What makes a scooter a scooter? Is it the step-through frame? The completely hidden engine? The underseat storage? The clutch-free operation? We have here two radically different visions of scooters in the form of the Honda NM4 and the Yamaha TMAX, representing the different design intents of maxi-scooterdom. The NM4 looks like a futuristic scooter but rides like a cruiser. In fact, Honda lists the NM4 in the cruiser category on its website. The TMAX strives to be the sportbike of scooters with its aggressive styling and performance. What the pair do share is a price tag separated by just $509, with the NM4 costing $10,999 to the TMAX’s $10,490.
Had these two bikes been available at the time, they would have been included in our 2013 Uber Scooter Shootout. They fit the price range, and while the TMAX displaces only 530cc, it punches above its class, being fully capable of going head-to-head with the Ubers. Still, it’s hard to imagine two scooters that are as diametrically opposed to each other as these two. Let’s take a gander at what makes these two tick.
Birth of the Scruiter
Your eyes immediately tell you that the Honda NM4 is not your typical scoot, and I’m not talking about the styling – yet. First, this ain’t no step-through scooter. (The TMAX isn’t either, but at least it makes a nod towards that scooter physiology.) What you have instead is an extremely low, 25.6-inch seat height, thanks to the stretched out 64.8-in. wheelbase. If your eyes just follow the profile of the tank (which even has the filler cap on it) down to the seat, you get a pretty good idea of why Honda classifies the NM4 as a cruiser. So, you don’t step through the chassis to sit on the NM4 like a scooter, and if the pillion is flipped up for backrest duty, you don’t really throw a leg over like on a cruiser. Rather, the design asks the rider to step onto the bike heel-first, which initially feels odd but becomes normal almost immediately. As Category-Coining Editor, Tom Roderick, said, “With the NM4, Honda has created some kind of crossbreed, touringish scruiter.”
Once ensconced in the saddle, the rider’s appendages naturally fall into a comfortable, cruiserish riding position. The floorboards offer footing for riders of differing leg lengths and remain vibration-free during rides. The riding position – particularly with the backrest deployed – is remarkably comfortable in conditions ranging from near gridlock to freeway cruising to backroad dancing. The weather protection manages to successfully straddle the fine line between wind protection during cooler weather and cooling air flow for warmer conditions. My only quibble with NM4’s creature comforts is the way the standard windshield directs the wind blast at the base of a 5-foot, 11-inch rider’s helmet at highway speeds. The optional tall windscreen on the NM4 we tested last year eliminated this issue.
Where the NM4 really differentiates itself from the scooter class is in the engine bay. The 670cc parallel-Twin’s cylinders cant forward to assist in the bike’s long, low presentation. However, the Honda steps away from traditional scooters by way of its dual-clutch transmission (DCT) as opposed to a traditional constantly variable transmission (CVT). The DCT means that the NM4 isn’t more difficult to ride than any other scooter. Once the ride mode (D for drive, S for sport) is selected, twist the grip and go. For riders who are used to specific gear ratios offered by traditional motorcycle transmissions, the DCT immediately feels more like a motorcycle than a scooter.
Discuss this at our Honda Vultus Forum.
In drive mode, gear choice is directed towards fuel economy, while sport mode makes the upshifts and downshifts more aggressive. Switch to manual mode, and the rider’s left index finger and thumb get to control the shift points – all of which means that when ridden in conditions where gear choice is preferable, like on a winding road, the NM4 feels like a motorcycle in a scooter’s package.
Scooter Fanboy Editor, Troy Siahaan, summed up the NM4’s engine, thusly: “Great platform for this engine. It certainly isn’t a sporty bike and doesn’t pretend to be. The 670cc Twin isn’t sporty either. It gets great mpg, is torquey for around-town riding, and the DCT is well calibrated to this bike. I could have shifted gears myself via the paddles, but I found myself deferring to Drive or Sport mode the majority of the time.”
Despite the futuristic scooter styling, the NM4’s handling places it in the cruiser camp. The 18-in. front wheel gives stability at the expense of the lightning-quick steering of the TMAX. The long wheelbase adds to this. “With more rake and a lower seat height than a Shadow RS (albeit with a full inch less trail -Ed.), and nearly as much wheelbase, the NM4 certainly feels like a cruiser,” said Roderick. Although you can get the NM4 to turn quickly by applying some effort, it’s cornering clearance ends the party much quicker than the TMAX. That said, if you’re comfortable dragging floorboards on a cruiser, you’ll feel right at home on the NM4. However, if you’re riding with a TMAX, you’ll need to content yourself with following it in the twisties.
Braking is another place where the NM4 suffers a bit. Although it has ABS and the front and rear binders are not linked, the power they deliver is on the modest side, requiring a healthy pull from both levers to quickly attenuate speed.
The NM4 also comes up short in its storage capacity. Despite the apparent size of the integrated saddlebags, their interior dimensions are almost laughable, and the NM4 has no underseat storage. The storage compartments in the fairing, while welcome, offer oddly shaped, low-volume carrying capacity. The left compartment, the one with the power port, is small enough to require some jiggering to get a large smartphone to fit. Honda is usually a little more thoughtful than this.
And then there’s the NM4’s styling. Either you like it or you don’t. It’s a visceral thing. Like arguing politics, no one is going to change anyone’s mind, no matter how misguided the other person is. Personally, I think the NM4 is fun. Everyone deserves to be Judge Dredd at least once in their lives.
Scooting to the Max
Apart from sharing the same shade of black as the NM4 and having all capital letters in its name, the Yamaha TMAX is a world apart from the Honda. Consider it the sportbike that doesn’t quite fit in with the sportbike crowd, or the scooter that’s too cool to actually hang out with the other scooters. With the TMAX, Yamaha is catering to the scooter rider looking for a taste of an R-model supersport.
Granted, that’s a very small niche of people, but I happen to fit into this category. With its 530cc Twin, the TMAX feels lively for a scooter, every bit the equal of the Honda. Indeed, it gives up 140cc to the Honda Twin, but it’s also pulling around 77 lbs. less weight (485 lbs. vs. 562 lbs., according to manufacturer claimed wet weights) than the NM4. Its CVT is well calibrated to deliver minimal lag once you twist the throttle, and though it doesn’t quite compare to the instant-on feeling from the NM4, it feels almost direct when compared to other scooters.
The TMAX perches its rider high above the road ahead, its 31.5-inch seat height lending to this seating position. You get a commanding view of what’s in front of you, and the generous floorboards extend beyond what would normally be considered the leg shield and dip towards the front of the bike. Placing your feet directly below puts you in a sport position, but also having the ability to kick your feet forward and lean back is a nice feature. Personally, I found the NM4 more comfortable, with its backrest and forward-placed foot controls more to my liking for a freeway stint, but Evans thought otherwise, stating, “If the TMAX had the NM4’s backrest, it would be the perfect scooter for freeway commuter drone mode.”
In the twisty bits, it was no question which one was the steed to be on. The TMAX attacks corners with an agility you don’t expect from a scooter. It’s capable of impressive lean angles a good pilot can use to embarrass lesser riders on “real” sportbikes. Evans noted, “On more than one occasion, I had to get on the brakes mid-corner because the NM4 ran out of ground clearance in front of me, and the TMAX was carrying significantly more speed – thanks to its generous ground clearance.”
Combine that with a 41mm inverted fork that soaks bumps while providing clear communication of road conditions. Further sportbike influences are seen in the radial-mount brakes, providing consistently powerful and predictable stopping power that puts the Honda to shame. From the onset we knew the Yamaha would excel in this environment when compared to the Honda, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Perhaps more surprising is the Yamaha’s storage capacity, which we criticized in our solo review, is comparatively generous in relation to the NM4. While the Honda’s deceptive saddlebags and integrated fairing compartments are barely large enough to fit a cell phone and a few packs of cigarettes, the Yamaha is able to fit a full-face helmet under its seat, plus a convenient fairing-mounted compartment.
From a performance aspect, it’s clear the Yamaha is the runaway winner. Its engine and chassis are more athletic than the Honda. Having usable storage space is another bonus. However, some people simply can’t stomach being on a scooter. For them, the Honda is a more familiar ride; its chain drive and dual-clutch transmission being items more motorcyclists will appreciate. So then, which one do we choose?
The Envelope, Please
Whenever we join a few bikes together, there is the expectation that we will determine a winner, and we use a carefully considered scorecard to assist us in the task. However, before we open the envelope to tell you which bike won in this comparison, we’re gonna weasel a little bit – and for a good reason. These two bikes were designed for different purposes. Yes, they’ve got scooter styling cues and scooter ease of operation, but the TMAX is clearly gunning for sporting-focused riders, while the NM4 is, in its DNA, a cruiser. In any functional comparison, sporting machinery will always trump a cruiser because sporty bikes are designed to accelerate, corner and stop as efficiently as possible, and higher performance almost always results in higher scores. This is not a criticism of cruisers. When testing motorcycles – or any tool – one must look at the purpose for which it was designed.
With that in mind, we’ll open the envelope to reveal the winner … but it’s empty. Yes, the TMAX wins the scorecard portion of the shootout with an aggregate score of 81.9% to the NM4’s 77.0%. However, in discussions amongst the riders, no clear winner stood out.
Troy, being sporty minded, said the TMAX was the one for him, purely because of its performance capability. Meanwhile, Tom acknowledged the Yamaha’s performance advantage but had a preference for the Honda.
“The TMAX costs $500 less, offers more storage and isn’t a rolling fashion statement, making it the more prudent choice between the two. However, I find myself attracted to the NM4 the same way I’m attracted to street-legal golf carts: there’s more practical alternatives, but sometimes you just gotta say, what the f*&k.”
As for myself, the MO staffer with multiple personality disorder, I’d have a hard time choosing because both bikes appeal to differing sides of me. However, if you held a gun to my head and gave me 10 seconds to choose, I’d pick the TMAX because, well, you can never be too rich or skinny or have too much performance under your saddle.
So, take the results as you will, and if one of these scooters appeal to you, that’s all that matters.
|ALL CAPS SCOOTER SHOUTOUT Scorecard|
|Category||Honda NM4||Yamaha TMAX|
|Quality, Fit & Finish||77.5%||81.3%|
|ALL CAPS SCOOTER SHOUTOUT Specs|
|Honda NM4||Yamaha TMAX|
|Engine Type||670cc liquid-cooled parallel-Twin||530cc liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, forward inclined parallel-Twin|
|Fuel System||PGM-FI, 36mm throttle body||Electronic fuel injection|
|Ignition||Digital transistorized with electronic advance||Digital|
|Valve Train||SOHC; four valves per cylinder||DOHC; 4 valves per cylinder|
|Transmission||DCT automatic six-speed with two automatic modes and a manual mode||CVT|
|Front Suspension||43mm fork; 3.9 in. travel||41mm upside-down telescopic forks; 4.7 in travel|
|Rear Suspension||Pro-Link single shock; 3.9 in. travel||Mid ship horizontal positioned rear shock; 4.6 in travel|
|Front Brake||Single 320mm disc; two-piston caliper with ABS||267mm dual hydraulic discs; four-piston, radial mount calipers|
|Rear Brake||Single 240mm disc; single-piston caliper; ABS||282mm hydraulic disc; single-piston caliper|
|Wheelbase||64.8 in.||62.2 in.|
|Seat Height||25.6 in.||31.5 in.|
|Curb Weight||562 pounds (claimed)||485 lbs (claimed)|
|Fuel Capacity||3.06 gal.||4.0 gal|
|Tested Fuel Economy||54.1||45.2 mpg|
|Available Colors||Matte Black Metallic||Sonic Gray|
|Warranty||1-year transferable, unlimited-mileage limited warranty; extended coverage available with a Honda Protection Plan.||1-Year (Limited Factory Warranty)|