One of the coolest scooters to ever grace the streets, Yamaha’s TMax 500 eventually came to the States, but didn’t find the level of popularity it has enjoyed in Europe. It’s too bad, as fans of the TMax 500 (the numeral was later dropped from the name) will tell you the big scoot is a nice blend of motorcycle and scooter. For this week’s Church of MO feature, we travel back to 2000 and recount Glenn Le Santo’s time aboard the then-new TMax 500. Note his cautious yet optimistic approach towards the scoot. With the luxury of hindsight in our favor, we now know Le Santo had nothing to be worried about. At least in Europe.
2001 Yamaha Tmax 500
When Worlds Collide
Jul. 12, 2000
Somewhere in Europe, July 12, 2000 — For many years the worlds of motorcycles and scooters were two entirely separate universes. No self-respecting motorcyclist would be seen dead on a scooter, and the scooter boys felt the same about motorcycles. Such was the animosity between the two groups that battles were often fought between the two camps on the beaches of Great Britain. These confrontations made front page news and are the basis of much of the prejudice motorcyclists suffer from even today, over forty years later.
For 2001 Yamaha has come up with a vehicle that they claim unites the two concepts into one. That vehicle is the Yamaha Tmax 500.
Billed as a combination of the best of both worlds, Yamaha is keen to promote the Tmax as the scooter that has a lot of motorcycle in it. It has a 44 bhp 500 cc twin-cylinder four-stroke engine hung from a tubular diamond-type steel frame, the construction of which owes more to the conventional chassis design of motorcycles than scooters. The rear swing arm is independent of the engine, just like a motorcycle, whereas scooters usually incorporate the engine with the transmission, and all of this pivots with the swing arm compromising rear suspension action and increasing unsprung weight. The front suspension features motorcycle-type 38 mm right-way-up telescopic forks described as “heavy-duty” by Yamaha. The disc brakes, a 282 mm rotor gripped by a twin piston caliper at the front and 267 mm at the rear, are the largest ever fitted to a scooter and wouldn’t look out of place on a middleweight motorcycle. WWith 140 mm (5.5 inches) of ground clearance, the Tmax chassis design allows generous lean angles, claimed at 50 degrees. The wheelbase is also motorcycle-sized at 1575 mm (62 inches), allowing rider and passenger plenty of leg room.
The engine boasts the largest capacity of any production scooter in the world as well; at 44 bhp it is the most powerful engine fitted to a production scooter. This motor will propel the Tmax’s 197 kilograms (434 pounds) to a top speed of around 105 mph. The sophistication of the suspension, plus the fitting of 14 inch wheels, gives the sort of high speed stability not normally associated with scooters.
Now for the scooter ingredients. No motorcycle, except possibly Honda’s ill-fated Pacific Coast, has ever entered the public arena dressed like this. The seat unit might be able to pass itself off as motorcycle bodywork but the 32 liters of luggage space under it is all scooter, as is the rest of the all-enclosing bodywork. Yamaha’s designers have added a few lines to the bodywork that try to pass themselves off as parts of an alloy beam frame even though they’re not real; they’re plastic styling touches and serve no real purpose. The riding position also comes from the land of scooters. There are no footpegs (except for the pillion’s) and the rider sits feet-forward on the scooter style footboards. Then there’s the transmission; the V-belt drive is automatic, there’s no manual clutch or gear changing like on a motorcycle. 500cc engine or not, the Tmax is a scooter.
The engine has been carefully positioned to give the Tmax as much of a motorcycle feel on the road as possible. The twin-cylinder water-cooled power plant is layed down flat, below the rider’s feet, central between the wheels. Ride any scooter after riding your motorcycle and it’ll feel nervous. Yamaha have made every effort to avoid this sensation, a good job too considering the power output and claimed top speed. Due largely to the positioning of the engine, weight distribution is 47% front 53% rear, much closer to the 50-50 balance of a superbike than any other scooter where the rear mounted engine puts excessive weight on the back wheel. The 14″ wheels are shod with 120/70 rubber up front and 150/70 rubber in the rear which is wider than you might have found on most big bikes twenty years ago. Yamaha claims this all adds up to the best handling scooter around.
OK, so we have a scooter that has been genetically modified with the genes of a motorcycle. A scooter with the performance and handling of a motorcycle combined with the convenience of a scooter. Great. But who will buy such a machine, especially considering it’s likely to cost about the same as a middleweight commuter motorcycle such as Kawasaki’s ER5? Yamaha is aiming at three groups of riders: existing scooter riders; owners of middleweight motorcycles; and new riders who may be re-entering the sport.
First, this new superscooter has been designed to attract existing large-capacity scooter riders who are looking for more performance than is offered by current models. The maxi scooter market is the fastest-growing sector in the powered two wheeler marketplace in Europe and Yamaha hopes that the Tmax will attract many more riders into the category for 2001 and beyond.
In the past, any existing scooter rider looking for higher levels of engine and chassis performance has had to move up to a realmotorcycle. Now, with the arrival of the Tmax, they have the opportunity to buy a model that offers them the increased performance they demand without having to compromise the level of riding luxury, day-to-day practicality and “twist and go” convenience they expect.
The second group that the Tmax is aimed at are those owners of middleweight street, commuter and sport touring motorcycles. Yamaha expects them to be surprised and impressed by the higher levels of comfort and weather protection offered by the Tmax.
Finally, the third group which the Tmax is targeting are new riders, car drivers and re-starters who demand the luxury of a car combined with the simplicity of a scooter. Yamaha estimates there are millions of holders of full motorcycle licenses in Europe that no longer ride any kind of two-wheeler.
Until now the movement of riders between scooters and motorcycles was generally in one direction only, that is from a scooter to a motorcycle. With the arrival of the Tmax Yamaha hopes that will change.
Yamaha believes there is massive demand amongst non-riders for a new type of scooter that offers style, convenience and performance. This has been demonstrated by the success of the YP250 Majesty during the last five years. In fact the Majesty is one of Italy’s best selling two wheelers. With its class-leading specification, the new Yamaha Tmax is being rolled out to tap into the potentially huge interest from existing car drivers and re-starters who, until now, haven’t been sufficiently turned on by what the scooter market has had to offer. Capable of attaining 0 – 60 mph acceleration times that will outpace all but the most powerful sports cars, the Tmax delivers the levels of performance, comfort and sophistication that the discerning newcomer demands.
Yamaha’s launch of the Tmax in Naples, Italy, was a glitzy affair with fireworks, singers and dancers. Yamaha was free spending on the hospitality and had invited journalists from all over the world, and not just from the motorcycle/scooter press – the European lifestyle magazines, like Front and Loaded were in attendance, too. There can be no doubt that Yamaha has spent millions developing the Tmax, with its all-new engine, chassis and bodywork. It might superficially resemble the smaller Majesty but Yamaha insists the two scooters share no interchangeable parts at all. All in all that’s a lot of cash being shelled out on a new model and Yamaha is obviously confident that they’ve done their homework properly. Yamaha is betting hard on the quality of their market research. They will have to hope that the new market they are predicting for a superscooter really does exist. Suzuki already produces a 400cc scooter, the Burgman, which has sold well in Europe. Honda’s UK spokesman wouldn’t be drawn on Honda’s plans to build a superscooter, although reports of a 600cc scooter are circulating already. Later in the year Yamaha will be letting Motorcycle Online ride their new machine and at that point we’ll find out if all the claims of stability, performance and comfort are true. It will take much longer for Yamaha’s hunch to be proven, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the Tmax’s sales figures to see if the demand really is there, both in Britain and worldwide for the superscooter. So too, no doubt, will their competitors.
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS XP500 Tmax Type Parallel twin, liquid cooled, 8 Valve, DOHC engine Displacement 499 cc Bore x Stroke 66 x 73 mm Compression Ratio 10:1 Max Power 29.4kW (44bhp) @ 7,000rpm Max Torque 45.8Nm (4.67kg-m) @ 5,500rpm Ignition Transistor Oil Capacity 3.6 Liters Fuel Tank Capacity 14.0 Liters Transmission V-belt Frame Diamond Frame Overall Length 2.235 mm Overall Width 775 mm Overall Height 1.410 mm Seat Height 795 mm Wheelbase 1.575 mm Ground Clearance 140 mm Dry Weight 197 kg Trail 95 mm Wheel Travel F 120 mm R 120 mm Suspension F Telescopic Fork R Swingarm Brake Size F Single, disk, x 282mm R Single, disk, x 267mm Tire Size F 120/70-14M/C (55S) R 150/70-14M/C (66S)