one benefit to that heft is the TMAX’s storage space, which includes two gloveboxes, and a big saddle (which folds up with twin hydraulic struts, revealing copious underseat storage.)

Other motorcycle-like features include a mug that wears large headlights and a tall windshield, full-size gauges, and a substantial amount of bodywork visible from the rider’s seat.

Swing a Leg Over: Step-Through, Kinda...

Photo © Yamaha
Scooters benefit from a step-through design that enables easy ingress and egress, and their layouts usually allow for a variety of seating postures. In theory, the TMAX is still a step-through, but a profile view reveals a tall center tunnel, and this POV shot reveals how limited the footrest space actually is. The setup does allow for some options- boots can rest flat or up against the tilted floorboards- but that pesky center tunnel also puts a limit on how much your boots can move laterally.

Climbing aboard the 31.5 inch-tall saddle reveals a fairly spacious but somewhat firm perch, and a small notched “backrest” can be slid forwards or backwards, creating a variable division of seat real estate between rider and passenger. The seat may be a bit tall for many and ergonomics might feel somewhat compact for riders used to bigger motorcycles, but positives include considerable underseat storage and an upright seating position that aids visibility in traffic. The cockpit offers a somewhat tall windscreen and mostly analog gauges, with the exception of an LCD bar graph tachometer.

On the Road: Haulin' Butt, Takin' Names

Crank the throttle, and it takes a split second for the automatic centrifugal clutch to disengage and enable forward movement, as the transmission's essentially in “Neutral” during the first couple thousand engine rpms. Right off the line, the TMAX offers decent acceleration, but once you get past the mild section of the torque curve, midrange power kicks in and pulls more strongly. Pin the throttle, and acceleration gets more intense at higher revs; mid and upper-range acceleration will satisfy and surprise lots of riders who might not expect a scooter to move so briskly.

Once you reach highway speeds, the TMAX’s 15 inch wheels provide confidence-inspiring handling that you just don’t find with smaller scooters. Though 489 pounds is a lot to haul around, handling is nimble for such a relatively big bike. And the surprising upside of the TMAX is its ability to soak up potholes with ease— a vast improvement over smaller scooters.

Brakes are operated by two levers—the left one actuating the rear brake, and the right actuating the front, just like a bicycle. The four-piston, dual disk front brakes offer strong stops, though it's a shame the TMAX doesn't offer the option of ABS; Honda’s Silver Wing and Suzuki’s Burgman scooters can be ordered with anti-lock brakes, and skid-free stops sure would be welcome on the TMAX. But aside from that shortcoming, the TMAX is surprisingly capable, both around town and on longer rides. Its riding dynamics are stable, confidence inspiring, and supple, and its blend of power and handling will surprise most red-blooded motorcyclists.

The Bottom Line: Yamaha's Guide to Living Large

Photo © Basem Wasef
If there’s one characteristic that dominates the Yamaha TMAX’s personality, it’s the element of surprise. Sure, it resembles a sportbike— from its aggressive nose to its upturned tail— but considering its scooter format, most folks probably won't expect much out of the TMAX. However, the beauty of this ride is its versatility; it’s easy to ride slow, quietly self-assured at high speeds, and has the composure to handle the potholes and rough surfaces that plague most city roads. And on top of all that, it’s got power to spare and more cargo capacity than most motorcycles.

The TMAX’s only catch is its image, and many hardcore riders will find it hard to overcome that stigma. But if you’re secure enough to straddle this maxi scooter, you’ll enjoy a bike that strikes an impressive balance between comfort and performance. And there’s nothing embarrassing about that.

>>Click here for a Photo Gallery of the 2009 Yamaha TMAX<<

>>Click here for a 2008 Yamaha Buyer's Guide<<

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